Church Lab- Sample B

More in the continuing saga of my Lenten pilgriming…

I chose the second church I visited by accident. I thought I was choosing a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, but I got stuck in Google quicksand. In my zeal to learn as much as I could about the different denominations and churches, I got a little mixed up. I ended up choosing another Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It was okay, though. I chose a Saturday evening contemporary service in The Villages. The service was a much different experience than the traditional Sunday morning service I experienced in my town the prior week.

To provide some context, I need to explain a little about The Villages. I have mentioned this place in past blogs. The Villages are a weird, almost supernatural phenomenon. It is the housing development that took over the world. It is a mammoth senior independent living facility of over thirty-two square miles. The population is over 80.000 people. The heart of The Villages is a system of residential neighborhoods for people over fifty-five, augmented by health care facilities, restaurants, bars (lots of bars), major shopping areas, entertainment venues, and every service a person could ever need. There are social and activity clubs to serve people of every interest- including being majorettes. Yes, I have seen them practicing in full regalia in the Target parking lot. You can access any place within The Villages by golf cart. Their road system involves a great many traffic circles. I have always thought that was an odd urban planning choice for a community intended for people who, by definition, have probably lost a lot of peripheral vision.

The Villages is the fastest growing city in the United States. They brand themselves as “America’s Hometown.” The way they are expanding, they might have to broaden the term beyond “America’s.”  We live about fifteen miles from the heart of The Villages, although that distance is shrinking as the town seeps ever southward. The Villages pretend they are a city unto themselves. In reality, their property spans across at least four different cities in three different counties.

This brings me to Sample B of my Church Lab experiment. I am not sure you would describe the church I attended in The Villages as a mega church, but it certainly seemed that way to me. I spent most of my church years in Roman Catholic churches, so I am familiar with large service attendance. However, after nearly eight years at my small Episcopal church, I am now more accustomed to moderate congregations of 100-150 people. The church I attended in The Villages pushed me out of that paradigm, for sure. This church has three separate campuses and a membership of over 4,000 people. They hold seven services each weekend. There had to be around four hundred people at the service I attended.

This service was much more casual. The minister wore a purple polo shirt and black pants. There was not a clerical collar or vestment to be seen. The hallmark of the service was singing. There was little spoken prayer, especially communal spoken prayer. When I entered the enveloping worship space, I asked an usher for a program or Order of Worship. He looked confused and said I should just follow along with the video screens. There were two MASSIVE screens hanging from the ceiling. As the service progressed, I saw why programs were not necessary. Mostly, the service involved just following the bouncing ball to sing worship songs along with the small, but powerful choir. The singing, for me, was rather restful, focusing, and meditative. I am not sure if that was the vibe they were going for, but it worked for me. I did miss the communal recitation of spoken prayer, though.

The minister preached a helpful sermon. The communion process was beautiful. Both the sermon and communion were similar to my church, with just a snippet more of a modern flair. I loved the communion distribution. Each communion station had a large one-piece ceramic vessel- a plate of hosts surrounding a cup of wine molded into the center. As I write about it, I can’t help thinking you will all visualize a chip and dip plate, which seems very irreverent. It did not strike me like that at the time. I guess there was a functional similarity between the communion vessel and a chip and dip plate, but the communion vessel was so much more elegant and transcendent. Don’t ask me how it was elegant and transcendent. It was just a vibe.

Because there were so many people, I had plenty of time to look around at the congregation. Something occurred to me that I would normally never notice. It still seems odd to me that it even registered to me. As a white, middle-class woman, I typically don’t have to notice stuff like this. People who look like me are usually in the majority. However, when I looked around the congregation at The Villages church, all I saw were people who all fit in one particular dynamic. Every single person was white. At the age of almost sixty-five, I was the youngest person there except for a couple of the singers. Knowing what I know of The Villages, I am pretty sure all the worshippers fell into an upper middle class economic status. I doubt there was anyone there who was very rich. I doubt there was anyone there who was poor or even lower middle class.

My own church is fairly homogenous. However, I have seen a shift in the eight years or so I have been attending. Younger people are popping in- at our recent Alpha program, we had 8 or 10 young men who showed up regularly. I see faces of color in the congregation. We have members with generational ties to my town and to my church. We have people who have only recently moved to the area. We have very wealthy people, and we have people who have to decide whether to pay the electric bill or the car insurance each month. Our congregation is becoming a blended family. It is a rich environment. It enriches me to be part of it.

As I was sitting in my car after the service… waiting for the parking lot to clear out… I was praying and meditating. Facebook recently decided that Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in God with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understand. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” is my very own Bible passage. If Facebook says it, it must be true, so I decided to contemplate that message. Considering that this Lent was a season of discovery for me… a season to look for where God wanted me to serve… Facebook did a pretty good job.

Something happened at that point. Now, I am not a mystical kind of person. I am intuitive, but I am also very, very practical. If I have a feeling or an impulse, I analyze it to shreds to figure out from whence it came. I tend to think that this “feeling” or “impulse” or “intuition” is the result of me observing and analyzing information so automatically that I don’t even realize I am doing it. That may be what happened in the parking lot at The Villages church. It may be that I simply wanted to see something to give me a direction. Or it may be that I had a bona fide vision. Whatever it was, it was powerful and compelling.

