Scratching the spot

Mia is our fourteen-year old, beloved family dog. She has been with my husband and me since we were newlyweds. She’s grown old and gray as our kids have grown up and active. Currently, she spends most of her time sleeping on the couch, monitoring neighborhood activity out the window, or occasionally escaping to see her best bud down the street. We love our old gal.

miawindow            miadog

About a year ago, the vet told us that Mia had become paralyzed in her back legs. We had noticed that she would drag her back feet a bit when we would take her for a walk. In the snow, you could see the imprint of her front paws and a dragged streak representing her hind steps. But she could still run and play, just slower…and maybe a bit clumsier.

We noticed another way the paralysis affected her when we scratched ‘the spot’ behind her ears. For years, our family has relished in seeing Mia’s hind leg twitch when we would successfully find ‘the spot’ on her neck that activated her scratching reflex. She’d lift and twitch her back leg while we actually did the scratching work around her collar. But now, her legs don’t feel that reflex, and she certainly can’t lift either back leg or stand on the remaining one to scratch her neck. So, we find her special spot and do the work for her, since she can’t do it herself. Her head twists to the side, her eyes get that ‘Oh my gosh…that feels sooooooo good….’ glaze over them…and there’s a little bit of ‘Thank you’ in those big brown eyes, too.

 

You know, we all have our times of being the old, crippled dog…or the loving caretaker. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves limited by our circumstances, and we need someone else to help us. Unexpected family crisis can freeze our life progress…our thoughts are locked on solving that problem, and we can’t focus on anything else. Conflict at work can be so monopolizing that we bring it home with us, and it lives in our house too, paralyzing our relationships with others. Finances, seemingly the base of our existence, can falter, leaving us standing helplessly and aching for solutions. Grief, depression, illness, transition…all stifling, limiting curses to our happy little existence. So many irritating itches, and no way to satisfyingly scratch them. We desperately need help, whether we lift up our beseeching eyes to anyone or not.

mia                               miab

We need connection with others. We need to metaphorically, or even literally, curl up on the couch with those who love us. We need to rest our head on that able body and moan, whine, wish, weep, and even snore. There has to come a time that we seek help from those who have loved us, those who have spent time caring for us, those who will love us no matter what ails us.

That said, sometimes, we will be the caregivers to our friends as well. Are we ready for that? Are we keeping ourselves emotionally and spiritually healthy? Do we lift up ourselves and our dear ones in prayer, seeking help for things that we are powerless to change? Daily, we should seek God and his merciful grace on our lives, so we are prepared to live this life he has given us. With this empowerment, we will be ready to ‘scratch the spot’ of those beloved companions who need us most.

miame

Second Corinthians 2:3-7

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Second Corinthians 7

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

 

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Switching from offense to defense

My son has played lacrosse for over half of his little life. He received his first helmet for his fifth birthday, and for the next few years, he grew into that bobblehead Stormtrooper look like he was meant for it.  bobblehead

In lacrosse, as in many other sports, there are offensive players, defensive players, and the guys in the middle who do both when needed. He played midfield for a while, liking the constant switch of helping the defense or rushing with the offense. As he matured in the game, he wanted to become more specialized, so he focused on being an offensive player. An attackman plays right in front of the goal and uses opportunities fed from teammates to score. Brady loved playing attack. He watched experts of the game and honed his skills at placing his shots…high to low, low to high, behind the back, aiming at the goalie’s feet…so many tricks to get the ball into the goal. The rush of scoring, the adoration of teammates, the cheers from the crowd…being a hero.

On the other end of the field, the hero is the goalie. Brady has tasted of that sweetness as well, but he wasn’t fond of it. Being pummeled by hard, rubber balls at excessive speeds, repeatedly…and repeatedly feeling angry with himself…wasn’t for him. However, this season, with more maturity, he decided to try being a defenseman. And he loves it. Another noble position on the field. It’s like good vs. evil…with sticks and helmets. Modern-day gladiators.

As I watched him in his games this past weekend, I couldn’t help but connect his actions with life beyond the field. Sometimes we have to switch our positions from offense to defense. We can wait around for opportunities to do good, and then we can be successful in those attempts and rejoice. But there are other times, when we have to have a more defensive stance in our daily lives. “Not today, Satan.”

