AVFM: And Then the Bells Rang…for when you send someone home

This post is part of a series I like to call “A Visit From Mom.”  These posts are written by, well…my mom. I think she kind of rocks! My mom and her mother were the primary inspirations for me to starting writing way back as a little girl.  Now, I share my blog with my mom cause I think she has some things to say that you might really love.

woman-dying-from-cancer

Walking with a loved one in her final days is a sorrowful and daunting experience which brings up age-old questions of faith and fairness.  It tests our beliefs and wrings our spirits.  But in the end, there is always a signal of God’s presence and solace in our pain.  Today, the church bells were mine.

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And Then the Bells Rang

Home, surrounded by my refuge,

I prayed for comfort for my dear one,

Grateful for knowing her

And saddened at her suffering,

Pondering what new dilemmas

Would be faced in coming days.

I questioned what possible good

Could come from this horrendous pain

And why such gracious people

Should have to relinquish every

Remnant of dignity and joy

In this final stretch of the journey.

And then the bells rang

At the church down the street

And the answer was clear.

Heavenly Father says, “Welcome Home.”

© Carlene Welch, 2012

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom. She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know. She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts. For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.

Covenant Relationships: Listen…for when words aren’t enough

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships. Enjoy!

listen to your heart
“I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.”- Strings Attached Pledge

“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

– Proverbs 27:19

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

We know this well. Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%). How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness?  We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.

That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal.  Our eyes and ears are constantly scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.

When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way. To “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical, from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.

The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.

Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking, “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.

In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:

It doesn’t interest me who you know
Or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
In the center of the fire
With me
And not shrink back.

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Are you willing to ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through, and stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?

Covenant Relationships: The Power of Prayer

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached.  It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships.  Enjoy!

job and his friends

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42:10

I love this quote from Job. Let me refresh your memory about the story.  This particular verse actually takes place within the Epilogue of the story of Job. Job has been through (literally) Hell on Earth; he has been faithful, but prideful; he has questioned God; and he has seen the error of his questions and repented before the Lord.  The Lord is angry with Job’s friends for speaking out against Him. He tells them to offer burnt sacrifices and Job will pray for them and that Job’s intercessory prayer will be heard. It is heard and Job’s friends are restored in the eyes of God. Job also, by praying for his friends, is restored.

How many times have you said to someone going through a tough time, or needing a little encouragement, “I’ll pray for you.”

I do it, often multiple times a day. It’s the standard Christian good bye.  “Hi, how are you today?”

“I’m fine, thanks!”

“Oh great…I’ll pray for you!”

That’s wonderful! But the real question is: how often do you REALLY do it? Do you REALLY pray for them?

I will be totally honest – I am preaching to the choir here! I have been really convicted of late to change this part of my Christian walk.

Here’s my challenge to you (and to me, too):

The next time you are confronted with an opportunity to pray for someone…STOP RIGHT THERE and do it! Right then! There are a couple of ways to do this:

First, you could simply say to the person you are talking to, “I would love to pray with you about that. May I pray with you right now?” If the answer is yes, well, then you know what to do.

Sometimes, however, the answer will be no. Prayer is a very intimate experience and some people are simply not ready to share that with you. They may covet your intercessory prayers on their behalf, but they are not ready to be privy to them.  This is ok, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t pray RIGHT THEN.  Just take a moment alone, and lift that person up in prayer. Your moment doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be intentional. I find that not only does praying for others encourage a life of “praying without ceasing it also helps me to remember the prayer requests of the people who I run across in my daily life.

Thinking of the Book of Job, I often wonder at Job’s friends. They showed great loyalty by sitting with him.  They sat for 7 days and watched their friend suffer. They debated and thought and tried to coach Job through a solution to the problem.  Sometimes, perhaps they were not far from striking the theological truth. Sometimes, they were just plain ole wrong. But never once did they offer to do the one thing that all good friends should do. They never once offered to pray for Job.

I wonder what would have happened if they had?

Covenant Relationships: Commitment and Time

The following post is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. Enjoy!

photo-two-girls-talking-on-dock-1

Real relationships require a couple of non-negotiables to flourish: commitment and time.

Webster defines “commitment” as: the state or instance of being obligated or emotionally compelled. Of course, it also defines commitment as consignment to a mental
institution, but for now let’s stick to the first definition. 🙂

I like to substitute the word, “covenant” for “commitment.” A covenant is a “binding agreement or pact.” So, in essence, Strings Attached relationships require three things up front.

First, they require COMMITMENT. In order to build deep, trusting, friendships you can count on to help you with everything from plunging your toilet to moving to offering a shoulder to cry on, you have to be emotionally compelled to act for your friend from day one. You have to be committed to caring for your friends.

