Category Archive: Communication

Aftermath

I’ve reflected this week on the joy of last weekend’s reunion with former mission colleagues, of reconciliation, of hearts that never stopped loving each other despite misunderstandings, miscommunication, and directives not to talk with person(s) who left the ministry.

And while we were honest and vulnerable, this was not a leader-bashing weekend. We are all fallen sinners, saved by grace. And despite the flaws of the leadership, God used that ministry to bring hope and healing to many who chose to follow Christ. And for that I am deeply thankful.

At the time I left L.A., I think we lacked a real understanding of grace. So, from the leadership on down, we (myself included) tried to mold others into a certain image, forgetting that God has created us with minds that question, gifts that differ and cause us to view the world uniquely.

One woman talked about the hurt of feeling she never measured up because her artistic, creative temperament didn’t fit the square hole she was supposed to fill.

Another was falsely accused of stealing.

And because our system had a strict top-down heirarchy, pressure flowed downhill even as questions or doubts were passed upward. So if I said something negative to my “uplink,” she had a responsibility to report that to the President.

We were told not to discuss questions or problems outside the ministry because “‘they’ wouldn’t understand.” Burdened and feeling bound, I talked to my older brother about my concerns that last Christmas. He recommended counseling. But the response I got when I mentioned that was “I thought you promised not to talk to your family about this.” So I couldn’t get perspective on the issues that troubled me.

About ten days later my questions came to a head and I left.

But challenges don’t stop when we leave one situation for another. Their shape may change, but we must continue to lean into God because there is little that is certain in our world other than his love, grace, and presence. Pain inevitably comes. But God is able to use it, to comfort us so that with His comfort we can comfort others (II Cor. 1:3-5).

We all carry the scars of hurt, damaged relationships, of loss, unfulfilled hopes and dreams for ourselves or for family members. And as this group of women shared beyond our stories of leaving the ministry, we heard each other’s pain — wayward children, grandchildren making choices they may regret later, marriage and physical challenges — and we stopped to pray over individuals.

A few weeks after I left the ministry 38 years ago, I attended a church in northern California. From the pulpit, one of the pastors shared that there was a theological difference between the head pastors and two young ministers. After prayer and discussion with these two, they agreed this was a significant difference and the two were released from the church staff.

The pastor told the congregation the truth without sugar-coating it or demeaning these young men. He spoke with compassion and expressed continuing love for these two. I cried through the whole service because this separation was handled with love, compassion and honesty. Few of us who have separated from ministries have experienced that. Remaining staff members may be told untruths or half truths, as they were in my case. People may be told not to communicate with those who left, thereby leaving questions and misunderstandings that grow and multiply among those left behind.

But God is still sovereign. Nothing is a surprise to him. This morning I read:

“Trust that I know what I’m doing–that I can bring good out of everything you encounter, everything you endure. Don’t let your past or present suffering contaminate your view of the future. I am the Lord of your future, and I have good things in store for you. I alone know the things I am planning for you–to give you a future and a hope.

JESUS TODAY, p 40

One of my nephews was baptized on Easter Sunday a few years ago. I asked why now. What had changed. His answer? “I finally found a church where it was okay to ask questions.” We need to welcome questions and seek answers together before the Lord. We may need input from others like Board members or counselors. We may continue to serve. Or there may be good reasons to go our separate ways. But let’s be open and honest about these issues, rather than holding them in secret.

Burdens shared are lifted, as we experienced together last weekend. But we have to say yes…yes to being vulnerable, to sharing deeply with those we love, to recognizing and appreciating our differences. This reunion could have come sooner for me. I was invited to a staff wedding several years after I left. I wasn’t ready to face those who had hurt or shunned me, and declined the invitation. This time when Katie texted to ask if I had an interest, my response was immediate. “Absolutely, yes!” I was ready. And God was and is good.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

The weekend was healing, unifying. Going forward, we will seek to understand each other, we will honor those who serve with us, we will respect differences and encourage real communication. And we will continue to love each other.

Reunion, Reconciliation

Thirty-eight years! It’s that long since I’ve seen some of the colleagues with whom I worked in the Los Angeles ghetto for ten years.

After a painful breakup/firing/split, I left not only the ministry but the city, eventually returning to my roots in Northern California.

This breakup impacted me in ways I imagined divorce felt like. It hurt! Misunderstandings and controlling leadership prevented my former friends from communicating with me. I felt isolated, cast off, forgotten.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I knew nothing about setting up a corporation. But I worked with a man who had the vision for an inner city ministry, and I handled the details. With many calls to City and State, we were established as a nonprofit organization. I worked closely with the President on the corporation’s implementation, guidelines, fundraising, and communication. I coached foreign workers on applying for the appropriate work visas and, on one occasion, spoke directly with the immigration official at the Vancouver airport who was not going to allow a young woman to board her flight to LA. But after my lengthy conversation with the officer, Nancy arrived to minister with us later that day.

