My (catch up) notes along the way

This has been my first month volunteering full-time at the Cupboard.  Another way to put it is my first month of being unemployed.  A month ago on Friday, Oct 8,  I was called into my bosses office where a lady on the phone from human resources told me that due to the economy my position has been eliminated.  They offered me a severance package, for which I am grateful.  And off I went to join the many others who have lost their jobs during this recession. ( Actually, I thought I heard on the radio that the recession was over 17  months ago.  So I guess I actually lost my job during the “recovery”.)

As I said, I started volunteering full-time this past month.  I have enjoyed the experience so far.  I know that this might be an unbelievably strange thing to say, being unemployed. Believe me I don’t like being unemployed.  In some ways I have not dealt with this reality yet as my financial situation has not yet hit me.  But nonetheless, I don’t feel unemployed as I have been fully employed following my passion, Common Heart.

I had been experiencing what seemed to be burn-out during the months before being terminated.  I was discouraged and tired. I seemed to just go through the motions.  I did my best, but I had nothing left to give at the end of my work day.  I hate to say it, but my family knows I had been very moody, short with them and others. I was quite easily agitated at home and with people “demanding” food.  In August I nearly canceled the cupboard’s signature event, our Thanksgiving Turkey Countdown and deliveries.  I hope you were not among those who got my voice mail during those days, as it was rather “put off-ish”.  (Call it now, it is quite upbeat.)

Although the experience of being told that my position had been eliminated and that  I was no longer needed was not pleasant, it has done wonders for my attitude.  There has been only one morning when fear gripped my heart.  It was short-lived. But other than that I have been full of energy and facing the wide open door of opportunity with confidence.  In some ways loosing my job has been a relief to me.  It really has opened my horizons to the possibilities.  In the early part of my jubilee year this is exactly what my heart has cried out for, new horizons.  Where once all I wanted to do was drop out, now I want to engage and see what God will bring to pass.

During the past month while volunteering I have been assessing my strengths, weaknesses, abilities, skills and desires as far as employment.  I created what my wife thinks is an amazing resume showcasing what I can bring to a future employer in the nonprofit or for profit business world.   I have been plotting and planning the direction for Common Heart.  I have put my hands and my head to work at Common Heart and I stand in awe of what lies ahead.

I have been doing some job hunting.   I realized that unless I return to commission sales, it is difficult to find one that pays similarly without a college degree.  I do not want to return to commission sales.  I want to bring my entrepreneurial spirit and my management, marketing, and communication  skills to an organization  I can be passionate about.  And so, I have recently registered to go back to college to get further training and attain the degree that will more easily open doors that I have to pry open today.

This upcoming week I will attend a 10 hour course at Southern Piedmont Community College called  Keyboarding, Resumes and Job Search.  It is a free course in their Human Resource Development department. ( There are other free courses there and at any NC state college or university as well.)  I will get to see if my resume is as awesome as my wife and I think.  Beginning this Tuesday evening I will be attending a 4 session course at Central Piedmont Community College with a Common Heart board member entitled “From Grant Seeking to Grant Writing”.  I am very excited about this.  One of the things we have not been able to pursue at Common Heart due to lack of time, experience, and just plain bewilderment has been grants to help fund the vision of Common Heart.  This seems to be the right time to look into this avenue of additional funding.

In amongst all this I have been catching up with friends and colleagues.  I have been meeting new people.   I have also been dreaming new dreams and pursuing new things that I will share in another of my notes along the way soon.

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Posted in Common Cupboard, Common Heart, journalling, Jubilee Year, unemployment | 1 Comment

Spiritual Formation from iMonk

“Those of us who attend churches and care about spiritual formation must graciously insist that they take this seriously. We must find winsome ways of letting our pastors and church leaders know that the “program” we want in our church is one which enables us to develop deep roots in Jesus so that we can represent him well in the world. We’re tired of playing church. We aren’t interested in having and staffing a family-friendly Christian activity center. We would like our pastors to shepherd the flock and provide spiritual guidance and care for each sheep. We’re all for attracting people to the Gospel, but think that would be better accomplished if congregation members would develop a vibrant hidden life with Jesus that exhibits itself in good works among our neighbors, in our communities, as we fulfill our vocations in the context of real life, rather than through program-oriented, event-focused strategies. We are not about building a “great church”; we are about becoming vibrant, grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, Jesus-shaped people.”