I hope I will always remember the ferocity I saw in my son as he fought to defend his territory this weekend. Eyes searching around him, directing his teammates to watch out for incoming dangers, stick ready to disarm his enemy, feet always pacing in protection of the goal. He was on guard and prepared to fight.

I want to guard my mind that ferociously. Anxiety creeps in and hangs around for so long that I can forget that it’s ‘playing for the other team’. It stays in my periphery and then settles in so well that I lose track of its presence. Then worries seem like facts, fears seem like realities. And my mind has become home to an enemy. What happened to my defense?

In 2nd Corinthians 10, Paul describes the defensive fight we need to wage.  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  Paul was encouraging his brothers and sisters in ministry to get beyond the outward appearances of their neighbors to focus on widening the spread of God’s love. He warned them that their thoughts were the problem.

“Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Like the early church, we often need to defend our spirits from negativity and worry. We need to capture the thoughts before they get too ingrained in our brains. We need to push out the thoughts that don’t belong, like a defending player protects his goal. The goal of our lives is to spread the love of God, and if our goal is inhibited by fear, anxiety, busyness, or other preoccupying distractions, then we will not accomplish our goal. We will be overcome and defeated by those thoughts.

The New Testament church had plenty of opposition, from within and without, but repeatedly, they kept returning to defensive hope, peace, love, and power.

Romans 8:6– For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.

2nd Timothy 1:7 –For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Colossians 3:2 — Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

1st Peter 1:13 — Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

1st Peter 5:8–  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

There are times to be active, pursuant, assertively making good happen, driving toward the goal of Godliness. But we should also be daily defensive of our minds and hearts. Successful offense relies on dependable defense.

Ephesians 6:10- 13Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan. 12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world. 13 So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up.

 

To the boys who stop…

To the boys who know that “Stop” means ‘stop’, thank you.

To the hormone-crazed, adolescent male who understands that “No” means ‘no’, thank you.

To the guys who are tempted to push and manipulate but don’t, thank you.

You deserve some recognition.

Someone has taught you a vital societal skill: respect.

Maybe it was your dad, who wanted you to be an upstanding citizen. But maybe it was your mom who was respected by your dad. Or maybe it was your single mom, who wasn’t respected. Maybe it was an older, wise friend…maybe it was a family member who didn’t want you to screw up your life and someone else’s as well. Whoever taught you, thank them. And thank you, sir, for listening…and heeding.

It is so tempting, when you’re with someone you care about deeply, to seal the bond with more than a kiss.

The moments get heated, the mood is ripe with feeling…but she says “No”…and you listen.

Mentally, you’re face-palming, lip-biting, eye-rolling, screaming with desire…but you stop. You’re listening to her. And you’re respecting her.

And that respect means everything. EVERYTHING. EVERY. THING.

It matters to her now. And forever.  It matters to you now…and it will matter to you later as well. When you don’t have to hide what happened. When you don’t have unexpected complications for your actions. When you don’t have a criminal record. When you can look at your wife without regrets. When you can talk to your son about respecting women, without being a hypocrite yourself. When your daughter asks you for advice about dating…and you know what to tell her because you’ve been the right kind of guy.

Stopping means everything. And you, sir, know how to do it.

Tell your friends. It matters.

When they tell their tawdry stories, ask them if they respected her.

When they imply what they’re going to try, ask them what is their plan if she says ‘No’.

Make them think about it…because it’s not just about them. It’s about her, too. Which you know already.

Influence them with your self-control and confidence that you know you’re doing the right thing. 

It matters. Now and in the future.

Thank you, for stopping. Spread the word.

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts? - Confucius

 

My dad and semi-gloss paint

I’m sitting here at the keyboard with semi-gloss paint on my fingers from giving the

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bathroom a makeover today. It’s summer time, and my summer bucket list is full of painting projects. They will all end with coating the trim work with a lovely layer of white semi-gloss.

