Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When God Works in the Backgroud

I have recently been studying through the book of Ruth the ladies over at Love God Greatly. Man, I love this book. Just to summarize in case you've never read it or it's been a while... A woman named Naomi, her husband and 2 sons move from Israel to Moab (another country) during a famine. While there the sons get married to Moabite women. Then the sons and Naomi's husband die. The scriptures don't tell us if their deaths were close to each other or spread out. All it says is they died. Naomi hears the famine in her hometown is over and she decides to move home. One of her daughters in law decides to go with her, Ruth. Now Ruth was the original ride-or-die girl.

“But Ruth replied: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
‭‭Ruth‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

So the next thing she knows Ruth is in a foreign country with her mother in law. Her mother in law is so angry and bitter about How life has turned out that she changes name to Marra which means "bitter". The whole situation is very dim. So Ruth goes to work because, well, a girl's gotta eat.

Chanter 2 is what I am loving this week. The field where Ruth "happens" to go to work belong to Boaz. Boaz "happens" to stop by then field one day to check on things and see how it's going when he notices Ruth. This is the part I miss sometimes. Ruth was working. Her head down looking for leftover grain that was missed or dropped by the paid workers. This is how she ate. If she didn't find enough leftover food on the ground she went hungry. It was a pretty dire situation. She was focused on living. Day to day. One meal to another. Yet over in the periphery God was working. Her life was about to change. Boaz came into the picture.

SPOILER ALERT!

Through a strange set of customs Boaz and Ruth end up married. Ruth goes from being a homeless widow gathering leftovers to the wife of the guy who owns the field. And it gets better. Ruth has a baby named Obed (I know what friend/relative put that in the baby naming pot?) who had a son named Jesse who had a son named David who became king over Israel and a great grandfather to Jesus.

But in chapter 2 Ruth knows none of this. All she knows is that she is hungry and today she gets to eat. I've been stuck in chapter 2 before. A place where the mundane tasks of living and surviving every day takes all my energy and focus. If you are stuck in this place today please know there is hope. I can't promise a Boaz but I can promise Jesus. I can promise that God sees His children. Just because you can't see Him working doesn't mean that he isn't.


Monday, May 1, 2017

The heartbreaking work of youth ministry

In just a few days our local high school will graduate another class of Seniors. Another group of students will be sent out of the relative safety net of high school and into the big wide world to see what life has to offer. But the school system is not the only one lovingly shoving them out the door. Church youth ministries will celebrate with these young people as they reach this milestone. Then when the summer is over and many of them start college or enter the work force they will find there is no place for them in the student ministry department. They have outgrown us.  As they have moved on we have stayed behind to tend to the next group of up and coming teenagers.

My husband and I have been in youth ministry in the same church for over 12 years now. Next year we have the possibility of seeing our second generation of youth some through as some of those entering 6th grade had parents that were once a part of our youth ministry.  

Over twelve years I have watched many, many scrawny, short 6th graders grow into mature 12th graders. And once you are a part of our ministry you are one of "our kids". I may not feed you everyday or help with homework but I worry about you. And when these mature students go out into the world I worry, too, if we've taught them enough. Did I show them enough Jesus in the past 6 years?  When they felt no one in the world cared did they know they could just show up to youth group and be loved and accepted?

This year a very special group of students graduates. One summer my husband spent more time with the students in this class than he did with our family. I do not exaggerate....I counted. And I didn't totally mind. These kids came to my house on Sunday afternoon...and other days when they learned to drive. They dug out the beaver's dam in my pond and helped set off fireworks on 4th of July. Some days they would come over and mow the grass without being asked....partly because they wanted to drive the zero turn mower.

As with any relationship there are bumps along the way. We grieve when students past or present make decisions not in line with what the Bible teaches. But they will always be our kids. We will always be here if they need to talk or need advice. We celebrate when things go well. 

This letting of go of kids that were never really ours...kids we borrowed for a few hours every week...kids we only had for a few short years...this letting go is the hardest part of youth ministry. Already I can feel our Seniors pulling away. This tearing away doesn't stop us from loving. It doesn't stop us from investing every year in a new group of students that will break our hearts again when they leave. This is the ministry to which God has called us. To equip, guide, grow up another generation of students to walk out into the world and stand for Him. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 28 has always been a special day to me. It's a my birthday that I share with my dad and my twin sister. In 2010 it became an even more important day to me when I gave birth to my second child. A son. A child born after much heart ache and fear. As I sat in my hospital room snuggling my newborn across my state another family was mourning.

