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)

 

 

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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

About EVERYTHING

“Do we pray about everything?!” he asked in whispered desperation during a church prayer one Sunday. I shushed him but smiled and contemplated his inquiry.

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After that prayer was complete, I perused the bulletin  and made a mental tally.

-Gathering, Announcements, Prayer of Centering (at the very beginning of the service)

-Sharing of Joys and Concerns (after the beginning)

-Apostle’s Creed and Prayer of Affirmation (before Scripture reading)

-Congregational Prayer (after the children’s moment)

-Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer (before offering)

-Scripture Reading and Prayer (before sermon)

-Prayer of Commission (after sermon)

-Benediction (prior to leaving)

Our service is NOT four hours long. It’s the standard one hour service. But after considering the order of worship, I realized that a third of that time is occupied in prayer. Prayers of the pastor, prayers of the people, silent prayer, meditation after prayer, prayers before action, prayers after action…

I reconsidered my son’s question–Do we pray about everything?!

Why is so much of our church service used for prayer? We pray before we start, we pray just after we start. We pray for those who are ill and absent, and we pray when the Word is shared with children who are present. We pray before we hear the Word and after we hear the Word. As we began with prayer, we end with prayer before we re-enter the world from our worship experience. Every activity we attempt, we bathe in prayer. We approach God with our intentions and ask His direction. We return to Him later to request his blessing. We plead for answers, we ask for patience while waiting, we praise Him for the outcome. We turn all our actions over to His divine plan.

Church is the holiest place we encounter all week. If we this often in THIS place, then how much more often should we pray throughout our week? Before we get out of bed, while we’re drinking the morning joe, on the way to work, before we enter work, throughout the workday and on the way home again. Before we enter challenging situations, in the midst of them, and after them.

I Thessalonians 5:17 advises that we “Pray continually”...and verse 18 goes on to say “…giving thanks to God in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Pray continually. All the time. About everything. Before, during, and after. Everything.

So, yes, son, we do pray about everything, as we well should.

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Photo credit: http://www.karipatterson.com/long-view-short-prayers/

 

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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Chains

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When I was a kid, I really enjoyed making paper chains at Christmas time. Maybe it was the challenge of how long it could grow when competing with school  friends. Maybe it was the monotony of rolling, stapling, rolling, stapling…a menial task with maximum benefit in the midst of holiday rush. Maybe it was the simplicity of the decoration…paper and staples could fill a lot of gaps on the tree when ornaments were scarce. Whatever the reason, I liked making paper chains.

As my Christmases have become more umm…involved over the years, I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with a pile of colored paper, scissors, and staples in a while. Until tonight. These post-Thanksgiving days have been uncharacteristically relaxed. The weather has been balmy and perfect for children to run their vacation energy off outside. Their ages make it easier to release them to an independent activity while I relax on the couch a bit. It has been eerily calm.

While my son was biking with friends this afternoon, I was working on cutting some paper for a church project tomorrow (first Sunday of Advent!). I had a pile of decorative FullSizeRender(1)paper spread out in front of me and some scissors, some loosey-goosey little paper scraps and a roll of tape. I asked my nearly-six year old daughter if she’d ever made a paper chain. She said she didn’t think so. As she is methodically minded like her mom, I figured she would enjoy this project. So I grabbed the stapler (I know that makes it more rewarding, more quickly) and showed her.

StarFullSizeRender(3)t with a circle of paper, stapled together. Slide a strip of paper through the circle and staple it to itself. She grasped the simple concept within a few loops and began to connect them herself, just asking that I do the stapling. ‘This is fun!’ she observed after about 8 loops. I knew she was hooked.

As I recalled the last time I made a paper chain, probably elementary school, I considered how much my life has changed. How the plans I had then didn’t exactly happen the way I expected. I had visions of a chain of life events, a certain color scheme, a certain length, but that wasn’t the order God had for my life.

Each little loop of the chain of life has a special meaning, a connection to the rest of the sequence. A preschool friend who has grown up with me, my first job FullSizeRender(5)where I overcame my shyness, my few athletic successes, the job I didn’t get, the guy who shattered my heart, the day I saw my future mate, the church who allows me space for my visions, the book that opened my eyes, the evenings of mommy failure…each momentous connection to others adds a loop to my chain.

