Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Selection

I'm on my Saturday break today so I want to call your attention to another blog I am enjoying. Heather is one of the first blogs I began to read. She has a great story and her family has recently moved to another country. Take a bit and read some of her story today!

I plan to be back at it tomorrow. Thanks for a great week!

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Charging Hero

Chargers. Drainers. Our conversation this week has left thinking me about those times in my life when my battery has been fully re-charged. That level of replenishment usually requires at least of few days of slow charging.

As I turned the pages of my mental diary, I realized that one person has often been the provider of such emotional refreshment. You see, I think it requires more than getting away from life's drainers; it requires enough attention to detail that the recipient's needs are met without thought. It also helps if "little" things are done to make one feel cared for. In my case, the charger is (drum roll) Cathy's mother, Joyce.

Cathy and I have been married 36 years. I have been going to Joyce and Bob's home for a long, long time. Ever since we were young, my mother-in-law has taken care to discover particular things I like and she goes out of her way to provide them while we are there.

For instance, we arrived at Christmas time and I discovered my favorite soft drink in their refrigerator. It's a new choice for me and Joyce picked up on it. She didn't even know where to look for it at the store, but she searched until she found it.

When I visit their home, I am encouraged to totally relax. If I sleep late, take a nap or disengage to read or do computer stuff (my hobby), no problem. Don't think that everything is warm and fuzzy, though. She and I are both fierce competitors (Cathy and her dad are, too) and we are usually on opposites sides in table games. We often bring out the worst in each other with our unyielding competitiveness, but she still works hard to make my stay in their home pleasant.

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that their home has been consistent as a place where I get charged back up and ready to take on the world. Wow, what a privilege!

Joyce, if you are reading this, thank you!

Reader, you need someone like her in your life. If you have such a person, tell us about it. If not...

...this one is already taken!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Social Calendar

I confess! I'm not sticking to my plan! (Sigh.)

A few days ago I surpassed the 100-post marker on this blog. I started, hoping to develop the habit of writing and pushed my way through that first month of habit-developing. I -- er -- guess it's a habit now! (Addiction? Ouch!)

I started writing, though, with a different idea of the overall direction I would take. You see, an increasing amount of my time and energy are spent coaching and mentoring others who are behind me on life's journey. I have been a pastor for a loooong time. Consequently, I often have the privilege of encouraging younger pastors. Also, one of my chief joys in recent years is working with adults who are new followers of Christ. I love spending time with them because they are so real! They haven't cluttered the hulls of their lives with religious barnacles. They read the Bible with fresh eyes and ask the most outrageous and authentic questions.

In the meantime, I am an auditory learner and an extemporaneous, verbal communicator. I teach primarily by telling stories and I LOVE STORIES! (Had you noticed?)

With that in mind, place yourself in our Small Group one night. I asked the question, "If you had no limits, what would you want to do that you're not doing now?" I heard some great answers that really helped us know each other at a deeper level. True to the group, they wanted to know my answer. I said, "I would start writing. I tell so many things about what I am learning in life, but I would start writing down the stories so they can be available when I'm not around."

To my amazement, a couple of the guys -- battle-tested Marines -- came to me after the formal part of the group ended. Each of them said, "Sam, I really think you should start writing. I would read it!" They pushed me over the edge!

So I began. In my mind were those guys from the group and pastors like RMc, who comments here occasionally. I saw this blog as primarily a way to communicate to others who are traveling a similar journey to mine.

What I didn't know was that all kinds of people from various parts of the globe would start reading and commenting here. The sense of community that has begun with my readers has often swayed the content of these daily thoughts.

Today though, Rodney, I return to that original vision. In yesterday's comment, you said, "I work very hard not to let 'work' enter into the conversation when I'm not in that context. Some folks tend to forget that aspect and won't talk about anything else!"

In response, here is something that has changed over my years as a pastor. I look primarily to Jesus' life and ministry as my example of what to do and no longer allow the longstanding traditions of the church to be my guide.