I taught children and teens and lived with other staff women in the LA ghetto. We lived and ministered together and chose to be part of the community we served. We suffered together when someone we loved was hurt, killed, or when our own lives were threatened. This was my second family. And now we were separated for many reasons.

Between 5 and 19 women lived in this house during my ten years there.

Over the years it took me to heal from the impact of a controlling leader and unrealistic expectations, I prayed that God would somehow bring back some of those friendships. He has done that with some of the most significant peer relationships I had, and I am deeply grateful for the ability to clarify, question, and grow together as we talked in depth about how God used the ministry, and even the control, to teach and build us.

Unfortunately I’m not alone in my experience of burnout.

Others have gone through similar experiences. Controlling leadership that steps into the place God rightly inhabits, and its resulting burnout, can cause someone to lose faith, not only in a specific ministry or leader, but in God himself.

So how do we heal?

We cry. We rest. We look for those areas of personality or conflict that we own, and learn to release those we do not. Some of us write. With time, we learn to forgive.

We seek out people who are ‘safe’; those with whom we can be real who will love without judgment, listen without trying to “fix,” help us laugh and cry with us and accept us where we are at that moment.

We may seek help from friends, pastors, or professional counselors. We breathe out the pain and breathe in, increased understanding.

We look for ways we can encourage others with the strength and comfort God has given us, knowing He wastes nothing, including our hurt.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-5, NLT

And sometimes we reach out at some point and there is a positive response that allows bridges to be built and relationships to jump-start, wobbly at first, then growing stronger as the cords deepen.

So next weekend I’m flying to Los Angeles for a reunion with some of the women with whom I worked on staff, most of whom I haven’t seen in 38 years! Will I laugh? Cry? Probably both, as we remember the good times and the ways God used the ministry, and perhaps grieve over some of the boulders and stones along the way.

Knowing this reunion is happening 38 years after I left Los Angeles gives me great hope that God is still in the business of reconciliation.

Can’t wait to tell you more about our time together!

Reading Treasures

I’ve read two books by friends in the past three weeks, to review one and do a bit of editing on the other.

It’s such a privilege to read books friends have written. I learn more about each writer’s heart, challenges, and interests. I powered through both of these, knowing there were deadlines at the other end. Each very different from the other; each a treasure.

Rogue Wave, by Jane Carlile Baker

Available now on amazon.com, this novel, by a friend I learned to know and appreciate in a writing group with Ethel Herr, held my attention from beginning to end. Baker knows her Central Coast geography and as I read, I could picture the locations for many of this page-turner’s scenes. While Bonnie is in the grocery store, she turns to see her daughter Fallon smiling at her. But Bonnie’s best friend’s daughter, who was sitting in the grocery cart with Fallon, is nowhere to be seen! Disappeared without a trace. Guilt overwhelms, a friendship is destroyed, and Bonnie becomes a hyper-vigilant helicopter mom to Fallon, until threats begin again in the ‘safe place’ she has built around her daughter. Can safety be guaranteed anywhere? Will they find Fallon before it’s too late? Can old wounds be healed, friendships restored? Interweaving plots and strong character development will keep you reading. I loved this book. https://www.amazon.com/Rogue-Wave-Bo…/…/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1…

Haley House, by MarJean S. Peters

MarJean and I became close in college, sharing our lives, singing together, and watching each other’s romances develop – or not. I was in her wedding. We were somewhat out of touch when I married about fourteen years later so she was not in mine.

My friend had a beautiful soprano voice, thick, dark brown hair, sparkling brown eyes and a warm, winsome smile. An artist, Jeannie has an eye for beauty. We’ve reconnected in the past few years and five college girlfriends have even shared a few reunions since. Jeannie’s hair, still thick and lustrous, is now white. She is still absolutely lovely.

Jeannie and her husband have raised four gifted, committed Christian children who are in different walks of life and service. She and Conrad have been pastors and missionaries. At one point, they lived bel
ow the poverty line and moved into Haley House, a moldy, rat-infested shack.

Her book is the story of that house, told from the point of view of a 12-year old son. I was touched as I thought of my lovely friend who enjoys beauty and creativity living in horrible surroundings for several years. And yet, I saw also the grace of God as MarJean found the good in their circumstances. Even as she brought in added income by cleaning houses for wealthy women, Jeannie recognized that having money or grand homes did not bring happiness or prevent marriages from breaking up. She was able to remind her family that in that tiny house they had to communicate, they had to work things through–and they were CLOSE (in more ways than one).