Secondly, they require COVENANT. Did you ever prick your finger, watch your friend prick hers and then press them together, becoming blood sisters? My best friend’s mom was a bit of germ-o-phobe, so we became “toothpaste” sisters instead. But, I remember clearly the
day we sat in her little playhouse in the backyard, with the sign on the door that said, “NO BOYZ ALLOWED!” – as though that ever kept her little brother out – and pressed our thumbs, slathered with toothpaste, together while boldly declaring that we were, indeed, blood sisters and
would always be there for each other. We were nine and understood the idea of a covenant relationship more clearly than most adults do today. That day we made a pact to stand by one another.

God was clear about the nature of covenant relationships. They are the kind of relationships we were created for –that He created us to have with Him. It is full-fledged commitment. It doesn’t mean just knowing and understanding Him, but caring, loving and fully surrendering to His overarching plan for our lives. Walking with Him, interceding for Him with others, and
fulfilling our active role in the relationship.

He built us to be blood sisters with each other. He wants us to model our heavenly relationship in our physical relationships on earth.

The third thing these relationships require is TIME. All things grow with time, and that includes friendship. Time is one of our most valuable and valued commodities. True relationships are built with time spent together, learning about one another and understanding one another.

So are you willing? Are you ready to form deep and long lasting strings attached relationships?

Break out your toothpaste, sisters, ‘cause here we go!

Covenant Relationships- Grapes of Friendship

It starts simply.

Friendship, that is. I think folks try to make this complicated.  It’s not.

It’s sometimes scary.

It’s sometimes intimidating.

It’s sometimes really uncomfortable.

But it’s not complicated.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Forming a connection is as easy as eating one grape. I get this analogy from my chiropractor who introduced me to this concept several years ago as a way to describe the sure-fire, change-your-life strategy to change your life…gradual, step-wise change.

Yep, I said GRADUAL….which most generally translates to “takes time.”

So it goes like this- add one grape to your daily diet today, each day thereafter add another grape. (The diet advice is free 🙂 )

Today eat your cheeseburger and fries, but eat a grape first.  Tomorrow, eat two before your cheeseburger and fries; the next day three, and then four..until eventually you don’t have room or the desire to eat the greasy stuff anymore.  

Developing connection, a crucial step in the process of building covenant relationship, is like eating one grape.  Today a connection starts by a simple, “Me, too.” The hard part is speaking up- putting yourself out there and LITTLE BY LITTLE opening up to another human being.  Start with the ‘small talk’ and work your way into deep conversations.  It takes time to build deeply connected relationships, but they are so worth it.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ “

– C.S. Lewis


Guest Post: Start Your Own Friendship Brunch

My friend, Mary DeMuth, over at Live Uncaged, writes about…well, she writes about just about anything.  I follow her blog on a regular basis because she always has something great to say about words-smithing, about what it means to be a ‘successful’ writer, mother, woman of God and friend.  A few days ago, she shared this post with her readers about her annual friendship brunch.  If you have read my book, you know that I am a big fan of eating….and also breaking bread with friends.  🙂 When I read about this tradition of hers, I felt compelled to share it with you guys. Enjoy!

I don’t remember when I first started this, but I believe I lived in Seattle, which means my friendship brunch started in the roaring Nineties. A friend of mine had created her own yearly brunch with friends, and I had the privilege of being a part. When life moved on, I decided to follow her inspiration.

So every year around Christmas time, I invite friends to a brunch. This year was my biggest yet, with 14 guests. I had to add a table onto my table to make everyone fit. But it was worth it.

Why? Because there are just so few moments we take these days to celebrate friendship, to ask good questions, and to share our hearts. I started by telling everyone how I knew each person. (I was the common denominator of all the women, so it was fun to share how I met each one.) It was interesting to see how the stories interconnected. Some of us went to the same church. Some of us met when my husband was in seminary. Several of the friends had actually visited us when we lived in France. All of the women have prayed for our family in different, cool ways.

The next question I asked was, “From what you’ve gone through this last year, what one thing do you want to do differently next year? In other words, what did you learn and what do you want to put into practice?”

Mine? I’ve seen how this year has…why don’t you jump on over to www.marydemuth.com to read the rest….I know you’ll enjoy it!

My Top Five Picks: Improv Games as Icebreakers

I love icebreakers.  I love opportunities to get folks up, moving and interacting with each other, and I think you can learn amazing things about your group just by listening to the interactions as they are happening.

Never underestimate the power of laughter to disarm even the most shielded person.  By opening a group up to hilarious and goofy interactions with one another, you give them an opportunity to safely let their guard down without feeling too vulnerable.

My favorite way to create fun interactions is through Improvisational Comedy.  I would have to say improv games are my go-to resource for fun activities and icebreakers.  I’ve talked about ice-breakers before, but you asked for more…so here they are….My top five pics for Improv games:

Fun and Laughter pave the way for open conversations.

1.  Conjoined Twins

Supplies Needed: None

Set Up: Have your group divide up in pairs. Each pair has to come up with some way to be ‘conjoined’ (yes that means they have to touch one another.)  You’ll need someone not playing to interview each set of conjoined twins.

