Thursday, December 10, 2015

Not good at goodbyes

Pondering the thought of leaving 'home' after 22 years on campus

I’m not good at goodbyes.

I like to meet people, make them feel welcome, and look for small ways to invest in their lives. I prefer to have an abundance of time to do this, rarely giving thought to the day we will be geographically separated.

When we came back to NOBTS in 1994 for my husband Allen to join the faculty, we began spending time with several student couples who were studying youth ministry. The fellowship was sweet and the energy of the mentoring relationships was reciprocal. However, when graduation rolled around for these couples, I found myself feeling frustrated and cheated. “God, why did you bring these precious people in our lives only to take them away?”

After another cycle or two of this, the rhythm became more natural and I found myself excited for students as they graduated and looked forward to the next thing God had in store for them outside the confines of the seminary gates and the burdens of relentless course requirements. Needless to say, I’ve said goodbye to quite a few in the last 22 years on campus.

Now it’s our turn to leave. This is not a leaving we have planned for years and years. It’s not one we anticipated like one does graduation. But it is one that has us looking forward to what God has in store outside the gates of this amazing institution. And, while we’re leaving behind the 504 in a physical sense, we will certainly stay connected with continuing opportunities to teach internet classes and in weekend workshops and seminars.

Some parting thoughts:

·         Wherever you are, be all there. When the search committee at our new church interviewed me, I was asked if I would miss NOBTS. I responded, “Of course, I will. We’ve been back in the city almost 22 years. It’s where I’m from and it’s where I raised my family. I put down roots and grew in so many ways. I love my job, my church, my city, and my school. How horrible it would have been for me to sit here and say that I wouldn’t miss it! If anything, this tells you that wherever I am, I plan to plug in and ask God to use me fully.” Please do the same.

·         Don’t miss the people. These words are challenging to me since I am a task-oriented person. My office mates will tell you that I am good at pulling off events and setting up systems. But I know, if I’m not careful, I can miss the people part of an event or system. So, let me encourage you to be careful. You’re surrounded by amazing people here on the NOBTS campus. They’re in the offices, bookstores, and coffee shop. They sit beside you in class and also stand in front of you in those same classes. Their personalities may be different from yours but they’re still valuable and important to know. Glean from their wisdom and experiences. Gleaning doesn’t mean taking it all in. As my son once said, “Chew the meat and spit out the fat.” Every person has something to offer. Find it.

·         Go ahead and smile. I know. Your mind is on a million different things but, gee golly, when you pass someone on the sidewalk, go ahead and smile. Sure, it may not be your primary personality trait to be outgoing and perky. But smile anyway. I’d rather NOBTS be known as the quirky seminary full of smiling Christians than a bunch of other taglines we can think of ourselves.

·         Find someone you can be real with. Transparency and honesty have been big buzz-words on campus this semester. No one denies that it’s hard to spill your guts to someone when that spilling might cost you your job, your ministry, and maybe even your family. But, perhaps, if we could allow ourselves to get into ‘real’ relationships along the way, then we might avoid a “Deepwater Horizon”-sized oil spill. However, if you find yourself between a rock and a hard place already, please, please, please phone a friend. In other words, grab a human being and offer to buy him/her a cup of coffee/tea/cola for a few minutes of time. Don’t assume this human being has all the answers but, chances are, he or she will know who to point you to.

You will continue to see us around campus for another month or so. Allen (the original Dr. Jackson) will be leading Youth Ministry Institute during the first January workshop slot. If you’re youth-ministry-minded, you should figure out how to be a part of this! It’s full of good information and quality networking opportunities. Then, after a little vacay to get our minds and bodies refueled, we’ll pack up the house and head east. Please take any and every opportunity to stop by the office or even the house to offer a hug and a hand but, just remember, I'm not good at goodbyes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Except that Jesus ...

There's nothing extraordinary about a rainy day in Georgia. Or about looking at even more houses. Except that Jesus is in all of it.

