Raw Reflections from the Journey

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Conversational Generosity*

I'm spoiled. Most of the folks I trust and feel closest to are Christian Coaching leaders that habitually ask questions and listen well from their hearts. Conversations with them are gratifying because they express interest in my life by asking and then hold my heart by generously listening. When caller ID informs me that one of them is on the phone I get excited, "This will probably be an encouraging conversation."

Contrast these conversations with the ones I have with folks that don't possess either the skill or heart to ask questions that draw out others thoughts, feelings and desires. To me it is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I can hardly stand it, particularly when there is a rare occasion to reconnect with friends from the past. "Why don't they ask any questions about our lives?" I wonder. It's dangerously depressing to fill in the blanks. "They must not care" I conclude. Well, maybe that's true, but maybe there's another explanation...maybe they don't know how!

I had a bit of a pity party for myself recently in a series of second-rate conversations. Topics were superficial, and even though most of my acquaintances from the past were willing to answer my questions, few asked questions about me/us, and the questions they did ask were ineffective. "How are you?" one friend asked. Before I could respond he answered for me..."good I hope". "Yeah, I guess" I replied unenthusiastically, and dishonestly. "Good". And he was off and running to the next anecdote about his life. I've learned to gauge the sincerity of such queries and to even ask, "How much time would you like to invest to hear my answer?" before answering. It is surprising how many say, "Just real quick, thirty seconds or so." I defer to another time, "Let me know when you have some time and I would enjoy a conversation."

You know how when you point the finger at someone that you have three fingers pointing back at you? Well, I'll just go ahead and confess that I'm guilty of being a conversational ball-hog in my past...but I'm trying to recover, and I'm finding that identifying with Jesus and taking His life more and more into mySELF is essential. "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve..."

Back to my coaching friends...if you listened in to our conversations you would possibly gag at the Chip and Dale (cartoon chipmunk) attitude between us. Kathy Stoltzfus* coined this as Conversational Generosity.* This is basically the idea of truly sharing the time allotted for conversation. For example, "I appreciate you asking, and I want to share, but I also want to know about you." We could view this as a skill but it's helpful to look at it as a matter of the heart, too.

What kind of heart must we maintain in order to practice Conversational Generosity? One that is truly humble and willing to serve, I think. Go back to my non-asking friends. How does the conversation change when I forsake my "right" to be heard, turn off the self-pitying conversation in my head, and give myself over to asking and listening about their life?

Just before getting out of our car to attend a wedding recently, Jill and I prayed. "Lord, we are going to run across a lot of people from our past tonight. Please help us to leave ourselves in the car, that we might make the conversations you bring across our path about the hearts of others." Again, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.

My solace after not being asked or listened to for several days was none other than the One who sticks closer than a brother...Jesus. "You understand this, don't you?" I asked Him. His reply was via a reminder of an ultimate compliment to our Lord, written by the one-time cowardly observer of His passion. "When they hurled insults at Him He did not retaliate. When they beat Him He made no threats. Rather, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23). Not only did Jesus not complain about being rejected, he remained silent in the face of taunts, and restrained Himself from annihilating His abusers. And NOT JUST THAT...He FORGAVE them!!! "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." Talk about amazing grace!

Ok, so what have I been whimpering about? Minuscule neglect in conversation. Is it really that big of a deal? Well, it's not as big as the matter of my heart, which is something I can do something about. While I may be able to influence/shape asking and listening of non-skilled friends by modeling, my first focus needs to be my heart. Lord, make my heart like yours; compassionate for even those that are not just neglectful and ignorant, but even those that are mean-spirited. They need to meet you, and it might just be through me. Please help me to not just behave with gracious skill, but also out of a tender and humble heart.

I want to close with a quote from the book referenced below:
The coaching approach forces your conversations to become less about your thoughts, your input, and how you can steer the dialogue around to the answer you think will work. You start listening--really listening--to the other person. You decrease what you say, so that others can increase And that's where the magic happens: the more you listen, the more you see how capable they are, how much they can do with a little encouragement, and what wonderful individuals they are. The more you ask the more you love (emphasis mine) (Tony Stoltzfus, Coaching Questions, p.8).

*Conversational Generosity was coined by Kathy Stoltzfus in her husband's book, "Coaching Questions", available at www.coach22.com. Kathy leads guided spiritual retreats for women that focus on meeting God in silence and in prayer. Contact her at k.stoltzfus@cox.net.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Grace of Truth-Telling: How to Snatch a Brother from The Brink of Disaster

A prevalent counterfeit for love is the god of "keeping the peace", and "not hurting anyone's feelings". How often do you shrink from saying what you really think to someone you care about because you don't want to upset them?

M. Scott Peck, author of "The Road Less Traveled" drew my attention to this neurotic behavior in relationships that is actually more hatred than loving. By definition love is willing to pay a price for the best interest of another, even if that means upset feelings or rejection.

I argue with God about this on a regular basis. Don't worry, He wins.

