Monthly Archives: April 2013

Praying and Pondering Change


Three years ago I came home…literally home. I had always worked outside of my home and my career was very important to me. At the time I was leading ministry to children and families in my church as a full-time staff member. While I felt called to this ministry and loved working with the children and families at St. Michael’s, I began to feel that the Lord was ready for me to go home to minister to my family–my teenage daughter, aging mother and my husband who had recently started a private medical practice. I prayed about and pondered this change for several months when I finally felt the Lord speak to my heart, “Now.”

The first month was restorative. I began to feel reinvigorated. I tried to create a rhythm to my days. I had time to reorganize long-neglected areas of my house, enjoyed planning and fixing meals for my family, looked forward to the twice-daily trips downtown to my daughter’s school for carpool, assisted my husband in his new practice and caught up with friends over long lunches and frequent coffees. We even made the leap to enlarge our family. We brought home two English springer spaniel puppies (litter mates)–but that is a story for another time.

I wish I could say that things continued this way for the the next three years but in realty things began to get a bit bumpy by month three. Apparently I was not as self-disciplined as I thought and the organizational skills others had so admired in my work situations did not translate to my home environment. At first I tried to blame everything on the puppies and the constant attention and training they required (it did feel very much like caring for a toddler). It wasn’t until I had volunteered for everything I could and tried to take over every committee meeting I attended that I realized it wasn’t about the dogs. Being at home full time was killing me!

Looking back I can see so many reasons why the Lord led me back home for this season and I am so grateful. My family experienced some very difficult and heartbreaking challenges and I can’t imagine how we would have gotten through it all if I had been working full time and focused on other things. I can also see that He was allowing me a Sabbath of sorts–an opportunity to slow down, engage, focus and breath.

My daughter began driving several months ago and while I enjoy sleeping a bit longer in the morning, I miss the time we had every day going to and from school. The puppies are now three and while not as needy as they once were, they are a bit wild (so much for my dog training abilities). My mother’s health has improved considerably and is as independent as she was over a decade ago. My husband’s practice is full and going well but he is only needs my help in the office two days a week.

So…I am praying and pondering change…again. What does this next season of life look like? What plans does the Lord have for me? What doors are opening and which ones are being closed? I am praying for patience and clarity, courage and obedience. And in the meantime I will write about this process. Join me in this journey. Share your own experiences. Offer suggestions. Pray for me and allow me the honor of praying for you.

Getting Your Feet Wet (A Journey Launched, Part 4)

Getting Your Feet Wet

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

I can still see my daughter’s face as she came down the slide that Saturday morning. She was a kindergartner attending a classmate’s birthday party where the primary entertainment was one of those enormous, inflatable slides. It was intended to be fun, I am sure, but my cautious child wasn’t going to be so easily convinced. After some coaxing and gentle threats, she finally made her way to the top of the slide. As she pushed off from the landing, a look came over her face that I will never forget. As other children whizzed past her, arms in air, screaming with delight, my daughter had a look of terror hiding just beneath her plastered-on smile. With hands and feet dragging along the rubberized material, slowing her descent, she bumped along eyes darting back and forth desperately looking for something to help her feel more secure. As she reached the bottom, she let out a huge sigh of relief, and, looking around at her friends, she shook her head in apparent disbelief. She wasn’t going through that again!

I hate to admit just how much my own spiritual journey resembles my daughter’s experience of that slide. I have “dug my heels in” on more than one occasion and have resisted the Lord’s call to trust Him far too often. The idea of surrender is almost incomprehensible to me. But praise God! He shows us a way to learn how to trust Him and to surrender—through His word, through the experiences of those who have come before us, and through our own journeys with Him.

What comes to mind when I think about my resistance to trusting God is the contrast of the faithfulness of Joshua and the Israelites as they approach the Jordan River. The Lord tells Joshua over and over to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1: 9). I don’t know about you, but anytime anyone tells me not to be afraid, it is usually because there is something that I should be afraid of! God did not promise Joshua and the Israelites a trouble-free life in the Promised Land. No, but He did promise that he would be with them wherever they went.

