It takes a long, long time to make a salad like this. Let me explain. In 1997, I woke up in the middle of the night and it was, as if I heard an audible Voice telling me to get a pad a paper and to start writing. It wasn’t really audible but it was as sure as a message telling me to do something that I have ever heard. So, I got up. I picked the yellow pad on my desk and began to write these words, “It will be called the Potter’s Inn.” What followed was about an hour of note-taking where I wrote down the vision of Potter’s Inn ministry. That document became for us, as important as the Magna Charta or the Declaration of Independence. We have it to this day and still refer to it in times of discouragement.The vision was clear and precise. There would be an actual, physical place where those who were weary and tired would come for a respite. The journey of life and faith is hard and challenging and ever since the beginning of Jesus’ teachings, there were always “places” where people would come for renewal, guidance and rest.The English novelist J.R.R. Tolkien described such a place in famous, Lord of the Rings where he gives words to such a place. It would be “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.” Gwen and I have long wanted our own Potter's Inn retreat to resemble Tolkien's description. We sat out to live this vision. Today, 19 years later, people from over 80 nations have come to Potter's Inn. Some tired; some needy; some thirsty but all in search of a resting place for their own journey.This was the beginning of Potter’s Inn. Step by step for the past 19 years, Gwen and I put this vision and transformed it to what is now known as The Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge, a small, beautiful retreat nestled in the Colorado Rockies. A part of the vision that we followed called for a garden where guests and staff would go to pick fresh greens, pull carrots from the good Earth and harvest tomatoes from vines that were ready to give up their goods. 19 years later; 19 years from when this first vision was “seen”—today Gwen and I picked the first fruits—the very first vegetables from the Potter’s Inn garden. We came home. We made a fresh salad composed of tender lettuce; fresh spinach, young orange carrots and a few other goodies. We sat down on our porch and it felt like church. I was overwhelmed with the beauty in my bowl. I was humbled knowing that it took 19 years to make this salad.Eugene Peterson describes a journey like this as a “long obedience in the same direction.” I can give witness to the fact that our long obedience in the same direction has been long; been one of obeying the Vision and the Vision giver and with a resolve to keep going forward. At times, we wanted to quit--for it has been so uphill. When people come to our retreat, they are often amazed at the beauty but they do not know the long, hard winters both physically and emotionally, as well as financially, we have endured. They do not know the people who have come and gone--the sheer amount of work it has taken to put legs to this vision. Its been a lot of plowing so to speak. It's been a lot of hoeing. It's been a lot of work.In our day of instant, quick and immediate returns, we have perhaps forgotten the long obedience needed not only for a vision to be fulfilled but for a life to be lived well.Luke wrote a biography of the life and teachings of Jesus and Luke described the childhood days of Jesus by saying, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:52). Jesus indeed had a long obedience. As his years increased so did his wisdom. As he lived well, he was graced with favor by both people and by God. It was a long obedience. Through trials, testing and tribulation, we see the seeds Jesus himself planted. some have taken root in me and some in you. What he began, we now are feasting upon today. It took him sacrifice and for all who persevere today, sacrifice is not an option--it is a requirement.I am thinking as I write this, of my grandchildren. They have a long obedience in front of them. The journey is going to be uphill, hard and challenging. They will not be able to fast-track their formation. They will not be able to get all they will need at “fast-food” joints. It takes a long, long time to grow character. My grandchild, still in utero, will need to go through pain and birth and pain again many, many times to form their soul. They will have to be tested. Their morals; their choices; their beliefs will have to be tried by fire and tempered by the anvil of failure and forgiveness. Mistakes will happen. Failure will come. Contentment will be learned. Through all