As I sat quietly in my car with my eyes closed thinking about Proverbs 3:5-6, I suddenly had an undeniable picture of what my church could be like. I know it was my church because I saw people I know sitting in the pews. I should say “sitting in the stands” because it was such a large space- almost an arena. They were people the people that I have noticed coming into our congregation in the past several years- the younger ones, the newly moved to the area, the non-Caucasian faces, those who struggle financially, brothers and sisters with varied backgrounds. I am close to these people. I can’t say they came to my church because I was there or because I invited them. I have come to know them since they started attending my church. God seemed to be telling me, though, that these people were there and thriving in their spiritual lives partly because of me… that I had behaved in a way towards them that reflected God’s love and acceptance. My initial takeaway was that God was showing me that I have had value in supporting His work in my current congregation.

The next takeaway might reflect the work that He still has for me to do where I am. I had such a sense that what I was seeing behind my eyelids was God’s vision for my church. God wants it to continue to grow in love and grace and fellowship. He wants it to be a haven for everyone who is searching for Him, in any way. He wants me to have a part in preserving the beauty I have seen grow in my congregation while also expanding to include some of the benefits of a large church. When you have a ton of people come to your church and contribute, it is easier and more efficient to use resources. You can usually offer more programs and ministries. You can hire more staff for pastoral care. You can reach out more to the community.

The “God’s vision” I saw was extraordinary. It was exciting. I don’t know if we will get there in my lifetime. That is up to God. I don’t know if we will ever get there at all. That is up to the people to strive for His vision. All I know is that God has something on the horizon for my church and for me. I guess I will stick around for a while.

Do you think I had a mystical vision? Or something more prosaic? Do you think it matters if it was a message directly from God or something I just made up out of my own little brain? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a visionary day!

Terri/Dorry😊

Church Lab- Sample A

Last week, I mentioned that I explored services in three different churches this Lent. I started my experimentation because I wondered if it was time for me to leave my current church and move to a new congregation. What I found was that God had things to show me in each different church, but leaving my current congregation was not something He apparently needed me to see. Because I didn’t.

The first church I attended was an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation. I visited their traditional Sunday morning service. I guess I started small in this journey because this service was probably as close as I could get to my current style of worship  in a non-Episcopal denomination. The liturgy, readings, and protocol seemed almost identical to what we do in the Episcopal congregation. It was interesting to me to note that, if anything, the liturgy was more formal and “high-churchy” than my experiences in Episcopal churches. However, the worship space itself was much plainer. It resembled a school auditorium with pews instead of folding chairs. There was little adornment.

There was one dramatic difference I noted almost immediately. This difference became a theme that I observed on all my visits. All denominations seem to have the Episcopalians beat when it comes to the comfort of the liturgical furniture. I settled comfortably into a pew upholstered in squishy velvet. It felt absolutely luxurious. The kneelers had padding that was easily twice as cushy as the kneelers in my church. When I went to receive communion, the beautifully embroidered cushions at the rail had to be at least ten inches thick. One can argue that congregants should not be quite this decadent and worldy in church. I’m not going to lie. I’m old. I loved the fact that nothing hurt when this liturgy ended.

The worship room was quite large, compared to my little old Episcopal church. However, there were only about 40 or 50 people worshipping in said room. That surprised me a little since our average Sunday attendance is almost two hundred people between our two services. The disconnect between the size of the room and the number of people sitting in it did emphasize an issue for me. More about that later.

When I entered the narthex of the church, I headed towards a little kiosk set up outside the entry to the worship space. There was a lady there to greet newcomers. She asked my name and made me a nametag. She did not tell me her name. Before I left her little booth to find a seat, I asked. She was certainly nice enough, but the balance of social power was a little out of whack. She knew stuff about me but did not offer anything in return. It was not a big deal, at all. It was just something that tingled me a little bit… sort of like that tiny little beginning of a sniffle you get that nags at you about an impending head cold. Or that little twinge of soreness right before a pimple erupts. Again, it was nothing major. It was just a good reminder of how such a small thing can while its way into a newcomer’s memory bank. Enough little whilers combined in there may impact the visitor perception of the community. Lesson one God had for me- make sure to be mindful and intentional in engaging visitors to the church.

The minister was loud. His volume was loud. His diction was loud. He used a lot of highly active, powerful, almost violent words- “thundered,” “lickety split,” “burned.” His energy was loud. He used his hands to talk… he also used the full length of his arms. This is where the empty space in the room really impacted me. It felt like the minister should be giving his sermon in an arena full of people to absorb the energy. I kept wanting to back up to make room for the charisma emanating from him. He gave an inspirational, thoughtful sermon. He made some interesting points that hit home for me. However, there is a question of balance and preference. Some people choose a church specifically for a dynamic, animated preacher. Of course, most people don’t want stuffy or dull. On the other hand, some of us are expert introverts. For us, it can feel like there is so much ministerial energy in a room that there is no room for Divine energy.

