I’ve been crying quite a bit lately. It feels rather uncomfortable…but I’m adjusting. Growing up in a stoic Scandinavian home had a good side (we’re persistent and tough) but also a not-so-good side (we gloss over, hide, or even ignore our deepest feelings…particularly about tough issues).

My home was a place of love, but we did not talk about hurt or pain or disappointment. So early on I learned to cry alone - usually in the shower – so my tears would not be seen or heard. I learned to put on a good face, and to keep going no matter how hard things seemed. When my dad died, my mom did not cry…even though she had just lost her best friend and soul mate after more than 40 years of marriage. She simply pressed on, like she always did. Needless to say, when my mom died a few years later I did not cry (at least not much, and certainly not in front of others).

So over the years
I learned to carry my pain alone, stuffing my deepest emotions as if they were a problem or hindrance.  

The great lie is that I thought this was healthy, because outwardly it appeared that I had my emotions under control. Sadly, I was blind to the damage this was doing to my own soul, raising my internal anxiety. Furthermore, my seeming lack of empathy and/or sympathy at times made others feel as if I did not truly care about them and their problems.   

Bruce is joining me in this journey, however it is somewhat easier for him because he did not grow up “stuffing” feelings. We have had several tearful conversations recently as we process the losses of the past ten years: deaths in the family, major bumps in the road for our kids, ministry challenges…. 

Expressing the deep emotions associated with these losses has not been easy, but it has been good. As I work through the moments of pain, tears can lighten my load and bring healing. I am thankful that my tears allow God’s Spirit to bring comfort to my soul.

- Julie

Connecting with God's Family

When we understand that the church truly is a “family”, we realize how difficult it can be to move on...and so our departure from Eastside truly has created a void in our lives. We wish that we could just jump right into a new church and get plugged in, but that’s not easy either, because it obviously takes awhile for deep and meaningful relationships to develop.

For us, the process of getting re-connected is even more complicated because we’re in a season of waiting. We can’t really plug into a new congregation right now, because we believe that God will move us into pastoral roles…somewhere…in 2010. To a certain extent, then, we need to “tread water” until the Lord clarifies our next step.

So how do we connect with God’s people during this time? And how do we make our church experience meaningful and productive?

As we’ve prayerfully wrestled with these questions, we’ve come up with an answer...at least for the Fall. We’ve decided to visit the Stadia church plants throughout southern California that I’ve had a hand in getting started. So each Sunday, Julie and I are worshipping in a different location. In the past three weeks we’ve visited Solid Ground Christian Fellowship in Redlands, Life Spring Christian Church in Beaumont, and Momentum Christian Church in Chula Vista. It feels a bit nomadic, but there’s also a strong sense of connection because of the relationship I have with the pastors who have launched these new churches. These visits are a great opportunity for us to affirm the planters and their wives, to encourage them, and to thank them for the vital ministry they are performing by starting new congregations. 

We’re also discovering that this is a great learning experience for us. As we participate in different kinds of worship services, we’re able to evaluate the pros and cons of these various approaches. This is helping us to sharpen our focus on how we would like to be able to help shape the priorities of our next church…wherever it might be.

- Bruce

Be In The Moment

Be in the moment.

That phrase is permeating this season in our lives. I knew we were rushing in life, but had no idea how much we were missing by planning ahead and planning too much. The preciousness of life and relationships can be lost when our thinking is all forward-looking.

This is one of the great lessons we carry with us from our time at the Mountain Learning Center.

Our life is taking on a richness as we move more slowly, and appreciate the interactions we have with God and one another. Soon after we left Eastside, we were able to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law in Wisconsin. One night my brother and I had a couple of hours to just talk. I was conscious of the love we share and the gift we had been given in being together. While at June Lake, Bruce and I soaked in quiet moments while kayaking (just paddling and drifting across beautiful alpine lakes), sometimes talking, sometimes listening to the wind in the trees, or just looking at the majesty of the mountains God has created. And last night I watched Karina try on her wedding dress – via Skype – and saw the smile on her face as she shared the moment with me.