According to paint authority Sherwin-Williams:

“Higher-gloss paint finishes can also help brighten dark spaces. Under most common lighting conditions, a combination of semigloss sheen and light-colored paint is an optimal wall covering method to brighten a dark space.”

Even home expert Bob Vila says:

“Semi-gloss is more durable and easier to clean. The higher the gloss, the easier the cleanup of messes like fingerprints and smudges. For objects and areas that get a lot of use and therefore require frequent wipe-downs—bathrooms, kitchens, playrooms, kids’ bedrooms, and any other area children may feel tempted to draw on walls with Crayola—semi-gloss is often the wiser option. Because the surface is slicker, it’s more resistant to moisture and easier to go over with a damp cloth or special sprays designed for minor household disasters.”

Yay! That’s what I’ve been doing. But I learned it from my dad years ago.

You see, Dad taught me that ‘semi-gloss is forgiving’. It covers a multitude of stains, scuffs, and various oopsies. It rolls into itself on a surface, making a smooth surface over time.

So, semi-gloss is like forgiveness, which is another topic with which dad had experience. Dad was a truck-driving farm-boy who just really wanted to be a church pastor. During a time period when being a divorcee was taboo, he was not allowed to even teach a Sunday school class. That left a big ol’ scuff on dad’s interior. A scuff that could only be covered with a thick application of forgiveness.

When pastoring didn’t work out, Dad sought to be a college professor. He loved adding to the palette of knowledge older adolescents were acquiring, and he happily shared his knowledge of God and people for years. But as the hues of administration began to fade into different shades, Dad’s Biblical views became too ‘vintage’ and he retired. Stains of betrayal and disappointment colored his life until he wiped over them with forgiveness.

Family splits, chronic pain, loss of parents and friends…all of life’s dents, dings, smears, blemishes, and scrapes have battered Dad. As they have the rest of us. But forgiveness covers it all. Forgiveness doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t erase the stain, but it does make the surface clean and ready for future use.

Once I asked Dad for help with a  secret project for my kids. I bought a can of black chalkboard paint for him to use. His dubious look was greater than when a younger me had broken curfew to go to a concert. I know my dad’s affinity for white semi-gloss, and yet I was asking him to use black. He knew that this project for my kids was going to get crayon marks, paint streaks, and various sticky messes on it. He wanted me to use the most ‘forgiving’ paint possible. One that was going to make  perfect, usable surface. One that would clean up easily from oopsies.

Dad knows that life is a colorful, messy array of positive and negative experiences. Ones that broaden our perspectives to see beautiful panoramas. Others that will scrape away our delicate finishes and leave discolored blotches. More importantly, he understands that life doesn’t end with those experiences.

Renewal and forgiveness make all things news. What’s the alternative? Allowing the scuff to remain visible? Walking around with the smeared faults of others on display?

Forgiveness is restoration, the beginning of something new. 

 

Colossians 3:12-14 (emphasis mine)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. {Wear these around instead of the drab scars of  disappointment and hurt.}

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  {God forgives us each time we scuff his love toward us. He sticks with us through our sins, so we should forgive others and stick with them.}

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  {Love is what allows us to forgive. We must have love if we are going to forgive. Love for the other person and love for ourselves if we want to grow from the hurt.}

Dad would go through phases when he would paint a lot. And then the house would seem new to us. Fresh and untainted. Forgiving those who have wronged us can give that same renovated feeling to our lives, preparing us for whatever is coming next.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I will think of you with each coating of semi-gloss paint I use, for the rest of my life. And hopefully, I will work to forgive and restore the way that you have as well.

towel

 

Embrace

As a teacher-mom, this thought has often occurred to me: the ones we most want to throttle are the ones who most need a hug. Students, offspring…husbands. When they are at their worst, whether intentionally or not, they just really need our love. Maybe it’s acting out or maybe it’s need of boundary reinforcement, the fact still remains, love is needed.

Hold that thought in your mind for a minute, and hop over to this next one.