All in all, my experience with this service was good. I left feeling good, if a little exhausted by my efforts to corral the charisma from the pulpit. There is nothing wrong with having to work a little in your worship. I felt like I saw God at this church.

Through this experience, though, I think what God wanted to show me had little or nothing to do with this particular church or this particular liturgy. He wanted me to see something about myself and about my growth. God placed a rear-view mirror right in front of my face.

Not so long ago, I could never have experimented like this. I would not have been brave enough to even walk through the door. I might have made it as far as the parking lot, but there is no way I would have had the courage and self-worth to enter a place filled with strangers. My broken mind, damaged heart, and discombobulated gut would have told me that everyone would be looking at me and not wanting me there because… who would want me around? I felt I was nothing but a blight and a burden on anyone unlucky enough to encounter me. There were so many times in my life when I did not do things solely because of that mindset. I can absolutely remember times when I psyched myself up to engage in an unfamiliar environment or with new people, only to be completely paralyzed and unable to follow through at the last minute.

When I walked into this church, I was a little nervous, but I did not feel at all paralyzed. I entered the space as if I were allowed and deserved to be there. I felt like people would probably be happy to have me visit and engage with them- the same as I feel about visitors to my church. I did not feel like a burden or an intrusion. I felt it was more likely that the people would see me as a precious blessing than an unwelcome imposition by virtue of my very existence.

This was big news. Thank you, God. Thank you, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Message received.

Anybody else have any pivotal moments when you realized just how far you had come in personal growth? Please share your experience by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a precious day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Pilgriming

Often, during Lent, I embark on some sort of project that tends to focus me outward- some sort of special observance that involves service to others. Some of my times of greatest spiritual growth and satisfaction generated from those projects. Last year, I shared that God led me down a path of intensely personal, painful, and healing observance. I called it the Lentiest Lent That Ever Did Lent.

This year, I’ve combined the two perspectives.

I am bombarding Heaven with a continuous prayer for a specific family I know in Pennsylvania that has a specific need. Each day, often several times a day, I send prayers to God, asking for hope, faith, love, comfort, peace, and strength for them. I also pray for a miracle of turned  hearts so as to bring the family to a place of mutual support and collaboration for the benefit of them all- especially the little girl who is constrained by the circumstances around her. Every single time I pray, I add them to my petitions. I have pleaded with my whole community of friends and contacts to join me in prayer. We pray for them in church. My women’s group is praying for them. My Stephen Ministry cohort is praying for them. I’ve asked all my friends to keep them uplifted whenever they talk to God. Today, I ask you to pray for my Philadelphia fellowship.

Another big part of my Lenten observance this year has been visiting other churches. The idea of checking out other congregations to see how they invite, welcome, and connect visitors to their church family has been on my church’s Invite Committee to-do list for some time now. Additionally, I have been wrestling with some questions about whether or not God was calling me to stay with my current church. My experience with my current church has filled me with spiritual growth. I have found many opportunities to use the unique gifts God gave me to serve His people and give glory to His name. I passionately believe that my time in this congregation has been rewarding, nourishing, and fruitful.

I also passionately believe that God sometimes leads us down a specific path for a reason or a season, not necessarily for a lifetime. As a person who loves burrowing into a paradigm, especially when that paradigm includes interpersonal relationships, it is extremely difficult for me to even think about disentangling myself. However, the most important thing is not to root oneself in a specific congregation. The most important thing is to root oneself in serving God. If circumstances in my current church start to curtail if and how I can serve God in the way I feel He wants me to serve, maybe the season is changing for me.

I visited three different churches, with three diverse types of service. I tried to be as open as I could be about the experiences. As I emptied myself of preconceived thoughts about what those experiences might be like and what they might teach me, I made room to simply drink in what God had to show me in each place. I figured out that God had something specific to teach me in each new environment. It was a pretty amazing Lenten journey.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to share what I learned in each of my different worship experiences. I was talking to a friend the other day who exclaimed about what a personal God we serve. The journey I took was uniquely mine. It was God spending some dedicated quality time with a beloved child who needed a little extra attention and TLC. The process was not about the result. It was about the adventure. I realized that God was not suggesting that I move to a different congregation or denomination. He was simply suggesting that I needed to learn some specific things about myself and my relationship with Him that I could only learn by stepping out of the paradigm of my everyday world.

Has God ever taken you on your very own adventure with Him? What did you learn? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have an elevated day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Turtle Herding

Sometimes, weird things just happen, and it takes a hot minute to realize just how weird they are.

The other day, I was driving down Highland Lakes Boulevard to exit my community. Let me explain that the term “boulevard” is a bit ironic. The Boulevard is the main drag that runs through our subdivision- the main traffic artery for those of us living in my age-restricted 55+ plus community. Before we get too grandiose, let me point out that the maximum speed limit on the Boulevard is twenty-five miles per hour. It is one lane in each direction. The entire length of this super-highway to decrepitude is about 1.5 miles.

