Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How An Agnostic Helps Me Be a Better Minister


Laura Dennis

Laura Dennis and I first met in the blogging community.  Both of us are writers, with her blog being a popular adoption and parenting blog, the subtitle of which is: The Adaptable (Adopted) Expat Mommy.

Laura and I probably would have never been matched by others as, “Most Likely to Be Friends.” Thankfully we went ahead and matched ourselves. Although our lives couldn’t be more different in many ways – our friendship couldn’t be more perfect.  We both love guacamole. 

I’ve been a Christian pastor for the last 27 years, and now serve as the Women’s Director for the Pen-Florida District of the Assemblies of God. I’m a conservative if you have to pin me down to a label. (Which I really dislike…the whole idea of labels. Or being pinned down, for that matter.) 

 Laura is an agnostic, an unbeliever, who would probably politically align mostly as liberal…and I don’t think she likes labels any more than I do.

Oh, and did I mention…we both grew up in Maryland, but Laura now lives in Serbia?

I live in America, in the Tampa Bay area, to be exact.

Though thousands of miles away, we are in constant touch.

At any given moment I could probably tell you exactly where Laura is. Whether she’s taking her kids to school, or bringing them home…spending a quiet evening with her husband, going to the market for food for dinner or caring for a sick child.  And likewise if someone asked, Laura could probably let you know what I’m in the midst of, whether it be my work at the district office, a prayer meeting or a bike ride. We mostly communicate online however we also schedule regular phone calls. (She has this thing called Magicjak that enables us to have conversations, without even worrying about how long we talk.)

Laura is so brilliant. She was accepted to Stanford but turned down an education there in favor of pursuing a career in dance. A talented dancer, she once directed at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Then she got injured. Now she has traded her dancing shoes and become a Serbian supermom.

We have the best conversations. When I hear her voice on the phone it turns what may have been a mediocre day into something special.

At the heart of our friendship is a deep respect for the other, and this leads to listening with the intent to understand.  Neither of us are easy to offend, so our relationship is devoid of any eggshells to walk on, which is wonderful.  I’m never afraid to say anything and it’s the same for her. Neither of us got the memo on PC language.  Our conversations are hilarious. At least, to us.


Here’s a key ingredient of mine and Laura’s friendship: although we don’t share the same view at all on spiritual matters, we always support one another.   For instance: Laura doesn’t believe in God or salvation.  But, after services at our church – whether it be a Sunday, Wednesday or special event, she will ask me if anyone responded for salvation.  And if I say yes, she gets totally excited.  Why? Why does she get excited about something she doesn’t even believe in? Because she cares about me.  And she knows there’s nothing more important to me than people coming to Jesus.

At this point in our friendship, it’s not uncommon for Laura to ask me questions like:

“Do you think this is spiritual warfare you’re dealing with?”

Laura doesn’t believe in spiritual warfare. So why would she even use that terminology?

Because she knows I believe in it and talk about it a lot, and she meets me where I’m at.  

That’s so much a part of what friendship is about – meeting the other person where they’re at.

I meet her where she’s at too, in various ways.  We have discussed our beliefs and feelings many times about spiritual things and the Bible. One night we had a several hour conversation on the Supernatural Gifts of the Spirit. She heard me out totally on what I believe and then gave me what she believes is the explanation, for all of it. We both listened, and learned a lot about where the other person is coming from and why we each hold the beliefs that we do.

I think it’s safe to say that she would tell you she never feels as if I am pressuring her or speaking in any condescending way.  Although I very much want Laura to know God and experience Him, she’s my friend, not my project. [By the way, I asked her to read this post before I published it, to be sure I was portraying our relationship accurately as far as she is concerned, as well as taking nothing out of context that we’ve talked about.]     


There are so many things I could say right now, but have settled on just leaving it at this – I would absolutely take a bullet for Laura. No question. I would lay down my life for her if it came to it.

So, how does my friendship with this woman, who happens to be agnostic, help me be a better Christian, minister, and leader? 

She helps me get a better picture of what many people who don’t know God, really think and feel. 

I’m trying to reach people who don’t know God.

Laura knows that. (I don’t have a hidden agenda. )

And so I often ask her opinion about how I’m going about trying to reach people for God. I ask, “How do you think I could do this, and be more effective?” She’s happy to tell me what she thinks and give me fresh ideas to try to reach more people. I’m grateful for her input.  

She tells me if I came and started a church in Serbia, she’d totally come there…even though she doesn’t believe.   