of this and more, character will be forged. It will take a long, long time.It takes a long time to grow a marriage. Everyone knows the wedding is the simple part; the easy part and perhaps in the end, the least expensive part of growing a healthy marriage. Some lessons a couple will learn will be very expensive to learn. There will be unlearning and re-learning and transformation. The man will fail and ask for forgiveness. The woman will succumb to a force she may have never known; never admitted to nor ever wanted. But through time; in time and by time, the heart of the couple will grow deeper in love than the innocent love expressed on their wedding day. One day, one partner will lay his spouse down. It will be a giving up that is unimaginable to those of us who have never done this kind of laying down. Couples who hit bumps in the road through failure, unfaithfulness, and other collapses can, indeed find a new place of beginning yet again.On my 60th birthday, I will never forget the horrible fight that erupted between Gwen and me. I said to her in utter hurt and frustration, "Gwen, we've been married a very long time. You should have known this about me by now." I was angry, disappointed and totally frustrated that I was having to explain what I thought was a basic like and dislike. As we cool down, we learned how much we still have to learn about each other. We learned how deeply we still needed to really listen to each other. It was yet, another turning point for us in our maturing marriage.It takes a long time for a preacher to learn how to become a pastor and not just a teacher. Lessons are easy to spin off each week. But to earn the mantle of being a pastor is sacred honor that comes only in time where trust is nurtured and wisdom is cultivated. Getting the degree is the easy part. Earning the trust is far more challenging.It takes a long time for a entrepreneur to take a breather from the uphill climb of starting a business; of launching a new product. Nine of out ten new businesses fail. Nine out of ten new churches fail. Nine out of ten partnerships fail. There is a lot of failing before we find our sweet spot and recognize what true success really is all about.It takes a long, long time for a boy to become a man; for a girl to become a woman; for a youth to grow their soul as well as their bodies. A soul tends to mature far slower than does a physique of an athlete. The literal meaning of "education" means to pull out what is already inside. It is not the amassing of information that leads to greatness. It is all about transformation. No one who knows everything recognizes that they need to be transformed. Only the broken beg for change and forgiveness--the proud never do and never will.The Bible gives this kind of notion a word called, “perseverance.” To preserve is to endure; to live with determination; to have the resolve to not quit; not give up but to stick to the task until it is complete. We learn through the writings of Peter--a man who failed many times as a leader--that perseverance is a true virtue. It is something to be rewarded and the reward really comes only to those who do not quit. Our salad was our reward.Our salad tasted as if it were the bread and wine of communion. Just like we hear by the pastors and priests, the bread had to be broken and the wine had to be poured out—both symbols of loss and a seeming dead end. But as we chewed on this leafy, green eucharist for our dinner, we were transported to a place of profound thanksgiving. We bowed—we wanted to bow—because God did this. Through the 19 years, through the cancer; through the death of other dreams; through the walking by faith and not by sight, we saw, yet another piece of the vision fulfilled. I placed a fork in my salad and slowly lifted the spinach, lettuce, carrots drizzled with a homemade dressing, I was so, very, very happy—do deeply content.To be honest, I would have to tell you that not all of the Vision I received that night has happened. Some of it has and I still find myself wondering how in the world will what is not yet—will actually become. Will it happen in my life time? Am I only the one who planted and there remains another who will come water and yet another who will see the harvest. I am old enough now---through my long obedience to trust that my part is really but one, small part. As a wise man once said, “We are but the light bulb and our real job know is to just stay screwed in.” I like that and it makes sense.This sacred salad serves as a moment in time for me to see; to have and to enjoy a true respite on the journey. I can still taste this sacred salad. Can you?