What really gets me about this passage is that he doesn’t show them the way across the Jordan first (which is running at flood stage at this point, by the way). He doesn’t stop the flow of the river and then say “Come on over.” No, he tells the priests to go and stand in the river. As soon as they set foot in it, the water starts piling up on either side and the Israelites are able to cross over to the new land that the Lord has given them. God called them to surrender their place of safety on one side of the river and to trust Him to make a way for them across it to the other side—to the Promised Land. He asks us to do the same: surrender this place of safety and trust me to get you to this new place.

I can definitely relate with what the Israelites must have been feeling that day. My place of safety is really feeling pretty comfortable right now—I finally feel like I kind of know what I am doing, good things are happening, things are running pretty smoothly…you know the feeling. But the Lord has called me to cross through the Jordan—and believe me! The river is running at flood stage. There seems to be a lot at stake and the journey across the raging waters looks pretty risky. And to top that all off, I don’t even know what is on the other side! But what I do know is that it is good for the Lord has called me to it. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Joshua could take the risk of surrendering his place of safety because he had seen what the Lord had done through Moses. I too can trust because of what God has promised in His word and because of what I have seen the Lord do through me and so many others.

You know, it’s funny. I thought that my daughter would never go back up that big, inflatable slide that Saturday morning, but she did! She was able to talk herself into taking a risk because of her previous experience and that of her classmates. The second time down, she didn’t dig in her heels as much and the ride was a bit smoother. By the end of the party, she was throwing her hands up in the air and screaming with abandon with the best of them!

Is the Lord calling you to a place of surrender? Does he ask you to leave your place of safety and step into the river? Go ahead—get your toes wet! He is trustworthy. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5) Thanks be to God!

May 2007

Confessions of a Bibliophile (A Journey Launched, Part 3)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Confessions of a Bibliophile

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

I confess that I have always loved books. I love the sound of the spine cracking on a new book when it is opened for the first time. I love to feel the weight and crispness of the paper. I love to press the pages to my face breathing in the smell of the freshly printed words.

Holding an unread book in my hands always makes my heart race a little—excited by the possibilities of new ideas, adventure, drama.  However, I think what I have treasured most about reading is that all of life’s possibilities were confined to the safety of the page, and they allowed me to “feel” without the risk of being hurt.

So I started reading a great deal early on. When I was in need of comfort or reassurance, I often resorted to the safety and predictability of a favorite book reading the familiar words over and over time and again. Some rather unfortunate (though not uncommon) events of my adolescence confirmed for me that the world of books was a much safer place than that of many of the relationships I had developed.

As time passed it seemed only natural that my love of books and the safety of their created worlds would lead me to a degree in English literature in college and then to a job as a bookseller in a dangerously well-stocked bookstore. While graduate school did not exactly quell my biblio-obsession, it did refine my tastes and limit the subject matter that I pursued. My graduate degree in material culture and my subsequent career as a museum curator opened an even more protected dimension to the safe world I cherished—historical objects and art work.

Working in and for museums for almost fifteen years, I found myself surrounded by a host of very safe companions—thousands of beautiful and interesting objects that stayed nicely on the walls and in the exhibit cases in which they were placed. The security and reliability of these relationships couldn’t be beat! Furthermore when I was called to the Department of Christian Faith Formation in the diocese (now almost 1 ½ years ago), I couldn’t believe how blessed I was. God may have taken me out of the world of museums and objects, but he had placed me in a position where I was surrounded by hundreds of books and resources in the Diocesan Resource Center. I couldn’t believe it—I was and am actually getting paid to read and evaluate books and resources in order to be able to tell other people about them. What a blessing! I have loved the opportunity to read many of these wonderful resources and relish the idea of sharing them with others. Currently I must have at least twelve partially read books on my nightstand, and, as I look around me now, I am literally encircled by pages and pages of words and ideas. What a joy! Hmmm…let me see…this one looks interesting….