When it comes to "social" settings, the Gospels show Him in a variety of them! He reached out with compassion to the poor, the sick and the outcasts of His day. Some of them, like Levi the Tax Collector, became part of his inner circle.

However, when He was approached by "drainers" whose primary purpose was staying close for what they could get from Him, He sent them away to reconsider their priorities. For example, He told the Rich, Young Ruler, "Go, sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow Me."

Why didn't He equally offer His quality time to everyone who wanted it? I'm convinced that it's because He had a lot to do (so do I), a limited time to get it done (so do I) and knew that one of his most important jobs was equipping others for after he was gone (ditto for me).

Heather's comment yesterday about pastors, "...they were always being looked up to and looked to for support and advice..." is certainly true. But is it our duty to lavish our time on "drainers" or are we such people pleasers that we can't say no? When I allowed the drainers in my world to monopolize my time, it was because I didn't dare say or do anything to make them unhappy. I'm different now.

I wish it hadn't taken over 20 years for me to change.

Tomorrow, I will tell you about someone who has done more to charge my batteries than she could possibly know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Are you a "drainer" or a "charger"? That's the question I asked yesterday. In other words, if I spent an evening with you, would I walk away emotionally ready to go or feeling all used up?

Your comments yesterday left me scratching my head. Everything from Liz who doesn't know what socializing means (snicker) to Rachel C. who seemed to be scratching her head -- at least at first -- that "draining relationships" might be part of a person's social life.

"Why," I wondered, "does this subject which is very real to me seem be be no big deal to my readers? Could it be because I have spent most of my adult life in a 'caring profession?' Or is it because I have just lived much longer than most of them?" (Don't answer that!)

I finally remembered that being always on call occasionally takes its toll and, while I am rarely woken up in the middle of the night with emergencies these days, I sometimes simply get tired. Those are the moments I become very sensitive to social settings in which someone wants to talk about church (that's spelled w-o-r-k for me) stuff or personal problems.

That said, I hope I don't sound totally selfish when I tell you that the following is how I love to be treated in my social life...

How to be a Charger (with no apologies to a certain NFL team that -- I'm sure -- stole my term. Just kidding.)

1. Become a sponge. Ask questions. Look for ways to briefly link an experience of your own to what another person tells you, then ask another question. Sympathize and empathize appropriately. Genuinely listen to what you are told.

2. Act like a mirror. When someone asks about you, answer as personally as you can (can you imagine that I LOVE to tell stories?). Then reflect the conversation right back to the other person. Repeat as needed. I like to get people talking about their interests. Often, but not always, men like to talk about their work and sports. If a woman has children, she usually wants to tell you about them. (If she pulls out pics of her grandchildren, politely RUN! Not really.)

3. Play. Most adults love some form of entertainment. In our family, it's table games. For others, it's dinner, movies, plays or concerts. For some, it's sporting events. (If you go to church and know your pastor, find out what he or she likes to do and take them. Don't once talk about church stuff while you're out. And, no -- seriously -- this is not a hint for myself.)

4. Pay. Cathy and I have wonderful memories about our younger years when kids were young, money was tight and friends invited us out. Someone would ask us to dinner and encourage us -- sometimes the whole family -- to order whatever we wanted because they wanted to treat us. Those are some very treasured experiences for us. We are now not so young, the kids are grown and we don't have to pinch pennies (is that shillings over there?) as much, so we get to treat others.

Employ one or more of these techniques and you just might have people lining up to spend time with you! (Give me your address and I'll be there tomorrow. Ahem.)

After your wonderful input yesterday, I await your responses with eagerness!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Industrial-Strength Drainage

When is the last time you were invited to spend the evening with friends and found yourself looking at your watch within 30 minutes after you got there...counting the minutes until you could politely leave! Let's face it. Part of our relational lives includes getting into social situations that drain us dry.