During Sabbatical I had some amazing adventures in experiencing the difference between the stillness I thought I knew about and had studying about and the stillness that patiently lead me to wild and peaceful landscapes within me that I had never seen or even knew existed.There is nothing like being surrounded in stillness by an endless deep ocean and a crisp blue sky that seems to stretch to eternity. I sat still; I stood still, even holding my breath so as not to miss the glory of such a sight. Creation of the Creator unfolding right in from of me and I became a silent witness. What a privilege. I was honored and to this day I hold the honor in my heart.To encounter the Creator at his work while wrapped in stillness is to not remain the same. Stillness gave me the deep awareness that while being a silent witness, being actually present with God in a glorious display of nature right before my eyes, he too was present with me in the landscape of the dark, rugged crevices of piercing grief and suffering . In stillness I experienced my presence with God in beauty and his presence with me in brokenness. We were together and it was good. Nothing fixed or figured out. Nothing healed and made brand new.Stillness gave me an experience with Companionship and Compassion and Comfort. I wasn’t alone with my isolating fears and blinding tears. Stillness ushered me into that mysterious peace that had nothing to do with understanding anything. Stillness granted me the reality of Divine Presence. Stillness let me know God in the midst of what seems to be a godless situation. Stillness made an inviting space for me to know and listen to God say, “Be still and know me”. And I did.Stillness gave me space to listen to the unexpressed voice crying out from my desolate wilderness. This is what I heard:A Prayer for Tommy*Holy, precious, purest angel face,God, please kiss him with your tender grace.Double chinButton nosePerfect little fingersSweetest tiny toes.Holy is this momentLove and sorrow flowsHearts that ache to hold himAre held by One who knows.Tommy Jacob Smith, my fourth grandchild: born March 5,2015—died, March 5, 2015
A few days into my Sabbatical I got the worst cold I have ever had. The physical aches, pains and down right misery that a bad cold makes you feel, were the obvious outlets for the long accumulated and residual stress stored in my hidden, way down deep soul place. I was living proof that we are all intricately woven together by our Creator…everything is connected. As awful as I felt, there was this companioning gratitude that sabbatical was giving me time and space, that is definitely not the norm, to be as sick as I was and take as long as I needed to heal. I had never experienced a holy misery like this before and wasn’t so sure how to navigate it.Nothing gave me the soothing care that you need when your head feels the size of a watermelon, like keeping a steaming hot mug of tea in my hands, holding it up close to my face and sipping now and then. I unwrapped what seemed to be the millionth teabag and couldn’t help but laugh at what I saw. The name of the tea was Breathe Deep and on the little white tag attached to the teabag were the words: “Socialize with compassion, kindness and grace.”I know it’s sounds superficial and silly but I didn’t dismissively roll my eyes for some reason. Instead I felt a tug, a curiosity to read it again. What if I actually did what it said? No one else was around so I couldn’t pass it off in jest with someone else. I took the challenge. First of all, “Breathe Deep” was the name of the tea so I stood there and took several long deep breaths. Breathing is obviously essential to life yet is so dismissed ,as if there is no worth paying it any attention. Our very breath can actually be a simple reminder of the gift of live we so take for granted. It can be the very thing within us that can remind us of the Spirit of God with in us. It was a powerful and comforting reminder for me that day. God is as close as my breath. He isn’t way out there waiting to be beckoned. Taking deep breaths can be a true spiritual exercise to help honor the God designed connection between our body and soul. It can be so revealing of the stress we kept pent up inside and it is the provision of something so simple to relieve the stress that is so damaging to our body and soul. It’s body care to breathe. It’s soul care to breathe. Awareness of God isn’t as complicated as we make it sometimes. Deep breaths gave me a sacred awareness of God right there in the kitchen with me. His name, after all is Immanuel, God with us.The little tag read “socialize with compassion”. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’. God is Compassion. He knows suffering and is with us in our suffering. I want to socialize, to be in that kind of company. I want to be a person who suffers with others, to show up and tell them that I am sorry they are suffering whether I can help relieve their suffering or not. The tag also read “Socialize with kindness and grace”. God is always expressing his kindness to me. His amazing grace is, to me, more than just the words to a favorite hymn. He is kind to give me a life filled with so much that I am undeserving of. I was stirred by my desire to socialize, interact with and be acquainted with this unconditional grace and kindness. I want it to be more than my theology; I want to be kindness and grace with skin on.Surprised by an encounter with God through a teabag, as silly as that may be, is an encounter that continues to inspire me to breath in, to keep company with, to socialize with God’s compassion, kindness and grace. It always helps to read the directions and this is especially true when making tea and caring for one's soul.