The Tricks of Caring

My dear friend Ted is a magician. Oh, he has many roles and talents: devoted husband and father and grandfather, distinguished neuropsychologist, elder and leader in his church, avid golfer, to name just a few. But he’Ted Barretts recognized by many around Northminster Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati as the man who’s willing to do a few tricks while he’s telling a story or speaking words of encouragement. He shows up at various congregational events in playful apparel to share an announcement, to speak a prophetic word of challenge or hope, or to punctuate the end of a meeting with a magic trick or two. The particular ministry team in which he’s been most invested, and which he has led several years, awaits his new magic trick each meeting. Their work is not completed until they have been tantalized by one of his mysterious feats.

Ted is not a professional. Those who know him professionally probably address him as Dr. Barrett. But he took up the hobby of magic a few years ago to connect better with his young grandchildren. How wonderful to see the charmed look of children as they study his twinkle-in-the-eye antics and puzzling dexterity. Of course, it is not only children who are enchanted by this practice. Ted’s magic draws out our adult curiosity and delight. And he uses his magic as a way of communicating a message, blessing others, and enhancing relationships. He’s mature in faith and secure in his identity with no need to show off or be the center of attention. But he hones his skills and cultivates new tricks so that he has new avenues to connect with people he cares about very much.

When I went to visit Ted to inform him that I was accepting a call to serve a congregation in Florida, we had a heart-warming exchange of memories and shared ministry over more than twenty years. We laughed about various moments with our children, who grew up together, and highlighted some of the things we have learned with and from each other. Ted posed excellent questions about my decision and next stage of ministry. He endorsed the move and the reasons that underlie it, even though it means big changes for many relationships, including ours. Then in his gentle, compassionate manner, he said, “In the last couple of years I’ve missed some of the playfulness and buoyancy in your preaching, as if you are carrying a much heavier load. I hope your new calling and the fresh experience of being a grandfather awakens that delight in you again!” It was a grace-filled invitation to discuss some of the soul work that’s going on and to compare notes on our handling of this stage in our lives. He cared for me with wisdom, intentionality, and more than a few tricks up his sleeve. I left his home knowing that when we are doing quality “one-another” work, there’s always something magical happening!

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