This Is My Presence

20140514-215932.jpgMy name is Todd Twyman. I am a life group leader and I teach Holy Yoga at Awaken.

At the end of April I traveled to the mountains of Northern Arizona to take part in the week-long Holy Yoga New Instructor Intensive Retreat. I was there to complete my own Holy Yoga leadership training program called T3 (Train The Trainer). My role was to lead a small group of new instructors and help to serve and support the new instructors as they completed their training.

I love retreats. I mean I really love retreats. I always have because I usually meet God and I see how He meets and changes me and others. I came to the Holy Yoga retreat knowing how powerful and life changing this could be.

Well God did meet me. He brought freedom from the identities and truths that I have built around myself. He helped me see my real identity, the Truth that God sees and knows me to be. I experienced His presence.

On that Thursday the weather was beautiful (especially after a hard, long Minnesota winter) and I found a spot in the grass on the lawn of the house my T3 team was staying in. I was spending time with the T3 devotional that we were praying through during the retreat. The devotional simply asked us to be still and just let God speak.

I laid there thinking OK but I was not sure if God would speak or what would happen. I was open though. I tried to be quiet. The word warmth came to mind. I wrote it in my journal. God did the rest. I wrote and cried. God was opening the veal and letting me know His presence. This is what He spoke to my heart. I hope it touches you as it touched me.

WARMTH
Feel the warmth on you. Feel the sun.
Hear the wind in the pine trees.
The soft grass, green and fresh.
The smells of spring, growth.
Even the bug on your paper.

This is my presence. This is ME.
See I am all around.

I AM the sun and the warmth on your back. I AM comforting you. Holding you to Myself. Close, secure, protected.

I AM the wind you hear. My breath moving, stirring. Breathing life in you. Strengthening you. Notice the trees the wind is blowing through. Straight and tall. Moving in the wind but strong. This you with my breath.

I AM the color and softness of the grass. A carpet to walk on, lay on. Growth coming from the ground. Stand on this soft ground and grow with my love.

I AM the smells you smell in the air. New, earthy, fresh and clean. Inhale my presence and love and know that even when life is not fresh and clean, you have this fresh presence in you.

I AM even the little bug you see walking and tickling your arm. I AM letting you know I AM here.

I AM in you – FULLY. Not just a little or sometimes. Fully and always. You are my creation, my beauty. You are beautiful in my eyes. Nothing can change this fact. I LOVE YOU – FULLY – PERIOD.

So like the bug or the sun’s warmth or smells, you are a sign of my presence to others. Let them see you so they can see me. This is my presence.

Until next time friends. Peace and Love.

For more blog goodness from Todd Twyman, check out his blog here.

Elements of a Story

20140513-092601.jpg

Enter, Fritz Herman Suedbeck (what a name, right?). He’s my grandpa and at 91 years old, he was hard to miss when entering a room: cowboy hat, cowboy boots, cowboy shirt (if that exists, he wore it) and of course, Levis. He was a farmer and cattle buyer, known for his ability to guess the weight of a calf within a pound or two. Apparently, in that industry, that’s something to brag about. He was a man of few words with rough hands and a soft heart. He’d probably also like for me to mention that he was 100% German; definitely not to be mistaken for a Norwegian.

My grandpa always knew how to connect – with family, friends or strangers. He knew just the perfect moment to deliver one of his jokes or dish out a prank or two. Brene Brown talks about how we’re wired for connection. She’s not the first, nor will she be the last to talk about this clear, human fact. We are wired to connect with others. We are wired to connect with God.

This past week, my family said goodbye to my grandpa. We were told at his funeral, that he was pulling pranks with the nursing staff all the way up until three days before he passed away. The poor staff fell for one of my grandpa’s best pranks: Place some [very realistic-looking] fake dog poop indoors, draw attention to the “no dogs allowed” policy, bring the nurses close by to examine it, and then in the perfect moment, he reaches down to pick it up as the staff hollers and squeals in disgust. Works every time.

