A Tribute to my Father-in-law

“Look around and take what you want,” she said. We sat in her living room the afternoonIMG_5102 after the funeral mass and family lunch. It had been a busy few days, and we all appreciated the moments of rest. After a decade-long conquest with Parkinson’s and several months in the hospital, my father-in-law had passed away a few days earlier. The preparations, flights, drives, visits, calls, hours with family and friends at the wake, church, and cemetery were done. Now, we sat in the front room in peaceful silence, and his widow spoke.

 

“Look around and take what you want.” Those were the words to my husband and his sister. Not said in despair or sadness, but rather in a spirit of openness and generosity…Gary doesn’t need anything now. Take what he left. Take what you had given him that will remind you of times together. Take mementos. Take pieces of his life back home with you.

I looked around the neat house from my vantage point, and thought, he didn’t really leave anything. An avid Yankees fan, Syracuse and Cardinal Hayes alum, he had hats and shirts and some wall art…but he didn’t really have “stuff”. He didn’t buy for himself, though he could have. He didn’t fill his life with tchotchkes and dust-collectors. So what was his “stuff”?

His favorite room in the house was his little office. Maybe 5’x7′ with two windows to light IMG_5104up the all important computer desk. Here he kept his spiral notebook of contacts, from his elementary school classmates through his coworkers in education. Beside that, his 75th anniversary edition of the Cardinal Hayes High School alumni directory. He kept phone numbers of his children taped at eye level. On each of the three walls were notes and photos from his grandkids. In the computer were stored countless emails from people he’d known his whole life and research he’d done to help others with their illnesses or debts. To the left of the computer screen sat the Facebook Portal that he received for Christmas so that he could stay in touch with his classmates, colleagues, family, and peers from Hawaii to Germany, and all places in between.

Gary was a relational man. That’s where his “stuff” was. It was in his heart. It was in his conversation. It was in his connectedness to others. Throughout the house, there are pictures of trips that he and his beloved took to Europe and Disneyworld, photos from cruises and dinner parties, and framed reminders of events that they shared together. That’s the “stuff” of his life.

When he would travel by train to see our family eight hours away, he would always IMG_5105strike up a new friendship with a seated neighbor. One time he told me that the best conversation starter was the phrase “So, how’s your life going?” It was an open-ended opportunity for hours of chatter about the present, past, and future. When an issue arose about which he was ignorant, he would spend hours researching it online to learn what he didn’t know. He would call us to share his newfound knowledge because that was his “stuff”, sharing knowledge. Sharing relationships. Sharing life.

We have spent two weeks this summer, traveling around upstate New York and landing back at his home on Long Island. We have thought of him numerous times and wanted to share our new experiences with him…the kids’ first time at his alma mater Syracuse University, their impressions of the breath-taking Letchworth State Park, his grandson’s photos at West Point and big dreams of attending there in a few years, the shark that was caught on a fishing trip in Freeport, his granddaughter’s love of socializing with girl cousins…the list goes on.IMG_5107

This week back in his house has had me considering his legacy. To “look around and take what you want” of Gary means to live the life we are currently living to its fullest and share generously with others. He didn’t want trinkets and “stuff”. He wanted relationships and connectedness. My son is at camp this week with Long Island kids who live eight hours away from our home. Yet, he invited a buddy to come over and hang out after camp…and has been invited to the young man’s bar mitzvah. My daughter has bonded with her girl cousins while her brother has been at camp…and they have had tea and done crafts and played outside and talked non-stop.

Gary, I’m typing this on your computer, probably still feeling some jellybean residue on the keys…but I want you to know that we get it. We’ve looked around and we want to take YOU with us. We want your awareness of people, your desire for relationships, and your genuine love for humanity. We want that…and we miss you dearly.

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Dear Year 20,

Dear Year 20,IMG_4187

You were a tough one. From Day 1, when I saw my own son sitting alone at a cafeteria table in a school that I had been so nice to me, I knew it was going to be a unique year. Did we make the right choice to bring him to this school, out of his district? But worse, how could he be a middle schooler already? Time, you are so cruel.

And then, there were the student challenges. Broken homes, broken hearts, broken languages, broken dreams…so many pieces that I had to be assembled, IMG_4184

 

reassembled, glued tightly and held even tighter to stay together.     Students moving in and moving out, here and then gone. Keeping up with their work as they kept up with their lives…or we both tried to, at least.