In Matthew 4:18-22, I'm re-introduced to several of Jesus' earliest followers, all of whom were fishermen. They were born in a fishing village and taught to fish by their fathers as was the custom of their time. There was nothing extraordinary about Simon and Andrew or James and John ... not their names, not their hometowns, not their livelihoods. Except that Jesus handpicked them to follow Him and they did.

Except that Jesus ... I pray that as I get hung up with details of house hunting and moving and then trying to balance all of this with finishing well at the seminary, I will remember that, if not for Jesus in the center of it all, it would be nothing extraordinary. As a matter of fact, it might feel like unnecessary (and overwhelming) stress in my already-stressed life.

I was also distracted by the report in verse 22 that when Jesus called James and John to be His disciples, "immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him." Again, I am struck at the huge discord this must have struck in this family ... even if they were devout Jews ... even if they were looking out for the Messiah. This father surely had plans for the family business that included his sons taking over in a few short years. Except that Jesus invited them into an extraordinary mission!

Oh, that my day -- my life -- would be open to the "except that Jesus" moments and callings!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

More than a dot-dot-dot

Thursday morning my devotion had me reading Matthew 1:1-17. When I saw the scripture reference, my spirit immediately whined as I thought, "Good grief! Really, Beth, the genealogy section?" [Beth = Beth Moore whose Portraits of Devotion I have been going through off and on this year.]

The Spirit quickly rescued my mind and prompted me to pray what I should always pray (but, true confession, don't) before jumping into scripture: "What do you want me to see in this scripture that can help me know You and/or myself better today?" And then I started reading ... in the Holman Christian Standard version. So instead of a bunch of "begats," I got the verb "fathered."

And as I read through an awful lot of fathering names, I was struck by how many names I did not recognize from other stories in scripture. Sure, the big names are there: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, Solomon, and even some of the bad guys. But who in the world are Ram, Nahshon, Shealtiel, Azor, well, you get the idea!

And, once again, perhaps because I'm in the middle of a transition that will take me from a place of responsibility to a place that hasn't been defined yet, I resonate with the unknowns. Thank you, Matthew, for not skipping over their names with dot-dot-dots.

Beth's emphasis on this text was a little different. She wrote, "To me, Christ's flawed family history serves as a continual reminder of the grace of God in my life." She added, "God chose David. On the surface, it made no sense. But God doesn't work on sense; He works on grace. God called you, and God called me. He knew what He was doing."

Flawed and unknown. A good description of me. Forgiven and listed in the Lamb's book of life. An even better description. Thankful and humbled that I am more than a dot-dot-dot. But only because my heavenly Father gave me His name, stamped me with His purpose, and directs me as I lean on Him and not my own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I'm Going to Lesotho

I'm going to Lesotho. There's a lot about it that doesn't make sense. For example, the trip falls between the end of my job at NOBTS and our move to Dunwoody. I should be using that time to pack and unpack, say goodbye and say hello, and basically transition.

When the trip was first announced, the move was not on the table. So moving forward made sense. I had talked and prayed about going to Africa for several years (Ghana? Nigeria? Botswana?). When Liz & JB moved to Lesotho, they were emphatic I should go visit. When Allison and Brett moved there, my heart tugged even more. Then the church scheduled this trip, and I knew I was in, trusting the Lord to shut down my ability to go on the trip if I shouldn't. So far he hasn't!

Tonight I went to the first planning meeting and I am really excited. Even a 17-hour plane trip is not squelching my desire to go (but, yes, I am very concerned about this)! The team consists of Andrew Crosby, Bob Moore, Holly Dalferes, Virginia Johnson, Jordan Stewart, and me. What does God have in store for all of us? Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Wedding day for Chris and Vanessa

Today's happenings were scheduled around the Chris Shaffer-and-Vanessa Bolden wedding at 2 p.m. at Martin Chapel. After knowing Chris first as a student and then as a co-worker, this was certainly an event I wanted to attend.

It was a very sweet service, officiated by Dr. Mike Edens and Dr. Harold Mosley, both of whom are Chris' personal friends and co-ministers ... and thus felt comfortable adding little 'funnies' during their respective parts.

Vanessa and Chris spent most of the service looking at each other as though neither could believe it was finally happening. But it did happen and now this precious couple is married.