Anyway, I was driving on my way out of the community, when I noticed two cars in front of me, completely blocking the road. As I mentioned, there is one lane in each direction on the Boulevard. These motorists had created two lanes by expanding the road to include about half the sidewalk on the right side of the street. The two cars also blocked my line of sight, so I could not see what might be causing the delay. I tried to peer around the car parked halfway on the sidewalk, but my eyes apparently don’t see around right angles. I finally noticed the head of a petite elderly woman in the street in front of the two cars. I could only just see her small frame between the cars, shuffling across the street at about the speed that trees grow. I wondered why she had ever started walking across the street since it was clearly a super strenuous and stressful endeavor for her. I also wondered if I should get out of my car and see if she needed help, but I realized there were probably people in the two cars ahead of me who were in a much better position to evaluate the situation than I was.

Just as I was getting ready to open my car door, the lady reached the sidewalk. I saw the reason for her shuffling. Between her feet, as she perambulated onto the grass, was a small turtle. She was using her feet as lane bumpers to keep that turtle on course to get to the other side of the road. Of course, she could not cross the street any faster than the turtle could run. Since “turtle” and “run” are oxymoronic, it was taking quite some time. It turned out that the car on the side of the road belonged to the turtle herder. The other motorist stopped to provide a barrier to keep other cars from running over the lady or the turtle.

It is spring in central Florida, even if the calendar does not quite agree yet. The temperature and humidity are climbing. The pollen is piling. The growing season has started, especially amongst weeds. The alligators are bellowing in search of mates. And turtles are relocating to the next pond down the road. Here are my suggestions on how to survive springing:

Run the air conditioner. Just do it. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t possibly need air conditioning in March. You are not in Kansas anymore.

Take an allergy pill every day whether you need it or not. Trust me, if you don’t take one, you will need it.

Redefine success for your yard work. Consider it a victory if you spend 20-30 minutes a week in the early morning pulling the worst of the weeds and still have a pulse.

Stay well clear of alligators. They tend to get cranky when they aren’t getting any.

Look both ways for turtle herders!

What does Spring bring in your neck of the woods? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Springing!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Church Ownership

In my last post, I wrote about personal agency- the notion of taking ownership of one’s  life. We have options and we make decisions to shape our lives. Life is not something that simply happens to us. God gives us the tools to change our own circumstances in many instances. He gives us the right to change our own circumstances in many instances. He also gives us mercy and grace to adapt when it is not possible to change a situation. He provides multiple ways forward after difficult experiences that can either build us up or destroy us, depending on how we exert the agency we have in our lives. I suspect that God even expects us to select the circumstances and experiences necessary to live a life that is rewarding to ourselves and pleasing to Him. That is agency. If God expects us to have agency in our own lives, surely we should expect the same from the world… and from ourselves.

 This concept of agency also has implications above the individual level.

I’ve mentioned that my church adopted a ministry called Invite, Welcome, Connect. The ministry’s founder, Mary Foster Parmer, spent a weekend with our congregation helping us strategize ways to grow our church in membership and vibrancy. Her message is that people usually only truly engage with a church on a deep, abiding level if the congregation meets the newcomers’ needs in several phases of their discerning and bonding process.

First of all, the church members must invite people in their secular lives to come to church. Most of the time, people who join churches begin coming to that church because someone they know invites them. Secondly, the church needs to make sure that the newcomers feel welcome. That means being friendly and genuinely interested in new people, but it also means considering more subliminal conditions. For instance, would someone who is on a lower economic level feel welcome in a church if the only fellowship activity of the year is a fund-raising auction, which tends to put a person’s financial status on public display? Finally, it is not enough to simply invite a person to church and smile at them kindly, authentically, and enthusiastically. People come back to a church and contribute their gifts (time, talent, connections, disposition, financial resources, etc.) when they connect with the church’s theology, mission, activities, and people. When we form longer term, genuine relationships with people who are considering joining our church, it is more likely that they will strengthen that bond by joining the family.

I think all of this is absolutely true. I love the ministry. I notice more engagement, more excitement, and more ownership in our congregation. I would add a  fourth element that we should consider, as well…. agency.

Newcomers in a church should not feel like they are couch-surfing in someone else’s domicile, living off the generosity of the owners of said couch. They need to believe that they have real agency in the life of the church if they are to embrace that church as a core piece of who they are. A congregation that wishes to grow and fill hearts cannot only accept and welcome people to serve in ways that they are inheriting from past generations of church membership. They need an opportunity to sow the unique gifts God has sent them to plant, especially if they are not planting in a field that is already growing some other crop. Remember, even if the crop they are growing does not appeal to your palette, it is likely- especially in an expanding church- that someone else will gladly feast on it. Providing an abundant smorgasbord for the people of God is a reason for the church to rejoice!

It is important that new people have a true sense of ownership. They must have a meaningful voice. They must have the power to not just inhabit the pews in the church, but to shape its future.

Allowing newcomers to shape the future of the church can be scary. Despite good intentions all around, people don’t always get it right. A church that is vibrant becomes fertile because of the rich spiritual, social, and emotional ground on which it stands. That legacy of knowledge, history, and traditions is trustworthy and good. Fertility does require more than just the ground, however. It also requires ever-renewing rain, sun, and nourishment. It also requires the continual inspiration and blessing of God. Finding a way to combine those very necessary elements is difficult and sometimes messy. However, if a church just turns over the existing soil and refuses to provide the other resources that need constant renewal, that church may wither. Also, to God, no offering is unacceptable. If we refuse offers to provide all the recurring resources needed for vibrancy, God’s blessing may also be in short supply. Maybe the organization becomes less God’s church and more the people’s church. Such a transformation does not suggest health or longevity.