Before our second session with a couple we learned from the wife that the husband was behaving in a very untrustworthy manner. He'd stayed out an entire night w/out calling, and eventually admitted an episode of binge-drinking to "deal with stress". What had begun as ministry of marriage coaching to this couple to "improve their communication" was now a crisis situation with their marriage at stake. I prayed about it for direction, and wasn't surprised by Father's direction, "Go hard at him with the truth", I heard. Okay, Papa, but what if it upsets him, makes him mad? "That's my problem, not yours. The best way you can love him is to give him opportunity to feel godly sorrow that leads to repentance and life."

I told Jill to brace herself. "The first part of this session is not going to be easy."

Truth spoken in love, so that we might all grow up into the Head, who is Christ. Easily said. So why does it cause butterflies?

"We have two questions" I said to begin the session. "Is coaching the best approach to help you with your marriage, and do you have enough character to deal with and respond to truth in a way that will lead to godly sorrow, repentance and life for you, your marriage and your children? Are you going to come clean to embrace today as the first day of the rest of your life following Christ, and living as a godly husband and father, or is this the beginning of a story of tragedy?" Okay, maybe three questions...

He was dead to rights, and he knew it. After a bit of self-flagellation, he got the grace of truth, and asked help from us and his wife to become the man God wants him to be. So far, it's going well...one day at a time, one conversation at a time (with God, his wife and us).

One of the first things I did was to offer myself on a daily basis to connect around scripture. Do you recall Rich Mullin's lyrics about Scripture, "I did not make it, no, it is making me." The word of God is living and active..."All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16, NIV). It is never a mistake to dig into Scripture to let God speak for Himself.

There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. Every day this man and I read the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month (today is the 19th, so chapter 19), independently. Then we SOAP it (Bible study method of Men's fellowship, Waterboyz for Jesus, www.waterboyz.org).

S - read the Scripture, expecting God to speak to you from at least one verse. After reading and praying over it, pick the verse He has brought out to you, and write it down.

O - Observe what is happening in the verse

A - Application. Pray for how God would have you to apply the insight and learning from the verse He is bringing to your attention.

P - Prayer. Write a prayer to God about what you have learned and to help you to apply to your life.

S - Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it it the Lord's purpose that prevails.

O - It is natural to have many desires, and even to try to plan things...ways to do the Lord's work, but ultimately, He blesses and furthers only the things that are in alignment with His purposes.

A - I want to align my activity with the Lord's plans. I don't want to do things that are good ideas to me, but not part of God's purposes.

P - Lord, please help me to line my life up with your purposes and your timing. I want to be part of what you are doing, and to live fully according to your plans for my life to serve others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

For the time being (until this gentleman establishes a broader circle of support, encouragement and accountability), he calls me at an agreed on time, every day to share about a verse he SOAPed. During our chat he shares about what the Lord is teaching him, how he is convicting him, and how He is responding to Jesus, the ONE who is FULL of Grace and Truth. Cool, huh?

What to do that next time someone you care about is headed down a destructive path?
1. Pray for how Jesus would have you to engage them. Don't be surprised if He directs you to speak truth in love, clearly, candidly, pointedly.
2. Introduce the conversation as the most loving way to address the situation, and make sure they know that you are doing Father's bidding per your prayer over them.
3. Trust the Lord to give you the words to speak, grace to listen, and clear ideas about how to practically support and encourage your brother sister on a path of restoration and growth.
4. Walk it out. Be faithful to your promise to be alongside.
5. Look for opportunities to help them to expand their circle of supportive, encouraging and accountable relationships.

Friends, I share this out of the Joy I am experiencing as a watch a man walk away from the cliff, and toward Jesus to be the man God made Him to be. May He put such on your path, or use these ideas to help you to do well by someone He has on your path.

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead,


Copyright 2009 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Germantown | MD | 20876 301.515.1218, Jeff.GTRE@gmail.com

*Jeff Williams is a certified Christian Coach specializing in marriage and family. He also coaches mission and ministry leaders for focus, purpose and leadership growth. Write or call for complementary consultation or for speaking and teaching.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Coming Home

I'm so glad to be home and thrilled that Jill and the girls are happy to see me! It is such a blessing to be loved and desired!

From the curb of Reagan airport in DC I could see Jill's grin from 50 yards away as she drove up to get me. We disregarded light traffic to enjoy our first embrace. At home Harley met me at the door with squeals and attempts to lick me. He was followed by my girls who didn't squeal, but did give me strong hugs and smiles. It's good to be home, where I am wanted and loved.

Our friend Rick (Moore) went home yesterday, too. He's been ravaged for a year by devastating melanoma (cancer), but yesterday he experienced the ultimate healing. He was greeted by Jesus and the angels, and restored to abundant health, given a new body, and will now await not only his wife, children and grandchildren, but also all of those that he helped to lead and influence for Christ through years of daily dedicated and quietly passionate evangelism through his life.

On the same day I said hello again to my family Rick said goodbye to his. I'm feeling very bittersweet today. He's really one of my first contemporaries who has gone on to be with the Lord. Dear Mary Lou, Rick (Jr.), Matt, Ben and Ashley, We love you and hope you feel our care and prayers...