What really surprises me about all of this is that God has been doing something new in me over this time at the diocese and, in retrospect, over all these years. He placed a confessed bibliophile—a down-right biblio-idolator—right in the middle of my ideal setting. And then He reawakened a desire for real relationship in my heart. While I was trying to fill my head with knowledge from my “safe” companions (i.e., books), He has been transforming my heart and preparing me to risk relationship in ways that I never thought possible. As I sit surrounded by the books that I once believed gave me the kind of world I wanted—one that let me experience relationships without any of the danger—I realize now that my heart longs for relationships that are worth the risk. And these relationships come in the form of the loving, mixed-up, sane, messy, unpredictable, wonderful, sometimes uncomfortable, grace-filled people that are the body of Christ. Safety, my friends, is highly overrated. Thanks be to God!

November 2006

Becoming Like Little Children (A Journey Launched, Part 2)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Becoming Like Little Children

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

The first time I ever held a Bible in my hand, I was eight years old.  My father was helping me to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon by cleaning out the large walk-in closet in my bedroom. I remember spotting the unfamiliar dark green, leather bound book with gold-edged pages, and how light the feather-weight pages felt in my fingers as I flipped through each delicate one. Who knows how that Bible came to be in the bottom of my closet? I know that I had never seen it before and to be honest, I had no idea what it was. My father gave me a brief explanation of the book and it must have intrigued me for I promptly sat down on the floor and began to read, “In the beginning God created . . . .” I don’t know how far I read that day—probably not very far at age eight—but clearly the experience left an indelible mark in my memory file since I often recall it when I trace the arc of my spiritual journey.

Over the next two decades, I danced around God—attending church in fits and spurts and reading Scripture sporadically. I had many questions but was too self-absorbed to really seek any answers. Becoming a parent changed all of that for me.

The birth of my daughter was in many ways miraculous. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged that there was a God and that he was gracious and merciful and loving—and had inexplicably entrusted this tiny baby to my care. From the very core of my being arose a feeling of love and protectiveness for her that I had not thought possible. But there was something else there too—a feeling that had been lying dormant for far too long. I had a deep longing to know this God and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted my child to know Him too. The only problem was that He was a stranger to me. This was uncharted territory. I felt (somewhat) confident that as a parent I would be able to help her learn to sit up, walk and talk, but I had absolutely no idea how to lead her spiritual development. I knew that it involved more than just teaching her a set of rules to follow. I had to somehow share with her this deep longing that I felt for God. As I had no foundation from which to draw, I had to start at the beginning.

Attending church regularly seemed a logical starting point. Since my knowledge of the Bible was almost nonexistent, I began reading to her from the children’s Bible that she had been given at baptism. As I read these simple, child-like stories to her, the picture of who God was and what he was doing began to unfold for me. Armed with this basic outline, I became more confident to study the Scriptures on my own. It was at this time that I began to pray with her—the first prayers I had ever said aloud. Hmmm…I was on to something. I was learning about God alongside and through my child. God had used my child to draw me to Him. Amazing.

Over the years I began teaching Sunday School—not because of my vast knowledge of Scripture but because I discovered that it was a safe and dynamic environment in which to learn and grow. Preparing to teach a lesson, identifying the most important idea and thinking through the activities and object lessons that would best illustrate this idea has been an incredible growth experience for me. The questions that my child has thrown at me from the back seat of the car have challenged me to know what I believe and why I believe it. Together we have searched the Bible for answers to problems, learned about traditions and holidays of the Church, memorized Scripture and learned the books of the Bible in order. She has challenged me to pray more authentically and, more often than I’d like to admit, she has reminded me of Jesus’ command to love others.

Recently as I was tucking her into bed, I had the opportunity to tell her about what my childhood was like not knowing about God or going to church. As I recounted to her the story of finding that Bible in my closet, her mouth hung open in disbelief. It was unfathomable to her that someone might not know about Jesus or the Bible. I explained to her that not knowing Jesus for so many years was the reason I was so excited about sharing my love for Him with her and with others. My heart was so full with Him that I just had no other choice. “Oh, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “I want my heart to feel like that too. Can I have Jesus in my heart too? Will you walk me through it?” (and yes, she did actually say ‘walk me through it’). We said a simple prayer together, hugged and said good night.

As I left her room that evening, I thanked God for allowing me to share this gift—His love—with my precious child. He has entrusted this child to me and has given me the responsibility for leading her spiritual development. But He has also given me the one tool that I need to do this—a passion for Him. It’s that simple. Praise God.