These moments...and so many others...are blessings. We regret the times when we've let such moments pass by without fully embracing their richness. Each moment is a gift from our loving Father, and for this we truly are grateful.

- Julie

Deadman's Creek

On our first afternoon at the Mountain Learning Center, we discovered a serene spot called Deadman's Creek.  We turned off Hwy. 395 between June Lake and Mammoth, and followed a dirt road back into the forest.  We went several miles without seeing another person, then we parked on a gentle bluff by the creek and started the process of learning to be "intentional" about resting.  We needed this desperately; we were pretty worn out and beat up from all that had taken place in our lives over the past decade. 

So we absorbed the sounds of the forest while we sat quietly for nearly an hour.   Julie did some sketching (which she's done only intermittently over the years), while I wrote some prose-poems, like this one:

Early Autumn on the Eastern Slope

The lingering smell of dust from the fire road fills my nostrils; soft crackling
comes from under the hood as the Jeep’s 6-cylinder engine begins to cool.

Dry mountain air…with just a hint of crispness…tugs at Julie’s hair.
I watch her sketch 
as we sit on the fallen log. Our seat is hard but suitable.

Scattered pine trees surround the creek-side; their needles fading
to a dull green.
Nearby foliage offers mere hints
of the brilliant gold and orange and yellow yet to come.

Deadman’s Creek bubbles its way downhill, caressing the boulders
it has been stroking for eons.
I close my eyes as the jays squawk in the trees, and I let the music
of Deadman’s Creek sing it’s ancient benediction to my aching soul.

On our last day on the mountain, we had a picnic lunch by Deadman's Creek.  This peaceful spot served as a great "bookend" to our time on the mountain. We discussed the high points of our retreat and prayed together...then headed back to SoCal to begin implementing all that we had learned.  (We'll be sharing more about this in future posts).

- Bruce

Meeting God on the Mountain

Our sabbatical really began last month with a 12-day retreat at The Mountain Learning Center [http://www.pastor-care.com/] in June Lake, CA.  The MLC is a program run by Dr. Russ and Kandy Veenker: "a mountain retreat for pastors and their spouses where a physically enjoyable, emotionally gratifying & spiritually invigorating experience revitalizes their relationship with God, self and others." 

Their insight and encouragement helped us grow as individuals, as a couple, and as pastors committed to ministry in the local chuch.  It was a rich time of renewal, and began the process of healing from many of the hurts and crises we've experienced in the past 10 years. 

One of the goals of the MLC program is to help pastors slow down, since so many of us are chronic over-workers.  June Lake is just a few miles north of The Mammoth Lakes on Highway 395, and this entire area truly is "God's playground".  When we were not meeting with Russ and Kandy, we were out enjoying the area.  The eastern Sierra is a place of incredible beauty...a place where we could hike and bike deep into the woods and "hear" the silence...a place where we could kayak on a mostly deserted lake and listen to the wind in the aspens on shore...a place where we began to find some rest for our souls. 

Moving On...

Our journey began on August 9, when we said "goodbye" to Eastside Christian Church.  Unlike other professions, ministry links "church" and "job" in a unique way.  So when pastors leave their job, they usually leave their church family at the same time.   Eastside had been our home for more than 20 years, so this was not an easy parting.   

But when you feel the nudge of God...and it turns into a persistent push...and then a firm, yet loving, kick in the seat of the pants...you know it's time to move on.   So we both resigned and embarked on a journey of faith into an unknown future.   

We're on a spiritual sabbatical this fall.  We know that we will return to pastoral ministry, but we don't know where or when.  Our watchword for this season is: "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you...."  So we're spending time with the Father and with each other, striving to un-busy and un-clutter our lives so we can hear him better.  And we're trusting that He will return us to ministry in His timing.