by Jen Fisher
As I reflect on the things that have shaped me this year, I realized that the most influential things have been books, videos and prayers that are not new, but that I've had the joy of revisiting during a year when I've been challenged and pushed further into leadership and growth than ever before.
At some point this year, I signed up to receive Daily Meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society. Nouwen, a world renowned priest and author, is my "go-to guy" whenever I need some peace or some words to articulate a deeper thought. I first discovered his work through his book The Inner Voice of Love. Both the book and the emails provide short and solid inspiration that grounds me when I'm nervous, stressed or scattered. His words are a great thing to read in the morning and mediate on as you go through your day.
A Very Wise Woman
If you don't know who the researcher and storyteller Brene Brown is, then I highly recommend you take the time to learn more about her. If you've ever had a deeper conversation with me, then you know more than you realize because her work has greatly shaped my approach to life and ministry. In her two TED talks below and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection she gives practical and applicable words to feelings and thoughts I've always struggled with, and that I see others, especially women, struggling with daily. Revisiting her research on vulnerability, shame, and wholehearted living really helped me this summer as I faced new leadership and life challenges. I can't recommend her work enough.
A Foundational Prayer
I lived in Berkeley, California for a year back in 2010-2011. It was a really hard year of heartache, challenges and change. But it was also a really great year of contemplation and spiritual growth. I met some incredible people and got involved in a small church plant in San Francisco. Every Sunday we ended worship by saying this Franciscan benediction aloud together. In a year when I was wrestling with hard questions and finding my faith all over again, this prayer became a foundation for my beliefs. It still stands today as a prayer full of conviction and a call to remind me of my purpose.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live from deep within your heart where God's spirit dwells.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world and in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don't think you can do, but in Jesus Christ you'll have the strength necessary to do.
May God bless you so that you remember we are called to continue God's redemptive work of love and healing in God's place, in and through God's name, in God's Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.
A Great Memoir
This year I reconnected with my love of sitting in a quiet room and reading a good novel. I revisited old favorites, knocked out a few classics, and finally read some best-selling fiction that I've been meaning to read for years. I found that while working in ministry in NYC, sitting down in a quiet room with a good novel is one of the only ways I can get my brain to escape and relax. For these reasons and more, I highly recommend The Goldfinch and Khaled Hosseini's gut-wrenching A Thousand Splendid Suns.
But my all-time favorite novel will always be a memoir I found in the clearance section of Barnes & Noble when I was in high school...J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar. It's simply the story of a boy growing up on Long Island searching for father figures in the local bar where his uncle works. I can't actually explain to you why I love this book. I can only say that after reading it three times at three very different points in my life, I still feel like the author feels and interprets the world the same way I do, with as much anxiety, loyalty, love and illusion. This quote, first discovered when I read this book at age 17, pretty much changed the course of my life.
This sums up my personal theology on fear:
"You must do everything that frightens you, JR. Everything. I'm not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you're going to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life. I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you'll have against fear? Follow it. Steer by it. Don't think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder - your Natty Bumppo." - J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar
And a couple of people
I'm a book learner. I love reading and learning and applying what I absorb. So while my list of things that are shaping me is full of books, I have to admit that the most influential things in my life right now are not books, but people. Two people specifically. This year as I hit some growth walls and overcame some new leadership challenges, I had the good fortune of having two good men to help me figure it all out - my husband and best friend, Bobby, and my boss and dear friend, Jonathan. After many years of school and work with frustrating and discouraging "boys," I'm in awe of the fact that I now get to have two such strong and supportive men to turn to when I need help overcoming personal and professional struggles. As a woman in leadership, I feel a great responsibility in leading the women of our community. I'm grateful to have the support of these two and others on our staff as well (Ben Grace especially), who make time to listen to me, challenge me, and believe in me more than I believe in myself sometimes. They've helped me learn to own and grow in my own leadership style, as a woman and a wife, and I'm blessed to get to do life with these good men by my side.