This ability to make light of his health or living situation, was exactly my grandpa’s style. He was a man who lived a long, heart-focused life that centered on God, family and friends. It wasn’t just one of those things he pursued wholeheartedly – it was all three; together. He knew they were connected and he knew the importance of keeping his roots firmly planted in all three.

God, family and friends contribute to our life story. These elements are grounding, sustaining and eternal. They feed us and nurture us. The poet, Mary Oliver writes, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” I’m proud of my grandpa for not having simply “visited” but instead, choose to make himself at home; unpack, kick back, have some good laughs and be grateful to God for every given day.

So I ask you all: what’s your story today? What will you write tomorrow or the next day? How will you connect? What are your grounding elements and how are you embracing and enjoying them? They are what matter.

East Missional Community Update

The last couple of months our east side missional community (ESMC) has been actively seeking how to plug-in and support our side of the metro in meaningful and effective ways. While it’s sometimes easy to get overwhelmed when talking about the needs of our neighbors, we’ve found it most effective to scale down our overarching goals (i.e. feeding the hungry) to more tangible plans able to be carried out by the group.

Here are a few ways we’ve stepped out this spring:

  1. Garlough Environmental Magnet School (GEMS) has continued to be a focus for our group, so when they asked for a few volunteers to help at a spaghetti feed in support of their literacy program it was a no brainer to help out. Families served dinner and/or stopped in to enjoy the meal hosted at Henry Sibley High, and they were pleased with the turnout and dollars raised for the program at this inaugural event.
  2. Another way we found opportunity to come alongside GEMS families was through a food drive targeted specifically for over their spring break. 70% of the students there are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, meaning that outside of school these children aren’t guaranteed to have enough food, so it was very cool to see all of Awaken rally to bring 50 bags over for the social worker to distribute to families that needed it most. Kids were excited, grateful, and brutally honest as they shared what a treat this was since they weren’t used to having much food in the house. The bag contents were thoughtfully determined by one of our group members, taking nutrition, shelf life, and literacy into account. What a neat and simple way to make a big difference! We hope to do this again.
  3. Neighbors don’t always fall into our “zip code” per say, and this group has proven that by organizing a quilting party to make a blanket for the family of a victim that a Colorado school shooting left behind at just seventeen years old. The blanket featured seventeen stars to remember her years, and to show the family that the light of her life shines on. There was much laughter and fellowship in the making of this quilt, which was truly a group effort and encompassed a lot of dedication by the stakeholders of the project! We hope the family was comforted by this creative gesture of community.

My favorite part of MC is seeing new faces as people check it out and get involved when and how they are able. It’s a fun group always looking for the next thing to jump into and I can’t wait to see where He takes us next.

Remember, missional communities exist to help ideas come to life as we step out faithfully as a group, powered by action, to serve the community at large.

Have an outreach idea? Maybe this post has sparked something in you. Tell us by commenting with what kinds of things YOU would like to see MC get involved in and let’s make it happen. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Be Where You Are

Hey, my name is Andy. My wife, Kristel and I lead a Life Group at Awaken. We have two kiddos and we love the Boundary Waters.

It sounds too simple, to be where you are. But I’m convinced that is what we are asked to do. It makes sense.

I’m planning to put a rather large hole in my house – a doorway to be more precise. We’re claiming half of the front porch that we’ve used very little up until now. It will become part of our finished home. This is the latest installment in a series of home improvement projects we’ve tackled over the years. When the weather turns, we have plans for projects outside.

The outside projects are my favorites. I’ve found that when you toil out in the open, folks notice. They comment. And most of the time, the comments are encouraging.  But not all of the time. Like Budweiser guy. As I built a retaining wall in the spring of 2009 (the first summer after the infamous economic downturn), Budweiser guy sauntered from the liquor store to the bus stop – a route that invited some interesting foot traffic past our home.

