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.

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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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Book Talk: When Mama Comes Home Tonight

I have chosen to work during my children’s young years. I realize there are mixed opinions of that, and I’ve battled my own decision some days. Having endured two rounds of post-partum depression, I know how beneficial it is for me to get out of my house and into the grind of my classroom. As a teacher, I am blessed to share time off with my children.

When my son, my oldest, was an infant, I was struggling with my choice to return to work. Many gals at my church had chosen to stay home, and I felt guilty for making the choice that was really best for me. When I found this book, I was encouraged.

The rhythmic poetry of the story tells all the tender ways the mother celebrates her child when she comes home from work. They dance and pick up toys and have tea and snuggle…all the things a working mom cherishes about home time. Mama also mends clothes and bathes her child, showing her love for her little one through her after-work-home-work. The author shows the beautiful balance that moms have to establish once they come home in the evening.

I didn’t read this book to my son very often as he was more of a rescue/construction fan. When I first read it to my daughter, she snuggled in closer to me and said, ‘Read it again!’ The gentle tempo of the text is like a mother’s rocking…and the words hang around after the story is finished.

‘When Mama comes home from work, dear child/ When Mama comes home tonight…’

Loving God, Loving Others

I was a teacher before I was a parent, so you’d expect that I’d have this whole discipline/ behavior management thing figured out, right? Nope. The lines get blurry when they’re your own children. We’ve tried various techniques with varying results which has often left me wondering: what are the desired behaviors? What do we most want our children to portray? Well, that answer is actually pretty easy: loving God and loving others.

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Guess what? Those are the exact  desired behaviors that God established a few thousand years ago. It’s a shame I didn’t consider that first…

Our infinitely merciful Father reminded his wayward Israelite children, ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’ (Exodus 19:4). He craved fellowship with his children, and he brought them out of their slavery to spend time with them. So desirous of communion was he that he wanted them to understand the way to make relationships last. God gave his children clear, simply stated instructions on how to live harmoniously with him and with each other. If followed, then these ten rules of friendship could guarantee relational strength and growth.

The primary rules taught the Israelite children how to commune with God, their father, our father: Hold him in highest regard, as he is the giver and sustainer of life. Don’t allow any object to become greater than he in your mind or actions. Respect his name, his power, and his authority. Set aside uninterrupted, specific time to commune with him. In short, show God(and those around you) that he is your primary object of devotion. (Exodus 20:1-11)

The succeeding tenets taught about maintaining healthy relationships with others: Respect the lives, names, and authority of parents. Be helpful, not harmful. Be thankful, not jealous. Be truthful, not dishonest. In short, show others that they are worthwhile, significant people. (Exodus 20:12-17)

Hmmm…well that makes establishing limits for my children a lot simpler. Do their behaviors show adoration for God and appreciation for others? Appropriate. Do their behaviors dishonor God or degrade others? Not acceptable.

If the Ten Commandments are used as a filter for our actions, then we really will maintain the relationships with God and those around us…the way he intended, the way he desires.

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Pray for him

Things have been challenging around here lately. My son is testing the limits…surpassing the limits…and looking back from the other side of the limits and sticking his tongue out at me. I love him so deeply. It hurts so much for him to blatantly defy and disrespect me. It robs me of the joy that I have tried so desperately to celebrate this season.

I’ve thought, ‘Maybe I need to do more…to get my mind off of the aggravating behaviors…’, but I’m already committed to Sunday School, mission projects, the school play, the little one’s birthday next week, children’s choir… so, another commitment would probably just add more aggravation. More stress.

Maybe I need to spend time alone with God. Yes, that helps. Soothes my soul. Reminds me of my purpose. And allows me to hear him speak.

Which he did. He said, ‘Pray for him.’ 

Well, duh. The little guy has been fighting a cold recently and hasn’t been sleeping well which doesn’t excuse his behavior, but explains his short fuse. He’s told me that there’s a kid on the playground who always stirs others up, so their kickball game is repeatedly ruined by conflict. That’s a big deal for a second grader. He’s told me that he’s nervous about his speaking part in the upcoming school play. He’s excited but nervous. Again, that’s a big deal for a young fella.

