How’s Your Rest?

A month or so ago I sat down and wrote out all the things I want to do in the next year. Then as I evaluated them for priority, I mapped out month by month what it would take to accomplish those things. Y’all…it was like some good stuff. And that map, you’d be impressed with my month mapping skills.

I had things timed out to what days discussions and meetings would happen to make them the most convenient for the other people who I’d need to work with. I knew how early in the month I’d need to send out emails. I knew what could wait until later in months when other activities were winding down. I had found hours in my day I didn’t know I had. I can write my next book sitting on the side of the football field. I can do my class homework on the side of the wrestling mat. Instead of the hour-ish of tv I watch before I pass out exhausted every night, I could fill that space with more consistent blogging. Lunches that in the past I’d only seen as opportunities to connect could be used to connect AND develop.

This plan is so good.

In the mushy week after VBS ended, I just wanted to sleep, but knew the VBS set had to come down and get stored. And just like I knew I could do all the things I had to do to get the set up, I knew I could do all the things I had to do to get it down. Thankfully, I have one really good friend in particular who cares enough about me to say, “Sarah, you just hold the bottom of this ladder. I’ll climb up.” I think we both realized as I struggled to stay awake through even ladder holding that balance was not going to be a strong thing in my life that week. If I went up that ladder, I would for sure fall all the way back down.

As it turns out, I have started to wonder if balance isn’t a bigger problem for me beyond ladder climbing.

I started Rebekah Lyon’s study on Rest, (you can find the free download at http://www.rebekahlyons.com/free) after seeing her Insta story directing me to it. I am on Day 5 today, and it has revolutionized my life.

On Day 2 she talks about how God designed rest into the rhythm of creation and then established rest as a pattern which was to be honored as a way of honoring God. She moves to Leviticus 26 and sees that God promises, if you rest, I will bless you. But then He warns, if you don’t follow this pattern of rest, there will be consequences and the consequences will be dire. The consequences are explicit about how terrible it will be if the Isrealites forsake rest, for themselves and the land.

How did it surprise me to hear in 1 Chronicles that the Isrealites had not rested the land? When they should have worked the land for 6 years and rested on the 7th, they continued working. They ended up being conquered and exiled from the land, and remained in exile for the same length of time that they skipped rest. The story pauses there to say that while they were in exile, the land enjoyed all the rest that was due to it.

Will you pause with me a second here to think what that meant? It wasn’t JUST the farmers who got exiled. It wasn’t just the farmers who were overtaken and killed and dragged off into brutal forced submission. It was daughters and baby boys. It was stone masons and shepherds. It was the elderly and the widowed. The refusal to respect rest didn’t just impact those who were specifically ignoring the command to rest. It impacted everyone in the land. I think of it like this, if the food grown in that land touched your lips, if you feed on the fruit of disobedience, even unknowingly, that fruit was poisoned. People who did not choose to disobey in that way suffered from the fruit of over-labor.

I thought about times that I had been unpleasant to be around over the past few weeks. I thought about the times I’d been so driven by tasks that I placed some sort of burden of responsibility to spoon-feed me through basic care things like, “Sarah, you need to stop and eat,” and there I stayed working like a unnecessary martyr. Was that fair to them?

But far worse than thinking through my interactions with those out in the world was my evaluation of my behavior in my house. Crabby mom, crabby wife, family trying hard to please someone who will not be pleased or who is too tired to help get the result she is demanding.

The day before I had started working from home at about 630, answering texts and setting things up online through databases. As I packed lunch and braided hair, my thoughts were on work. I spent time I should have given to helping them start their day well on answering texts. I chose to do that. Me. My choice. The day went on like that, my choices, my work, me doing doing doing. I talked-to-text all the way home, still in work conversations, and then barked orders at the kids to get ready for practice. There on the side of the field I emailed and texted and worked through my phone until after 7.

It feels yucky to write that. Yucky, because I fear some people will read that and think, she’s not doing right by her family. But also yucky because I fear that others will read that and think, well, that’s just how life has to go. I don’t want people to think that about me. And I don’t want people to think that about life.

As I have evaluated how I have handled this busy time of year, I keep coming back to that one year plan. Guys, that plan is so good. If I follow that plan, I will produce so many good things. If I follow that plan, people will be impressed with what I can produce.

But will my children care? But will I not care that my friends are spending time worrying about me? But will I forget that I am married to someone who would like to know me? But will the people I am depending on to make my plan advance according to my timeline ever want to work with me again?

I’ve said to myself and to others for decades, “You can’t draw out of an empty well.” I’ve also pointed out that wells don’t get filled by dumping buckets of water in from the top. It has to be real ground water, real connection to the source. Rest, refilling, it has to be genuine. It has to be real. If we want to be obedient, we have to stop and listen to what God is telling us.

Sunday afternoon I woke out of a hard nap, that kind of wake up where you’re not sure if you fell asleep in the right house or if a week has passed. I got my kids together and joined some of my dearest friends and went to the river.

The past two nights I have sat on the side of the field, watching my kids practice, talking to other moms about school and teams and their work and things we’ve heard about in the community. It was so nice.

