Thursday, September 29, 2016

When the warm fuzzies go cool

That's when I realized I was in trouble.

I'm sitting in Leawood, Kansas at the Church of the Resurrection, I think the largest UMC in the denomination.  I'm not sure.  This week nearly 2000 church leaders are sitting in this room, waitng to learn how to be better leaders.

The band warmed up.  Worship started.  The audio was perfect.   The lights went down.  The lyrics popped on the screen.  Everything that we have thought was important for great, progressive, cutting edge worship was in place.

As I sat here, it hit me...nothing.  I felt nothing.  Instead I was looking around at the folks who were trickling in.  I was thinking about all of the things I needed to do when I get back.  I don't sleep well on the road and the last two nights have just reinforced that.  I had absolutely nothing as worship started.

The warm fuzzies that have kept me going for the last 17 years were cold.  Nothing. Nada.  Zilch.  Then I thought, "I'm in trouble.  I mean, really in trouble.  Something is bad wrong."

I've been trying, honestly.  I've cut back on time spent in the office.  I'm trying to find my joy in the things I used to do.  I'm trying to take time for self care, you know, a regular day off, Sabbath rest, less of the unhealthy and more of the healthy.  But...I just now realized that I'm not sure it's working.

Now, let me clarify, I love my job.  I love the church I serve.  We are doing things as a group that I've not seen done in a lot of other churches. We're reaching people that others don't want anything to do with.  I love my God, and I'm thankful for the call on my life.  I can't imagine ever doing anything else, except for the occasional day when I'd trade my church keys for a burger stand on the side of the road.  Hey, it happens.  I just own it.

But...I know I'm not alone in realizing that sometimes the warm fuzzies go cold.  We burn out.  We crash.  We don't feel the same we did when this ministry gig was new.  We may even find ourselves questioning whether or not we even need to be doing it.  Then we have a moment where we that realization slaps us in the face, and we have a decision to make...

Do we keep pushing, knowing that we are operating at the very edges of our limitations?  Folks, that's ego.  Pure and simple.

Or, do we take that moment of realization, that epiphany, the revelation that maybe something is out of whack, and use it as a catalyst to begin some major changes in our lives?

Let me get real for a minute.  If you are a church leader, as I am...and if you are not taking the necessary time to take care of yourself...I'm not are doing your people, your family, your denomination, the kingdom, yourself, and the God who called you a great disservice.

We are not all that and a bag of chips.

There are people in our churches who can do some of the things we think we have to do, and they can do them well.  Let them.

I know your type.  I am one.  I know how passionate you used to be about your calling.  I know how hard you worked to get through school and jump through all of the hoops.  I know how many meals get interrupted by phone calls, and how many vacations get cut short because of emergencies.

I know.
I get it.
Trust me.

I know how you've laid awake at night worrying about how your church was going to make budget, or about the metrics, or why folks are leaving.  I know what is going on in your head, and how you think that if you just work a little harder, or a little longer, or if you do this or that, things will get better.  Well, guess's not about you...or me.  We are tools God is using to build the kingdom.

I know that you may be thinking now, "I'm not feeling it as much either, lately."  Why are you not feeling it?  My guess is that, like me, you've been running on empty for so long that you can't remember what it's like to serve out of your passion.  Instead you've become an empty vessel, still trying to pour out for others what you no longer have for yourself.  Know what?  You (we) can't do it.

I want it back.  I want that feeling and that passion back.  I want to serve my God and my church out of the passion I had in the beginning.  But...for me to do that, for me to reclaim that place, there are some things that have to change.  I'm not answering my phone after 5 or 6 at night unless it's an emergency.  I'm going to fight the urge to go check into the office on my day off.  I'm working on a plan that will let me take the entire month of January off for renewal.  I've had to save vacation for it, but I honestly think that it will be worth it.

I'm not a touchy feely kind of guy, even though I'm probably more emotional than most guys.  I have, however, learned to pay attention to those gut feelings, and today, this is what that gut feeling said, "Jamie, you're in trouble.  Fix it.  Now."

So church leader, you're doing great things.  Your people need you, but they need you to take care of yourself.  If you're struggling with some of the things I've talked about here, send me a facebook message.  We'll talk.

Ya know, even just writing all of this down makes me feel a little better.  Hopefully this is the beginning of my own personal rediscovery.  Hopefully, you've seen yourself in this and will become intentional about your own.  The kingdom is counting on us.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

$2 Can I get $3 - Reflections on an estate auction

I process through writing, and have for a lot of years now.