I don't know their whole love story (see https://www.theknot.com/us/vanessa-bolden-and-chris-shaffer-oct-2015#our-story if you're interested). But I do know that I met Vanessa via her employment application last fall and was excited to invite her to work in the Dean of Students office as Student Life assistant. Chris was apparently excited about it as well because, shortly after the start of school, he asked her out to spend time together. And the rest is history!

Friday, October 16, 2015

A deeper kind of tired

I'm tired.

It's the first time in a while I have felt the kind of tired that goes deeper than the physical. Sure, I could use more sleep at night. And, yes, I did sleep through the alarm today so I missed my daily dose of endorphins from my shuffle around campus.

This tired is emotional, social, and perhaps a bit spiritual.

Today Christi and I drove to LCIW (Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women) for the seminary program's first chapel service. In addition to this special distinction, it was also set apart as a memorial service for John.

I didn't anticipate what this would drain out of me and so, to be honest, I was not prepared. I enjoyed seeing the students in the seminary program that I haven't seen since I taught last summer but much of the service (like the singing of Great is Thy Faithfulness and It Is Well with My Soul) seemed to bounce off my brain. The scripture readings, however, touched an aching spot in my heart and, as I watched the video of Trey's part of his dad's memorial service, I began to soften. By the time Christi stood to share some lessons from these past eight weeks, I was melting.

She is so strong. Or perhaps I should say more truthfully, God is so strong in her weakness. She spoke of the purpose in John's life, the pain in his life, the purpose in the pain, and the pain in the purpose. And she asked the ladies to continue to pray for her and her kids. She was so raw and real and there's something about that ... it's just so draining.

It's the end of the day. I'm tired. But a good night's sleep and a renewed commitment to getting in the 'war room' before the fight will make a difference going into tomorrow. Lord, go before me into tomorrow.

A thought I want to remember: At lunch, Kristi M. recounted a friend's effort to prop her up during the difficult time after her husband's affair. This friend had lost a child in the months preceding this and she told Kristi, "There is strength in the struggle."

I know this but I did not claim it today. Tomorrow is a different day.

Saturday morning report: I got up at 5 and took Allen to the airport. I thought I might stay up and be productive but when Allen encouraged me to go back to bed, I gave it a shot. Though I woke up briefly a couple of times, I ended up staying in back until almost 9. YES, I needed that sleep!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Small blessings fill in the small holes

We had a small blessing tonight. A sweet young mom from our church offered to bring supper to Christi and me. We felt a little embarrassed to continue to accept the offer of food but, then again, a girl's got to eat, right? Perhaps the reason we felt embarrassed had less to do with the time it's been since John's passing and more to do with the fact that Betsy's brought supper twice before!

It started with a "you'll love my enchiladas!" and grew to "I make a good pot roast." Yes, yes, and more yes! Betsy is really a good cook, likes to share her favorite recipes, and well, we want to enjoy that kind of personal growth. :)

We accepted her offer to bring food for a third time with the caveat that she and baby Abigail had to stay for dinner. What a delightful distraction this very sweet baby was (except for when she seemed inconsolable because Noel started barking up a storm)! At six months old, she readily laid on her stomach on a towel spread out on the living room floor. It seemed a little surreal since I'm used to babies who are a little needy-er than that but, then again, it was really relaxing!

As we were wrapping up the evening, Betsy shared that her father has been diagnosed with dementia. Wow! That was a bombshell to me but Christi said he had already told her. Lloyd Killen greets me at the side door most Sundays I am in town. I've noticed that he hasn't been at the door as much lately but didn't think anything about it since I've been traveling so much.

As Betsy talked about her father, she was so respectful of his journey thus far and expressed her desire to allow him to continue to do as much with Abigail as he can. She is concerned about his inevitable deterioration but thinks that is on down the road. And several times she said, "He is still my dad." This comment reminded me of the premise of the movie "Still Alice." She may be losing her touch with reality but she's still Alice.

Lloyd Killen is still Lloyd. And he, like Betsy, is a small blessing filling in the small holes of our lives.