There was a moment when I was reflecting on how these moments of disconnected rest were really restoring me, that I had woken up that third morning and felt finally like a person again, appreciating the world around me. A storm had crossed through the valley and there was a breeze left behind. I looked over to my left and there was a quick rainbow. I called out to a friend “Do you see it? A rainbow!” But she didn’t hear me. I looked back at it and in under a minute, it was gone. My friend came over to talk and I asked if she’d seen it, but she hadn’t seen my little secret rainbow, a little splash of color like a whisper from God, “My promises are sure.”

A few minutes later on the other side of the field another rainbow appeared. This time she saw it, this second rainbow that I got to share with someone else.

How is your rest? Like real rest, not Netflix rest. Are you taking the time to stop and connect with the people around you and the physical world around you? Or is your free time spent self medicating with hits of dopamine sparked by Facebook likes and Candy Crush wins.

I hate to tell you what my answer was a few week ago, but I am trying. I am looking at that year plan and I’ve heard the message. Work, but rest. Work, but rest. If you rest, I will bless it. If you don’t……you may see short term gain, but the cost will be devastating.

If you need rest like I have, I invite you to check out that Rebekah Lyon’s study. It is so good I’d say it’s better than my year long plan. If you need a place to rest, and someone to rest with, you’re welcome next to me at the football field, or maybe we can meet up at the river.

But today, will you ask yourself like I have been….how’s my rest….and what is the cost of all of my gain?

 

 

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Facing The Nightmare: Fear and Anxiety

When I was a child I had nightmares all the time, terrible, horrible, graphic nightmares. Terrible.

By the time I was 8 or 9, I began to realize that I could identify if I was in a nightmare. I would hear this thumping louder and louder, pounding through my surroundings. For some time I just knew it as the nightmare noise, but at some point I realized it was my own heartbeat. I learned that when I heard that noise in the dream, I could latch on to it, and pull myself out of whatever terror facing or chasing me. I trained myself to listen for something that was always consistent, reliable, and to which I could focus on to move myself in the right direction. I began to be able to force myself to wake up. Eyes open in my dark room, I lay there listening as my heartbeat faded from my ears, moving to rest back in my chest where it belonged.

After a few moments, I would roll over and study the floor. My room was lit by a nightlight and just enough to see if there were any dangers on my path to the door. Because I couldn’t see under my bed, I always jumped as far as I could and then ran to my doorway. As I opened the door, my nightlight lit a triangle into the darkness of the hallway.

The hallway was so big that the triangle of light reached all the way to the bathroom to my left or to my parents’ bedroom on the other side of the stairs to my right. So I would stand in the darkness and stare into the black before I could pursue comfort. When my eyes had adjusted enough that I could make out the outlines of the trunk, of the laundry closet, and no outlines of invaders or monsters, I would take a deep breath. I held so still, listening for my heartbeat. Could I hear it? Was I awake or dreaming? In the absence of the pounding of my heart, I would fling myself out into the hallway and run as fast as I could for one or the other destination.

Nothing ever got me. Nothing was ever there.

In one direction, lay meeting the needs of my body. Often, when I woke up out of the nightmares I had to go to the bathroom. Sitting in the brightly lit bathroom, taking care of that bodily need, I could find my bearings. This sink is real. This bathtub is real. Nothing is behind the shower curtain. I am safe. Feeling grounded, and with my physical needs met, I walked back to my room, no longer needing to run through the hall. I climbed in bed and went back to sleep.

In the other direction lay my parent’s room. There was a long time, longer than was allowed for both of my brothers, where I could wake in the night and finding myself scared and alone, I could climb into bed with my mom. At some point, my parents decided I was too old for that. I still knew, however, that there on the other side of the hallway were people who loved me, who cared for me, who took good care of me, who would comfort me and tuck me back in.

But as I grew older and thought that I was too old to ask for help, I would stand and whisper from my doorway, “Mom? Dad? Mommy? Daddy?” I was afraid to bother them. I was afraid to wake them up. I knew that my nightmare was a figment of my imagination, and so I thought it would be of little importance to them.

When we face fear, deal with anxiety, we need to be aware of the physical element of our response. We may not actually be dealing with a spiritual crisis. We may be dealing with a physical, a chemical, a biological, a situational or an inherited crisis. We have to be willing to turn to the left, to pursue the solution to the aspects of fear and anxiety which truly are a result of our fleshly bodies.

Fear is a natural reaction. Fear is a good and healthy part of our design. Fear preserves the human race and assures its survival. But when fear turns into a cancer, reproducing itself over and over, without treatment it will ultimately destroy us entirely.

But also, we need to be convinced that there is a right turn option as well. And we need to know who is in that other room.

In Christian circles, we can hear “Do not fear!” and think only of the disciplinarian parent, who lays out rules with no regard to whether or not they can be followed. “Do not fear!” becomes as common as “Do not touch that!” We hear “Do not fear!” and it sounds like we’re being told “Do not blink!”