Long before paper chains were invented, Seneca said ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.’ (That wasn’t just a late ’90s Semisonic lyric…) More recently, though not much, the psalmist David recorded, ‘You have taken account of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?’ Our days and weeks are full of new experiences, some we want to cherish, others have brought us tears. They begin, they end; new ones begin and become old and end. But God keeps an account of it all…he has a list of our life events, our chain of events. And through those events, he crafts colorful connections to other people, those who need us…and those we need.

We don’t know how long our chains will be, but we can appreciate the simple beauty of the fact that they exist. Each twist or turn, new or old, makes another link that forever joins us with those around us.

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VBS: It’s not just for the kids

As we belted out the lyrics to a great Chris Tomlin song and learned the motions choreographed to go along with it, I heard the message for the first time. The closed-captioned words popped on the screen as the kids watched the singers and followed their motions…and I just stood there reading the song that I’d sung dozens of times before.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Huh…our strength will increase while we’re waiting on God. Lemme ponder that a bit.
I watched Connie, our 78 year old volunteer, dance just as enthusiastically as her second grade counterparts. I admired the excitement that flashed in her eyes. She saw me and said, ‘I love it!’ At her veteran place in life, she was learning new moves and new praises to God.
Other class leaders, moms-returned-to-full-time-work, were using the bond of VBS to spend with their own children because their new schedule limited the customary family time.
One grandad was helping in the snack area because his wife, one of our usual snack helpers, had a stomach virus. He had an opportunity to serve kids, his wife, and his God.
The classrooms were pleasantly stocked with youth helpers, cutting, pasting, tying, wiping, shushing, leading…finding their own niches in service.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Each adult present in VBS has had his/her fair share of waiting times. Waiting for a loved one to come through surgery, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting to find housing, waiting for a job interview, waiting for the check to come in the mail so bills can be paid…the waiting can be so long and weigh so heavily on us. But according to this inspiring praise chorus, which reflects Scripture, our waiting is what develops our spiritual muscles. Just like our physical body improves its tone with strength training, so does our spiritual self.
My dear dancing Connie has waited for health, family, housing, security…and it has brought her to a place of laughter and love to share with VBS kids.
The working moms have worked waited for interviews, financial stability, growth of children…and it has brought them to their knees in service to the kids of VBS.
The grandad has,no doubt, waited on his wife, his children, his grandchildren…and it has brought him back to waiting tables, doling out cheeseballs and lemonade, in the name of Jesus.
The youth have waited to grow up, to find their paths, to be independent…and it has brought them to church, in the summer, to serve little ones half their age.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
If we are confident of the one we are waiting on, we can doing the waiting. If we look back at what he has done, in our lives, in the lives of others, in the Bible… we know that the waiting is worth it. He is faithful. He will not faint, he won’t grow weary…so neither should we. I admire my VBS colleagues and each of the stages of life they represent. They have waited…and will continue to wait…but they know that the waiting isn’t really so bad when you consider what strength is being built…
Isaiah 40:31
They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
The will mount up with wings as eagles.
They will run and not be weary;
they will walk and not faint.

Update: Mueller-ed

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In a post on March 28 entitled Mueller-ed, I wrote about our church including a mission project each year when we host an Easter egg hunt. This year we were going to be stuffing ‘Socks of Love’ with personal hygiene items to be distributed at our local soup kitchen. I wrote about the need we had for socks…and its sudden fulfillment, similar to the prayers that were answered in missionary George Mueller’s life. (Read about George Mueller here!!) At the end of the entry about getting Mueller-ed, I said I’d give an update on the sock stuffing at the egg hunt.

 We had about 60 children in attendance that Saturday, plus their parents/grandparents, probably giving us a total near 100 participants.  We stuffed 75 socks with travel size shampoos/conditioners/deodorants/toothpastes/soaps and a toothbrush. (We opted out of small bottles of mouthwash, as we discovered that the alcohol-based ones were misused for drinking purposes last time we made such distributions. ) The kids enjoyed stuffing the socks and racing to put their completed bundle in the big plastic bin we had set aside for collection.