I chuckled when I read about one of the children complaining that his eggs were getting covered in pancake syrup because the floor sloped. My dear friend told her kids to turn their plates so the eggs would be on the upside of the slope, and the syrup would stay off the eggs! Understanding some of the valleys God took MarJean and Conrad through, seeing her faith amid confusion and questions and tears and hardship, challenged me in my own faith. 

Haley House will be available this week on amazon.com.

What have you read recently that you enjoyed, that challenged you, or that opened your eyes to someone else’s life, struggles and victories?

Agency

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Have you ever wondered how best to help a loved one or friend in a way that retains his dignity? While my brother and sister-in-law, Arnold and Carol, were here last week, we talked a good deal about the concept of “agency”.

Arnold’s definition of agency is “power and ability to do what you want to do.” He says “People with disabilities have lost some agency. People without power have lost some agency. Women have less agency in general than men because of cultural stereotypes and limitations. Prisoners have had agency removed from them by the courts.”

My brother has given a lot of thought to this topic because his wife, Carol, suffered a life-altering stroke six and a half years ago. There are things she can’t do herself any more; and activities with which she needs help.

Our mother has also lost some ability to do things she wishes to do, and therefore, some power. Mom’s mind is still quite clear; however, her legs are getting weaker. She’s fallen twice in the last two months. She has thought for awhile about possibly moving into the Assisted Living section of the senior manor where she lives.

Living independently at 97 is quite a feat, but we wondered if it was still wise for Mom. Of course we children want her to be safe. Arnold put it well when he said he sees his role with Carol, his wife, to be that of providing agency–or power, ability and environment for her to decide and to act as she wishes, rather than by simply doing things for her.

So this Christmas we, along with brothers Bob and Melvyn and their wives, talked with each other, and with Mom, asking questions like what situations would cause her to say “It’s time,” “I’m ready,” “I need to move.” She also asked whether we would be disappointed in either decision–to move or to stay. We set her mind at ease regarding that, and told her our desire is to help her achieve her goals, not to impose ours on her.

And she’s decided she’s not yet ready to leave the cottage which she loves and has decorated with precious mementos from the family home she shared with Dad. So our role is to support her, to help identify ways she can get additional help i.e. with taking care of her patio and plants, and to fill in some of the gaps for her on a more regular basis.

I appreciated Arn’s explanation of agency. When we help someone achieve their dreams, meet their own needs or make decisions that we then help facilitate, the person retains his dignity. He or she is acting rather than being acted upon, as it would be if we told that individual what to do.

There are certainly situations where safety or protection are so critical, or abilities so limited, that decisions must be made for another. But when there are still decision-making capabilities, how much better to help in that process.

Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? He took the penalty for my sins and yours, something we are incapable of doing for ourselves, and freed us, gave us the power and ability to walk with God through faith in Him.

Do you have someone in your life who lacks agency, or the capacity or power to act on his or her own behalf? If so, how can you help that individual identify or communicate their choices and then facilitate those choices to become a reality?

“Fab Friday”

These four women, and one other, have become precious to me over the past five or six years as our “Fab Friday” group meets twice monthly to study the Bible, pray, and care for each other.  This photo was taken at our 2018 Christmas brunch a few days ago.

We’ve walked through a lot of life together in these years…illness, loss, life’s various challenges. About a year ago I needed to take a step back due to my own health issues, so I dropped out of the group for a time. These women continued to love me, communicate with me, and keep me in the loop.

This past year has included lots of change for me: a new shoulder, new knee, a move to a new home and community, some of my closest friends moving out of the area … I realized I need these long-term sisters in Christ. I need their support and friendship, even as I give mine to them.

Why do I need these women?

WISE FRIENDS MAKE ONE WISER

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20 New International Version)

These are godly women from whom I learn much, and I need their input into my life, even as I share with them..

WE BEAR EACH OTHER’S BURDENS

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)

WE CHALLENGE EACH OTHER TO BE MORE LIKE JESUS

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation”

As we are vulnerable to share our weaknesses as well as strengths, we sharpen each other to be more like Jesus.

WE FOLLOW JESUS’ EXAMPLE

God, Creator, Sustainer, Comforter, Healer, Peacegiver, Redeemer, exists in community himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And He created us for relationship–not to go it alone, not to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but to be in relationship with Him and with others.

These women are not my only friends; I have dear friends near and far. Some are one-on-one friendships, other couple friendships, but this is a group of women committed to each other, to confidentiality of the things we share, and to building each other up in our walks with Jesus. Such friendships are a precious gift, to be treasured and nurtured.

It’s easy for me to get lazy. I need to be reminded of how God is at work in others’ lives; to remain in His word and also to be reminded through what others recognize, how God is working in my own life. 

And so, as of January 4th, I’m back in!

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” ( Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Question: If you do not have a small group of trusted women or men with whom you meet regularly, where can you find one?