Ron & Velma Lagerstrom
Ron Lagerstrom joined Bread of Life as a spiritual director in 1999 and recently retired to Santa Barbara with his wife Velma after 13 golden years with us that included celebration of his 80th birthday last spring. In preparation for this move, Velma also stepped down from the Bread of Life board where she served during 2011-2012. A long-time musician, educator, and school principal in Davis for many years as well as a board member for the national Y-ME board, Velma has a life-long love for connecting people to information and services that help improve their lives. Both Ron & Velma have been key supporters and partners, pledging significantly to the work here, opening their home to small groups and sharing the richness of their experience and perspectives.
 
In the following interview last spring Ron reflected on spiritual direction as sanctuary, beauty in brokenness and the artistry of God, his life-long partnership with wife and ‘accompanist’ Velma, their decision to support Bread of Life, and his invitation to you. We are proud to have Ron and Velma as such "Foundational Friends."
 
 How did your relationship with Bread of Life begin?

Receiving the invitation to join Bread of Life was such a welcome surprise. I had retired from service in theEvangelical Covenant Church after 50 wonderful years as a pastor and then Associate Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference. I truly thought after these two experiences that my life would be downhill… that the good times for ministry were over. Anything but! I had lunch one day with Joan Stock who was involved in beginning Bread of Life, and soon after an invitation came. (NOTE: Joan's story will be the next one posted).

So, at age 67 a new door opened and a center, a foundation, a family out of which I could grow spiritually and minister in significant new ways emerged. My years with the Conference included earning a doctorate at Fuller in spiritual direction followed by a practicum at Mercy Center, but my ministry of spiritual direction and small groups really developed at Bread of Life. It was such a gift.

 

What’s it like to serve as a spiritual director?

What a privilege! I seek to extend what I have experienced in spiritual direction myself as a directee over the last 30 years. Spiritual direction is like a sanctuary where I can be who I am and be loved, affirmed

and guided in my own life of the Spirit. It’s truly a gift to have someone open up their life before me in a significant personal way and to explore with them how God is in that life.

 The two of us become a small family in that encounter something like the ‘family’ present in the well known Rublev icon of the trinity that I keep on the table. It reminds me that behind the person I sit with and behind me is the greater community of God. What a special pleasure it is to know that when I am stuck or uncertain of how to listen and respond, the fullness of God is present in that room with the two of us. It blows the mind and it’s true!

Being with people in their variety of life experience also makes my own story richer and more complete. There is such diversity and beauty in the story of each person in their wholeness and their brokenness.

 Beauty in brokenness has been an important theme for you during your time at Bread of Life. Can you share something of what it means for you?

DSC_0472b.JPGBecause I have reflected much on my own brokenness of body and spirit over the years, I have heard God say to me, “Ron there is beauty in your brokenness just as in my brokenness. On the cross I became the most beautiful thing in your life. Therefore I can use your brokenness to be an instrument of beauty for others.”  Embracing my own broken places has freed me to become wholly who I am.

I take daily walks with God outdoors as a way of praying, and began to notice how the same themes of beauty and brokenness play in nature. There is so much color and life in the mess of sticks and stones on the path that there is an intrinsic beauty.  

In reflecting on the spontaneous way that God lets beauty fall I have learned to look inward and see that God has also created me in some beautiful, colorful and humorous ways that are revealed in the ‘messiness’ of life. I can take myself so seriously, but God has a tremendous sense of humor. He laughs with us and enables us to laugh at ourselves.                       Whatever

What a variety and richness we are as humankind! In my walks I’ve discovered that everything is connected – all the colors and even the seeming randomness of the ‘design’.  The twigs and waves of the sea bring up these broken pieces of glass and in these spontaneous and unplanned ‘happenings’ I see the artistry of God creating with us in life.   

I’ve long had an avocation creating beauty through interior design in churches, homes and even Kaiser hospitals, but I wanted to express what I was seeing in a more hands on, smaller way. I pick up broken bits of nature in its beauty and variety -- sticks and stones and shards of glass -- and create colorful, interesting, artful creations on redwood. Who’d have thought that could be beautiful? What’s important is I continue to laugh at myself and nature as I enjoy what seems random or ‘broken’ but is part of a larger whole.

 
What a variety and richness we are as humankind! In my walks I’ve discovered that everything is connected – all the colors and even the seeming randomness of the ‘design’. The twigs and waves of the sea bring up these broken pieces of glass and in these spontaneous and unplanned ‘ happenings’ I see the artistry of God!
You often speak of your small group work in a similar way. It's as if you never know who will be drawn to participate, yet something beautiful happens in the diversity of participants – or perhaps because of that diversity. They are knit together in surprising, powerful ways.

Yes. I’ve worked with small groups in a very intentional way since 2000 and repeatedly notice that what seems random in our coming together is actually oneness. The beauty of what takes shape needs every person there. 

The invitation to help establish small group ministry in many churches came through the Upper Room Ministries of the Methodist church. Most significant for me is that the approach is not about information but formation.  

