The Proverbs of Dr. Russ

During our time at the Mountain Learning Center, Dr. Russ Veenker poured lots of truth and wisdom into our lives. Three statements in particular have stuck with me, and they have become “proverbs” (wise sayings) to help me bring about important changes in my behavior.

Proverb 1: “Control is an illusion” -- One of my strengths is to bring order out of chaos. Among other things, this God-given ability enables me to help organizations function more efficiently. This same quality makes me good at analyzing…and teaching on…difficult Bible texts. However, there is a downside: this characteristic can create the illusion that I am somehow in control of my circumstances; that I always can figure out the answers, and wrestle problems into submission. Yet I am increasingly aware that I actually control very little of what happens to me. What I can control is how I respond to what happens. This is a radically new perspective for me, and it leads me to an inescapable conclusion: I must choose to live each day as an act of faith.

To drive home this lesson, God has led me into a situation where living by faith is my only option. As I contemplate the next season of life, I cannot even begin to figure out how all the pieces of the puzzle should fit together. Therefore, I find myself turning to the Lord, acknowledging my lack of control, and striving to trust Him to bring me to the right place at the right time. Because He is in control…and I am not.

Proverb 2: “All relationships are driven by anxiety” -- I had to think about this one for awhile before it fully made sense to me. Why? Because I was unaware of how much anxiety lurks beneath the surface of my life. The desire to impress, the longing to be liked, the need to perform well, the fear of letting someone down…these are just a few of the ever-present realities that underlie all of my interactions with others. And all of these things produce anxiety: sometimes a little, sometimes a lot...but always present. Far too often I have let the anxiety determine my response to others, rather than simply doing what is best for the relationship.

As I live each day with this new level of awareness, I find myself making better choices. As a result, I’m better able to focus on the people I interact with…rather than focus on the underlying anxiety.

Proverb 3: “When we’re under stress, we regress” -- This principle makes complete sense to me; I clearly see how I can revert to less mature and less appropriate behaviors when I’m stressed out. But more importantly, I’ve learned that stress drives me to forget about Proverbs 1 and 2 above. In other words, when I’m stressed…I regress to anxiety and control. I try harder to control my circumstances, in an attempt to reduce my anxiety, and therefore eliminate the stress.

This default response is, of course, counter-productive. The solution is not to just reduce the stress in my life, though that is a good thing to do. Since I always will face stress in various ways, the real solution is to learn how to change my default behavior. In other words, by learning ways to respond better to Proverbs 1 and 2, then I will respond better when I face the circumstances of Proverb 3.

The interconnected nature of these proverbs…and the way I see them play out in my life…is one of the most important and powerful lessons I am learning this fall.

- Bruce

My Dreams for Julie

Our loving Father has given Julie a very clear call to pastoral ministry. This call was formed and shaped through her years of service at Eastside, and it has been confirmed in numerous ways during our Sabbatical.

As God has been working in her, I’ve been having dreams for her. I can’t claim that these dreams are from the Lord, but they certainly express the desires of my heart for her.

I dream of a gathering place – a room of quietness and beauty – where Julie can meet with women individually and in groups. Where she can lead women through times of spiritual retreat. Where she can teach women how to have meaningful times of personal reflection and prayer.

I dream of a church family where Julie can have a recognized role in discipling and mentoring women. Where she can emphasize “spiritual development” more than “running programs”. Where she can equip women to become spiritual leaders and mentors and disciple-makers.

I dream of a writing workshop where Julie can have a quiet place to set down on paper the things that God lays on her heart. Where she can create devotional articles and books that will address the deepest soul needs of women. Where she can share her heart for ministry through the written word, equipping women to lead women.

My fervent hope is that these dreams in my heart come from the heart of God. My fervent prayer is that these dreams will come to pass, so that Julie can be all that God wants her to be.

-  Bruce


This fall I’ve been learning a great deal about waiting. In the past I often have considered “waiting” to be a waste of time. After all, if I can be more efficient or find a short-cut…then why wait? But God has used this season to remind me that waiting brings its own rewards and blessings.

Waiting allows me to work through the issues and behaviors that – at times – plague my thoughts; the self-talk that derails my best intentions; the frenzy that causes my emotions to get out of balance.

Waiting reminds me to be a more patient person – not expecting others to jump when I determine that something “must” be done right now. Waiting helps me consider if these self-imposed deadlines are valid or arbitrary.

Waiting helps me to extend grace to myself and others, allowing time for growth and development.

Waiting demands my release of control; my desire to orchestrate all that happens to myself and those whom I love. Instead, I must rest in God’s unfolding plan, rather than insist on my plan.

At the Mountain Learning Center, we enjoyed 19 meals with Russ and Kandy. We always stayed at the table at least an hour. At first, I felt my anxiousness rising…we had stuff to do!  But after several meals, I started to relax. To take my time. To enjoy the act of intentionally waiting: waiting for everyone to finish; waiting for the food to settle; waiting for the next enjoyable moment in the conversation.

I am starting to talk myself out of some impatience and I am letting go of my demands for speed. Instead, I am waiting. Waiting for others to finish, waiting for others to answer, waiting until someone has completed their task...waiting while I take the time to think through my own tasks.

Even as I’m waiting, I can watch, take notice, and rest in expectation, believing that God is at work in the moment. In each and every moment.  I’m discovering that the more I slow down, the richer and more full my life becomes. That the reward and the blessing of  learning to wait.

- Julie

“Love” vs. “Duty”

Jesus said, “The first [commandment] in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second [commandment]: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” -- Mark 12:29-31, The Message

I've been wrestling lately with this passage in a very personal way.  Because I've been worshipping the idol of responsibility (see my earlier post), I have spent the last 30 years increasingly defining my life by what I do for others.  As a result, I have neglected the care of myself.  I have not paid enough attention to my own physical, relational, emotional, and even spiritual needs.

In a very real sense, then, I have not been “loving” myself.  Nor have I been properly loving God.  Therefore, if I take the words of Jesus seriously, I have not been able to effectively love other people.  The ministry, work, service, pastoral care (whatever we call it) I have engaged in has not truly flowed out of my love for self and my love for Christ.  I’ve been doing it out of a sense of duty and also out of ideology (it’s the “right” thing to do). 

There is nothing wrong with obedience; there is nothing wrong about being motivated by truth.  But Jesus tells me that these things are not enough.  If I serve Him solely out of “duty”, then He only gets second-best from me.  So Jesus asks for more of me.    Why? Because He loves me.  He proved His love by dying for me.  And because He loves me…He wants me to love me.  So I find myself asking an interesting question: “Do I love me…do I value me…as much as Jesus does?”  Based on the evidence of the past 30 years, the painful answer is “no”.

A big part of my journey this fall, then, has been learning to make time for Bruce.  To provide better care for my body and my soul.  To allow the Lord to rekindle my interests and passions.  And to spend time with Jesus for the purpose of relationship…not just to discover rules, principles, and marching orders. 

Like everything else in life, this requires balance.  After all, I don’t want to become a self-indulgent, navel-gazing narcissist.  But at the moment, I’m in no danger of that because I have been living at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Sadly, I have been so selfless that I lost much of myself along the way.

By the grace of God, this is now changing. And it is a great joy...accompanied by tremendous peace in my start loving myself again by rediscovering who God has made me to be.

- Bruce