So, if you are part of the foundational congregation of a church that wishes to thrive and grow in the future, engage your newcomers in leadership intentionally. When they volunteer to head up some program or project, support them by sharing your experience. However, don’t wield the past like a weapon. Support their vision. Elect them for your vestries and parish councils. Stay open-minded to their perspectives. Do not minimize what they say or feel because “nobody would feel that way”-  just because you would not feel that way. Accept that their perspective may reflect the perspective of other people coming into your church who do not have the same background and history that you do. You do not have to accept the position of the newcomer as to how to meet everyone’s interests, but you should validate that the interests they raise are legitimate.

I suggest that it might be worthwhile to sometimes accept a newcomer’s vision, even if you are skeptical about what the outcome might be. Yes, the end result might not be exactly what you would have envisioned. Sometimes, the end result might actually be objectively “better.” Even if the end result turns out objectively “worse” than if the congregation had taken the more traditional path, the church derives intrinsic benefit from granting true agency to all its members. Yes, there is risk. But there can also be great reward.

A church can always decide what they want in terms of vibrancy. Some churches would just as soon stay small and intimate, content with ministering to the congregational family that traditionally populates their pews. However, if a congregation genuinely wants to ignite an outpouring of the Holy Spirit beyond their traditional congregation, it will be necessary to build agency into the growth plan.

Are you a member of a church that has grown and thrived? How did your congregation accomplish this? On the other hand, if you have seen “dechurching” gut a congregation, what was that experience like? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a Spirit-filled Day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Personal Agency

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that I have ignored potentially dangerous behaviors in my work life and in personal relationships that I knew I should address. In my attempts to avoid upsetting anyone, I pretty much accepted whatever situations into which I wandered. For some reason, it never occurred to me that I had any power to improve any circumstances of my own life. It did not occur to me that I could leave a situation. It did not occur to me that I could draw boundaries. It did not occur to me that I could rewrite my own narrative.

Let me cite some examples to give you an idea of what I mean.

In my work life, the government paid me to serve the public. Because of the nature of my position, my customers were often not at their best.  I was an excellent employee, embracing the idea of service… to a fault. Most professionals with whom I worked lauded my level of professionalism, efficiency, accessibility, and genuine desire to help. I was proud of my approach to the job and I value that legacy. However, if I am honest, I think I behaved the way I did only partly because of kindness, empathy, professional pride and integrity. A good part of my super-performance was my desire to avoid conflict.

I did not consider whether a request was reasonable or even possible. I did not just go the extra mile. Sometimes, I traveled a marathon of extra miles while dragging the wreckage of my own sanity behind me. I contorted my physical, mental, and spiritual health into a raggedy tangle of anxiety in my attempts to do what other people wanted. 

I did not consider the demeanor and cooperation of the customer. Sometimes customers were flat out abusive, even in the face of my unbelievable efforts to give them what they wanted. I remember one person telling me that she hoped I would be cursed with seven years of tragedy. Another customer tore the eyes off my pet rock when I went to the photocopier.

It was not just customers, either. I somehow had this idea that if an employee- or especially a supervisor- asked me to do something, it must be something possible and I had to figure out a way to accomplish the task. I never thought about pushing back with the reasons why the requested action was impossible within the constraints of my set of circumstances.

Even in volunteer activities, I still felt that my own needs and wants were immaterial. If anyone else had any sort of expectation of me at all, I would subjugate even critical needs of my own.

What is incredibly weird about all of this is that others did offer me opportunities to make decisions that would be good for me- delegating more work, refusing the assignment, setting reasonable boundaries with customers, and developing a work-at-home schedule to minimize the stress of an ungodly commute. I somehow thought that taking advantage of any of these options would make me weak or lazy. I did not feel that my worth was sufficient to merit these sorts of adaptations.

In my personal relationships, it was even worse. When my husband left me, the break was not clean. I spent months waiting for him to decide if he was coming back. It never occurred to me that I could be the one to decide that he wasn’t. In another malignant relationship, which I was ending, I let the man continue to engage me by responding to his requests for assistance. It took something dramatic for me to finally stop entertaining contact with him. Sometimes, when one of these dangerous relationships ended, I would have nightmares that the man was attacking me with a knife. It was my dream, but my dream self did not think to grab the knife from the guy and turn the tables.

Even in good, healthy, loving relationships, I struggled to ask for even the smallest, most minimally intrusive adaptations to my needs and wants.  I couldn’t even tell people who clearly loved me and valued me that I wanted something from them.

I did not even initially connect the real me to my own blog. I imagined a “creative name” in order to write in anonymity and to avoid hurting anyone else’s feelings. It took me over two years of writing a weekly post to reveal my actual name and own up to who I truly am. 

