Raw Reflections from the Journey

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Heartaches of An Officer

"Why are we here, Lord?"

"Because I've commissioned you as officers for this War."

The setting was a rain soaked setting on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2004.  Just after the sun peaked through receding storm clouds our attention was drawn to a beautiful view of the U.S. Capitol.  It was then that I asked the question that our Divine Commander in Chief answered.

Raised in the Midwest, it was surreal to be in our Nation's Capitol, and even more surreal to consider that we would soon be living there to serve an Executive role in a national marriage ministry designed to save marriages.  So, there we were, becoming acclimated and trying to make sense of our journey on a runaway train piloted by The God-Man.

"Lord, why are we here?"  

His Answer: "Because I want you to lead in this campaign."


It would have been appropriate if He'd also repeated what He said to Saul.  "Now I will show you how much you must suffer for my name."

At the outset it was exhilarating and intoxicating.  Moving to Washington to Lead!  Little did we know the price to be paid that we would be prepared from the inside out to lead as servants, in humility.

Have you seen the before and after pictures of soldiers fresh from boot camp compared to veterans returned from combat?  The experience ages them, breaks them, sobers them.  To lead and to serve is a privilege, yes.  And it costs.

One of the heartaches of an Officer is to watch troops fall.  Warriors with full lives ahead of them, full of potential and promise taken out by the enemy.  Tragic, demoralizing, senseless.

It happened again today, and I need to process it.

A couple full of potential and promise.  Their recent interactions never better.  "Doing really well! Hopeful for the future!"  A couple we hoped could join us as officers to lead and inspire others.

But the enemy saw them too.  He saw that they were doing well, and He counter attacked with fresh and ingenious strategy to destroy them.  And they complied.

"I'm done, Jeff.  It's over."


Yep.  I swore.  So infuriating! So needless!  So sad . . .

Damn the one who is behind this.  Our enemy is defeated, he won another round . . . neutralized another couple . .  . ended their service as officers before they got started.

It doesn't have to be this way.  Dear God!  It doesn't have to be this way!  There's a better way . . a way to resist the devil . . a way to flee temptation . . . a way to repair from brokenness.  Dear God.  Please stop the carnage.

Tragically, they're not the first we've served that became casualties.  There have been many more.  Way too many more.

Part of training and leading troops is to watch some of them become casualties.  Promise and potential suddenly ended, but every time hurts as much as any other.  

Dear God, please resurrect the marriages that appear to be dead.  Only you can resurrect the dead. Only you can miraculously heal.  And Lord, please help us to persist, with hope, even when . . . especially as we're grieving the loss of those we loved.  In your name, Jesus; and for your sake.  Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let Jesus Lead (He does a really good job!)

The first Marriage Miracles conference was held yesterday!  Praise and worship, testimonies from couples who have received miracles, teaching and prayer. . . It was an experience that staff and participants won't soon forget. Why? Because the team of 16 let Jesus lead (and discovered that He's really good at it!)

Twelve took the mic to make contributions, and four served behind the scenes, but all were submitted to the Holy Spirit, which resulted in a peaceful and powerful choreography of praise and worship, testimony, teaching and exhortation.

His Spirit of Hope and Peace was strong!   "Peace, be still" was a word that was shared, "The Holy Spirit, like a translucent dove is descending on the waters, and stirring it in a way that will bring good.  And the ripples in the water are to be understood as good, not ones that will harm or overcome."

The morning began with some final instructions from the Initiator (the conference was birthed in listening prayer, so we kept listening and following His lead throughout).

  • Point to me
  • Flow with my Spirit
  • Celebrate Grace
During the first few quiet/private moments of reflection after the conference I replayed some conversations in which staff said "Good job!" or "Thank you for the opportunity to share our testimony, lead worship (etc.)", and I saw Jesus in my mind, quietly smiling, waiting for me/us to turn to Him.  "Thank you Jesus.  You did a really good job today."  And in response He said, "And all of you did a really good job following my lead."

It really was the Body of Christ at its best.  The Maestro assembled an A Team to usher us into the presence of God and to bear witness to the marvels He has done to heal restore and multiply hope inspiring ministry through couples He has saved from a myriad of sin and pain.  Sexual immorality and addiction, co-dependent control, withering anger and blame, overwhelming sorrow and bitterness about a child being severely assaulted, etc.   What a joy to hear the conclusion from all, "What He did for us, He can do for you."