Budweiser guy barely broke his slow, steady stride as he glanced over at me and volunteered some advice: “It doesn’t seem very smart to be investing in your house right now.” I politely suggested that I thought my retaining wall may yield a better return on investment than his 30-pack of Budweiser. (I know, it was a little sharp. I promise that I delivered my response playfully, and with a smile.)  He gave a shrug and continued to the bus stop.

This type of interaction is the exception. Like I said, most of the comments are encouraging. Some even start a conversation that goes beyond the project at hand. Like with Alice who’s lived in the neighborhood for decades. She tells me often that it’s so great to see someone taking care of their home. Alice walks by often. (And she’s always wearing shorts – even in the winter!) Usually our interaction is a friendly, but brief “hello.” But there have been a handful occasions that Alice and I have visited for thirty minutes at a time.

I could tell scores of stories about the folks I’ve met outside on the street next to my house, but I’ll spare you and get to my point. Each of us encounters all sorts of people in our day-to-day. All different kinds. And I’m growing more and more convinced that these very folks, the ones you run into naturally, are worth pouring into a bit.

Well, “pouring into” is probably overstating it. It makes the “pourer” sound like a bit of a hero. That’s not what I mean. If you open the door to conversation, to some kind of relationship, sometimes you end up poured into. Like with Mike & Kathy. They live next door. We lived four or five winter months in our home before even meeting them. Since then we have been encouraged, supported, poured into in ways that cannot be described in the likes of a brief blog post. They are like family who live next door. It sounds cliché, but I really mean it. What a gift!

Photo Credit: Theron HumphreyThis is a key feature of our life groups at Awaken. Since we arrange these groups with geography as a primary consideration, life groups are made up of neighbors. Ideally, we don’t really need to leave the neighborhood to serve. We don’t need to manufacture opportunities. We can just open up our eyes. See who’s already there in front of us.  It makes so much sense.

Who is around you? Who do you see each day? Neighbors? Co-workers? Someone who walks their dog by your house each day? Strike up a conversation. Or at least make eye contact and offer a genuine hello. I suppose you were going to eat dinner tonight anyway.  Maybe your neighbor will join you. Yeah, there is some risk. But there is potential for great, meaningful reward, too. Try it out – see what happens. I dare you.

This is the foundation for true relationship. I am convinced; there is nothing more meaningful, more genuine than being where you are.

Community Rhythm

Hi, my name is Aaron. My wife and I lead a Life Group in the South Metro.

I am looking out my back patio windows on a rare above-freezing March day. The snow thaws to uncover hay and dirt and a strangely “in place” orange cable. 170th street is quiet. The soccer field beyond is one morning closer to birthing new schoolyard legends.  Why is this interesting? It’s only the second time I’ve ever stared out this window with a cup of coffee in hand accompanied by sweet silence.

Life is, shall we say, fast, these days in our life group. Fast with constant changes. Upon first meeting, we discovered that all four families were going to be welcoming a baby within the school year! Two of our families (including ours) have moved within the last three months. Needless to say, absences have been excused and even encouraged regularly.

With such a fast pace, the idea of a life group has taken on a different rhythm than I initially imagined. I have a passion for learning, and a passion for biblical literacy. One of my first thoughts after agreeing to host a life group was, “Go Deeper.” (insert eye roll… it’s ok, I rolled them too). This phrase has probably seeped into my brain after years of working at a Christian camp, but nonetheless, the potential to “Eat this book” in community excited me.  By the way, I strongly advocate continually uncovering the Scriptures in community to hear God speak, but in our case – in a way we all have needed, “Go Deeper” has taken a different shape.

In our group, one of the hardest things to accomplish is to actually get there. With demanding work schedules, kids getting sick, and one of the harshest winters in the last century, this has been no small feat! Once we are together, we must prepare food, we must eat, and we must get children playing. Then, there is a window. Sometimes it lasts a few minutes, sometimes more. This is when we share life. We share our stories. We share highlights from our personal narratives. We share about the stresses and joys of work.  We’ve even burned a couple of hours getting nostalgic and watching our favorite music videos on YouTube. (“November Rain” vs. “On Bended Knee” anyone?) And as we take these moments together to lay the foundation of relationship, something is happening.  Trust is building. Music videos turn into sharing the highs and lows of marriage and family.  Discussions about this thing we call church. Taking wisdom from each other. And yes, sometimes things “devolve” into complete randomness and more music videos.