Having grown up for many years in Bible study groups where we learn more about the Bible and God it was transforming to be in a small group where we experience God together in the sharing of our stories. As we reveal more of who we each are in relation to the Christ of the scriptures, the Bible becomes a here and now experience. I could never go back now to traditional leadership where the assumption is that the more you know about the Bible, the more mature you are in faith. After teaching small group formation in many different churches it was wonderful to host my own small group in our home. Velma’s hospitality made it all possible.


The partnership between you and Velma extends to ministry as well as to family life…
 
She is the accompanist in my life who makes the ministry possible.  She says, "Ron, go for it!"

Yes, one of Velma’s many gifts is that she’s a skilled accompanist, musically and in life. What I’ve been describing in not my ministry but
our ministry. She is the accompanist in my life who makes the ministry possible. She says, “Ron go for it!” whether it’s marching for gays outside the Southern Baptist Convention or opening our home to groups.  Velma Lagerstrom

She is a significant partner in my long term ministry of small group life and spiritual direction. Many years ago Velma saw my need and said to me, “I’ve heard there is a spiritual director who could be helpful to you.” So I began my own experience of receiving spiritual direction at age 50. It was the best birthday gift ever. When I close retreats or workshops I say, “I want to give you an Irish blessing from Velma’s side of the family because Velma is the one who makes my ministry possible.”


Your partnership here has included a significant ongoing pledge in support of Bread of Life for many years now. What led you to choose to do this?

Velma and I have always tithed giving at least 10% of our income to ministries. Early on, because Bread of Life is significant to us both, we began to give regularly to this organization in the same way we have given faithfully to the community of the church, the community of our family, and the community of world missions.

Velma and I have always given 10% of our income to charities... so it's quite natural to continue to give in a regular way to a ministry that reaches out for others as well as into my own soul.

It’s quite natural to continue to give in a regular way to a ministry that reaches out for others as well as reaches into my own soul and fulfills and enhances my calling in such a significant way. Call is very important for me – I was called to serve God at age 7 and it has been fulfilled in my later years through Bread of Life in ways I never imagined possible.

I frequently find myself saying in delight, “Why me?” And Jesus says “Why not?” It’s important that my call is broadly based – first in the institutional church that became my family and gave me the opportunity to serve. What a gift that is to have a connectional body! Then the call expressed in Bread of Life that led out to include work with the homeless at Friendship Park, something I never imagined doing.
It’s always been through individuals that God speaks – individuals like Joan Stock in that initial invitation to Bread of Life or through you in the years since. 


God speaks if we have ears to hear. 
 
Primarily through Bread of Life I have experienced a greater sense of the freedom of it's OK to be me and to share the particular gifts I have with others.  It's a tremendous freedom to be who I am, to not know what's ahead, and to make a contribution.  Implicit in that is trust.  Jesus seldom talked about love but often about trust. It's enough for me today that God knows what's ahead. I don't have to!
 In my later years  I spend little time listening to tapes, reading books, and so on because I spend time listening to the voice of God in other people, in nature and inside me. I keep hearing “I’m here and I’ll take care of you and am with you.”  We’ll see what our time in Santa Barbara opens. I trust that the pleasures of our good God aren’t ended yet. God wants to give us pleasures of great variety, and it is through individuals and community the greatest pleasures come.
 
 
What would you say to someone considering coming here?

As I have, you will find in Bread of Life a sanctuary for your soul and an invitation to share actively in extending that sanctuary for others. We don’t have many safe places in our world where we can be truly who we are – juIn Bread of Life you’ll find a sanctuary for your soul and an invitation to share actively in extending that sanctuary for others. There aren’t many safe places in our world where we can be truly who we are.nk and all - or be known in a time of pure joy. Bread of Life is a sanctuary where I can grow my life in my own way and God’s own way with me, and I can help others grow their life in their unique way and God’s unique way for them.

Here you can see that kind of diversity celebrated in creation and in people. There is no other thumbprint like us. In Bread of Life I can experience with another my own unique individuality and the beautiful uniqueness of others. What happens here is person-centered rather than programmatic. Programs are there only to help you become more who you are and who God made you to be. God doesn’t want you to be cut out in the image of someone else.
 
 Bread of Life celebrates the richness of variety. We don’t all have to have the same belief system or lifestyle. We don’t have to think alike or be alike but can celebrate who we are uniquely and beautifully, and grow to trust that our brokenness is part of our beauty. The deep truth is that we need each other. We were created for each other. That’s why the Bread of Life has been so foundational for me as a place out of which life and ministry flows.
 Is there anything further you’d like to share?

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I cannot believe the blessings. I ask help to live always in gratitude. I’ve prepared a card with my personal credo that I am giving to directees, my various groups and Bread of Life friends. On the front is the icon of Rublev’s Trinity with the quote from Genesis 18: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Inside are three very important quotes for me:

Psalm 16:11

You show me the path of life

from beginning to end.

In your presence is fullness of joy;

In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

T. S. Elliot

Old men ought to be explorers

Here and there does not matter

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For another union, a deeper communion

 

Albert Einstein

People like you or I, though mortal

of course like everyone else, do not grow old

no matter how long we live.

[We] never cease to stand like curious children,

before the great mystery into which we were born.