On a personal note, it was a joy for Jill and me to minister publicly in our home town, the first time since 2004.  It was then that He used us to spark a marriage initiative, but ever since, the bulk of our ministry has been in other places (we  lived in Maryland 2005-10).  And what a joy to partner with folks we've served with before (Lavern and Ronda Nissley, Marriage Resource Center of Miami Valley,  Barb Dotson, Citi Lookout).  

Will we do a Marriage Miracles conference again?  And it so, when and where?  Back to listening prayer.  And if this intrigues you and God puts marriages in your locale on your heart, please pray and listen.  As we do the same, perhaps He'll have us partner together for others.

Father, we thank you for using us to plant and water some seeds of hope for couples in need yesterday.  Now, we trust them to you, because it is you who makes them grow!  ( I Corinthians 3).

Hopefully, Jeff and Jill 

Monday, August 6, 2012

"He Always Had Time" - A Tribute to Pastor John A. Wilson

"He always had time" was my father in laws complimentary conclusion from a memory about John A. Wilson, 100 years old this week, pastor in Springfield Ohio since 1944.  Even though he's mostly bedridden, patiently waiting to see God ("I don't know if I'll say anything to Him, but I'll certainly worship Him"), he really hasn't retired.  Just ask the thousands to whom he ministered through a taped interview shown to them during one of four services at First Christian Church yesterday.

My in-laws didn't even attend Mr. Wilson's church, BUT they considered him one of their most beloved pastors.  How'd that happen?  Mr. Wilson was my pastor growing up.  When Jill and I began to date, my in-laws attended some services, and Mr. Wilson remembered them.  When illness befell my mother in-law, Mr. Wilson went a calling.  "One day I looked out from Betty's room, and there he goes", said Jack.  "I called to him and in he came, with plenty of time to listen, encourage and to pray.  He always had time."

Calling was the ministry that Mr. Wilson really loved, and for good reason; it resulted in effective introductions to his best friend.  "You'll never reach everyone for Christ by waiting for them to come to you at your church building.  You've got to get out into their homes (hospitals, etc.)."  If you are a Springfield resident, you've no doubt seen Mr. Wilson in your home, a hospital, funeral home or racing down Limestone St. Burnett  or Home Road, anxious to get to his next appointment.  It's amazing how many lives this one passionate and focused servant of Jesus Christ touched.  Are you one of the ones he visited?

It was Christmas Eve 1992 when we took our three children, cookies and some Christmas Caroles to see John and Jane. Our purpose was to "bless" but of course, it was we who were blessed as they generously asked and listened to happenings in our lives. Our time together concluded in a tight circle with prayer, "Let me pray for you" the preacher insisted.  Talk about a man who has frequent conversations with the Almighty.  You've got to get ahold of his book of prayers! 

But the most memorable part of that evening was when we stopped by our in-laws.  "Carly, what did you do this evening" her grandma asked.  "We went to see Jesus, Grandma."  "You went to a manger?" "No Grandma, we went to see Jesus; the little man with the purple hair." Our jaws dropped and eyes went wide.  Who did Carly see? Was this 'little man' so Christlike that a child was able to recognize him?  Our conclusion was that, yes, he not only walked in the footsteps of Jesus, but he also walked like Him, and even a little child could recognize that.

Mr. Wilson provided our pre-marital counseling, and always took a special interest in our lives through seminary and establishment of Christian counseling ministry, marriage ministry, etc.  He insisted on donating to help us publish our first book, Raw Reflections ("Put another zero on that check, Jane."), and even now continues to give to the not for profit ministry of Great Relationships.  Every month a check comes that helps to make it possible for Christians around the world to be trained in the ministry of Marriage Coaching, and it always comes with an applicable verse of scripture hand-written by Jane after she prays for the Holy Spirit to lay a verse on her heart.  Talk about humbling and encouraging!

One hundred years!  1912-2012, and still counting. Amazing!  Lots of changes in the world since then, but one thing never changed. As my father in-law said, "He always had time."  And the time counted.  Why?  He was constantly pointing to Jesus, "If you have your eyes on any program or any person instead of Him, you have your eyes on the wrong thing", practically applying the Word of God, and praying for and with saints and sinners alike, in faith for their salvation and maturation in Christ.

Under a blanket laying on a couch with a loose fitting shirt (and a tie), Mr. Wilson 'preached' to the Church, one last time yesterday.  Thousands were silent, moved and awed by the incisive wisdom and wit of a godly centarian.  Focus on Jesus, do the Great Commission, love and serve the family of believers, and never, never, never give up.  "To live is Christ, to die is gain" were among the preachers final exhortations.  Live for Him, and then really look forward to being with Him forever.  What a great way to live!