Most of all, our life group experience is growing affection between us. This affection, (dare I say “love?”) is what causes excitement at Gatherings when we see each other. Meals delivered to one another.  It is even starting to generate moments of prayer for one another. I am so excited for the “deeper” that is to come. It is a sacrifice to adopt some of this community rhythm into life. But, if these early stages are so satisfying, I can only imagine the returns as we keep going.

Finding a Fit

Write. Delete. Write some more. Delete a whole lot more. Walk away from the computer. And start over again.

This was my process for writing and rewriting this blog post. In the midst of many drafts, the thought came to me: Perhaps this process is exactly what I need to write about – about trying to perfect something.

You see, perfection isn’t something I [usually] focus on; I can’t say I’ve ever obsessed over it. If anything, my life carries a tone of the opposite: Of things being, generally, out-of-order / random / spontaneous / go with the flow – you get the picture.

So, when thinking of our missional community in the west, I cannot say perfection is the goal. If we try to be flawless and bring about our own agendas, we will not bear fruit in our work. We are quite diverse as our community group is a wide variety of souls – all carrying their own stories, opinions and treasures.

We’ve dialogued, shared, encouraged and prayed. As a community, we’re moving towards the brainstorming phase; of how we can get a taste of a variety of people groups, activities and service opportunities.

I don’t believe it’s about us finding the perfect fit. But I do believe it’s about us finding a fit. It’s about exploring options and discerning God’s call for our community. Where can we engage? Where are our passions? What do we have in our hands? How do we come? It is this approach of questions that I envision open hands, palms up, and a willingness to receive. It’s a gentle posture that leaves us open to connection, growth, and blessings.

So here we are as the West Side community. With no predetermined route or agenda, just open hearts, and willing souls to see more of ourselves while seeing more of who God is.

Won’t you join us? The 3rd Sunday of every month we meet at a home in Bloomington. All ages are invited to participate from 5pm – 8pm. Come when you can. Come as you are. Contact Diana Suedbeck for more information.

Make Big Plans

This challenge, written as a blog post by marketing guru Seth Godin in February of 2011, changed my life. It’s what inspired me to literally walk away from my mediocre lifestyle to chase after something more. For me, that meant quitting my job and going on a year-long missions trip, where God opened my eyes to a world of impoverished people living far richer lives than I could ever attest to back home.

Immersed in this simple and earnest way of life, I was struck by the impact we, as human beings, can have just by “showing up” in our surroundings.

I thought I needed a grand plan with statistical outcomes proving its success. Build! Educate! Revamp! Remove! And don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need those things, but what I often felt left the most lasting impact in the cities we lived in (from me personally), were the friendships. Seeing people – looking at them square in the eye and seeing them – for who they are seemed to make a visible world of difference. So my “big plan” actually proved to be something seemingly quite small.

My conviction is that we live in a world where people go unseen. They get lost in the shuffle and drown in the overwhelming obstacles that life throws, be it poverty, depression, anxiety, loneliness…

I have always said I can do anything with “just one other person.” Who doesn’t love a sidekick? There is comfort and strength in that. As a Missional Community leader, I see myself as a “sidekick” for the east side. We all want to make a difference, (re-enter the grand plan) and in the process make lasting connections with the people in our neighborhoods, together. There are no bad ideas. We strive to incorporate and explore all possibilities driven by the passions of the group.

As a result, my hope and prayer is that we continue to “make big plans” for the East Side community, because as Seth notes:

…it’s the best way to make big things happen.

I hope you join us for our next Dinner & Discussion. We meet the 3rd Sunday of every month from 5-7 PM at the Joke Joint to hang out and explore ways to benefit our community at large. Oh, and to have some fun, too.