October 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
When Steve and Gwen Smith founded Potter’s Inn, they had their hearts set on helping, as Stephen calls them, “men and women who are caught in the whitewater of life.” Some of those men and women are church leaders, some are leaders in business, some are missionaries. The Smiths, who have served in churches in Kentucky, North Carolina, and The Netherlands, now lead others in soul care and spiritual formation, with much of their ministry taking place at their retreat center, Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge, in Colorado.
My wife and I met Steve and Gwen when they were facilitators at the week of Debriefing and Renewal we attended (DAR is a program of Mission Training International) after we came back to the States following 10 years in Taiwan. We so appreciate the wisdom, comfort, and encouragement they shared with us and with the others in our group.
Steve, the author of The Lazarus Life: Spiritual Transformation for Ordinary People and Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You, recently posted the following on his blog.
People build green houses to help plants and vegetables to flourish. When the weather conditions are less than ideal, greenhouses are constructed to help plants thrive. Too much cold; too much wind; too many predators and nothing will grow.
In many ways, the ministry of Potter’s Inn is creating a Greenhouse Effect for people. People come to our retreat; read one of our books, experience soul care and something deep within happens. They begin to flourish in many ways they could never do without coming to the retreat or reading a book. Sometimes, the harshness of life—the predators and conditions—make life more difficult, almost unbearable. We need a new, safe and spiritual environment to grow and thrive.
We all need the right conditions to grow, don’t we? Jesus used this metaphor in helping his followers understand the spiritual life. We need the right soil—the right environment and conditions—to truly thrive.
This past weekend I personally experienced the Greenhouse Effect. We hosted a “Coming Home” retreat based on the teaching of the life-changing book, Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen. It was a moving weekend to be sure. One business executive flew in from Atlanta to attend. When he arrived, he showed me his worn, tattered shoes that were literally falling apart. He asked where the closest store would be so he could go buy new shoes. I said, “Here, take my shoes and wear them for the weekend. You’ve come with your ‘soul’ falling apart. God must really want you here.” He smiled and graciously took my shoes and wore them. On Sunday, I said, “Wear these shoes all the way ‘home’ cause God is doing a new thing in your life.” He cried and wept in my arms.
The weekend was so very powerful for all of us. Healing. Restorative and Transforming. For me, it was a moment of truly giving someone shoes who had come as the Prodigal—someone who had lost so much on their journey home. We sat in silence for our final breakfast and ate breakfast together without one word. As I sat there with my fruit and yogurt, I wept. I was flooded with emotion and compassion. It was a moment of sheer highlight for me to truly feel God’s love for me and so many others who had come with their Prodigal hearts only to truly come home to God again.
Everyone needs a greenhouse to flourish. Churches help us flourish. Friends help us flourish and as you know, Inns help us to flourish. Jesus told another story to help us understand this in the story of the Good Samaritan. After the man was beat up and left stranded, someone took this man to an “Inn” where he would experience the Greenhouse Effect.
That is who we are. This is what we do.
July 21, 2012 § 13 Comments
There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.
Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are
- a stable home
- support systems
- a sense of safety
In an audio presentation at Member Care Radio (entitled “Good Grief“), Sweatman also discusses the differences between concrete and abstract losses felt by cross-cultural workers, with the latter being such things as the loss of dreams or hopes. He tells the story of a Christian worker named John who came to him for counseling. While serving in central Asia, John had experienced both concrete and abstract losses. He had lost his status and effectiveness as a youth pastor in the US. His wife had had two miscarriages. And he and the rest of his team had been forced to evacuate their host country with little hope of returning.
With painful honesty, John revealed:
I know that all things work together for the good. I know that the joy of the Lord should be my strength, but it’s not. I know that I’m going to see my unborn children in heaven. I don’t want to commit suicide, but I . . . um . . . wish that I wasn’t alive.
Sweatman went on to talk with John about the way his family had taught him to deal with grief as he grew up, and then helped him learn how to grieve in a healthier way. Healthy sadness, says Dr. Sweatman, is the “antidote to depression.” It includes two important steps: acknowledging our losses to God and expressing grief publicly to allow others to “be the arms of God.”
“How we handle loss,” says Sweatman, “determines a number of things. It determines the longevity of you in cross-cultural work, the depth of joy you will experience in your life, the wisdom that you will gain, and especially your closeness to God and your need for him.”
If this summary strikes a chord with you, please listen to Dr. Sweatman’s talk in its entirety. That way you’ll get to hear all that he has to say on this topic, and you’ll get to hear his heart as well as his words.
When John said, “I know that the joy of the Lord should be my strength . . .” he’s referring to a verse from Nehemiah 8. But we’re most familiar with the phrase “The joy of the Lord is my strength [clap, clap, clap]” from the peppy song of the same name. What happens when we don’t feel the Lord’s joy? James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Can we be sad or afraid or confused, and still have joy?
There’s another song about joy that is familiar to those who’ve grown up in the church. It repeats over and over the line “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” But what does that joy look like in the face of loss? Is it always a smile? What does that joy sound like in the midst of trials? It is always an upbeat song?
I’m so glad to have come across The Autumn Film’s rendition of “I’ve Got the Joy”/”Down in My Heart.” Tifah Phillips, the group’s vocalist writes on her blog how she wrote “Joy.” It happened the night of her father’s death, as she sat at the piano, “the only place that felt safe that night to me”:
I remembered my eyes were blurred with tears and I literally began to play the now familiar progression of Joy. I kept cycling through the progression and then, as if it had already been written, I began to sing a different melody to a song I sang in VBS as a child, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. . . .” The truth is that I was terribly and profoundly sad. The reality of grief had not even entirely hit me yet. But at the same moment I had a deep sense of peace. He was no longer in pain. He was no longer sick. He was free from all his ailments and restored. Although I still miss him, I know that God has weaved redemption through death into my father’s story. That brings me great joy. It was not until grief became a part of my story that I realized that joy is not simply an expression, but an attitude and acknowledgment of the deep peace of knowing a Savior.
Often when I’m grieving, my joy doesn’t show on the surface, even though I wish it did. But just because it’s not visible, doesn’t mean that I don’t have joy “down in my heart.” “Joy is not simply an expression, but an attitude and acknowledgment of the deep peace of knowing a Savior.” I like that. And I like the lines from the song that say,
I can’t understand
And I can’t pretend
That this will be all right in the end.
So I’ll try my best
And lift up my chest
To sing about this joy.
This really is a beautiful and meaningful song to me, heartbreaking and heartmending. I hope it speaks to you, too.