Sickness…why was this year different? I thought I’d have an iron immune system by 

IMG_4185

Sinus infections, flu, bronchitis,  mold allergies when they started tearing the ceiling out. Pollen allergies through the open windows.      

 

 

And home life…will we move? When? Where? Will I stay and he move? The kids have adjusted so well this year. Do we have to move them?  Interviews…disappointments…plans…changes. 

Then staying put and waiting and wondering. 

You brought it all to us, year 20.

But I’m still here. To quote the beloved Langston Hughes,

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

 

My classroom is dark now.classroom

The boxes are packed,

the chairs are stacked.

Everything is labeled

because I’m coming back.

I didn’t get it all done this year. They will be back next year, and so will I. The needs will still be here, and so will I. Time marches on, and so will I.IMG_4188

 

PLOT TWIST!

When I am teaching my students about making predictions and inferences while reading, I remind them that they have to ‘update’ their thoughts as they gain new information. One of my favorite picture books to use in teaching this concept is Suddenly by Colin McNaughton  . This book is the opposite of predictable. When the

suddenly

reader tries to guess what’s going to happen next (the pig will walk out of the school house into the wolf’s clutches), something far less predictable happens (the pig returns to his school desk for money and leaves out the back door instead.) On every page, the reader is flummoxed when the plot takes a completely unexpected twist (the wolf crashed into a wall instead  of nabbing the pig at the supermarket!).

I love thinking about this in the realm of God’s work in our lives. And the Bible has so many examples of plot twists! We think we’re the only ones who get our hearts set on something and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t work out…but then get happy again when something better occurs. Well, that emotional roller coaster has been ridden for centuries!

Genesis 15-18, Matthew 1-God shows Abram the countless stars in the night sky and promises that Abram’s descendants will outnumber them. {Wow! Amazing! Thrilling!}  PLOT TWIST: Abram is nearly 100, and Sarai his wife isn’t too far behind. {Wait, what? That’s crazy! And darn near impossible!} PLOT TWIST: God did it anyway…and Jesus was born from that infinite number of Abram’s descendants.

Daniel 1-3–Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were  wholesome, Godly young men who prayed daily and didn’t defile themselves in Babylon, the land of his captivity. They were promoted in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. {Yay! Young Jewish men take a stand and are making positive influences! Hooray!} PLOT TWIST: King Neb threatened them with death via fiery furnace if they didn’t bow and worship the idol he made. And then he did it! He put them in a flaming furnace!!! {Whaaaaaa? That’s seriously messed up! } PLOT TWIST: God sent an angel to keep them company in the furnace…aaaaaaand when they came out, ‘the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[f] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.’ (NRSV)  {Boom! Not even the smell of smoke on their clothes…and Neb had tried to extinguish their faith. } Not only that, the king made a decree guaranteeing the security of these guys.

Daniel 6-– As Daniel’s life continued, he remained honorable and trustworthy, so he continued in the service of the upcoming rulers of Babylon. In fact, he was about to be promoted into a place of great power. {So great! A Godly young man rising in the government…the world needs more of that! What an example!} PLOT TWIST: Daniel’s colleagues weren’t so fond of him, and they manipulated the king into decreeing Daniel’s daily prayers illegal. The punishment for praying to anyone except the king was being thrown to the lions. And the ignorant king went along with it.  {Whaaaaaaaaaa??? Seriously? Daniel’s the good guy…how can the king agree to such nonsense?} PLOT TWIST:  God closed the mouths of the lions…until the king’s advisors came along the next morning. The king realized the error of his ways and reinstated Daniel…and his scheming sidekicks were lion breakfast.