I have found the recent series of blog posts by Chaplain Mike at iMonk very enriching, practical and encouraging.  The series covers many aspects of spiritual formation with many practical suggestions.  Spiritual formation is about becoming Jesus-shaped people and I recomend these posts to my friends.  Here is a link to the series on spiritual formation.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Today I answered the phone

I hate to admit it but I tend to avoid answering my cell phone these days.  If I don’t know who is calling, I usually let it go to voice mail.  Today I answered the phone.

The voice on the other end was pretty desperate.  She was calling around to anyone who could help.  Someone gave her my cell phone number.  I get calls from people needing groceries, utility bills paid, or refrigerators and couches.  Some days it is just too much for me.  Well it was one of these kinds of calls.  Her husband had just started working and they were short on rent.  Her family, including two toddlers, were going to be kicked out of where they were staying if she did not get help today!  I went through my usual list of agencies that do this kind of thing.  Common Cupboard can not handle this kind of need.  Her desperation became more apparent as she anxiously told me that she had tried all those and more.  “If we have no place to stay, what are we going to do?  My husband will lose his job ….” she told me.

“What am I to do?” I thought.  There are so many needs. We try to help out as best we can through the Cupboard. But we can not be expected to meet every kind of need just because someone calls me on the phone. I went ahead and asked any way, “What exactly do you need?”  The answer came back and boiled down to this, she needed $72.  That is right, $72! The cheesy motel they were staying in was kicking them out because they had not paid the $36 for last night, and another $36 for tonight.

The moment I heard that I wondered in amazement, “Why in the world didn’t social services, or some agency, church, or just some caring person help them!”  The Lord had been bringing to my mind throughout the whole conversation a verse from Proverbs. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” (3:27)  Well , the buck stopped with me!  I called the office, pulled out my credit card, and personally paid the bill.

I called her back once it was taking care of and ended up talking with her husband for about 20 minutes.  The gratitude was amazing. It wasn’t about $72, it was about a desperate mom and dad, hoping God would help them somehow. He told me the story of how he lost his job due to illness.  Next they were evicted.  They just had nowhere to go … they don’t take families at the Union shelter and their family wasn’t around here.  Just about a week ago someone gave him a chance  digging ditches and installing cable, and although he struggled with pain and disability he took the job. He will get paid on Friday for a full week and he will be able to pay for the motel and buy some microwave food for his family.  My heart went out to him.  He thanked me profusely, and thanked God as well.

This week I have considered a question that was proposed on a blog I read.  “What is God saying? How will we respond?” When I hung up the phone I thought I heard God saying, “Maybe you and some of your friends can help this family out?”  This family is in a hole right now that maybe we could help them get out of it.  I was wondering maybe some of my friends could  give a little money and together we could pay a week of his rent?  He did not ask me for this, but I feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit to ask you to help.

If you sense the nudge to help out let me know.  Here is a link to give through PayPal, if this is a way you would like to respond.  Whatever comes in through this link will go directly to help this family.  If you are hearing something else, let me know that too!

Posted in Missional Living | 2 Comments

I bought a journal today

Today I bought a journal.  Actually it is not the fact that I bought one, rather it is among the first steps I am taking in this 50th year of my journey.

One of the first things I knew I needed to do is to write and have a place to work through my thoughts.  This blog is one place, but it can not be the only place.  I need a private place to sort it all out.  After living 49 years and accumulating a lot of “baggage”,  I really need a place to dump out the contents of my heart and look at them.