I recently read about a stress study that demonstrated how living in uncertainty is actually more wearing on the body than receiving negative news. The “not-knowing” is harder than the knowing. (Study details: http://time.com/4274201/uncertainty-stress/ and https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10996 ) Consider how you feel at the eye doctor when you wait for the air puff to blast your eyeball…or how a child feels waiting for that finger prick…or your response when the boss calls you in for an unexpected meeting…or a newborn unable to articulate his desire for another meal. The waiting is beyond nerve-wracking. And now science has proven that it truly is the worst. Our bodies are physiologically primed for ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but ‘maybe’ incites panic.

The past 18 months of my life have been the most panic-inciting of all IMG_9698

of them.  So many unexpecteds and changes. So much time spent weighing possibilities and examining choices. Pros/cons. Nows/laters. What ifs/ doesn’t matters. Family, church, friends, home, finances, jobs, health….all of it. The fence-riding has given me blisters…the see-sawing has made me nauseated. As it has gone on (and on), I’ve finally begun to gravitate to one word: embrace.

Remember that thought from the first paragraph…the ones who need the hugs? My life is the child who is ‘acting out’. I can’t fix any of it easily, but I can embrace it for what it is, and stop fighting it. Instead of waking up each day with thoughts swirling in my head, I can wake up and say ‘Yep, it’s a mess, but it’s a temporary mess. I will do what I can today, and then try more tomorrow.’

 

 

Name it. Call it what it is. Stop wavering about it. Embrace it for what it is. 

Unexpected bills. Well, poop. Okay, here’s your hug. Let’s sit down and deal with you.

Pre-adolescent drama. Hello. I’ll be glad when you’re gone, but here’s your hug while you’re here.

Betrayal. You suck. I will not be like you. Here’s your hug. Good-bye.

Messy house. Ugh. You’re the prize I get for being a working mom. Accept my meager cleaning as it comes. Here’s your hug.

Aging & illness. I can’t control you, nor will you control me. I accept you in my life, but you will not get the best of me. Imma gonna hug you and teach you a lesson.

Ignorance. I hate you. I will educate myself to not be like you. You need a hug because you’re pathetic. Good-bye.

I’m not thrilled with my current place in life. But after years of bliss, I guess it was time to have things shaken up a bit so I can mature to the next stage in life. I don’t have to be miserable here, though. If I can recognize the student who needs a hug and a redirect, then I can recognize when my own concerns need hugs and boundaries. And I can hug them, and put them where they belong.

The struggle is in the fighting. If I stop fighting, then I can think clearly. And clear thinking leads to brighter vision for the future. 

Name it. Embrace it. Move forward. 

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Read James 1. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 

 

 

 

I know enough…

At this point in life, I know enough to know

That I don’t know enough.

I’ve seen enough to know that

I wish I hadn’t seen what I’ve seen…

And I wish that I had seen what I haven’t seen.

I’ve heard enough of what I didn’t want to hear…

And not heard enough of what I did want to hear.

I’ve gotten what I wished for…

and realized I wished for the wrong thing.

Too many people, not enough help.

Too many needs, not enough hands

Too much sorrow, not enough love.

I’ve ached enough for two lifetimes,

and I’m only halfway through with this one.

I want to know more…and feel less…

But feel more…and know less.

I think I understand how God views the world…

that this is so very much not what he intended.

I long for the Garden of Eden…

for restoration and healing.

This world is not my home…

And yet it is.

I want so much more than this.

And I want so much less of this.

Intervene, Heavenly Father.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Speak comfort, Holy Spirit.

I can’t do this without you.

ugly cry

 

 

 

This year, she wanted to be a shepherd

 

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We are celebrating Christmas at a new church this year, and that’s okay. After my kids and I found our place in the ministry here, I was asked to direct the children’s Christmas program.

My son was a narrator, reading the scriptural transitions from Mary to Gabriel to Joseph and on to Bethlehem, where the next narrator took over. My daughter, I assumed, would be an angel again. She’s not quite old enough to have a lengthy speaking part, and not quite veteran enough at this church to take on a primary role. She understood those criteria, but she didn’t want to be an angel.

“I’m tired of being an angel, Mom. I’ve been one every year. Can’t I be something else?”

 

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She had the valid yet unfortunate point that many children in the annual pageants make…I’ve been that role for ____ years. I’ve worn my bathrobe for 3 years. I’ve worn the itchy, glittery white costume with lop-sided wings for 4 years. I’ve had animal ears for 2 years. Can’t I be something else?