Thank you, Mr. Wilson for a life well-lived.  Thank you for genuinely caring, and tirelessly serving.  We love you, and we'll miss you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Vine and the branches . . . or, Power Lines and Power in the Midwest/Eastern U.S.

Torrid winds tore through a swath of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. beginning this past Friday afternoon about 3pm.  In an instant hundreds of thousands were without power for lighting, refrigeration and A/C . . . let the unscheduled camping trip begin!  Candles, lanterns, flashlights, coolers ice cubes and generators were suddenly in high demand. 

On the first night we sat as a family in our candle lit living room and enjoyed a long conversation uninterrupted by anything electric.  Nice!  And as the sun fell, so did we . . . we fell asleep, lending to deeper understanding of a lyric from the Sound of Music; " . . . the sun has gone to bed and so must I . . ."

The novelty of powerlessness wore off on Saturday.  Body odor combined with deprivation of customary creature comforts threatened our/my peace.  "I'm a pretty fragile creature" I thought.  Well, at least a creature accustomed to creature comforts.  Thankfully we've experienced some third world travel that put the temporary inconvenience in perspective.  "This is the rule and not the exception for many in the world" I thought. 

But then, I dug a little deeper, especially after a twelve hour reprieve during which power was restored (Sun 5am to 5p, at which time another torrent of wind blew through and blew down many of the same power lines!)  Could there be a spiritual lesson in this?  Something God would like to remind me?  As suddenly as I asked the question, a specific verse came to mind,

Apart from me you can do nothing . . . I am the vine, and you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing! (John 15)

Without electrical power there wasn't much we were able to do that we were usually able to do.  But The Lord's point goes even further.  Apart from me, you can do nothing.

What have you tried to do in your own strength and wisdom recently?  Juxtapose that against something you did with His peace and wisdom.  What was the difference?

One thing I love about serving as a counselor is the complexity and difficulty of my client's circumstances.  What? Why? Because I have constant need to seek out the power, strength, wisdom and will of the ONE in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1).  I have to hear from Him and experience His peace and strength to serve effectively.

The absence of electrical power reminded me of our relative powerlessness in a physically fragile world.  Isn't it great that we aren't powerless spiritually?  That we can choose to connect and remain connected to the One True Vine!

Our electrical power has been restored, and we're relieved.  Its back to life as usual, but not before an important reminder was received.  Apart from Him, we can do nothing . . .

Where in your life, relationships, work and minsitry do you need his wisdom and power today?  In what ways do others need to receive it from you?  Retreat to some solitude with Jesus and ask Him to speak to you and teach you, remembering that Apart from Him we can do nothing . . . instead, we can do all things through Him who gives us strength!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Billion Dollar Thinking

"Jeff, you are one phone call away from being a billionaire!"  A provocative friend recently reminded me that God is in charge of all resources needed to accomplish the Kingdom work that He wants to be done. 

What would you do with a billion dollars? Why even think about it?

Thus far, we've seen thousands of dollars spontaneously given 'to a mission that does some good' as one donor put it.  And over the past decade of obedience to 'do as much good for as many as possible as well as possible' we've seen hundreds of thousands of dollars provided for housing, living expenses, moving, writing, publishing.  And, by the way, worry about where it would come from never brought it our way.  The other by the way is that hundreds of marriages have been directly impacted and we dare say thousands by the teaching and coaching provided by couples we've served. The bottom line is that more has been done for more than we  imagined had we not imagined.  Make sense? 

But, my friend's challenge was a prompt to continue to dream. 

The primary value of such hoping and dreaming, I think, is because it turns limited thinking on its head.  How often have you either heard or said, "If I had more money, I could do more good" but stop short of thinking about and planning for the good that you would do?  I'm suggesting to myself (and to you if you need to hear it) to dream and plan as if to actually implement it!

Less than a year ago a friend called to ask if we would like to train Chinese Americans in all North American English speaking Chinese churches as a way to strategically multiply the ministry of marriage coaching.  "Yes!"  Then came the how.  While that isn't clear, the initiative is certainly worth thinking about and planning for.  It hasn't materialized yet, but I won't be surprised when it does.  God wills in us to work according to His good purposes.  He clearly moved in the dreamer's mind to imagine such a project and to prompt him to call.

Our audacious dreams aren't audacious to God.  More than once I've conceptualized a vision only to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit, "I am the one who can do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine.  Keep dreaming."

A practical reason to engage in billion dollar thinking is because people give to vision.   This is a point made in training of non-profit ministry leaders by Mission Increase Foundation, www.missionincrease.org.  The implication of this principle is clear.  If you want people to join you in vision and mission, then you must envision and communicate God-sized dreams!