April is Child Abuse Prevention month. And April 28 is Kelsey Briggs day. If you don't know Kelsey Briggs let me catch you up. Kelsey was 2 when she died due to blunt force trauma to her abdomen. Her mother and stepfather have been convicted of this crime.

Parenting and Mommying is hard. Some days it's walk-away-from-it-all-hard. And sometimes that what we need to do...take a break. Walk away and let someone else listening to the whining and crying for a little while so that we can come back refreshed and ready to love our babies.

There is a 10 year old boy in OKC who has been in foster care since he was a very young child. His profile says he loves Minecraft and Legos.  What he wants is a home. To be adopted. To have a mom and a dad. To be loved. For days after reading that I tried to figure out how we could re arrange the house to accommodate one more. Cause if you know much about my family it's that I have 2 boys already who love Legos and Minecraft.

Just a few weeks ago two small children were found wandering the streets of a nearby city in diapers at 4 AM.  It was three hours later before they were claimed. As I read that story I felt like saying with Jesus "Bring the little children to me."

Be a foster parent. Love on a foster family. Be part of the solution.

As citizens we must be alert to what is going on in the lives of people around us. if you see someone struggling lend a helping hand. But if you suspect a child is in danger or being harmed you must call and report this. There are services DHS can put into place to help families. Not all children need to be removed. Some families just need help. But some children need to be removed from an unsafe situation.

All children deserve to be loved like my sweet middle child who turns 7 today. Please hug your children and love them well. Take care of yourself. And don't be afraid to make the calls for help from other authorities when needed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Raising children in the ministry

I knew as far back as college that I would marry a minister. Thirteen years ago this June I did just that. A little over 2 years later we went from a ministry couple to a ministry family when our daughter was born. Now we have 3 kids and life in the ministry has changed many times over the past 13 years.

We are often at church when no one else with small children are there. There are many Sunday nights when my kids are the only children in worship. Sometimes there is no nursery and the 3 y/o just has to go into worship with us. Once I left and went to the park because he was just too disruptive. I figured if I was going to sit in the nursery with my own kiddo and no one else's we could play just as well outside. The up side to this is that they get to know people they otherwise would not interact with. On visitation night they get to help their Sunday School teacher write cards to their classmates and will often take a card home to pass along to a classmate the next day. They are learning evangelism at a very early age. 

When I was growing up there were a lot of jokes about pastor's kids (PKs). Often these children are put on such a pedestal and expected to b have so well that as they grow up they rebel. We are careful not to tell our children they must behave because they are the youth minister's kids. Instead we try to impress upon them the need to behave in a way That is pleasing to God. 

All three of our children have gone to church camp as infants or toddlers. Two of them were partially potty trained at youth camp. I decided, though, that I did not want my children to always go to camp with us. If they grow up going to camp every summer then when they are old enough and their friends are going there would be nothing for them to look forward to. Instead we take that time as a opportunity for them to spend a week with family they don't see very often. 

We try to take our children with us as much as possible. God has really blessed us with friends to help with our kids when we can't take them with us. It's a lot easier to take one child along than three. And it's easier to find someone to watch one child than three. I don't think our friends who help us really know how much they mean to us. 

It is difficult sometimes to plan a weekend away. Sunday is the biggest day for my husband as it is the day most people come together to worship. It's his busiest day of the week so we don't miss it much which means we have to miss other things. We try to emphasize to our children the importance of worshipping  God and not just "going to church". 

Raising children, working my own full time job and being a partner with my husband in ministry can be a difficult plate to balance. I want my children to grow up knowing we are not consumed by the church or the work of the church but that we are consumed by Jesus. 

If you are a ministry mom what are some of the struggles you face?
How do you raise your children with a focus on Jesus and not on just going to church because it's what we have always done?


Monday, April 24, 2017

What do I do with Jesus when the retreat weekend is over?

James 1:23-27 says "Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works — this person will be blessed in what he does.”

This was the focal verse for a youth retreat I attended this past weekend. The theme of the weekend was "Don't be a Couch Potato". It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend several months ago. Her church had just finished a weekend youth retreat and she expressed her frustration with how youth often come back from retreats and camp fired up for Jesus but in 1-2 weeks time half of them are not even attending church much less continuing personal Bible study.

Our speaker this weekend was Ryan Young.  In one of his sermons he noted that many student leaders spend less than 10 minutes a week in personal Bible study. Before you begin to shake your head about how our young people need to spend more time in the Word of God, ask yourself how much time have you spent in the Bible in the past 7 days?