“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

July 2006

Unpacking Boxes (A Journey Launched, Part 1)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Unpacking Boxes

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

Ouch. I put the book down. He’s got to be crazy if he thinks I am going to do this! This was my first reaction to reading the book, How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The ‘he’ I referred to was Peter Rothermel, coordinator for the Department of Christian Faith Formation of the Diocese of SC. I had just accepted a position (late July 2005) with the diocese as the Administrative Assistant for the department. Peter had given me a copy of the book and encouraged me to read it in preparation for a conference our department would present in March 2006. The ‘ouch’ mentioned above was my reaction to the few things that surfaced after reading the first few chapters of How People Grow. I promptly put the book down. A month passed before I had the nerve to pick it up again.  This isn’t going to be quite as painless as I thought.

Over the next few months, I moved through the book at a snail’s pace, reading one chapter and then putting the book away for a month or more. I was familiar with the authors, trusted their reputations, and believed the material to be theologically orthodox and biblically based. The text was engaging and the case studies allowed me to glimpse how their principles applied to real life. Yet I just couldn’t seem to get through the book.  By early January, I was beginning to panic. The team for the upcoming conference was hard at work and plans were moving forward at a brisk pace. And I still hadn’t gotten through the book! What was wrong with me?

Finally it became clear to me what was causing me so much trouble. From the first pages of this book, Drs. Cloud and Townsend stress that the growth process is meant to be done with other people. God did not intend for us to grow alone. He wants us to be in relationship with him and with others. I had been leaving out a crucial piece of the process—the body of Christ. The trouble was that I was a self-proclaimed, self-sufficient, independent, I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help kind of person. Obviously this was not good news to me. But I didn’t see any way out of this situation. It was my job, after all, and Dr. Townsend would be arriving in Charleston in just a few short months. I had to finish the book and get on with planning the conference. I needed some help!

Well, it would be nice to say that I turned to my dearest, closest friend for help, but in reality it was someone with which I had only just gotten to know. Still I felt that God had brought us together for a purpose, so I took a leap of faith. I asked her to read How People Grow and to meet with me regularly to talk about and process what we were reading. Thankfully she took a pretty big leap and agreed. While this may not seem like such a big deal for some people, it was a HUGE step for me. I did not like admitting that I was over my head and needed help. The miraculous thing is that God immediately did something transformational in me.

I liken the experience of going through this growth process to the process of cleaning out a closet or a room full of boxes. My room is full of boxes—boxes full of memories, experiences, lessons learned, things I have done, and things done to me.  While I know what a few of these boxes contain, the contents of many are a mystery. They are all nicely sealed up—and frankly, that is the way I had intended to keep them. But something began to happen to me. As I began to develop this new friendship through the growth process outlined in How People Grow, I began to open up some of my boxes. I realized that some of them contained things that I wanted to keep—memories or experiences that I didn’t want to discard, sins that need to be forgiven, lessons that needed to be learned. I began to take the contents out of each box, one-by-one, carefully turning them over, assessing and evaluating, with the help and encouragement of my new friend, whether they were treasures or trash. I realized that some of the things in these boxes didn’t even belong to me and needed to be returned to their rightful owners.

Intellectually I knew that God wanted me to bring these things out of the darkness and into the light. But I imagined that this light would be like that given off by a single, bare light bulb: harsh and condemning. What I came to learn, however, is that the light he asks us to walk in is more like that given off by a lamp covered with a shade: soft, comforting, yet bright enough to reveal the truth. When I began to unpack my boxes, the contents were brought into the healing, loving, saving light of Jesus Christ—reflected through the warmth, acceptance, and compassion of my new friend. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1: 9).

Three months into this journey, I can honestly say that I am a different person—truly a new creation.. As I continue to experience this new, deeper, more honest relationship with my “growth partner,” I realize that I want more of my established relationships to grow in this way. This experience is having a ripple effect in every area of my life.

I still have many more boxes to go through. But—through the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the support of the body of Christ—I am now able to look at some things that had been hidden away for far too long. And I am even taking some of them out, putting them on the shelves of my life and integrating them into this new creation—the person that God wants me to be. Praise be to God.

March 2006