When I get really upset about something, I sometimes say, “Pray, Laura, pray!”I do this because prayer is always my first instinct. When I ask her to pray, she says “okay.” I know she’s not really going to pray. She just says “okay” to soothe me at the time. In reality, she’s going to send me “warm thoughts, “ and “lots of energy”.  Assuring me that she'll connect to something called the collective unconscious.  I don’t blast her with platitudes about prayer, in response.  That wouldn’t be helpful, at all.

She’s a great strategist. 

I realize not every unbeliever has this gift. Nor does every believer, for that matter.

What I am saying is this…  

Laura has leadership gifts (I believe they are God given, although she would beg to differ that they originate otherwise) that are useful for the Kingdom of God even though she’s not in our ranks. And I gladly receive them.  

I’m thankful for the agnostic that God sent into my life.

Laura doesn’t just help me be a better minister. She helps me be a better person.

One of my goals is to go visit Laura in Serbia. I’m thinking if I raise money for this, it can qualify as a missions trip, being that she is an unbeliever.  :)

In all seriousness, we have plans to meet up stateside and hopefully in Serbia too. Until then we are joined at the heart and in conversation any time we can break away from our busy lives and connect. I thank God for this blessing, while Laura probably thanks fate. I’ve never asked her who or what in the grand scheme of things she thanks for us coming together as friends…maybe that will be our next conversation.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Would You Want to Re-Enact Your Wedding Night?

Last night was the 27th anniversary of our wedding and I had this thought as Larry and I were driving back to the hotel from dinner...



How many married couples would be interested in re-enacting their wedding night?

A lot of people do vow renewals, which is sort of along the lines of re-enacting the past.

I know people go on"second honeymoons" but are they really honeymoons or just trips?

Is it about intimacy or travel?

There's a difference.

Don't ask me why I had this crazy thought.

I just have them, and then sometimes I put them out there on a blog post.
Yeah, I know...brave or cray-cray. You decide.

Reliving the Past

It crossed my mind that there are probably a lot of people who would secretly give anything to re-enact their wedding night. It would be the greatest thing ever. Maybe because it's probably the last time anything really exciting happened in their marriage. Perhaps it's a precious memory of a happier time gone by -- when things were better. 

So when I had these thoughts last night, I pondered whether this would this be something I would want to do. I'd be up to trying it if I thought my husband would be interested but I pretty quickly decided that it would be a bad idea. Our wedding night was great, but the present is so much greater.

Then I got to thinking about the fact that it's only better because of continual investments made.

This Is What It Takes

Successful marriages take investment. I have discovered, there is really no way around this. If you want marriage to last and be more than just hanging by a thread, you have to work at it, all the time.

I'm glad I have somebody who is committed to working on it with me, and sometimes more than me. I'll admit that. Sometimes he works so much harder.

I love him for the fact that he works on it not just on our anniversary but all the time.



This past weekend he went all out.  He knows I've always wanted to go to Amelia Island so he planned a trip there for 2 nights, for our 27th anniversary.



Larry's motto for our marriage and family is, "Making Memories" and that's most important to him. He puts forth a lot of effort to make memories.This means he is usually the one to research what we do and try to make it as memorable as possible.


He did a lot of reading to find out what restaurant he wanted to take me to for our anniversary night and settled on a place called Le Clos. When he called four weeks ago for reservations they were already booked up at the time he wanted to come so he had to select another time slot. He thought that was a good sign. (It was!)


 

Larry is really gifted at finding great places to visit and because of this I don't always give a lot of input about such, I just trust him to make those decisions and rarely if ever is he wrong about it.

What's most important to me about an anniversary trip isn't the beach or Le Clos but the time we spend together, connecting.

Making memories is indeed a wonderful thing but for the reminiscent value, not because one is desiring to live them over again because things aren't as good now.

So, How's it Going?

If things in your marriage aren't as good now, what do you need to do to make them better?

Some people will read a post like this and think, "I don't have a lot of money to make it better. I can't afford trips or dinners out." That's not what's most important and frankly there was a long season where we couldn't afford it. Some of the most precious times Larry and I have had are where we haven't spent anything monetarily but have given each other all of our time and attention. This requires thoughtfulness and care -- not cash.

I adore my memory-making husband but I'm glad we don't need to try to re-live the past to bring life to our marriage. We can keep moving forward, experiencing new things and keeping it fresh.

You can too!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When People Tell You What You Already Know



“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” 2 Peter 1:12

My daughter and I were doing some shopping in Grand Turk last week on vacation. As we went from store to store, the owner or salesperson would quickly move to greet us, and point out their inventory for sale. “Necklace! I have many necklaces! Bracelets, for lovely ladies like you…handbags, right here…” they would say. In store after store, we experienced the same thing as is common when you are shopping at different ports.