For most of my life, I have been acting like I was couch-surfing on a life that didn’t belong to me. I lived quietly, timidly, non-intrusively. I did everything in my power to be as little trouble to anyone as possible because I believed my mere existence was more than sufficient inconvenience to the world. When I think about what I might have wanted or needed in the past, the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind. A person who is living on a friend’s couch really can’t be asking for a duvet. So, I didn’t ask. I simply accepted what came my way and was grateful for it.

A lot of the shift in my understanding of myself and my value and my ability to create happiness in my own life came about because of my life coaching with Todd Payne (Todd Payne (trueself.io)  I have been working with him for some time now and have learned that my pattern of existence has been to dismiss the possibility that I have any ability to change the circumstances of my own life. I have learned that it is important to at least consider my own needs and wants as a factor in making decisions… maybe even the first factor.  I have been learning that I have agency to consider those needs. I can make decisions that honor and fulfill them.  I have been learning that exerting my agency will increase my own happiness. I am also learning that exerting agency in my life will probably not lead to any huge disruption of anyone else’s life. In fact, it is quite possible that it may create happiness for others as well.

Over the past year or so, I have purposefully acted to create agency in my own life. For instance, I’ve come to terms with the toxicity in many of my past relationships. I now understand that I had every right to insist on changes or to leave. In beautiful, healthy relationships, I’ve come to understand that the relationship partners will not only agree to make changes to help me be happy. They will welcome the opportunity to do so. I have been making requests. These requests are not “demands.” In fact, I do not even see them as requests for particular changes or actions. They are requests to engage with me to see if there are ways we can both be happier and more satisfied. These conversations are bonding and fruitful. I have stood up for myself and my beliefs when others have attempted to bully me into acquiescence. I cut back on a big chunk of my volunteer activities because I realized they were eating me up more than they were feeding me.

My life is much happier and healthier now that I’ve clothed myself in some degree of self-determination. It is very grounding to understand that I often have the power to change my circumstances without causing the earth to spin off its axis. Even when I do not have the power to change my circumstances, I can almost always choose the way I frame and respond to them. As I cautiously begin taking actions and having conversations to be more self-determinate, I feel liberated… and the fall-out has not been nearly as profoundly negative as I thought it would be. Who knew that agency in one’s own life is such a crucial factor to mental health? When I say it like that, it seems obvious. Still, it was not obvious to me for nearly 65 years.

How do you reach the right balance between being self-determinate in meeting your own needs and being a loving, giving person who cares about others?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a self-determining day!

Terri/DORRY 😊

A Love Story

Love humbles.

It is a paradox. You would think that love would lift you up and infuse you with confidence. And it does. I know that one of the most effective means of improving my own self-esteem is thinking about people who love me. That may not be the healthiest way of dealing with low self-esteem issues because self-esteem should come from within, not from external validation. However, I think most of us do nurture our self-esteem with the knowledge that someone loves us.

At the purest, most authentic core of love, though, I think love humbles.

Recently, I’ve been embroiled in some fundamental differences about the meaning of church and how our parish should move forward into the future. I am not going to recount the long, complicated, emotionally fraught story because it is too involved, and the precise circumstances don’t really matter to my point. Let’s just say that, through absolutely no design of my own, I became the lightning rod of change. I guess, if I am honest, it is something that has been happening for some time. I felt it but convinced myself that I was being hypersensitive or paranoid or ridiculous. However, the cat clawed its way out of the bag at a meeting a month or so ago. It was not nice, and it was not pretty. Still, I am sort of glad it happened because I at least felt like less of a crazy person. There was substance- like Mount Everest is substance- behind the vague feelings.

Those of you who know me in real life will find the perception of me as a radical as ludicrous as I do. The concept of me as an agent of change boggles my mind. I remember a couple of the secretaries in my department once banding together to confront me- in the kindest, gentlest way possible- about my attitude regarding a changing procedure. The changing procedure made life easier for the secretaries, but I resisted… mostly because I felt terrified that I did not have the bandwidth in my brain to learn ANYTHING else. They pointed out that they saw my fear of screwing up  as close-mindedness to their needs. The word “stubborn” came up a few times. I recognized the truth of their observation and I own the feedback. It is uncomfortable to admit that I can be close-minded about new things, but denying the truth does not make it any less true. I work hard to overcome my knee-jerk, fear-based, negative reaction to change. Still, it is always a struggle. No one in my entire life would call me progressive or change-hearty. Until now.

If there is one thing in my life I’ve avoided even more than change, it would be conflict. I have always done everything I could to avoid disappointing, unsettling, angering, or disagreeing with people. To a fault. My brain is always committed to doing the right thing and having the difficult conversations. Because I believe in doing the right thing, I usually force myself to do what I believe is right even though I am in agony over it. Even the slightest possibility of upsetting someone can derail my mental health. When I was working, I would often spend completely sleepless nights trying to figure out a way to communicate something that I knew was likely to elicit a negative reaction. Sometimes, I am ashamed to say, I ignored potentially dangerous behaviors in my work life and in personal relationships that I knew I should address.