What has Father put in your heart to do for Him and those He loves?  Billion dollar thinking is one way to access and activate some of what He has put into you.

blessings, Jeff 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Three Levels of Loving Listening

"I got a massage this morning!", my friend boasted. "Well bully for you, buddy!" I retorted without thinking. "It must be nice to have the kind of money to indulge yourself like that. I sure don't." Needless to say, that was the beginning of an intense conversation that could have ended badly but instead strengthened our relationship. Just yesterday the tables were turned when I shared about some pleasurable indulgences of free time that aren't readily available to him because we are in different seasons of life. "Hey, can I just tell you that I'm hearing this the same way that you heard me about my massage?" Ooops. Guilty. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way."

Our conversation got me to thinking about this common breakdown in communication. "What is it?" The common denominator in both conversations was that the listener was listening from the perspective of what it meant to them. May I suggest that this is the lowest level of listening because it is self-focused? When I do this I'm apt to launch a conversation in my own mind in which I compare lifestyles, opportunities, blessings, etc., and that inevitably leads to self-pity, envy, jealously . . . in other words, nothing good. May I further suggest that the quality of our conversations and relationships would be much improved by eliminiating Level I listening from our repetoire? Level I - What it means to me

In comparision, Level II listening is What is means to them. At Level II you listen for what it means to the speaker. An easy way to do this is to simply ask, "What does that mean to you?" Another way is to reflect to them what they shared with you. One blessing at this level is found in Jesus's words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." At level II you give the gift of listening and thereby provide an opporutnity for the speaker and yourself to understand and discuss the meaning of the thing(s) they want to share with you.

But Level III goes even further. Level III is listening for what something really means and/or what it means to God Take the instance of resignation from a long held job (ministry staff, teacher, therapist on a mental health unit, etc.). The Level of listening by those who are being left behind is a big part of the way they say goodbye; in anger or tears. Level I listeners hear the announcement of resignation according to what it means to them (e.g., more work, stress to train a new employee, jealousy that it isn't them who gets to leave for a glorious job). Level II listeners celebrate what the resignation means to the person leaving. Thus, they are genuinely happy for their former colleague.

But Level III listeners hear and see what a colleague's departure means for the Big Picture, such as the Kingdom of God. "We happily release you and bless you becasue we see and affirm the gifts and abilities God has given you for others. We have been blessed to be alongside you for a season, and we are excited not just because this is a great opportunity for you, but for those God is positioning you to serve!" As you consider Levels of listening, think about how you like to be listened to. I suspect you will say Level II or Level III. If so, know that we can each do our part to cultivate a culture of loving listening (Level II) and Kingdom listening (Level III).

So, let's get to it. Give the type of listening you would like to receive and it will probably come back to you (You reap what you sow).

Blessings, Jeff

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Birthday Reflections, 2012

It's hard to believe that another year has passed, but spring weather similar to my last birthday and many others testifies that 'tis the season! A tinge of cold that requires a wind shirt, with bright sunshine a few brave birds and buds and blossoms on the trees...yep, it's March.

This was my 47th year! (tomorrow). And for some reason I'm expecting big things in my 48th! After all, it was when Jack Nicklaus was 47 that he won his sixth and final Masters, and Al Unser Sr. won his fourth and final Indy 500. In other words, 47 isn't too old to do great things!

I have a personal policy to take my birthday off from work. Why? I'm glad you asked. In the past I've worked my birthdays, giving to others as I do most days the balance of the year...and I've sometimes resented making the day about others instead of caring for myself. Selfish? Bad attitude? Or healthy self-care? Jesus taught us us to "Love your neighbor as yourself". So, I conclude that a prerequisite to loving others is good self-care. What do YOU think?

Anyways, I'm looking forward to my birthday Sabbath. No certain obligations, but to roam and flow as the Spirit moves me.

One thing I'm contemplating is a 'Legacy Bike Ride'. What's that? Probably a northern course of at least 47 miles that will go past my Grand Parents house and my father's grave. They loved me and loved my birthday. It's bittersweet to not be with them tomorrow, but I can visit them...kind of (tears).

Well, what has transpired in the past year? What are my 'takeaways'?

- Laura driving and thriving (academically and in her gift in music)
- A trip with Jill to India to train cross-cultural workers in Marriage Coaching
- Publishing our Magnum Opus, "Marriage Coaching: Heart Hope and Skills for a Great Relationship",
- a belated 25th Anniversary Trip to the Northern Coast of California and Bethel Chruch in Redding California (we didn't know that all of this was on our bucket list until we got there!)