I used to journal when I was a young man. Every now and then I would try to start again.  But never have I had as clear a view of what I wanted to do with the journalling process as I do right now.  I want to use it to collect memories, sort through thoughts, decipher hidden motives of my own heart, organize for simplicity, implement jubilee, and gather together things that are important to me.  Writing it down has an amazing way of connecting heart, head, life and action.

As I close this post I want to share a portion of what I gathered and wrote down today.  It is a Prayer in the “Middle Years” of Opportunity taken from Celtic Daily Prayer.  It is my prayer this year.

Lord, help me to unclutter my life;

to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.

Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;

teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.

Lord, I give you the stirrings inside me,

I give you my discontent,

I give you my restlessness,

I give you my despair,

I give you all the longings I hold inside.

Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;

to listen seriously and follow where they lead

through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

Posted in Celtic Daily Prayer, journalling, Jubilee Year, Personal Reflection, Prayer | Leave a comment

The continuing journey

It has been a while since I have written much of anything here.  There are a variety of reasons I can point to, however, the most honest would be this. I just didn’t feel like it.

This past year has been a difficult one for me in many arenas.  More about that later.  But it has effected my writing as I have tried to sort through my feelings and dialog with my own heart.  One of the most recent challenges was the events of this past week and my wife, Deb’s surgery.

I brought her to the hospital on Tuesday morning and waited as they prepped her for surgery.  As I kissed my wife I released her to the surgeon’s team and wished her a safe surgery.  I was told the procedure would take about 3 hours,  so I headed to the cafeteria for breakfast.  I took a detour to the chapel and spent about  fifteen or twenty minutes praying for my wife.  I had been praying and considering this surgery for some time. Often my thoughts would be taken to what if she died during surgery.  As I prayed, I prayed for her safety and God’s peace.  I prayed for the surgeon and for all those involved.  I settled my own  heart resting in the Lord’s peace.

The night before the surgery I decided to post on facebook asking for prayer for Deb.  People began to let me know they were praying.  I was so glad I posted and that my friends were praying as the day unfolded.  I received a call about 40 minutes after I left my wife.  The surgeon was waiting to see me in the waiting room.  I moved as quick as I could,  knowing that if he was not in the operating room that something was wrong.  He told me that Deb’s blood pressure went so low, that it was unreadable, and that they he was impressed with the crew who resuscitated her.  Soon I would see her in the Cardiac Care, and although she was on a respirator as a precaution,  she was ok.

During the rest of the week there were tests, IV’s of medicine, lots of rest, breathing exercises, doctors and nurses checking in.  Friday night Deb returned home.  No surgery, but recovering none the less.  We are very grateful to God for God’s protection, to our friends for prayers,  and to those who resuscitated and cared for Deb after it all went wrong.  I am so very thankful.

I told our facebook friends that Deb was home on Friday and on Saturday I got new comments on my wall … “Happy Birthday”.  Yep, the very next day was my birthday.  Saturday is the big day at the cupboard and my dad made sure to tell everyone it was my birthday.  They sang to me, and wished me happy birthday.  If there is one day I wish I could just sleep through, it is my birthday.  I am usually pretty grumpy, and Saturday was no exception. I will use it to raise a few dollars for Common Cupboard through the cause application on facebook, but other than that … I would prefer to just forget it … especially this year.  It is great to know people are thinking about me on “my day”, but I was not in the mood for celebrating.

That brings me back to my initial comment.  I haven’t written here much recently because I haven’t felt like it.  I haven’t felt like doing much these past few months.  I go to work and do what I can do to make a living at sales.  I go to the cupboard on Saturdays and help push out groceries to needy families.  I do what I can to help out at home and with my wife and my boys.  I read, meditate, pray, think, and waste time on the internet.  I watch movies and TV.  I struggle to figure out how to pay the bills, and how to raise money so the cupboard can pay their bills.  I think and re-think how to make it all work out.