Given these little nuggets of Terridom, I underestimate when I say that the conflicts surrounding change and my role in it rocked my sense of self to a pretty catastrophic degree. I’ve spent several months now thinking about the issues involved and what I needed to do for myself, for my church, and for my God. About a month ago, everything came to a head, and I’ve been a bit lost in the desert of my emotions. Since I am who I am, fear was the emotion of choice. I have also felt sad, hurt, angry, disillusioned, resentful, empty, demoralized, worthless, embarrassed, ashamed, and a plethora of other not-so-pleasant emotions. I am pleased to report that I believe I have weathered the internal and external storms and feel at peace. I believe I conducted myself well. I believe I made good decisions. I believe I am resting in a season of waiting on God’s time for whatever is next in my life.

I believe the work I have done with my life coach Todd Payne is the main reason I have made it through this situation and, I believe, thrived. The whole thing has been a kind of lab class for my life coaching process. There was also another very key element to this favorable outcome. Love.

When everything came to a head, there were a few people who knew what was going on- the situation impacted not just me, but also a few other people that I love and admire. We were able to support and lean on one another. Max was wonderful in his empathy, support, comfort, and acceptance.

I was careful about how much I said to anyone who was not directly involved because I did not want this one episode involving one group of people to become something that overwhelmed the beauty and joy that is also very present in our community. Still, there were things that happened publicly, and word spread. There was reaction. You would expect that people would take sides and place blame. Of course that happened. I have to say that, as hard as I tried to do everything in love, I did not always stay above the fray. Truth be told, I was very frayed.

There was more to it than just taking sides, though. People blanketed me with support, concern, and protection. The breadth and depth of that support was not about a vote, an action, a direction, or a position. It was not about taking my side. It was just pure, genuine, unadulterated love and appreciation for my worth. The appreciation was not about what I’ve contributed or the actions I’ve done. It was crystal clear that the love and appreciation was solely about who I am. People came out of the woodwork to hold me in their hearts, protect me from pain, and cherish my value as a beloved sister. It was very like the love of God, I think. In Scripture, 1st John 4:19 tells us that we love because He first loved us. Like the profound love of God, I cannot understand the profound love I experienced from so many people. I cannot fathom it. I am just a normal person with no remarkable skills or abilities. I don’t know how I merit such an outpouring of affection. I don’t merit such an outpouring of affection. It is grace. All I can do is gratefully receive it and let it lift me up above the ugliness in this world.

I am loved. And I am humbled.

When have you experienced humbling love? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Labonte’s Fables: The Lions’ Den

Throughout my career, I told a story that demonstrated how I saw success in the business world. Now that I am retired, I see that the story is about more than success in the business world. It is a story about how the world sees achievement.

Once upon a time, Roman guards marched three falsely imprisoned men to the entrance of the coliseum. Hungry lions roamed the coliseum floor, waiting for the prisoners to enter. The guard pushed the first prisoner through the gates. The prisoner bobbed and weaved past the angry lions, making it to the other side of the coliseum without significant injury. The second prisoner did not share the same fate. He darted around, dodging teeth and claws. The lions were too angry and hungry, though. And the prisoner was a little too slow and a little too scared. Lion after lion caught him. They dragged his body across the coliseum. They scratched him and bit him and tore off several appendages. He just made it across the coliseum floor before bleeding out and dying. In all the excitement, the third prisoner slipped away from the guards. While everyone was watching the lions destroying the second prisoner, the third prisoner found a way around the coliseum and met the guards on the other side without ever having to face the lions.

You see, some people face the lions in life and come out of the experience relatively unscathed. Sure, they might have a manageable, impressive scar or two attesting to their courage. However, they are still upright and functional. They still have all their body parts… and all their marbles. These are the heroes of success in our world. Then, there are the people who face the lions and get eaten. Even if they make it through the coliseum alive, they will never be right again. Often, our world mocks these people and labels them failures without even knowing what circumstances led them to their bloody end. Finally, there are the people who figure out how to make it through life and reach the goals to which most of our world aspires without ever going through the lions’ den.

Moral #1- Just because a person fights the lions and loses doesn’t mean he is a loser.

Moral #2- As noble as it can be to face the lions, it is sometimes better to avoid the lions when you can.

Alternate ending:

The prisoner who is circumnavigating the coliseum to avoid the lions was attacked by a far more vicious beast- a man with hate in his heart. The man with hate in his heart murdered the prisoner.

Moral #3- Everybody has scars, even when we don’t watch them happen.

Which moral resonates with you the most? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a lion-free day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Disasters Ahead

The other night, I attended a continuing education session for a ministry in which I serve. The speaker talked to us about ways to help the elderly and infirm (which included me and everyone else in the room, as it happens) maintain the independence necessarily to age in place. The main focus of her talk was prevention of common potential catastrophes. She talked about falls, medication errors, fires, and food poisoning. She regaled us with wild and fearsome statistics that seemed to suggest that a person over 65 years of age is more likely to encounter some tragic end than to lose the tv remote in any given day.

As the speaker bounded from one terrifying possibility to another, I think she could see the people in the room starting to panic. The participants around me started to gingerly and shamedly confess to all kinds of folly, like ascending a ladder to undecorate the Christmas tree and relying on the date on the marked carton to determine if an egg was still good. I could see on their faces that they were calculating the odds of surviving to our next meeting in a month. It did not look good.