Hmmm…pray for him. 

Maybe, before we start arguing, we should start talking. And praying. Praying for health. Praying for classmates. Praying for enthusiasm and confidence. Praying for peace in our relationship together.

I feel like such a child myself, most days, about this parenting thing. Yes, I’m the adult, but that doesn’t mean I know what to do. So frustrating sometimes.

But today, I feel like Samuel, a kid with a big job…helping care for the temple and the priest. He couldn’t sleep one night because he kept hearing someone call him. It wasn’t Eli, the priest. You know the story, it was God. Samuel simply said, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ God had an even bigger job for Samuel to do…deliver some bad news. But God remained with Samuel, even through this tough task.

Quite often, parenting involves delivering bad news to the kids. No, you can’t do that. No, we’re not going there. Nope, you’re too young. Not now, we don’t have the money for that. No sir, you are NOT allowed to say that. But we know that it’s for a greater reason…a greater joy…greater discipline that we’re saying these things, though it’s so difficult at that moment.

Parenting, what a ride. Joys and pains, highs and lows, wins and losses. But God is always with us…and he wants our kids to know that. How will they know it, unless we tell them? How will they know that we depend on God, unless they see us struggle and turn to him? We need to pray for them and with them.

Thank you, God, for drawing me near and teaching me this today.

(Here’s the Samuel story, in case you need a refresher… 1 Samuel 3)

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Top Ten: Things that are more magical than Magic Kingdom

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Today I am writing from sunny/stormy Orlando, where we are visiting Disney World. The kids hadn’t been before, and the grands wanted to take them for Grandpa’s 75th birthday.

Being around these bazillions of people in the ‘happiest place on earth’ and observing the varying levels of happiness, I’ve created this week’s top ten list.

Ten Things that are more magical than Magic Kingdom

10. Seasons-oh my, the humidity of Florida! It makes me thankful that we live in the mid-Atlantic where we can experience the ‘magic’ of all four seasons in relative moderation. Warm spring, hot summer, cool fall, and cold winter…Variety is welcome.

9. Authentic outside play-pool time, tag, running for no reason. I love the sun’s effect on my children’s hair and skin and attitude. I love their enjoyment of the ‘magic’ of a natural setting over the necessity of the theme park entertainment.

8. Naptime-sweet heaven! Naptime is pure magic in the way it transforms beasts into beauties.

7. Patience-The acquisition and usage of patience can ‘magically’ turn a nightmare situation into a humorous wait. Long lines abound everywhere here. We are learning how to cope and these lessons will leave with us, I hope.

6. Good judgement– This week, I’ve watched my kids take turns, make toy choices, make activity choices, and share, and I’m so proud of them for enacting the lessons that we’ve strived so hard to teach them. Good judgement isn’t instant magic, though; it’s one of those long-awaited, multi-step life-altering tricks.

5. Love of family-The look my daughter gets on her face when her daddy comes home from work far surpasses the look she has given any princess or over-sized mouse. I love that she (and my son) love their family, and that the feeling is magically mutual.

4. Imaginations-I spent 45 minutes watching an magical light show…in my darkened bedroom. Sponsored by Target’s $1 tube of glow sticks and two rain-trapped children. Walt Disney’s corporation wouldn’t have made it’s jabillions of dollars were it not for imaginations. I hope and pray my children’s imaginations will take them far and wide…and back home again…in their lives.

3. Value of people-My son has been collecting the autographs of random workers around this place. Not the over-sized mice, chipmunks, dogs, or whatever Goofy is. Not princes or princesses, but the John Hancocks of the Common Joes. Monorail pilots, security guards, map distributors…’the people who really make this place work’, he said. The people who make the magic work.

2. Understanding of God-‘This place is hunormous…but God is bigger’, observed my four year old daughter. ‘Nuf said.

1. God’s love-This mortal life is not always magical and definitely not always ‘happily ever after’. But one seemingly magical thing is the unconditional, unmistakeable, unchanging love of God. May my children carry the true tale of forever love with them long past the memory of this vacation…and always want to see God’s face in firework displays.