I must confess that in the midst of it all I have been just plain tired.  I hate to admit it, but I struggle to be motivated.  I have doubts and I have fears.  I wonder if anything I believe is true and if anything I do helps anyone.  I look out into the world and I feel that I don’t belong here.  I drive the streets to work and it feels like I am in a foreign land.  I listen to the continuous talk all around me, the fear and hate provoking American politics, religion, economics, media, blogs and being sent to me by email and facebook, and all I want to do is drop out.  Some days I am up, but most days I am down.  No energy.  At times heart sick, occasionally angry but mostly I am just sad.

Today as I sat in a worship service it dawned on me that with the passing of my 49th birthday,  I am entering my 50th year of life.  The 50th year in the old testament was a year of jubilee. It was a year of release from debt, prison, slavery, poverty and a leveling out of everything so individuals and society could start anew.  There is no evidence that The Year of Jubilee was ever happened in ancient Israel, and I have no hope that it could happen in our society either, but I do believe  it can happen for me and my family.

I once believed I lived a life of no regrets.  This past year has brought clear to my mind that there are plenty of regrets.   I wonder this past year, number 49, as depressing as it has been, if has been preparation for the rest of my life, my continuing journey.  I have dreams completely unfulfilled.  I have thoughts unexpressed.  I have things to say, I have been afraid to say. Out of fear of rejection I have refused to fully live out of the love of God.  I have not stood up for my firmly held convictions, out of the same fear.  I have felt boxed in and locked up in debt, prison, slavery and poverty in many areas of my life.

Today I began my first days of  jubilee, my year number 50.  I believe,  and therefore I will endeavor to make it a year of disentangling, simplifying, rediscovering, liberating, and healing.  This is a journey I look forward to traveling with others.

More to come ….

Posted in Jubilee Year, Personal Reflection, Pursuing Dreams | Leave a comment

Vespers @ The Commonplace

This is a re-post from over a year ago about Vespers at The Commonplace.  I have been there most every Sunday since we began.  Occasionally I have had a companion or two praying with me.  Just wanted to post that it is still going on, and you are still welcome to join me on the prayer journey. — Keith
Each Sunday evening I will be at The Commonplace at 6 pm to join with anyone who would like to participate in evening prayer, known as Vespers. Vespers is a very old tradition with roots in the ancient Hebrew practice of praying at specific hours of the day. The form that I use is pulled together from various Christian traditions and includes a time of prayer for specific needs. We will combine this time of prayer with scripture meditation.
Let me flesh it out a little more for you if you…
Vespers is the sixth of the traditional 7 hours of prayer. “The practice of daily prayers grew from the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at set times of the day: for example, in the Book of Acts, Peter and John visit the Temple for the afternoon prayers (Acts 3:1). Psalm 119:164 states: “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” Wikipedia.
Also known as Evening Prayer or the Evening Office, Vespers is basically a combination of written prayers, affirmations of faith, psalms, Old and New Testament readings. It also includes prayer for the needs of others. All of this is done with a quiet attitude of meditation with an ear to God.
The form that I will use is a work in progress. At its core is Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community in England. To this I have added prayers from The Book of Common Prayer (Anglican tradition), and Missio Dei Breviary (Anabaptist/Neo-monastic). For the psalms and lessons I will be using a lectionary (list of readings for each day of the year). I anticipate including historic prayers of Jesus followers throughout the ages and from sources ranging from contemporary to a variety of Christian traditions.
Here you can see the liturgy that I have compiled as of today for Vespers @ The Commonplace. In addition to Vespers we will be spending some time in scripture meditation on one of the lessons of the day. Following this we will have an opportunity to share some word that God has prompted in our hearts. Because I know that these practices are a little foreign to many of my friends, each evening there will be a little instruction in these disciplines.
Here is a sample schedule for Vespers @ The Commonplace.
6:00 pm We will begin with brief instructions as needed.
6:15 pm Quiet our hearts for prayer.
6:20 pm Vespers begin
 •Opening words, confession, affirmations of faith, psalms, scripture lessons
 •Scripture Meditation
•Sharing words
•Prayer (written & extemporaneous)
•Benediction
7:20 pm Sharing, questions, and debriefing as needed.
About 3 years ago I began using Celtic Daily Prayer to form the rhythm of my prayer throughout the day. During those years I must confess, I have had various levels of faithfulness to the practice. I have found the practice to bring stability in my own life as I lift up my heart regularly throughout the day to the Lord. The re-focusing of my life regularly around familiar words of prayer has helped to form my thoughts and intentions God-ward. In the most difficult of times I have found comfort. And the daily reminder of my dependence on the Lord has helped to assuage pride, arrogance, and anger and encourage humility, caring and love. To me it has been one of the most formative spiritual disciplines in my life.
Another very formative discipline for me has been scripture meditation. To me meditation is the thumb of a five fingered grip on scriptures. Hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditation form the basis of getting God’s word in our hearts to form us for life, godliness and mission. Deeply thinking on scripture, listening to God’s word to our hearts, responding in surrender, are all part of meditating.
I am not a pro at any of this. Just to let you know. I am looking for this to be an experiential and experimental time in delving into formative spiritual disciplines. You are invited to join me. I’ll be there praying each Sunday evening.
Posted in fixed hour prayer, Lectio Divina, Prayer, Spiritual Formation, Vespers | 1 Comment