Often times we use a retreat or camp or revival service to look deeply at ourselves in the spiritual mirror of the Bible. We have good intentions of making the needed changes to our lives to live more dedicated to Christ. To follow Him and serve Him more deeply. But as the weeks go by we begin to slip into old habits. Much like when we go to our favorite hairstylist for a cut and color. We watch closely as she blow dries our hair and styles it perfectly. We memorize her movements and buy the same products she uses so we can recreate this salon look at home. But a few days into our new resolve to have perfectly coifed hair everyday we begin to run out of time. The alarm doesn't go off or the kids don't want to get dressed and we think "just this once I'm going to pull my hair into a ponytail and let it be." Then another day goes by and that ponytail look is so much more convient. We have forgotten what we looked like in the mirror.

Retreats and camps are great. They nourish the soul and give us rest from a world consumed with strife. But if we come back unchanged we have missed the point. Let the Word of God change you. Let Jesus make you different today than what you were yesterday. Resolve to spend time reading and studying God's Word everyday. Let God reveal how you can follow Him more closely. Then do something about it.
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Politics and toddlers

It was 8 AM on a Tuesday morning. I was supposed to be at work or at the very least on my way to work. Instead I was standing in my pjs staring at the clothes in my closet trying to find something that matched but did not require ironing. It was at that moment my super sonic mama ears heard sloshing in the other bathroom. Considering that the only other person home with me was my newly toilet trained 3 y/o I knew nothing good could be happening.

I flew down the hall in my sock feet to find said 3 y/o with his pants at his ankles plunging the toilet in the hall bathroom. He was actually trying to clean some debris left from another child and grabbed the plunger instead of the toilet scrubber. And while I applaud his dedication to cleanliness and his willingness to help me out by cleaning the toilet, all I could think about is that this is the child who likes to suck on his fingers. Fingers that just held a plunger while debris containing water sloshed everywhere. After cleaning up the mess (and this was the smallest of the bathroom messes he has made this week) I finally was on my way to work.

When we were finally loaded in the car and our way to work all I heard on the radio was North Korea vs Donald Trump.  Who would do what, when would it happen, best case senario vs worst case scenario....blah, blah, blah. Now I know that someone has to deal with mad dictators. And it's important to be up to date on matters going on in our world. I must say I'm glad I'm not the one dealing with it.

It seems there are two parts of reality right now. The reality of big worldly matters like nuclear bombs , protests and Russian planes in the wrong airspace. And then there's the Mom reality. This reality includes making sure all the little people in our lives are fed, clean and safe. When these basic needs are met then we have to address bigger concerns. Like teaching those little people to be kind, compassionate and loving...and yes, not to play in toilets.

There is little I can do to influence the bigger reality of the world I live in. I pray...everyday...and that is the biggest thing I can do. And yes I can call or write my Senator and/or Representative. I can even tweet POTUS. But what happens there is not up me or you.

So, Mama's, in the face of uncertain times in and uncertain world and reality we can't control we have to let go of our fears and anxieties of the outside world. Look around at what you can influence. I want to make my world and the world my children live in safer and happier. If you will teach your children and I teach my children how to be kind, loving and compassionate then together we can change the world.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Embracing the brokenness

I recently finished an online Bible study hosted by Love God Greatly called Broken and Redeemed. Towards the end of that study my church's women's ministry started a study based on the book The Broken Way by Ann Voscamp. With this much focus on brokenness I began to pray and ask God what He is trying to teach me.

I don't have extraordinary brokenness in my life. No terrible trauma that has taken years and counseling to resolve. I have the ordinary kind of brokenness. The difficulties life brings because we live in a fallen world kind of brokenness. Nevertheless, I have persisted in this study of brokenness.

I deal with it everyday. For 17 years I have been nurse. People come to me expecting me to be a able to heal their physical brokenness or at least put a patch on it so they can go a few more miles down the road. I had seen people ignore their brokenness and deny it hoping it will go away. I have witnessed others attack their brokenness with all they have to give in an effort to fix it. As a mother my children are forever bringing me broken toys that need to be put back together or broken clothes for mending.

And yet I prayed .... But I'm not broken Lord...what is this all about?

 Then came the study of adultery...But Lord, surely this doesn't apply to me...I've never been unfaithful...

" Adulteresses! Don't you know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God? So whoever wants to be the world's friend becomes God's enemy" James 4:4

That verse struck me...hard. Although I have never been unfaithful to my husband there are many times I have been lured in by the shiny, sparkly things of this world. Now hear me out, I don't think it's sinful to have nice things. But when we become so caught up in having nice things and having  things the way we want them that those shiny, sparkly things become the focus of our lives, things are broken.

 I am broken.

Jesus knows broken. He embraces broken. He came to be broken for you and for me. His brokenness heals all of my broken places. If I will let Him.