The year was also marked by unprecedented and grief. My father passed on Nov. 28th, and we laid him to rest on Dec. 10th. As I've written in previous blogs, the experience has been much harder than I anticipated. Ironically it was in my last birthday blog that I chronicled a visit to my ailing father.

This blog isn't exhaustive, but breaks my writing silence of the past few months. Life has been both taxing and exhilarating. Fellowship with other believers has been both rich and challenging, frustrating and compelling.

In my last birthday blog I celebrated my father's impartation of wisdom to keep looking forward by considering today as the first day of the rest of your life. This birthday I want to exhort myself and you to Carpe Diem! Seize the Day for ALL that God has planned for you to do and to experience in relationship with Him and others, and to do that by listening for and following His prompts!

God Bless, Agape Love, and Carpe Diem!


Monday, March 5, 2012

Grief without Regrets

"I think we get it confused sometimes", Jill said. "We grieve about what has been lost and the outcome of different choices, but we've made our choices together the best we could with the information we had, and so I don't regret what we chose, but I do grieve."

Dr. Vellanki found me licking my wounds in the break room, and he intuited my spirit. I was sad and aggravated with myself because the choice I'd made to help someone had backfired. "Jeff, your heart is good. I trust you, and I know you made that choice with the information you had available. You meant good." I can't tell you how much Dr. V's affirmation meant to me.

Are you grieving something, or someone? How about grief about what was said/done or not said and not done in a relationship? Personally, the more I sleep the more I dream about my dad. Very strange in one way, but healthy and real in another. Last night I dreamed that dad was alive at a family gathering. Eventually it was made clear to me that I was the only one talking to him; that I was hallucinating (in my dream) that he was still among us. Grief? yes. With regrets? No. I'm confident that we both did the best we could with the information and opportunities we had and that we created.

What prompted this blog? Late this afternoon I was moved to click on a podcast from Mars Hill Church by Mark Driscoll, "Ministry Marriages". He laid out how idolatry is the culprit behind all sin, including the veneration of ministry leaders who sometimes put their marriage and family on the altar of sacrifice in order to "further the gospel". His poignant indictment hit close to home regarding my/our motives to risk and sacrifice in the past. Both Jill and I listened to it, and eventually she let me and us off the hook saying, "I grieve, but I don't have regrets."

Is hindsight 20/20? Maybe not perfect acuity, but close. And that's the point. If we knew then what we knew today we might have chosen differently, but we didn't. We chose the best we could with the information we had, and that is our solace.

The Grand Caveat to all of this is the fact that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We do the best we know today, and tomorrow we the same; sometimes changing our minds according to experience and outcomes.

Grieve as you must (and we all will according to the losses and changes visited upon us), but don't regret unfairly. You probably chose the best you could with the information you had. Get more information tomorrow, and have the humility to choose differently. One day will see very clearly. Until then, He understands (and so should we) that we see now behind a glass dimly lit.

with love and compassion, Jeff

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Visit is Over

Four days ago our guileless, radiant, precocious granddaughter, Gabby Anne came for a visit. Bright smile and outstretched arms made Papa's day (I was waiting in the driveway), "I love you Papa!" I'm not sure there's anything better.

Gabby is just past 3 1/2 and headed toward 4 (June 25), and is a remarkable bundle of enthusiastic joy, curiosity and love. No wonder people flock to her (our house has had a revolving door of family and friends anxious for an injection of joy from the child-like child).

Our house is strewn with markers, dolls, stuffed animals, sidewalk chalk, a scooter, helmet and various items of clothing...and we don't care! It is the aftermath of a love-fest; her loving us and us unable to do anything but patiently lavish love in return.

"I love you Papa, and I want to stay here forever!" Gabby's heart felt exultation brought tears. Why? Because her words sincerely flowed from her heart, and...because I know that there is no forever...in this life." Gabby seemed to realize this truth late this afternoon. After waking from a nap, she melted. My trained eye as a clinician sees her beginning to detach from us as she prepares to re-attach to her mother, father and her other set of grandparents. That's healthy, ultimately, but a contradiction to her optimistic "forever". And so the our little 'innocent' bundle of love and joy has already begun to experience the reality that there is no 'forever' in human time and space.

We somehow console ourselves with the hope of another visit and the ultimate 'forever' of eternity beyond our present reality, but still we wish she didn't have to go. It hurts to say goodbye.

Go if you must, Gabby. And go with God. He will never leave you or forsake you, and by trusting in His name, you will know a forever that is really forever. And we will see you there, and be with you there...forever!

Love, Papa and Grandma Jill