We examined the options, and she decided to be a shepherd. “I’ll be their costumes are more comfortable anyway,” my blond-haired, blue-eyed angelic tomboy smiled with relief.

And so, she took on the role of a shepherd. IMG_9017

The evening of our dress rehearsal, the night before the performance, I asked her, “Do you feel okay being a shepherd?”

“Sure,” she replied with utmost confidence. “I mean, they’re basically the same as angels.”

“Really?” I asked, wondering if her line of thinking had more to do with the play’s roles or something more theological.

“Well, yeah…they were both messengers. Angels were messengers in the sky, from heaven. And then after they did their job, the shepherds were messengers on earth.”

Well, yes, yes they were. And there it was, my 2017 Christmas revelation.

The angels had a job, a critical role…to tell the humans the heavenly  news. But then, the angels were done with their job. They went back to heaven. They didn’t come back night after night, year after year, reminding the shepherds of the good news of great joy.

Remember what Luke chapter 2 says…

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

The angels did their job and returned to heaven to their mysterious celestial tasks. But the shepherds’ work was just beginning. They talked to each other (“Did that really just happen?” “Did you see what I just saw?” “I’m pretty sure there’s a prophecy for that.” “I think I drank too much goat milk tonight.” “Well, this is what we’ve been waiting for…” “Come on, y’all…let’s go!”)Then, they ran to find the holy family and celebrated with them.

No doubt, their disturbance in the streets awakened visitors in those over-crowded inns…and they shared with them what had happened.

And then “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” They kept walking and talking. They kept sharing the news….for the rest of their lives. In temple. At the market. At family gatherings. In the fields. On the dusty roads they traveled with other shepherds while they were doing their job. 

That’s it…they were just doing their job. But their job had a different appearance now.

Wander the hills with other shepherds. Share the Messiah.

Lead the sheep to water. Pour out the news of a promised fulfilled.

Head back into town. Greet travelers with the good news.

The shepherds continued their leg-work after the angels were gone. The angels were back in heaven, preparing and praising. But the shepherds stayed on earth, mingling, walking and talking,  passing on the Gospel for generations.

I love the idea that my daughter’s role changed this year. And I love her new role as a shepherd. I hope that Christmas’s good news will be the news she shares throughout her blessed life.

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace… Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

                                                                                                                               (Isaiah 9: 6,7)

 

 

Why Children’s Ministry is Important

This post has been rolling around in my mind for months…gathering momentum, losing momentum, changing focus, improving focus….you get the idea. And as I finally sit down to write it, for the third time, I feel a bit concerned, but more driven.  What I’m going to say isn’t going to make everyone happy, and I’m finally okay with that. It still needs to be said. So here goes.

I’m distressed that “the church” (general term) doesn’t understand the value of children’s ministry. Effort, funds, and emphasis are placed on the ministries of people who can drive and give money and vote…but not on the future generation of smaller citizens.

An effective children’s ministry doesn’t need glitz. It just needs sincerity.

Play-dough is worth millions when it is rolled from a loving grandmotherly volunteer to an open-minded child. Paper and crayons can create a multitude of crafts in the hands of widows, widowers, and college kids….crafts ready to be shared by eager kids. Here’s my point: lack of materials should never be an excuse to not have a children’s ministry.      The Bible and a willing reader are all that is truly required.

But therein lieth the struggle of so many church leaders…willing volunteers. I wish I truly had THE answer to that conundrum. But here are a few suggestions, from my experiences:

  1. VISION–Children’s ministry must be in the vision of the whole church…and not just lip-service, and not just from the kidmin leaders. Many churches have grandiose ideas for their congregations…but what about the children of the congregants?  The church leadership (pastor(s), decision-making board, ministry leaders) must believe in the value of children’s ministry to start with. If they are truly committed to the importance of the spiritual growth of the kids, that fervor will be seen/felt and trickle down. Volunteers are more likely to step up if the requests are for heart-felt ministry, not mere babysitting opportunities.