Acts 9–Saul was a dreaded Christian-killer. Daily, he sought worshipers of Christ to imprison and stone to death. {That’s terrible! What a ruthless, horrible man!} PLOT TWIST:  On his way to capture worshipers in Damascus, God spoke to him from heaven, questioned his motives, and blinded him for three days. {Yeah! There ya go! Get him, God!} PLOT TWIST: When Saul regained his sight, he gained a new identity…Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, that was largely responsible for the spread of the Gospel to Europe and Asia.  {Well, I did NOT see that coming! What a miracle! You sure did ‘get him’, God!}

And there are so many more! Reading through Joseph’s life is a tale of twisted truths and flat out lies until it’s relieving resolution.  The death of Lazarus was heartbreaking to his sisters, until they saw that Jesus could untwist Lazarus’s burial clothes and restore him to his life’s story. Zaccheus was a stinker of a little man, until Jesus untwisted those purse strings and heart strings and changed the plot of that tax collector’s story.  In the glowing stories of Ruth  and Esther , these brave women were writing their own versions of ‘herstory’, following the paths that they believed that God had planned for them, when their plots were severely twisted. Death, immigration, and conspiracy wound around the secure cords of their lives and snapped the comfort right off. But then, God restored the story. He gave them back their lives…in abundance.

How often we get caught up in the plot twists that are happening to us right now. We miss the bigger story that God has written for our lives. In each of the Bible stories above, the people were ‘minding their own business’, doing what was daily expected of them, when disaster struck. I’m sure that they questioned what was happening…especially Saul and Zaccheus who had yet to develop a connection to their Heavenly Father. But those other saints, they must have had their questions. ‘But Father, I was doing what I thought was right?’ ‘Abba, wasn’t I doing what you told me to do?’ ‘Forgive me, Father, if I misread your directions. I thought I understood.’

Just like us. We question ourselves. We question God. We question others. But what we need to realize is that it’s just a plot twist. It’s not curtain drop. We’re not at the end of our story until we die. The Author and Finisher of our faith is thoughtfully considering each event that occurs to us…and how it will ultimately accomplish our perfection and His glory. Others will ‘read’ our story and note our unfailing faith…or our faith struggles and restorations. God wants our tales to reach audiences beyond ourselves. That’s why our story goes on…after the plot is twisted.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
    is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

 

Lamentations 3v22-23 Vinyl Wall Decal 2

 

photo credit: wildeyedesigns.com

I know something you don’t know

In two days, my son will be getting four teeth pulled…and he doesn’t know it yet. We had this appointment scheduled a month ago,  but there was a miscommunication with the dentist, so we had to reschedule. The week leading up to that appointment was torturous for his anxiety-prone little mind. So, this time, we’re opting for telling him the day before, to eliminate stress…for all of us.

I feel as though I’m being a little bit dishonest by not telling him, but I know what he went through last time. I know that this is truly more comforting for him. He doesn’t need to lose sleep, work himself into a panic, or become as jumpy as a late summer grasshopper. He hasn’t asked, so I’m not lying…and I won’t lie to him if he does ask.

Our family is in a waiting season currently. Several transitions are looming in our future, and we’re not sure which ones will affect us in what ways. Being in this place of uncertainty has driven me deeper into Bible study and prayer, for which I am thankful. I am confident that my faith has deepened in this time.

That said, having this ‘omniscient’ perspective on Brady’s upcoming surgery has given me a new understanding of God’s timing. He doesn’t reveal his upcoming plans to us completely to protect us from overreacting, overthinking, or overdoing.

Though He was leading them out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites balked when they saw the plan God had involved the Red Sea…and they wanted to return to Egypt. (Exodus 14)

While Moses was on the mountain, receiving guidelines from God Almighty about living in peaceful community, the awaiting Israelites grew impatient…and built a fake god to worship. (Exodus 32)

The fall of Jericho wasn’t enough to convince Achan that God was in control of the future of Israel. He had to take some of the spoils of the battle as treasures, which was in direct defiance to God. (Joshua 7)

Eve couldn’t trust that God’s plan was infallible, so she chose to listen to evil guidance. (Genesis 3)

Lot’s wife wistfully looked back at the debauchery of Sodom and Gomorrah rather than following God’s gracious exit strategy. (Genesis 19)

Even the Pharisees couldn’t imagine the forest of God’s mercy for the planting of their self-righteousness. (Matthew 16)

This is not a crowd I want to hang out with. I don’t want to be listed with these of little faith. I want to learn from them, but not repeat their haste and misdirection. Knowing that God has something better ahead than what I can see now needs to give me the faith to hold on until He demonstrates his plan.

My faith, tiny and tired though it may be, is the ‘substance’, the shred, the sliver of light that directs me to the things I hope for…says Hebrews 11:1. He’s not showing me all of the plan right now because I might mess it up in haste to make it happen faster. I could greedily snatch unnecessary treasures…or sample forbidden fruit…or stroll toward unhealthy decadence… If I knew what was ahead, I might avoid it, change it, or rush it.