What a good thing to be remembered in a good way. It is certain that the Moore family and many others will sob for their loss, but ultimately they will be consoled because they aren't grieving without hope. One day they'll go home too.

Upon your transition to eternity, how will you be remembered?

Living loved, living loving, and loving living,


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Tears are still drying on my cheeks as I write this post. I just wrote a goodbye letter to a friend of 20 years. He has weeks to live unless Jesus decides that it would be a better plan to heal him.

Rick Moore is father of four and grandfather to several more. He is one of the most generous, tireless and patient men of God I've had the privilege to know. In 2003 when God commissioned Jill and me to launch a community marriage initiative, Rick was one of the first names on a short list of potential directors to serve on the board to protect the vision and to execute the mission. That told me how much I think of him.

Rick lives in our former hometown, Springfield, Ohio. I don't know if I'll see him before he sees Jesus, so today I wrote a goodbye letter. Here's a portion:

Rick, I want to tell you that when I think about you I think about a life well lived for Christ, and that you have been one of my heroes for several reasons:

1.You have been a tireless and faithful servant on the board at First Christian forever.
2.You invested your vacations to go to camp to serve others at Butler Springs
3.You raised your family in the Lord.
4.You faithfully loved and served Mary Lou. When I think of a healthy and happy marriage, I think of you.
5.You can do the electric slide, .

The Church at Springfield (Ohio, several congregations represented) recently took fellowship, prayer and worship to the Moore home. Rick wanted to be with his brothers and sisters. The count for the evening was reportedly over 450 persons. What a great idea to say goodbye while still among the living.

Once again the brevity and unpredictability of life is illustrated. The story is all to familiar. Last year Rick went to the Dr. to have minor problem examined...

The point to me is to be about Father's business of loving Him, and living loving with others every breath, and to live without regret regarding how we invest our time for the Lord in the lives of others. Rick is leaving a legacy of Christ in the lives of many, and I dare say he will move from this life to the next without regret about how he invested his limited days.

God bless you, brother. Thank you for your quiet example of joyful faithful love and service to the King, your family and many others.

With love, Jeff

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bears, Rattle Snakes and Mountain Lions

"There are a few things you need to be aware of", our host announced. "This is the Rockies where bears and mountain Lions make their home", he continued.

What had I gotten myself into? Several supporters of our ministry had contributed funds...for what; to send me to my death?

The setting for the first annual CMI (Coaching Mission International, www.coachingmission.com) retreat was surreal. Fifteen miles off the beaten path is "The Refuge", a remarkable facility built by a congregation of Christ followers organized as the ministry, "Christ in the Canyons". (follow us on twitter, 'marriagecoaches' or facebook to see some pics).

Day 2 of the retreat will not be forgotten..."Somebody help me, please...calm me down...I just about got bit by a rattlesnake!" Ginger, one of the intercessors for the ministry had gone in search of a spot where her cell phone would connect to her husband. In mid-conversation her peripheral vision noticed a bulging and slithering animal. A Rattlesnake was coiling to strike!! Somehow she backed away to a safe distance and then sprinted to the house. "Help me!" After hugging our dear sister to bring her blood pressure below the threshold for a stroke I ventured out to verify the serpent; armed with a dishtowel and wearing sandals I know I was formidable. Sure enough, there he was, a five-foot diamond-back with a rattle. Thankfully it slithered slowly away.

Life really is short, ya know? One moment you're chatting amicably with your spouse and the next fighting or running for your life (snake bites aren't always fatal). That incident and a couple of mountain bike rides along cliffs with ready made dens for bears and cougars shocked me into the reality that the length of my life is unpredictable and that I am vulnerable to forces that could accomplish my demise.

So what? What do poignant reflections mean?

As I sat with my planner and notebook after the snake incident it was easier to separate essential activities from optional ones. "If I die tomorrow, what do I need to have accomplished today?", I wondered. Thankfully, the answers came clear.

"Strategic investments of time and energy."

Since we literally have a finite number of hours to live, it is of paramount importance that we invest every hour into endeavors that matter.

What can I do to maximize my influence for good?

Is it normal to experience a bit of panic in one's mid-forties? Twenty years ago all of life was ahead of me, but twenty years from now I'm not guaranteed health or even life itself. It's time to do the things I was made to do!!

Today I invested my best energies in people. Two hundred and seventy minutes were spent on the phone. I coached two missions leaders, one wife that is reeling from her husband's mistrustful behaviors, a pastor who is supporting a separated couple in severe crisis and pain, and a man approaching marriage and middle-age without a clear plan for his professional and personal life. A day well-spent? I think so. Eternity will tell.

In the context of the reality that death comes unexpectedly, I want to invest every day in a way that might matter for others. If the Lord allows a serpent to usher me into eternity I want to have spent that day doing as much good for as many as possible.

Let me conclude by quoting John Wesley, "“Do all the good you can,By all the means you can,In all the ways you can,In all the places you can, At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,As long as ever you can.”

Filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run*,


*from the poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling