What makes a conversation matter? How do I know if I had any impact? Join Karlene and Arlita Ibach as they talk about what it looks like to see every conversation as an opportunity to stir up an appetite for God.
A soul hungry for the life of God, Arlita Ibach sovereignly stumbled on the work of Larry Crabb in the early 2000’s and her life was changed. She and her family (husband, Butch and two sons, Chad and Drew) soon became great friends of Larry and Rachel and continues to be good friends to Larger Story. In 2016, Arlita’s love of drinking coffee and having conversations became The Red Dot Coffee Company, a place where being curious, exploring and listening provides opportunities for conversations to unfold. The exchange of laughter, tears, silence and impactful words. Everyone has a story – the good, bad and ugly is part of all of our stories. Arlita has created a place where people are encouraged wherever they are (their “red dot”) in their stories, to come together and perhaps engage in conversations that matter.
The hope of Arlita and the Red Dot Coffee Company is to awaken each other to the beauty of craft coffee, conversations and companionship; that whatever direction your story is taking, you will find time to be in the present and discover the place that says “you are here”.
Reading & Relating book club
[00:00:28] Karlene Cannon: Hello Larger Story family. This is Karlene Cannon, and I am here with my good friend Arlita Ibach. She’s also a very good friend of Larger Story. She has been in relationship with Rachael and Larry Crabb for a long time. They’ve been an important part of her life. As a result of that connection, Arlita made some decisions to start a coffee shop, and some of that was because she wanted to talk to people and she wanted to have conversations that mattered with people in her community.
And so I just thought, as we’re talking about SoulTalk and what it means to have conversations that matter, that Arlita is an expert and she’s someone that we could just hear from and get to know a little bit and I just wanted her to share with us what it’s like to have conversations that matter and how that’s changed her and changed her family and is impacting her community.
So Arlita, thank you so much for joining me. I’m really looking forward to our time together. I thought we’d just jump right in. Maybe you could just share a little bit of your journey and then particularly how your journey was impacted by Larry Crabb and the teachings that he offered and what you chose to do with that.
[00:01:46] Arlita Ibach: Sure. Thank you so much for having me. This is so fun. It was good to see you again as well. I prefer in person, with coffee, just chatting away. Again, thank you for having me. I started out with the School of Spiritual Direction in 2008. I started to read Shattered Dreams and I didn’t like the book so much, but it really stirred a lot and resonated quite a bit with me.
So when I read that book, I researched New Way Ministries and researched Larry Crabb. I ended up going to the school of spiritual direction in 2008. As for many people, it was life changing. I was on a trajectory of a lot of whether I was going to even keep seeking God, or seeking the path of God, and Christianity, and church.
A lot of good conversations happened that week, I think conversation with the Holy Spirit. Curiosity that I feel Larry Crabb displays very well; the transcendent curiosity that he talks about in SoulTalk. A lot of good conversation happened that week, and then it continued over the years, and with Larry through letters, through phone calls. Letters that were hard to read, so I’d call him to ask if he could transcribe them for me. We would chat and talk, and then I went to SSD a couple times. And Next Step as well. I got to know Rachael as well, and just really had some good talks throughout. I think I was at a place where church was not the safest place on earth for me and I just started thinking, what do conversations that matter look like? Because he talked about conversations that matter and how that can be defined a lot of different ways and so I just would ponder and process, what does that really look like? I thought, what does it look like in church? What does it look like with your neighbor? What does it look like sitting on my front porch? What would that look like in a coffee shop? So that was just some of the background. I love the book SoulTalk. It’s one of my favorites and I even went back through it this week before this conversation and it just resonates again in so many different ways.
I think it’s going to be a book that I read once a year just to revisit. Lots of highlights, lots of circles, lots of underlining.
[00:04:47] Karlene Cannon: So when you talk about the importance of SoulTalk and the need to go back and revisit it. Tell me a little bit about what you find so compelling in SoulTalk.
What is it that really – you mentioned Holy Curiosity. That’s a very weighty concept when you really get into what Larry’s talking about in the book. But what about SoulTalk inspires you or how does it shape your conversations? What are the core parts in that?
[00:05:19] Arlita Ibach: I think what resonated with me is, before engaging or entering into New Way Ministries or Larry Crabb or the Larger Story, part of my faith background was in ministry and women’s ministry, and I worked with a youth group and I was born and raised in a Christian home. I have a missionary background. There were a lot of pieces that felt really important, like to sit with people and to listen to people and to offer people ideas or thoughts or verses. So when I heard in the book and also in SSD that it’s the language that the Spirit – how does it go? That arouses that appetite for Christ. I leaned into that. I was like, what does that look like to arouse this appetite for God?
That alone right there, that’s a lot to unpack when you’re sitting with someone and you’re listening and you’re having these conversations. I think Larry introduced that to me, not just through the book, but in person, that someone that had that higher vision, that thought beneath. I was just fascinated by that. I was just like, wow. What does that look like?
[00:06:52] Karlene Cannon: I really like that. I think you’re right. I think that is not just the premise or the center of SoulTalk, but of all that we’re doing here at Larger Story, that this idea of spiritual formation as relational formation and that being centered or carried out in conversation, then the focus of every conversation is to not just – I think I heard this growing up because I had a similar kind of background to Jesus, whether it was a gospel conversation or not that was always the idea.
I think Larry takes that a little bit deeper and maybe even gives it more intentionality or purpose to say, no, the point of your conversation is to cultivate and stir up, just like in Hebrews. His favorite verse in Hebrews where you stir one another up to love and good deeds. But that’s what our conversations are meant to do is to stir up that appetite for God.
[00:08:07] Arlita Ibach: That’s just so fascinating too, because at one of the SSDs, he talks about, do I trust the Spirit enough in a conversation? Do I trust the Spirit to be moving? I think previously, I thought stirring up meant, oh here, read this book. Oh, here’s a verse, right? Like you said, I’m pointing them to Christ and there’s nothing wrong with offering a book or offering a verse, but is it leaning into that rhythm? As Larry would say, listening with a third ear and waiting and what does that look like when I’m thinking beneath of everything that’s going on in this person’s story and just for a glimpse going, but they really want Jesus more than they want to be fixed.
Where I think I always entered into conversations probably pretty arrogantly. I have these answers for you. I’m just going to come alongside and I’m going to stir up the appetite by giving you all these things. And so for me, it was like, what does it look like to just be aware of what’s going inside of me? Wanting to fix this. If that makes sense..
[00:09:24] Karlene Cannon: I think we all resonate with the trap, almost, of getting in a conversation and feeling that pressure to have something substantive to offer, to have an answer, to fix the problem.The whole chapter in SoulTalk on “Think Passion” where you’re really paying attention to what’s actually happening in you and what’s driving your questions and your responses and even just your sort of attitude toward the person is really critical.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in conversations by having some part of my brain attentive to what’s happening in me and why I’m responding and wanting certain things and thinking of those things I’m wanting, which often are, can I give them something that they’ll think is helpful and valuable instead of, can I stir a desire in them that is holy?
How could the Spirit be using me to do that? How could He be inviting me into something that’s much bigger than whatever piece of advice or suggestion I might offer?
[00:10:37] Arlita Ibach: Also, not just fixing, but how can I provide relief? It’s so uncomfortable when someone’s sharing something and you’re just like Romans 8:28. Which is so true, I do believe that, but is it the right timing? Am I in rhythm, am I in step? When he talks about that later, the movement, I’m just in a panic mode because I don’t even know what else to say, so here you go, and that’s just what’s going on inside of me, whether I’m feeling inadequate, which I think Larry always says is a really good thing. Can I lean into that?
[00:11:19] Karlene Cannon: How have you experienced conversations that you’ve had with people, whether it’s family or friends or community? How have you experienced those differently? We’ve talked a little bit about what is different, but how has that experience been different for you? And what has that meant? What is the result, if you will?
[00:11:42] Arlita Ibach: Yeah, let me think. There’s a little bit of tension and angst, but it points me back toward Jesus and the larger story and what’s unfolding. It can provide even possibly this drawing near, this rest that Jesus calls forth. It’s very strange. At least for me, that’s provided. But yet again, there’s the tension there. I have an example in my mind, I can share that if that’s helpful.
[00:12:28] Karlene Cannon: If you’re willing, we’d love it.
[00:12:32] Arlita Ibach: My mind just went back to when this was just becoming a huge part of how I was learning to relate to people. To listen to the sound of heaven versus the sound of health, so to speak, or the clanging and the noise. It’s not to say I don’t agree at all with offering life-giving words as Jesus did, but I think for me it’s this following and thinking beneath, having the vision, having the passion, knowing the stories unfolding. But then how do I move with the Spirit within that conversation? I think for me in response to the question, how has it changed? There’s little pockets of conversation, but when it comes to your kids, it’s like a whole new level. How do we have these conversations? My husband had been to spiritual direction. My oldest son had already been, and my youngest son, it had become part of some of our family dynamics. How can it not when it’s really touched the depths of your soul? My son was 18 ten years ago, and he had a lot of health issues. It was a journey going on for us. I’ll never forget, several doctors had lots of tests and one of the tests was to check for cancer. As a mom you’re just, rested soul, angst, what do I do? How do I say he’s finding his own journey? I’ll never forget when we got home and I could feel obviously at 18, I don’t even know what he’s feeling, but there was a lot of angst in his own soul.
I was wanting to have this conversation, but I was like, it’s not time, I’m not going to say anything. Finally he whipped around just very angry and went into this, how could God, etc? I remember just not even thinking relief or how do I provide this?
This fear just obviously just came up inside of me. So I did what I’ve done often and I just blurted out Romans 8:28. It’s a true verse. I believe that with all my soul, but in that moment there, he couldn’t hear that. His heart wasn’t open to, God works things for good, when he just shut down and he just backed off.
I went to my own space and I was like, God, what’s stirring in me? I was like, I’m afraid, not afraid of the outcome of the result. You know what I was grasping to was, what if the result was cancer and my son never wants God because of it? That’s my gift. I want that guarantee. I know whatever happens in my husband’s life and my friends life and in my children’s or my kids life’s and my daughter in law’s, I want them to want God and I want that to be their appetite. That’s not a wrong or bad thing, but when I grasped that, to just throw a verse out in a conversation because of my fear.
Years later, we were able to even have a conversation about that time. It was really sweet, but that’s how it’s changed for me is to be able to say, wait a minute, what’s happening in my soul that can start to rise up. So then I speak quickly, or I’m not stopping to listen, or I’m not rested. That’s just a thought that came to mind about how maybe that shifted for me.
[00:16:47] Karlene Cannon: That’s a really powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing that. I think as I hear what you’re saying, it strikes me as, it’s very important that the things we keep coming back to in this conversation are what’s happening in us. I think when you have a conversation about how to have a good conversation, usually about techniques are things, the right questions to ask or how to listen well, or how to it’s more about the other person and how you can help or impact properly the other, but very seldom is it really focused on, what is happening in me in this conversation? I think that’s one of the unique emphases that Larry was always drawing us back to is the way that spiritual formation occurs in relationships. If God is working all things together for my good in these conversations, in these realizations, in the painful recognition of the broken places in me, He’s working that for my good and not that there’s some kind of narcissistic, motivation for conversation, it’s just the divine efficiency of how God works.
He’s always loving me, even in a situation where my fear has spoken louder than my faith. God is working all things together for His good. I think to your point and your story, the hardest thing is to trust that He’s working all things together for whomever I’m talking to, for their good, even in my mistake. Even in my selfishness, even in my lack of competency, that the Spirit can use all of that and I can trust God in what He’s doing.
[00:19:00] Arlita Ibach: Absolutely. It’s so beautifully said, Karlene, thank you for that reminder. It’s not a narcissistic way of, let me always think what’s inside. But I have to be aware of that because if I’m not aware of that then I have found that there’s this broken… how do you say it? Like a glitch or something in what the Spirit’s doing and is moving. I’ve given up on trying to figure out how to do this conversation perfectly. I’m like, there’s just no way, and since 10 years ago, I’m still like so many times, just go right in there.
Larry used to say, he was so kind. He was always like, I love how you want everybody to get it, but why do you want that so bad? I’m like, that’s a really good thought.What is that about? Can I trust again that the Spirit is doing a work and I’m just tagging along, like he always says.
And what does that look like? And have that sense of wonder and be intrigued. What would that have looked like in that conversation with my son in the moment of fear? What would that have looked like to stop for a second and go, I wonder what’s happening, in his soul and my soul.
[00:20:29] Karlene Cannon: That’s so supernatural. I think the wonder and the mystery often drive the fear because I want everything spelled out and I want to know where we’re headed and I want a plan. One of my favorite books of Larry’s is Finding God and he talks about, are you looking for a plan to follow or a person to trust? If I’m really honest, I’m mostly looking for a plan to follow. Give me five steps, give me a guaranteed outcome, and I’m on it. Acronym or alliteration or something so it’s easy to remember. A person to follow, that’s terrifying because I don’t know where He’s taking me all the time.
[00:21:15] Arlita Ibach: Absolutely. In some ways, I’m like, I don’t know if you’re trustworthy to follow, what has life shown me? That’s a whole other path.
It’s fascinating to even think about that. That’s good though. I’ve forgotten that part.
[00:21:37] Karlene Cannon: I like what we’re talking about here, with the conversation with your son. It was a pivotal moment, but even in conversations that are just everyday relational fodder, there’s so much opportunity for these deep theological, but here we are, this conversation is circling around Romans 8:28, and really probing into, what does that actually mean when it’s not just embroidered on a pillow or coffee mug or whatever, what does life look like if you truly surrender to the reality that God works all things together for our good, according to His purposes?
Back to the person to follow, how then in a conversation do I believe that and follow Him, no matter what else is going on in the conversation? Whether it’s a fairly simple conversation with my son about his homework, or a much more sober and heavily laden conversation that you had with your son.
I think that certainly changes and maybe a better way to say it is, what makes the conversation matter? What is it that makes the conversation matter?
[00:23:04] Arlita Ibach: Boy, that’s good. Even now, in our culture today, I’ve heard that in other pockets, people are like, we know we’re having conversations that matter. And you’re like, how do we even define that?
[00:23:20] Karlene Cannon: Who gets to be the judge of what matters?
[00:23:24] Arlita Ibach: I think that’s why I was going back through the book and thinking about that, even in the workplace or at the red dot coffee company or with my staff. It’s interesting for me, the whole idea behind the red dot coffee company was to offer a safe place for conversations that matter.
And again, how are we defining that? For me working with a generation, and no judgment here, this isn’t often the, what conversation is this, so even for me, just seven years later after opening, I’m like, I’m having to redefine what is that? It’s fascinating.
What are your thoughts? What do you think? Having 14 all the way through being around kids.
[00:24:28] Karlene Cannon: Sso much of our conversation revolves around whatever was just seen on the phone, and I’ve actually done some work.
Some of the work I’m doing at Larger Story is to try to tap into that, to maybe even use that as a bridge between generations to see, look, here’s something on the phone, let’s talk about it. The question that weighs heavy on my heart is, how do you determine a conversation that matters?
Because we can be having a conversation about his homework and whether or not he did it on time or thoroughly or the way I think it should have been done, and that can be a conversation that matters and it feels like something that in the grand scheme of things, maybe doesn’t matter very much. I can also define how his homework matters in a way that doesn’t actually matter. I could focus on the performance rather than whatever’s happening in his heart or mine.
As we were just talking, I was thinking about that again. It’s a question that I’ve struggled to define because it was one of Larry’s catchphrases, something he said a lot, but it’s very hard to nail down how you define or determine.
I think going back to what you said in the beginning about stirring up an appetite for God, that can look like a lot of different things. Back to my example of David’s homework, even stirring in him a desire for excellence or to do this for God’s glory instead of just to get me off his back, like there’s lots of ways to think about that.
The shifted mindset for me, at least of these conversations, are opportunities. To go back to the whole thing about the person to follow, it’s an opportunity that’s offered me, I’m invited into something that God wants to do. Will I be self aware enough and connected enough to the Spirit to actually recognize the opportunity first?
That’s the first problem, right? Or the first hurdle to overcome. And then will I step into it with a holy curiosity instead of my hidden agenda? Which crops up so quickly.
[00:27:08] Arlita Ibach: I hear that. I love that. The thought of it just being an invitation for my ministry purpose that I can go into work every day, let’s have conversations that matter, and grasp tight for this better hope versus the better life. I come in and just say, it’s an invitation. See where it goes. Trust what happens and be obedient to that. And then when it’s not going the way I think it should, what’s happening inside of me then? Can I do this without expectations of anything in return? What is that part of what matters and what doesn’t matter? Can I just accept this invitation, be obedient to that, have this holy curiosity, stay rested? If I don’t get anything in return, I’m going to get up and do it again tomorrow, and that’s what matters.
[00:28:17] Karlene Cannon: I think that’s really important. I find myself often tempted by the futility or the feeling of futility that if I don’t see some sort of impact or result, how do I keep myself motivated to get up the next day and issue the invitation or respond to the opportunity? How do you do that Arita? How do you stay protected against the feeling of futility?
[00:28:52] Arlita Ibach: That’s such a great question. I had that thought when I first started Red Dot. I thought, you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what people, their reach, their touch, I’m just doing this. It was a neat way to soul care incognito. It wasn’t in a church building, but it was in a place. The whole mission statement behind it, Larry and I would even talk. What do you think it would look like? How do you think you go about having conversations that matter? And I’d be like, I’m going to trust the Spirit.
Even the way I’ve designed it, laid out the way that the games, the games I have are questions or words that I have up, and I’m like, Oh, this’ll do it. This will stimulate, this will stir up. I would go in and year after year like, this looks totally different than I ever thought it would.
So I’m wondering if now, instead of embracing the futility, instead of protecting, I embrace it. I just feel like I’m going to face that every day. I’m like, why am I doing this again? Have I touched anybody, has anybody’s life been stirred toward a higher vision or toward the larger story of what’s happening or toward the heart of God? If I repeatedly asked myself that without looking at what’s going on inside, I think at that moment I can start to protect myself. But if I embrace the futility of it, is it working? Does it make a difference? And then it’s like the Father-Son-Spirit Trinity goes, that doesn’t matter. We’re doing what we need to do. You keep listening to me and step into it. So maybe more embrace than protect.
[00:31:01] Karlene Cannon: I like that a lot. I think the verb matters a great deal, and so I appreciate your discernment to change that because I think futility is a real enemy that I struggle with. The idea of embracing it in the way that you’re talking about I find really compelling. There’s a lot of surrender in what you’re talking about because to protect against the futility is still me fighting my own battle. To embrace it and trust again, trust the person instead of the plan, that feels like something distinctly different and maybe holy. I like that.
[00:31:53] Arlita Ibach: I think I’m wondering too, for me as I’m an empty nester as I’ve gotten older, you put your head on your pillow at night and I like what you’re saying, what am I trusting? This process, this plan, how’s it going to go? I’m drawn to what you’re saying. No, just trust Jesus, turn your eyes upon Jesus. It sounds so simple, but yet that’s the truth. What choice do I have? I can live in this protected layer, but I’ve done that, and that was not free. There was no freedom in that.
[00:32:28] Karlene Cannon: Let me just ask one more question. Since we’ve followed the Spirit in this conversation, and it’s been a lot about what’s happening in us in a conversation. How would you sum up or articulate your – to use one of Larry’s terms – your prophetic burden? What God has put on your heart at this point of your journey? The seven years of this particular focus, how would you describe what God’s asked you to do and what He’s done in you as a result?
[00:33:11] Arlita Ibach: Wow, that’s a big question. It is such an interesting one because my mind goes to last year when I graduated with my master’s of spiritual formation. I’m almost finishing up my certificate in spiritual direction. You’re like, you’ve opened a coffee shop, you can do all these things. But my prophetic burden, I don’t know.
I guess just to sit with people, journey with them, and see them want God more than anything else. Whether that’s within the church, on my front porch, at a coffee shop. If you would have asked me 10 years ago, that question may have looked different. I have the little frame that Eddie gave, in one of the classes, the prophetic burden, and my journal probably says something different.
But right now when you ask that, it’s probably just to come alongside and just be with people. Whether it happens or not, if I see it great, but I don’t need to. I guess what I mean is, if I could stir that up in someone and I feel like I’m doing what God’s asked me to do, whether I see the result of it.
[00:34:49] Karlene Cannon: I’m a little bit curious now. You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but we started there. When I asked the first question, that’s what you said. I find it really powerful that, 40 minutes later, you’re saying that you’re back to the same answer and yet there’s a lot more emotion in you right now.
I was just wondering if you’re open to sharing what’s being touched, what may be happening with the tears.
[00:35:24] Arlita Ibach: Probably a little bit when you brought up protecting futility and to say we can embrace that, but what all that means underneath that. I think the emotion can come from this passion I have to come alongside people, knowing that it’s looking different, knowing that technology is changing that, knowing that a lot of times even since COVID things are more transactional than relational. I think God, for some reason, has created that within my soul. When I’m wondering if it really matters, there’s changes ahead, I’m getting older, what all does that look like? So maybe a slight grieving, but yet hopeful that there’s still opportunity to speak the language of soul talk and to tag along. When I think I’ll get to tag along, it just stirs an emotion, and that’s okay, that’s good. I think some of the tears may come from the angst of life or the tension of that. It doesn’t feel heavy. It just feels like it’s a beautiful opportunity that God’s given me.
[00:37:03] Karlene Cannon: I was just thinking as you were talking, the word beauty was just roaming around in my head. It is a beautiful opportunity and it’s beautiful to me the way that you’ve embraced that opportunity as I hear you talk about the emotion of considering this prophetic burden. I think God has given you first, you know a long time, but particularly the last seven years I do find when the veil is thinner and I feel more aware of the reality that I live in the Trinity with the Trinity, the tears just come. It’s frustrating sometimes, but the thing about that felt proximity to that amazing reality that just opens me up in a way that usually results in emotion and tears.
I do think the felt difference between the alone of the Trinity versus the challenge, whether it’s futility or just the difficulty inc things you mentioned about our culture and society. All of those things that tend to – at least if I heard what you’re saying correctly – it’s this juxtaposition of that grief over what’s missing in that taste of what’s most true and what’s most real, and they hit each other and it just starts things up.
[00:38:41] Arlita Ibach: It’s so true. I think just reading the book this past week here in 2023, compared to when I first read it. Oh my word, what could this look like in our culture today?
I think you’re right, the juxtaposition of, it’s just different now. Some of the angst I feel or the tears that come is oh, but God used His word to speak life. Word spoke life and I’m just like, how in the world is that going? So I’m just like, okay, Larry, I won’t give up on this. I’m going to keep going. I’m invited into that and no matter what changes come and to look at it, it’s a privilege and it’s sweet that God says, I’m going to trust you with a little bit of that. You trust me, I know what’s happening, I see the culture, and I’m just asking you to come along and when you can have some. Don’t even worry, you’ll have conversations and I’ll take care of the rest.
[00:39:54] Karlene Cannon: I think that’s so beautiful. I think you’re beautiful and what you’re doing is beautiful. I’m so grateful that I got to be introduced to what’s happening there and that I’ve gotten to spend a little bit of time with you. I thank you so much for this conversation. It’s a lovely exploration of how God uses words. You touched on this just a minute ago. One of the things that Larry says in his book, it used to be called Silence of Adam. Now it’s called Men of Courage, but he makes the point that when God spoke, all of creation came into existence and then Adam stayed silent and all of creation was broken. I think that’s a powerful sort of testimony to what God can do in a conversation. I think that’s part of embracing futility is knowing that in your faithful surrender to keep going.
Thank you so much. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your heart. That’s what we’re about here on the Relational Spirituality Podcast. One of our little phrases is that we want to be known, to belong, and to become. I think that’s what you’re trying to do with your offer of conversations that matter.
And so thank you. Thank you again for joining me and thank you Larger family for being a part of what we’re doing here. We hope you enjoyed our time together and we look forward to sharing a conversation with you again next week. Thank you.