When is the last time you went somewhere for the evening and were shocked when you finally noticed how late it was? "I can't believe it's past midnight!" That part of you that gets constantly emptied got filled back up again!

I once saw these described as as energy-draining vs. energy-charging relationships. Too much of one can take away your joy of living. Too much of the other can spoil you and make you worthless.

So I ask myself: if you were to spend the evening at our house, how would you walk away?

Tomorrow we'll explore some ways to be charging stations.

In the meantime, which are you?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Confessions Of A Former Junkie

It's the middle of the Super Bowl. I'm not watching.

I watched the first half, tuning in for the commercials. Quickly caught up in the game. Right after the halftime show I turned it off. And it's not because the "home team" were victims of a horrible play to end the first half.

The reason I turned off the game is that I am a former sports junkie. My teens and young adult years were consumed with teams and seasons. Cathy called attention to it early in our marriage. During a "big" game (weren't they all?) I would issue the comforting words, "Don't worry, honey. The season is almost over." She quickly caught on that a new season of another sport always started before the current one ended. Always.

I played games, watched games, listened to games, read about games, and talked about games. I occasionally -- er... often -- attended games and yelled so much I lost my voice.

For the past several years, I have watched the Super Bowl to see the commercials. This year the Arizona Cardinals, a team I never cared for, miraculously got to the big game. I was and am a fan of their quarterback and I like the things I have read about their coach. However, whether they win or lose (they lost), my un-fan status won't change.

I gave up my habit as a sports fanatic because it left me more empty than full. The emotional drive to stay up with a team was often left disappointed. Besides, life has much more interesting and important things to offer than a game.

Like the call I received during the first half last night.

It was from a friend of mine, a young dad with two small boys. Two years ago at this time his marriage was in great danger and he was consumed with pain. His younger son hadn't been born yet.

During that two years I have had the rare privilege of watching the broken pieces mend. Their marriage and their family are now full of joy and hope.

When he called, I told him I was watching the game. I wondered if he was doing the same. "I'll try to catch the end," he said, "to see who won. Right now I'm working in the yard and spending time with my sons. It's just how I wanted to spend this afternoon."

I'm glad I left the habit behind.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What's Your Story?

You have one. If you're from the church world, you might have one of those "gutter to God" stories that pushes people to the edge of their chairs. Or you could have a story about growing up in a healthy family with parents who loved each other and loved you -- they truly believed what they said they believed! (That's my story.)

Yesterday we told stories. It was a room of 15 or 16 Prayer Partners. They didn't all know each other. They ranged in age from teens to a few in their 70s. Female, male. Seasoned Christ-followers, newbies. And each told her/his story.

I heard a teen weep as she described the abandonment of a biological father whom she really never knew. She talked about her feelings of guilt that maybe she was to blame (she was a baby when he left). She spoke of the love she receives from her stepdad who is fully and completely her dad. And she spoke of how she has forgiven her father and hopes he gets his life together.

A lady in her seventies (eighties?) sobbed as she told of her childhood abuse and the guilt she carried for years before she fully learned to live by the truth.

A man spoke of the pain he went through when he had to bury both his parents within a few weeks of each other. His dad had terminal cancer and was near the end when his mom passed suddenly.

Another man -- in his seventies -- told of how he couldn't live at home anymore because of a worthless father and a mother who wouldn't stand up to him. He left, hitchhiked across country, even living under a bridge with hobos. He was 13.

A young woman -- one of two young cancer survivors in the group -- spoke of the burden she carries because her little boy is autistic. The load has been so heavy of late that she thought God had abandoned her. "This morning," she said, "I realize that it was me who abandoned God."

These are just a small sample of the stories I heard yesterday. Most of them full of pain. All of them full of hope.

That's because each of them was telling a larger story. The story about their discovery of God's love and forgiveness. The story about stepping from the darkness into the light.

What's your story?