On Easter Sunday, in Sunday school, we tied yarn on the socks and included cards of encouragement for the recipients. We repacked the Socks of Love in the collection bin and pushed them to the church office for pickup by the soup kitchen crew. All 75 Socks of Love were distributed to needy families the week after Easter Sunday, as that was spring break and more patrons were present at the food kitchen.

Though we will never know who received these gifts, we know that they were blessed. Whether the health care items helped keep families clean, prepare an individual for a job interview, or aid an adolescent in feeling more hygienically comfortable around peers, we know that the Spirit of God was with them.

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Matthew 25:34-40

34‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Project Sundays

On the first Sunday of each month, our preschoolers through second graders at church combine Sunday school classes  to work on a mission project. I jokingly call it ‘Sweatshop Sunday’ because we usually form an assembly line to get a lot accomplished in a little time. The kids love that Sunday for various reasons…the creativity, the ACTIVE-ity, the charity, the variety. The notion was an off-shoot of our VBS program last summer, wherein we didn’t do as many cutesy crafts to take home, but we focused more on whole group crafts to benefit greater causes (local pediatric ward, animal shelter, soup kitchen). We wanted to carry the message of mission on past the week-long blast of VBS, so we started Project Sunday the first week of each month. After we share a lesson from the Bible that goes with our project, we explain who we are going to help and how. We say a prayer for the people receiving our gifts, and then, we get to work!

August— Goody bags of THANKS for the teachers in our church

(Each lunch bag contained a Tea bag, H2o (water) bottle, Apple, Napkin, Kiss (chocolate), and Scripture verses to keep in their purse/desk…the contents spell out THANKS. We gave these out on the Sunday before school started, which was also our Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday.)

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September–Decorations for our church’s intergenerational prom

(The kids cut out and decorated stars that were put on the tables for the dinner/dance to which all church members were invited. It was fun to see the tables decorated with the kids own work…and it was fun to see our Sunday-serious church members cuttin’ a rug right beside the kiddos! What a bonding time!)

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October–School supply collection for the teachers at the local alternative-education school 

(Knowing that many of the students in this school do not have the money or motivation to provide their own school supplies, we partner with the teachers to keep them stocked with basics. Our church members bought the items, and our Sunday school children separated them into two piles…one for the beginning of the year, and one to restock the teachers mid-year. They also added cards of encouragement for the teachers.)

November–Fall posters for the homebound members of the church

(Using a mess-free painting idea from Pinterest (top picture), we made fall tree posters with the Bible verse ‘The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever.’ Isaiah 40:8)

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December–Advent wreaths and daily Bible readings for each child

(We had millions lots of toilet paper rolls left over from VBS crafts, so we used them, along with styrofoam plates, to make Advent wreaths. Prior to this Sunday, I cut out the 5 holes around the styrofoam plates into which the candles would be inserted throughout the  month. I stapled another plate under the top one for support. The first Sunday of December, we added green leaves and made the first candle. The kids took them home that day, with a list of Advent scripture readings. The following Sundays, we made the candles and sent them home for the children to add to their wreaths. )

(picture from Pinterest, but very similar to ours)

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January–we took a break : )

February–Bags of Love for our local battered women’s shelter

(When thinking of people that needed a showing of love in February, I thought of the women who had no one to show them love. We decorated white lunch bags and added soap, washcloth, candy, gum, and a colorful card with Bible verses about God being a refuge.)

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In March, we were eager for some signs of spring so we made our own! Using a Pinterest idea, we painted flowers for our sick or homebound friends who needed some cheer. This was a great painting activity because the kids used plastic forks and didn’t get their hands messy…well, too much. (Of course, MY daughter was the one wearing the WHITE dress that day…*Sigh*) A fun way to bring a smile to someone’s dreary day!!

 

 

 

 

I love Project Sunday, and I love that the kids love it too. We’ve been doing it for half a year, and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. I’ll tweak some things for next year, and perhaps ditch some projects all together and find new ones. But we will continue with it because it’s teaching the kids that our relationship with God reaches beyond Sunday and beyond the church.

Share your ideas of ways your church has helped others! I’d love to hear them!

Prosper

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Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  ~Ephesians 6:10-13

#rethinkchurch

Call

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John Wesley (1703-1791)

>Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

>Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.

>The best thing of all is God is with us.

>I look upon the whole world as my parish.

>I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.

#rethinkchurch #johnwesley #umc