The speaker stopped mid-sentence, as if suddenly realizing she was scaring the pants off her audience. She asked, “is everyone here over 65?” She stared at me and I honestly told her that I was not over 65 yet. That seemed to make her feel better. At least one of us was not standing right at the door to disaster.

As we were leaving the building, several of the participants still seemed worried. They mused out aloud about leaving the Christmas tree up all year long to prevent standing on a ladder. I quickly volunteered my help. “Call me, “ I said. “I can stand on a ladder for you. But don’t delay. I’m only safe for another nine months!”

What home accidents worry you as you age? I think falling is the way I will most likely encounter catastrophe. I am fundamentally clumsy and convinced I am much more physically agile than I actually am. Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a safe day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

The Anti Resolution

Happy New Year to all of you. May 2024 bring us faith, hope, love, joy, and peace. I know that is a lot to ask of a year, but the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing.”

Dear Lord, my enduring prayer for my world, my church, my family (both of biology and of love), my enemies, and even myself is that you will grace us all with these blessings in the year that waits before us. Amen.

This is the time of year when people make resolutions to improve themselves. I often resolve to make changes in my life, but rarely do I follow through on those changes. I saw a quote on Facebook yesterday. The poster said, “I’m going to open a new gym called Resolutions. There will be exercise equipment in it during the first two weeks of January. After that, it will become a wine bar.” That pretty much sums up my experience with new year’s resolutions. Just change “wine bar” to “ice cream parlor” and you will have me pegged. It can be discouraging.

Why do we make resolutions? We want to be healthier and happier. Does making resolutions really help us meet that goal? I’m not sure it does.

First of all, what we want is usually an outcome, not the process. Everybody wants to go to Disney World, but nobody really wants to spend 7 hours on a cramped airplane with dozens of hyper stimulated children. We may want to be thinner, but don’t particularly want to stop eating ice cream. I think for a resolution to be meaningful (and have even the tiniest chance of success,) it must focus on the journey and not the destination. If I resolve to increase my level of physical activity, it may work if I genuinely believe and honor the notion that increasing my level of physical activity will make me happier and healthier just for its own sake. It won’t work if the reason I make the resolution is because I believe I will get thinner if I increase my level of physical activity. I am unfairly raising the bar for success if I resolve to increase my physical activity but “really” mean that I resolve to lose weight- an outcome over which I don’t have complete control. It is a recipe for failure.

Secondly, a year is a very long time. The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States is 79 years. I have already lived 64 years of mine. That leaves me with about 15 years to go, statistically speaking. The year 2024 may represent 7% of the time I have left. Deciding in January how the year will go and how I will want to live that year seems a little reckless. There are a lot of variables that can impact the facts and circumstances of my life over the course of a year. The improvements I consider making on January 1st may not be healthy, possible, or beneficial in the landscape of the life I end up living on March 12th or August 9th or December 25th. Again, setting resolutions that assume everything will be the same throughout the year as it is on January 1st is just resolving to fail.

I do not know quite how to describe the impact of the year 2023 on me. I ended 2022 with gratitude, exhaustion, and a relatively clear vision of what I thought the next year would be. More importantly, I think I had a pretty clear vision of who I would be during the new year. I learned and grew a lot in 2022. The resolutions I thought about making for 2023 had a lot to do with recrafting relationships to accommodate the new me. To be honest, I thought I had done the work I needed to do in 2021 and 2022 to be the person I wanted to be. My resolutions for 2023 centered on how to reap the rewards of that work.

Yes, I did do some reward-reaping and relationship recrafting in 2023, but the truth is that I was still a long way from who God intended me to be. This year 2023 was one of the most painful, most challenging, and most precious years of my life. I resolved some decades-old pain that has eaten away at my soul for over 40 years. I learned to stand up for my own convictions. I embraced the idea that I can still be right, even if someone else thinks I am wrong. I have shared some of my epiphany year in this blog, so I won’t delve into specifics again. The other revelation I had during 2023 is that the only way to live effectively is to live in the moment. I have always been a compulsive planner, creating detailed action plans for everything and strategizing solutions to every possible scenario. There is nothing wrong with planning. I believe that it is important to be present and in the moment during the planning process. I am never going to stop being a planner and I do not want to stop being a planner. However, it is just as important to be present and in the moment during the doing process. I’ve done things in 2023 that I never, never could have even imagined as possibilities in the past. I did not always manage these new, unplanned scenarios perfectly. I did not always do what I resolved to do. However, there was NO failure. Even circumstances that did not yield the results I wanted or expected were huge triumphs in my personal development. No harm, no foul.

As I go into 2024, I am making no resolutions. I am choosing instead to observe the world around me and my responses. I am choosing to be curious and open to what God has in store for me. I am choosing to embrace unexpected conditions and adapt in order to sail with the wind. I am not choosing resolutions to develop myself into a happier, healthier person. I am choosing explorations and experiments.

Who’s with me? Do you make resolutions? Why or why not? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful 2024!

Terri/Dorry 😊