2. RELATIONSHIPS— Getting to know congregants, their jobs, their interests is vital to finding volunteers. If you know who likes to cook, then ask them to cook the hot dogs/cookies/pancakes for the kids’ events. Crafty stay-at-home moms are a great resource for Sunday School  or VBS preparations. Who are the OCD people? Ask them for help organizing the supplies or scheduling. Who are the ADD people? Ask them to lead the active activities with kids. Who are the social butterflies or the musicians or the builders? Once you know who these people are, ask them to use their skills with the kids. Don’t just expect them to volunteer, ASK them. Tell them that you see the value of their gifts…and you know where they could be useful. It may be out of their comfort zones at first, but remind them the relationships they will form are priceless.

3. DELEGATE–I made the mistake of loving all parts of children’s ministry too much…and not delegating enough. Again, the relationship piece is vital. If you know who is good at something, ask them to help. If you’re obsessive about the way something NEEDS to be done, give specific directions…or get less obsessive and be more thankful for the help. Delegating now prevents burnout later. If some church members are willing, but hesitant, have a coffee-talk about their concerns. Maybe they just need reassurance that the kids aren’t really little monsters. Maybe today’s older adults want to help, but they aren’t sure they can relate to modern kids….talk it out. If they are willing, help them be successful. Talk to kidmin leaders at other churches and plan events together…even across denominational lines. It will be good to share/gather ideas that work, split the labor, and build community.

4. SCHEDULE DOWN TIME— Overused volunteers become non-volunteers. Make a rotating schedule of helpers so that the ones who are always saying ‘yes’ will have a forced ‘no’ time. Despite what they tell you, they DO need a break. Whether rotations are set on a monthly, seasonally, or yearly basis, they need to happen. And appreciation gifts need to happen as well. Ask those bakers to bake some goodies for the Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, or VBS helpers. Get the artsy crew to make personal thank you cards for the ones who work each Sunday. An occasional ‘night out’ for the children’s ministry team is a great way to build relationships and rekindle the fire of service.

5. THIS REMINDER–The children of today’s church are the seeds of tomorrow’s church. They are the ones who will go out and tell their friends what a great place their church is…and invite their friends (and parents) to come along. Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders. We want them to be grounded in holy truth and Godly wisdom if they are going to lead our country into the future. If we skimp on their spiritual growth, it will not be a priority in their lives as they age. God help us if we are responsible for raising a godless generation.

Church, we are failing our children if we fail at children’s ministry. Inconvenient truth: we only get one chance with our kids. One chance to show them that God is important. Love is vital. Justice is right. If we ignore the development of this part of our ministry, we shouldn’t wonder why college kids and young adults don’t attend church. We didn’t show them its purpose.

We have one chance, church, one opportunity to impress on our children the importance of a relationship with God. What are we doing with it?

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‘I don’t know how to play this game’

Recently, my son had a friend over for the afternoon. After several hours at the pool, the two boys settled down to play a video game while I prepared dinner. They started with something they both knew, but then my son invited his friend to try a new game.

‘I don’t know how to play this game. I’ll watch you for a few minutes.’

I overheard those wise words and was astounded at the humility of our eleven-year old neighbor. A total admission of ignorance to a peer…and a willingnes76552_449036944583_6570936_ns to learn from him.

Where was the bravado? Where were the false claims of high scores past? No puffed-up chest and big talk? No testosterone-encited braggadocio?  WHAT????

I loved it! The simple truth.

I don’t know how to do this thing. I want to know how to do it, but I’m ignorant at this time. Please show me how, and then I can participate with you.’

Now, I realize THAT’S way to lengthy and philosophical for these  controller-wielding preteens, but I’ve been around longer. I know where that priceless humility leads.

It leads to honest friendships and worthwhile relationships. It leads to being a target for manipulators, true, but oh, the depth of trustworthiness that humility displays to the rest of the population.

Being honest about faults and ignorance is the antithesis of original sin. Lucifer wanted to be equal, if not better, than God. Eve and Adam thought they knew their own limitations better than God, so they tried the forbidden fruit.. Pride…damned pride. Thinking we know better than the one who created us. We are fools.

