You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

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Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

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Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

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Mueller-ed

To understand this post more richly, you might want to read the previous post about George Mueller, a pillar of faith in God.

Here’s some backstory too:
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On the day of our church’s annual Easter egg hunt, we engage in a mission project of some type. Before releasing the children to hunt eggs, we work together on a project to help others. Then, we share the Biblical story of Easter…how the selfless sacrifice of Jesus saves us from our selfish sins. After these two events, we turn ’em loose to hunt eggs and play outside.We started this itinerary about three years ago.

The first year, we spray-bottle painted onesies and shirts for the youth to take on their summer mission trip. It was a great IDEA but messy to execute in an small enclosed space with over-zealous, candy-craving children. The picture here was my experimental attempt…I didn’t take pictures the day of the egg hunt/spray painting bonanza because…well, there were 50 kids trying to spray paint. (It was a good idea…just not for this function…here’s the pinterest link.)

The next year, we collected health care items (combs, brushes, travel size shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste/toothbrushes/

deodorant/soaps and washcloths) for a few weeks prior to the egg hunt. On the day of the hunt, we had parents and kids move through an assembly line to drop one of each item into a gallon-size ziploc bag. These health care kits were given out during our youth group’s two mission trips that summer. This activity was MUCH more suited to the event…families worked together, it was quicker, not as messy…much less stIMG_0023ress!

This year, we are planning to stuff Socks of Love. We have collected health care items again, and the plan is to stuff a man-sized sock with shampoo/conditioner/soap/toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant and roll the matching sock up and stuff it inside too. We’ll tie them off with a bit of ribbon or yarn and presto! A sock of love for the visitors at our local food kitchen.

So here’s how we got Muellered (unexpectedly blessed at our point of need):

I met Wednesday with our youth minister Jason to go over the schedule for the upcoming egg hunt. We have collected lots of hygiene items, but very few socks. We were saying, somewhat disappointedly,  that we’d have to go out and buy them, as they were of primary importance. When I went to church Thursday morning to sort out the hygiene items for our assembly-line next week, I discovered 55 pairs of socks! Jason had not purchased them…he had not mentioned the need to anyone else, nor had I. But there they were 55 pairs of lovely, clean, wonderful socks…awaiting their higher calling. IMG_0022

The first year, we painted 101 shirts and onesies for distribution in the Dominican Republic. Last year, we assembled over 75 health care bags (more were assembled after the egg hunt day, so I’m not sure of the total) for needy people in our state’s capital and in the Dominican Republic. This year, we will be able to hand out, at a minimum, 55 socks of love.

I love my church, our mission projects, the faith it builds in me, and the amazingness that is my God.

Stay tuned for an update after the egg hunt!!!

Get to know George Mueller

If you don’t know who George Mueller was, you need to.

George Mueller was a rotten Christian…a Christian who made fun of other Christians. A questionable Christian who partied too hard, gambled too much, got arrested too often. He was invited to a Bible study by another Christian friend, and he went…to harass the attendees. Imagine Saul, the persecutor, without the threat of death. Never did rapscallion Mueller think that Bible study would change his life.

After a week of attending, he realized his actions needed to change. He asked God for forgiveness and began his life transformation. Mueller decided to focus his attention on helping poor people and orphans. With this decision, Mueller lost all financial funding from his parents. He truly felt this mission field was where God wanted him to serve, so he began studying Scripture, meditating on what he read, and praying.

Prayer became George Mueller’s bread of life…literally. He never asked people for contributions to his orphanages…he just prayed. Time after time, God supplied for the 300 orphans. Food would be left on the orphanage porch by anonymous donors. Neighbors who just felt ‘led’ to bake loaves and loaves of bread stopped by and donated their goods. Milk showed up for the children. Clothes were always provided. Volunteers were always available. George Mueller only talked to God about his needs…and God was the only one who needed to know.

From his book, Answers to Prayer:

‘Truly, it is worth being poor and greatly tried in faith, for the sake of having day by day proofs of the loving interest which our kind Father takes in everything that concerns us.’

‘Through reading of the word of God, and especially though meditation on the word of God, the believer becomes more and more acquainted with the nature and character of God, and thus sees more and more, besides His holiness and justice, what a kind, loving, gracious, merciful, mighty, wise, and faithful being He is…’

‘If we, indeed, desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and , therefore, through the trail, be strengthened.’