The rules for this game are simple.The players are conjoined twins who must speak simultaneously when giving answers to the questions from the audience. The players receive questions one at a time from the group and are then given the opportunity to spontaneously answer. Generally, the answers are only one or two words. Asking questions that require longer answers challenges the players. The players are forced to follow each other in determining what to say- they are speaking together as they listen.  The content of the answers is not important to the game but yield howls of laughter as the players try to come up with the answer and speak in unison.

I’m kind of starting with the most difficult on the list first, but this is my absolute favorite.  This game brings up so many things….like trust, listening, willingness to lead and to follow. It is a veritable minefield of learning lessons.  The drawback is that once you get a gaggle of gals giggling, it can be a bit difficult to control, but it’s a great trade off, especially for a smaller group of 10 or so.


2.  Circle Warm Up

Circle Warm Up– Warning: Uncontrollable laughter is possible!

Supplies needed: None

Circle Warm-Up is Comedy Improv game used to loosen a group of people up and get loads of laughs.  The group stands in a circle facing in.  First person steps forward and makes a gesture or sound and everyone in the group repeats it.  Play continues around the circle until everyone has gone.  GO FAST! Do whatever you think of first.  If someone gets stuck, and starts to fidget, that becomes their motion and the group repeats it.  This is a great way to begin talking about how much easier it is to open up and be silly when you trust everyone is going to as well- this helps build the trust that others will open up and be vulnerable later.

3. One Word Story

One Word Story- Learning to accept and build

Supplies needed: None

One-Word Story is an Improv game used as a warm up in Comedy Improv groups.  Divide your group into groups of 8-10.  Once you are in your groups, ask for a suggestion of a fairy tale story to tell as a group.  Then instruct the groups that they will have 2 minutes to begin to tell the story one. Word. At. A. time. The key is to go fast and to add onto the word the person in front of you said.

Tip: Inevitably, you will end up with a yellow submarine in Cinderella or ruby slippers in Snow White.  This game gets hilarious. Stop the game after two minutes and ask, “Do you guys actually remember the story?”  Ask for some of the really ridiculous suggestions.

This game highlights the point that even though we may have a really clear direction and idea of where things should be headed, we only have control of ourselves and our contribution to the team.  The idea is to learn to take what your teammate gives you, view it as a gift no matter how much it diverges from your plan, and build on it.

Recently I played this game with a group of young women 18-25.  As we were going around the circle there seemed to be this wrestling to control the “power” words of the story- you know the big ones- nouns, verbs, seemingly ridiculous adjectives like Irish, and frankly, the story got lost.  This game the opportunity to talk about the fact that often times the most valuable word in a story is a single letter, like ‘a’ or a short word like ‘the,’ and tat while those words seem insignificant to us when we look at them by themselves, the story can’t go on without them. It was a beautiful moment that spoke to the importance and purpose of each and everyone one of us.

4.  Whoosh

Supplies needed: None

Whoosh is a warm-up improv game that is played in a circle.  The basic level of it is whoosh is passed around the circle like an energy, it travels from person to person in one direction around the circle. Then you can add levels like “BOINK” which stops the whoosh and rebounds it to travel in the opposite direction. You can add “OVERPASS” which makes the whoosh jump over the person next to you and land on the next person. And at this point you can add many fun hilarious levels to the game which gives players handfuls of choices to make, respond to and be confused by. We play ninja,  monorail, scooter, galactica, hyperspace and subway just to name a few…and I am fairly certain that most of these I made up on the spur of the moment…so have fun with these!

This is a great exercise to watch who engages and who doesn’t and to learn who has a tendency to overpower things as well. This one game can tell you a whole lot about the personalities in your group and how well they work together.

5.  Flock Dance

Supplies: None

This is a very physical, very silly and wildly fun game! Stress the silliness of it and that there must be commitment on everyone’s part in order for this to be fun.

Have your group arrange themselves in a “flying V” with one person at the front of the ‘V’ and the others staggered behind them, like a flock of birds. The player at the front begins leading a dance (either to a stereo or to music that they hum or sing themselves). The other players follow the leader, duplicating their movements as closely as possible. After 15-20 seconds (or when the song changes, if you’ve got a stereo and a “DJ”), a new leader moves into the front until each player has had a chance to try leading.

The idea behind this game is to get full commitment.  This is an especially useful game if your subject material for the rest of your event is very deep and will require lots of vulnerability.  This also helps players be aware of leadership and take the initiative, to follow, and to let go of habitual patterns of movement and really WATCH someone else closely.

Flock dance is about finding a balance between leaders and followers, so in as much as followers should be aware of the leader, so should the leader be aware of his/her followers and ensure that they are supported.

Safety is also a concern, as the flock will be watching the head bird.

Woah! This is a long post, but there you go…my top five improv games.  There are so many more that I love…you know what, that I would love to share with you- so if you are interested in more or in chatting about how you can make your next event super awesome- shoot me a line at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com, I’d love to help!

Have fun!