I am not God. I am not omniscient. And anytime I try to be, I detract and delay His good work in my life…and even for the lives of those that I love.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.                ~Psalm 5:3

Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.

                                                            ~Psalm 38:15

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.                ~Psalm 27:13, 14

 

daff

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried,                                                             but you’ve actually been planted.”                                                                                                                 ~Christine Caine

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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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Relinquishing the key to my heart

A few months ago, I stepped down from children’s ministry leader at my church because I was completely burnt out. I had felt it coming on, but I had tried to run from it…I slowed down in my commitments, reduced the number of projects, repeated some old but good activities, but my spirit was weary. The flesh was still willing, but the spirit was weak…so I knew it was time.

But I LOVED children’s ministry. I loved the kids, sharing God with them, researching projects, planning activities,  mingling with parents…the whole shebang! I loved it all. Children’s ministry introduced me to some of my dearest friends. It led me to blogging and a myriad of websites of kidmin ideas. It fulfilled a vision for me. What’s a girl to do when she feels like it’s time to take a break from what she loves?

Pray about it. And fast…the spiritual fast, not the quick one.

And so I did. I used my Lenten fast this year to seek God’s direction about my role in my church’s children’s ministry. And he showed me. He reminded me through parents and children that I had done well during my time. But through a series of serious trials within my family, he reminded me that my family was my first responsibility.

I wrestled with God about this, until he started making it more painful for me to stay involved. Stories like Jonah’s refusal to listen to God, Zacharias laughing at the angel’s news, Egypt’s suffering from plagues because of Pharoah’s hard heart, and even Adam and Eve’s defiance kept popping up in my devotions. Anddddd, verses about rest and peace were becoming more prevalent, too.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:14)

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28, 29)

And that’s when it hit me. My pride was my problem. I didn’t want to let go because I wanted to continue to be in charge. I loved what I was doing. I didn’t want someone else to do it…I wanted my energy to come back. But fatherly God said to me, ‘What do you do when you are tired?’ And finally I relinquished. It was time to rest.

It has been awkward, admittedly, stepping out of leadership and being ‘anonymous’ again. Saying ‘no, I really can’t right now’ instead of ‘well of course I’ll do it’. I haven’t liked slowing down, but I have needed to do it. For my sake, my family’s sake, and for the sake of others that God wants to use in my place.

It’s been about three months since I had ‘the talk’ with our associate pastor about bowing out of my kidmin job…and almost a year since I started to run from slowing down. I’m happy to report that I still have zeal but it’s been tempered. I excited for what God is working on for my future. And I know that I will be prepared for that challenge…whatever it is.

Here’s the key to the supply room at church, my happy place for the past 5 years. *sigh* I love that it says ‘Do not duplicate’ because it’s place in my life can never be duplicated…and whoever receives it next will truly never be the same again.

Thank you, Father, for being the God of rest and the God of action. The God of then, now, and not yet. Thank you for memories made and futures promised. And thank you above all for being with us through it all. Amen. FullSizeRender(1)

 

 

Do something about it

When I was a kid and I was discouraged about something…or as a teen and battling anxiety and depression, my Pollyanna mom repeatedly gave me the same sound advice. “Get up and do something for someone else.” While self-care is vital, wallowing in pity is detrimental.

Our nation has undergone some serious changes lately, changes that have sent many reeling into bouts of national anxiety. Others have responded with anger and threats. And others are just speechless.

It’s time to pull ourselves up out of our pit and get active for others. If you’re mad, change something. If you’re depressed, help someone else. If you’re hopeful, spread it around. Regardless of your present emotional state, do something about it.

Here are some options. Each of these organizations has opportunities to help nationally and internationally. Put feet to your faith. Go and do.

http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve

http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.8481993/k.4AE9/Services_at_YWCA_Local_Associations.htm

http://www.allowthechildren.org/projects/

http://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services

http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/zones

https://donate.worldconcern.org/44cents-spiritfm?utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=fy17_spot_radio_44cc_spiritfm&utm_source=spiritfm#amount=44.00

http://www.bloodwater.org/about-us

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Be the change you want to see in the world.                                      ~Ghandi