We entered one shop and there was no one there to greet us. I was shocked. I immediately sprang into action, to give “the spiel” we were missing. “Necklace! I have many necklaces! Bracelets, for lovely lady like you…handbags, right here…” I quipped to Savanna.  I got the, “Mom, you’re so silly,” vibe from her. 



 “Hey, the lady’s not here to give us the same spiel we’ve already heard and point the stuff that we already know is there,” so somebody had to give the spiel.

“Mom,” Savanna admonished, “she’s doing her job-- just like you do. When you think about it, you both do the same thing!”

“What do you mean?” I said.   

“Well, in many instances, you give the same spiel that people have already heard and point to the stuff they already know. Part of your job is saying, ‘Hey look at this scripture!’ and most people already know it’s there. In most cases, you’re pointing to things people know, and just aren’t doing. Or they forgot. So, you’re just reminding them of what’s there.”  


Yep.

I had to admit, she was right.

I’m going to try to remember that next time I get flustered about somebody’s reminder.

We can all use a good reminder of what we already know is there – but many times fail to act upon.
 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Forgiveness is sooooo EXCITING!!!!


Hard.
Difficult
Excruciating.
Impossible.

I've heard forgiveness described as all of these things and more.

I don't think I've ever heard even one person describe it as exciting, unless they are speaking of the fact that they are excited that God forgave their own sins.

But me? I'm totally, 100%, over-the-moon excited out of my mind about forgiveness!!!

I'm excited about receiving it from God, and giving it as well. I haven't always felt this way, by the way.

Forgiveness totally changed my life, especially in the last year.

This Friday will make one year since something happened to me that has been the hardest thing in my life, to forgive.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Oozing Jesus



As I was walking the streets of Pittsburgh this past summer with my family I looked up and saw this message in a store window. I quickly snapped a photo with my phone.

Riding down the road in Tampa a few years ago, I looked up and this message had been written in the clouds:




I stopped to take a photo, wanting to preserve the moment.

Seeing messages such as this are cool, and even more important, I want to BE a living message.

I want people to see what I do, even without words at times, and KNOW that Jesus loves them.

I have job descriptions and initiatives and goals and dreams.
And yet nothing is more important than this.

Truth speaking, yes.
Yet -- oozing love, compassion, and kindness. 

Oozing:

To slowly trickle or seep out of something; flow in a very gradual way.
To give a powerful impression of a quality. (i.e. "he oozed charm and poise.")
Synonyms: exude, gush, drip, pour forth, emanate, radiate

  Yes, I want to ooze Jesus.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Are You Preparing Your Child for the REAL World?


If we're not careful, we can go from being our child's advocate to exerting undue interference that renders them unprepared for adult life.

Yes...this REALLY happened...

Years ago at our church, we had a pastoral staff member in their late twenties whose mother from out of state contacted my husband and me -- TWICE -- to tell us how she thought her son's work issues should be handled. Apparently she didn't agree with some of our decisions. We were absolutely dumbfounded.  Needless to say, the interference on the part of the staffer's mother only made things go from bad to worse.

Opportunities for Growth...


Giving children opportunity to gain experience in solving problems of all kinds begins not when they turn 18 or 21, but all throughout their growing up years. Living in the era of helicopter parenting, many children and teens miss opportunities to learn problem solving skills.

During the course of my children's school years we have had relatively few problems with teachers.  I'm a huge fan of teachers, in general. But there were rare times when we didn't agree with something -- times when something may have been unjust or unwise.


One day a teacher I'll refer to as Mrs. K, called me, and she was literally IN TEARS over the fact that Jordan was tapping on his desk, usually with a pencil. When Jordan finished his work and had nothing to do he would sit there tapping. Jordan doesn't do well when bored or with nothing to do.

I suggested to Mrs. K that she give him a task to do, or send him to the library if his work was finished. She didn't like those suggestions. Her preference was to ask the kids to put their heads down on the desk and rest if they were done with their work. (Something Jordan doesn't do, readily.)

 Did I mention, when she called she was CRYING about the tapping?? Profusely?  I felt it was overly dramatic to say the least.

When I got off the phone, I told Jordan how upset his teacher was over his tapping, and asked him to stop doing it. He said, "See, I told you she was crazy, Mom. What kind of teacher bursts out crying about tapping?"

So I had a choice...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why Affirmation Addicts Get Stuck

Succeeding at anything long-term will be a challenge for those addicted to affirmation.

Affirmation is a wonderful thing when it happens. I love it. (What human being doesn't?) I try to remember to give it to others, knowing how much it means. I have a collection of affirming communications people have sent me over the course of my life. Such notes are of value and are appreciated. 