Parable of the Prodigal Brother

A man had two sons. As they grew up it became apparent that the father favored the younger son. At least it was apparent to the older brother. Father always seemed to take his brother’s side. The older brother worked hard, took care of his responsibilities, always did what Father wanted him to do. Father didn’t even have to tell him sometimes, thinking he knew what Father wanted, he would just do it.

The other son, the younger one, seemed to have it so easy. He didn’t work at anything, but yet father just gave him whatever he wanted. Sometimes they would get into big arguments, but father always gave in, in the end. One day they had a really big argument. The older brother could see how badly hurt father was over the whole thing. He told him, “Father you need to come down hard on that son of yours. Send him out to the fields with me. Let me teach him what it means to be a son in this family. I will make him work hard. He will learn how to serve in your household.” Father started by saying, “You don’t understand…” The older brother had heard this before, and would have none of it. He shut his ears, as he left angry at both his brother and his father.

It wasn’t long till that younger son took his inheritance early and set off to a distant land to make a name for himself. The day he left the father cried. But the older brother hardly noticed. Days went on and on. Each morning the older brother would head out to work for the father. Each day the father seemed to cry a little more, die a little more. His heart broke for this son of his that left. The older brother saw this and hated his brother more and more. Although he tried never to show it, he was gradually losing respect for his father. Father would try to talk with him, but whenever the younger son’s name would come up, the older brother would shut his ears. Occasionally arguments would ensue, and eventually the father stopped talking about his younger son to his older brother. But he was ever in his heart. The heart of the oldest was not only cold to his brother, but grew cold toward father too.

Every now and then the family’s servants, business associates and friends would relate the stories of how the younger son was doing out there in his new life. The stories grew more and more disturbing. The older brother tried to shield his father from the worst of them, because each time a story came to father’s ears, he grew more distant, and more heartbroken. While the older son grew more furious till he wished his bother were dead!

The mind of the father was so far away from the family business that by now the older brother took care of it all. He worked the servants, paid the bills, made the decisions, basically he did everything. Father just sat longing, heartbroken, and despondent. He had two sons. One was far away in a distant land, dead to the family. The other was far away while at home, with a heart that was so dead it could no longer feel the father’s love.

The day the father longed for finally came. The younger son came home. While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The younger son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, and you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'” (Luke 15:20-32 , Holman Christian Standard)

I wrote this parable while I considered what might have gone on in the heart and mind of the older brother.  Over time he lost his love not only for his brother, but in truth for his father.  He lost sight of his identity as a son through focus on performance.  And by not connecting with his father’s heart, he was unable to fulfill the mission of a big brother and the longing of his father … the rescue of his little brother.

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