Repost from Stephen W. Smith: The Greenhouse Effect

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.

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The Greenhouse Effect
(reposted with permission from www.pottersinn.com)

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.

[photo: “Antique Greenhouse Interior,” by Jaydot, used under a Creative Commons license]

Conversation: noun, “a turning with”

Steve Smith, author of The Jesus Life and co-founder of Potter’s Inn, recently wrote in his blog,

[I]n the course of life’s seasons, we need to have spiritual conversations with people who are good listeners. Let me be clear here, most people are not good listeners. They listen for facts not feelings. They listen for what they hope to hear. They listen when it may not cost them something.

A spiritual conversation is a reciprocal dialogue between two people where thoughts, opinions and feelings are shared and received. It’s two-way. Not one way.

People who have gone through major transitions—and others who have encountered loss—need good listeners. But what is necessary to be someone who listens well, to be someone who nurtures spiritual conversations? How about compassion and empathy and comfort?

Following is a list of words that I associate with good listeners. We all know what the words mean, but we’ve become fairly complacent in using them. Therefore, as a way to jumpstart our thinking and to help us do a better job of living them out, I’m pairing them with the literal meanings from their origins (with the help of the  Online Etymology Dictionary and other resources). My intent is not to “correct” their modern definitions but simply to give depth to what we already know.

For instance, today a companion is a friend or partner. But the word companion is formed from two parts that originally meant “with” and “bread.” So a companion was someone who shared a meal with another. Even now we understand the link between sharing food and sharing our hearts. Here’s what Smith says about companionship:

I wrote in The Jesus Life that spiritual conversations take place at the table where we eat our meals. . . . It’s never an intent when you ask someone for lunch–to share protein, carbs and water with someone. No, when you ask someone for lunch, you’re really meaning, “Hey, let’s get together so we can share what’s been going on in our lives. It’s been too long. How about next Tuesday at noon at the deli?”  That’s the stuff of conversations where hearts connect and souls meet and people who are lonely become spiritual companions.

Now, here’s the rest of my list:

acknowledge: “to admit understanding or knowing”
from a blending of Old English on, “into,” and cnawan, “recognize,” with Middle English knowlechen “admit”

affirm: “to strengthen”
from Latin ad, “to,” plus firmare, “make firm”

advocate: “someone called to help or plead”
Latin ad plus vocare, for “to” and “to call”

comfort: “to strengthen much”
Late Latin com, “very,” and fortis, “strong”

commiserate: “to lament with”
from Latin com, “with,” and miserari, “to feel pity”

communicate: “to make common”
from Latin commun, “common,” plus the verb suffix icare

companion: “eating partner”
Latin com, “with,” and panis, “bread, food”

compassion: “a suffering with”
Latin com and pati, meaning “with” and “to suffer”

concern: “a sifting” or “comprehension”
from Latin com, “with,” and cernere, “to sift”

confide: “to trust strongly”
Latin com plus fidere, meaning “very” and “to trust”

console: “to give much comfort or solace”
from Latin com, “very,” and solari, “to comfort”

contact: “to touch with”
from Latin com, “together,” and tangere, “to touch”

conversation: “a turning with”
Latin com, meaning “with,” and vertare, meaning “turn about”

empathy: “a feeling in”
Greek en and pathos, meaning “in” and “feeling”

encourage: “to add heart or bravery”
Old French en, “make, put in,” and corage, “heart, innermost feelings”

sympathy: “a feeling together”
Greek syn, “together,” plus pathos, “feeling”

understand: “to stand in the midst of”
Old English under, “between, among,” plus stand

May we better understand these ideas and, in so doing, better understand each other. May we put them into practice. May we all become better companions . . . and better listeners.

(“Steve Smith, “The Power of a Spiritual Conversation,” Steve and Gwen Smith, September 26, 2012)

[photo: “61098,” by Drew Herron, used under a Creative Commons license]