‘Because he delights in the prayers of his children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter.’

‘May the Christian reader be encouraged by this, should his prayers not at once be answered; and, instead of ceasing to pray, wait upon God all the more earnestly and perseveringly, and expect answers to his petitions.’

Want to read more? Great! Go get his book Answers to Prayer…it will transform your faith and your prayer life.

For a quick biography, click here. And there’s always wikipedia, though I don’t always trust it, I did get Mueller’s loving little face photo from there. So here’s that link, too.

The woman who saved my life

Our first child was just about four days old, and we had left him home with the grands to get out of the house for a few hours. We got lunch and stopped by a craft store. I wandered aimlessly because what kind of craft project could I possibly work on after creating life just 100 hours prior. No paper, wood, or paint appealed to me. While wandering, we saw the mother of a friend.

She asked how we were doing, post-birth, and I said, “Oh, the baby’s great”, with all the feeling I could muster, which wasn’t much. My trembling hands gripped the empty, pointless shopping cart, and I endured the typical questions about the birth and our exuberance. Jean, her name was, gave me a meaningful mom-ish look as I excused myself to the restroom. I wobbled into the gray, overly perfumed lavatory and barely made it to the sink before the tears came. I gripped onto the cool white porcelain basin and begged not to go home. I couldn’t handle this new life. I couldn’t handle being a mom. 

I don’t honestly know how long I stayed in the bathroom; it wasn’t long enough for my husband to come looking for me. But it was long enough for the well-meaning mother to go on about her business. Her business…it angered me. Why didn’t she mind her own business? She had daughters and grandkids…she knew that the first few days and weeks are sleep deprived. She should’ve just smiled and waved and left us alone. I didn’t want to talk about the baby. And now, he was on my mind and I had to go home to him. Geez. How could she be so inconsiderate.

My uncertain emotional state (and the need to feed) led us back home instead of further out for the afternoon. I held the baby and fed him. I made the appropriate gestures of affection. I met his needs. But my heart ached for him to be back in my belly and for my life to be mine again. Why wasn’t this like babysitting? Why wasn’t this like teaching? I’d done both of those for years. Where was that feeling of joy and success? I’d never felt so overwhelmed and depressed.

Later that afternoon, Jean’s daughter Shelley called. ‘Oh good grief!’ I thought. ‘Couldn’t she just leave well enough alone?! I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t have anything to say. He’s a cute baby. We’re great. Yay life change.’ *Sigh*

‘Mom said she saw you today.’

‘Yes. It was nice to see her.’

‘She said she was worried about you… She wanted me to see if you’re doing all right.’

Seriously. Did this woman know when to stop?? How much more invasive could she be?

And then the tears started. And they couldn’t stop. I couldn’t even talk, so Shelley did. She had gone through postpartum depression and anxiety with both of her children. She knew what I was experiencing. She knew what it was like to put on the marginally happy face and give all the right answers to the questions. She knew how it felt to hold your own flesh and blood and NOT feel that warm fuzzy feeling that everyone was expecting you to feel. She wanted to take a break from it before it even began too. The numbness, the fear, the emptiness, the panic attacks…she’d been through it all…twice.

And that’s why her mom wanted her to call me. Because her mom recognized it in my eyes when she saw me. When I gave my vague answer ‘Oh, the baby’s great’… Jean knew the baby was fine, but I wasn’t.

What I considered an inconsiderate invasion was actually an inexplicable intervention. I needed more than an afternoon out. I needed a friend who knew my pain, knew a doctor, knew a medication, and knew it was all going to be all right. And that’s what Jean gave me. In telling Shelley to call me, she answered my prayers before I even prayed them. She opened a door of communication that I had been leaning against to keep everyone out. She gave me the chance to enjoy my precious son while I was still sane enough to hold him.

In the following days and weeks, Shelley came over, held my hand, wiped my tears, called her doctor and got me an appointment. I got on medication and by the time my son was six weeks old, I knew I was going to be the best mom that he could ever dream of having. And I knew that if I ever got the opportunity to reach out to help someone who was hurting like I had been, I would be the Jean to them.

She gave me the gift of motherhood.   IMG_2737