This has been an unusually rough summer.  Over three months I've had one reminder after another that nothing stays the same.  First came the loss of my hunting buddy, Richard.  He was nearly 40 years older than I am but we had so much fun together.  That was the message I tried to bring when I was asked to officiate his funeral.  Next came the loss of my Grandmother within a couple weeks.  At her funeral I tried to step out of the grandson mode and into pastor mode so that I would be able to officiate that day.  Four days later came the loss of my grandmother-in-law. Though we weren't blood related, she had been a grandmother to me for 27 years.

Today, we had my Grandmother's estate auction.  This was the second auction my family and I had gone through together, the first being the day Grandma sold their farm and moved to town.  I thought today would be easier.  I was wrong.

I'm thankful for the folks who came out for the auction, but at the same time, it was hard to see their things laid out on a table and hear those words over and over again, "Two dollars, can I get three?"  The reality was all just stuff...trinkets...household items...and angels.  Grandma loved angels.  To most folks that's all it was...just stuff.  And the auctioneer, God bless him, had to work hard to even get the $3 sometimes.  Some of the things auctioned off today, I didn't even know Grandma had.  Some of it, though, as soon as I laid eyes on it, after who knows how many years since I saw it last, a flood of memories overtook me.

A corn-silk brush...I'm not sure you can even still buy those...buried in a box of kitchen utensils...took me back immediately to when I was a kid, and how summer after summer, we'd spend days sitting under the pine trees in their back yard, watching Grandma brush ear after ear of sweet corn and pick the silks off of it.

A worn and rusted putty knife...also buried in a box of other random items...made me stop and think about all of the hours that putty knife must have spent in my Granddaddy's or my Grandma's hands.  Their hands had worn the handle on that knife smooth.

A little blue rubber ball...tucked inside a tote filled with matchbox cars and children's books...made me remember the last couple years of Granddaddy's life, and how we'd sit in their living room while he tossed that little blue ball to my baby girls.

An ancient folding card table...left almost for last and just tossed in with a bunch of other stuff...wasn't just a card table, it was Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners as the family began to grow.

$2, can I get $3?

Emotionally, I'm wiped out.  Completely.  I'm man enough to admit that I have cried more this summer than I have in a long time, and it happened again today.  Maybe I'm just too damned sentimental for my own good.  Perhaps I should try to be more practical.  So in that spirit, I offer this:

It's not the stuff.  It's really not.  I probably have a dozen putty knives of my own buried in one toolbox or another.  I can pick up a little blue ball for a dollar in just about any store.  Card tables?  I already had one...and the chairs to go with it.  It's not the stuff.

It's the memories tied to the stuff.

Part of me is very thankful that the things my grandparents worked for and accumulated over their lifetimes have now been given new life with new owners.  No, really, I am.  Was it hard to watch?  Yes.  But, I couldn't  have bought everything, even if I wanted to, nor should I have.  Why?  Because it's not about the stuff.

I'm so thankful that I was able to spend enough time with them, growing up, so that a worn out corn-silk brush meant what it meant to me today.  I'm thankful that my grandparents had the work ethic they did to even wear the handle smooth on a putty knife.  I'm so very thankful for that little ball, so that I can tell my girls, as long as I have breath, just how much their Daddy James enjoyed tossing that ball to them.

When my time comes, and it's coming, I want my life to be more than stuff spread out on an auction table.  I want my kids to look at all of that stuff and say, "Do you remember how he used to...?"  Or, "Do you remember how he used to use this for...?"  Or, "Do you remember how this always sat by his chair?"  It's not about the stuff.  It's about what the stuff brings to mind for those of us who are left behind.

During the auction today, I said that the whole experience was making me want to just give everything I own away and live the rest of my life out of a dufflebag... because estate auctions suck.  I think I've changed my mind...not about estate auctions themselves, they still suck, but about the emotions surrounding that day.

Was it difficult?  Good Lord, yes.  Was it painful?  At times.  But...every kitchen grandmother had used to fix a holiday meal.  The putty of them had used it to fix something instead of throwing it out and buying a new one.  The little kids knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that their great-grandparents loved them dearly.

So I leave you with this, it's a challenge to live the rest of your days in such a manner that when the auctioneer says, "$2, can I get 3?" the stuff on the table will be priceless to your family.  Then let someone else take that $3 box and use it to do the same for their family.