At the same time, I'm mindful of guarding against the trap of needing any of it to:

1) Do what is right.
2) Fulfill my purpose in the earth.
3) Lead in the way God has called me to.

I learn by observing others, more than anything.

I notice that affirmation addicts tend to spin their wheels a lot, never gaining serious traction.

This is because they have to wait for more affirmations before they can keep going.

Or, they go full steam ahead for a while -- perhaps even make major progress -- and then crash when enough affirmations aren't coming in.

If affirmation is your fuel and it's in short supply, it may put you out of commission at times.

In the words of a great theologian woman who captured the world's attention:

 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reading the Right Book at the Wrong Time


Did you know you can read the right thing at the wrong time?

I didn't until recently.

The thought never occurred to me to pray about what to read, until this past August.

During my time away after my natural mother passed away, I was blessed to spend some time in the home of Kay Zello. Kay is the mother of my dear friend, Bonnie. She's a woman in ministry that I've always looked up to, since the time I was a young girl. I still remember the first time I heard her preach when she came to my home church in Baltimore. I was about twelve years old. I never forgot Kay or her message. I would hear her preach again and again at various events, and her life impacted mine.

I never imagined that one day, in what was one of my greatest times of need, I would be waking up in Kay's house. We would sit on her porch in pajamas, eating breakfast and sharing our thoughts.  One morning as she went to refill her coffee, I picked up the book that was beside her bible where she had been doing devotions. I thumbed through the pages of the book, having never heard of it before, and found her choice of reading to be interesting. So I asked her about it when she came back out on the porch.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Going to the Next Level With New Year's Resolutions



Have you given up on making new year's resolutions because you never follow through on them? 


Recently I blogged about how I accomplished all but one of my new year's resolutions for 2013.  And they weren't all easy peasy ones. I promise. If you missed the post and want to learn about how I did it and how you can do it too, go here. 

I made a decision to do something else this year that I've never done before.

I'm not striving to come up with totally new goals this year.

For some reason I've always felt pressed to do that. I always felt like a new year called for brand new goals. No one else made me feel pressure to do that -- it was simply my own internal squeeze that I felt to go that direction.

This year, my goal is to go to the next level with my resolutions from  last year.  I met my goals. But meeting them, and exceeding them are two different things.

Does this mean I'm going soft on goals, and taking it easy this year? No.
I'm ready to take last year's "investments" to a whole 'nother level.

My investments are:

Investments in Me
Investments in My Marriage
Investments in my Family 
Investments in the Church
Investments in the Next Generation
Investments in the World


Some people read a post like this and say, "Forget it. That's not for me. I'm unorganized and I can't ever manage to finish anything I set out to do."

Help is on the way.  You CAN do this.

I've written the book on getting stuff done. Some people wonder how I co-pastor a church full time, co-manage my household, fulfill the responsibilities of a wife and mother, serve as a certified career coach, blog daily, travel and speak and a potpourri of other stuff...without ending up in the loony bin. I've had some close calls.

So many people have asked me, "How do you do it?" that I decided to write a book to help others. 

If you haven't already made some resolutions, it's not too late.
It's a new year and anything is possible.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Because of the Birthday Boy, ANYTHING is Possible!

My table is all set for the birthday party!

Christmas is one of our busiest times as pastors. I haven't even shaved both legs in one day this month. 

The question, "Are you going away for the holidays?" is always one that is humorous to me if one knows my line of work. If the holiday in question has any religious significance at all, I am  working overtime.  In 26 years of marriage we've never "gone away for the holidays" mainly because of our work and also because we have three children and our traditions are rooted in the family we have created together as a married couple.

There is no complaint here, just an observation. I absolutely love what I do!  Just sayin' that for a pastor...this is our busy season!Last night we were at the church late, getting things set up for tonight's Christmas Eve Communion. Larry has a special surprise for tonight that he can't wait to unveil! He has talked about it non-stop for a month. I can't wait til' it finally happens!

Today I've been making all the dishes for our traditional family Christmas dinner (read about it here).

Amongst the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin pies and the 7-layer salad, I had to remind myself to just breathe.

Take it all in.

Think of the reason for it all, again.

It's the birthday of the King!

God sent Jesus to earth to make all things possible.
Because of Him, what people say is impossible, is indeed possible!

In fact the word impossible is also I'm-possible when you break the word in two!

Anything is possible for me, for you, for us.
ANYTHING!

I'm experiencing an extra dose of that in my life right now.
Reminding myself that He kicks impossible's butt.

He eats impossible for breakfast.

Why wouldn't anyone want to follow this amazing birthday boy?

I choose to say yes to Him everyday -- and watch Him move the mountains.