To present ourselves to others as desirous of knowledge on a new topic, craving relationship and connection…that’s what God really wanted at the beginning of this whole existence thing. He wanted us to be open to learn, wide-eyed with wonder, reaching out to gain from experience with others, Himself foremost.

I don’t know how to do a lot of things that I want to know how to do. I want to demonstrate more love to my husband. I want to raise children who love God and others. I want to use my money more wisely. I want to find ways to help those who don’t have as much as I do. I want to bridge relational gaps.

Can you help me play this game? I will watch you and learn how to do it. Then, we can enjoy doing it together.

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James 1:2-6

My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble. When you do, think of it as pure joy. Your faith will be tested. You know that when this happens it will produce in you the strength to continue. And you must allow this strength to finish its work. Then you will be all you should be. You will have everything you need. If any of you needs wisdom, you should ask God for it. He will give it to you. God gives freely to everyone and doesn’t find fault. But when you ask, you must believe. You must not doubt. That’s because a person who doubts is like a wave of the sea. The wind blows and tosses them around.

This world is crazy

In light of recent world events, have you found yourself shaking your head, gasping, and saying to people, ‘People are crazy!’ ? The world is seeming to be more dangerous,  and wretched place than ever before. The media is not helping, by using choosing words that instigate rather than educate, stir up trouble rather than tell the truth.

Whew…come quickly, Lord Jesus.

So what are we to do until he comes? How are we to live? Where is peace to be found? I want to just have coffee with Jesus and ask for advice…or call him and cry…or text him to come over so I can just sit and learn from him.

Matthew chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 tells us thatNews about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’ Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

People went to Jesus with all kinds of problems they didn’t know how to solve…and he helped them. And when they went to him en masse, he purposefully went to an large area, intentionally sat down, and taught them. He desired their curiosity and questions. He waited for his disciples, his closest followers, to come…and then, he told them how to live.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who are worn, exhausted and weary from well-doing, you are blessed! Jesus himself is addressing you! All of heaven awaits you after this world! Keep going, hold on to hope, and believe that God is with you through every moment on earth…and forever in heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Hearts ache now, but comfort is coming. Grieving is a process, and we will work through it. Light awaits on the other side of this temporary darkness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who live quietly, observing the goodness around them, praying for peace and seeking it. Hype and publicity are short-lived and shallow, but quietly recognizing the hand of God in everyday is a lifestyle.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When we are hungry, we seek out a snack. If we want to live a righteous life, and we seek it, we will find it. Godly friendships, Bible studies, church services, worship songs, quiet moments with God…these fill seekers with righteousness when they crave it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. This one is tough because it doesn’t always appear to be true in this present world.  If we show mercy and grace to those around us, God knows it. People around us may still be critical and hard to tolerate, but in the long run, God is glorified and people are brought to him when we live gracious, merciful lives.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  If we strive to be pure in heart, not manipulative or catty, sneaky or deceptive, then we will have an openness to see God at work. If we’re trying to make things happen for our purposes, we will miss the privilege of seeing God’s plan unfold. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The term ‘Christian’ can be more of a jab than a compliment these days. Said with mockery or jest, it may not be exactly the label we want. But don’t we want to be known for being peaceful, not hateful? Don’t we want to be safety and security for those who are hurting? Regardless of how the world labels us, being a child of God is a wonderful thing.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just waiting for us when we die. It is the joy of fellowship with God and believers here on earth. We will be teased, mocked, ostracized and ridiculed because we want to live a life that is different from a lot of cultural themes. But we have a circle of loving arms waiting to encourage us when we discouraged by the world.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Hold on to your faith! This world is only part of our existence. Our heavenly home and eternity with God await us after this crazy madness of life on earth is done.

So what do we do in this crazy world? We accept our poorness in spirit, and we mourn. Then we meekly seek righteousness, with a pure heart and endure persecution while we make peace. And know that God is blessing our efforts all the way.

This is only the beginning of Jesus’ words of life and wisdom to the listening crowd. Go sit at his feet and be encouraged and directed by his Sermon on the Mount. Peace be with you, as we children of God live to bring hope to the world.

 

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