And then we say to one another, “God is love. Perfect love drives out fear. He who fears is not made perfect in love.” The silent underlying message is “If you fear, you will disappoint me. If you fear, you are less than perfect. If you fear, you are not my child.” And the whisper that follows that is, “If love drives out fear, and your fear is not going away….maybe…maybe there is nothing to actually drive it out. Maybe you are all alone.”

These things are false messages, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hear them.

It is those messages which prevent us from admitting we fear. We don’t want our brothers and sisters to think that we’re not in the family, that we don’t belong. We don’t want them to think we don’t have it together. So we walk around looking like we’ve been told not to blink. We tape our eyelids open and deny that there is a natural part of our body which was designed to act that way.

Then we begin to do what I did, we whisper our prayers, “God? God?” with no intention of rousing Him and no belief that your concern will matter to Him. Oh, oh, oh, this is the worst of it all. Fear, left unchecked, makes us act as if we are not who God says we are, His child.

The truth is, the words are not “Do not fear.” They are “Do not fear, for I am with you.” God does not sleep. You do not need to worry about waking Him. He is already there, listening to you inhale and exhale, hearing your heartbeat as it quickens, looking under your bed and clearing the path to the doorway so that you might come to Him. Go to your doorway and if you are not brave enough to run through the darkness into His sanctuary, scream out into the night “Abba!”

Oh child, make yourself heard, because He is listening.

And just you see. Just you see if he doesn’t burst through the doorway, throw on the light and gather you up in His arms. He carries you to a rocking chair or sits next to you on your bed. He wraps Himself around you, rocking you back and forth, swaying you in time to the biorhythms He designed in you. He sings to you, “Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear, my sweet child, I’m here.” He whispers to you over and over, “Shh shh shh don’t be afraid. Daddy’s here. I am here. I am here. You’re alright. I’ve got this. I’ll protect you. I’ll take care of you. Shh Shh Shh. I am here.”     

Is that not who He is? Is that not the kind of father He is?

Who are we in all of this? What is our role?

The first part we play in the spiritual battle against fear is to train ourselves to climb in our Father’s lap. It is to truly believe that He will come when you call. It is to be honest with Him when He comes. Be prepared to answer Him honestly when He asks, “What are you afraid of?” and don’t put on pretense with Him like it’s really no big deal and you know it’s about perspective and you’re probably doing a fine job, maybe you don’t really need him to do everything. No! If you have fear, tell him what you are afraid of, not how you can fight it yourself.

And the second thing we can do is equip ourselves. That will not happen, if you do not work at it. You cannot go into battle and pick up the sword for the first time when the enemy is rushing you. We have 3 mighty weapons at our disposal at all times and it is up to us as to how well we will train ourselves with them.

They are the Word, our prayers and a journal. Know what He’s already said about fear. Continue the conversation with Him about fear. And record how He has shown up for you, defended you, comforted you, turned on the lights, gathered you up, rocked you and sang to you, so that you can remember it and reread it and be convinced that He is who He says He is.

Finally, you are not in this battle alone. I do not only mean that God is with you. We were created for community. We were put here to care for one another. If you are facing anxiety and fear, tell someone. Please. Start with a friend or a family member you trust.

Talk to a doctor. Go to the GP and have bloodwork drawn to rule out imbalances or deficiencies. Be your own best advocate at the doctor and know that you are in charge of your treatment options.

Fear.

Anxiety.

They feel so real.

But I promise you, there is hope that morning will come, that the nightmare will end.

And I promise you, that even on the darkest night, we have sources of light.

Communion at Women’s Prayer & A Note About Immigrants

Thursday morning I brought communion to women’s prayer. A little juice, a little bread (gluten-free of course). I wanted to set it out and make it look sort of nice, but all I could find in the church kitchen on short notice was this old scratched up plate and a coffee cup that didn’t match. Presentation never really was my thing.

I got to church early on Thursday and sifted through some favorite devotionals and a book I’d been reading to find what I’d like to share for the devotional. But I didn’t want to share out of that. I wanted to share out of scripture and out of my heart. I turned to the same three chapters I’ve been reading for weeks, months even. Mathew 14, 15 and 16.

Jesus feeds the 5,000 in Jewish territory. Jesus explains to the Pharisees that it’s not adhering to handwashing rituals which makes you unclean. Jesus reexplains it to the crowds. And the disciples make him re-explain it in private. Wait, wait, Jesus, we don’t get it? What are you ACTUALLY trying to say, because certainly we can think of things that make a person unclean, unfit to eat with us. Jesus gets put out and tells them off.

And I think because they still don’t get it, even with Jesus speaking as plainly as he can, Jesus storms off in the direction of the Greeks. He interacts with a Canaanite woman in a way that after months of reading this passage I have come to view differently than I ever have before, but that is a story for another day. Just know, this little perplexing story in the middle of Jesus’s meltdown is consistent with him as a loving, compassionate provider. Jesus continues on and he heals many people, many people afflicted with things that would say to others at the time that that person was unclean, had sinned in some way, or their parents had sinned. But Jesus, it says, has compassion on them.

And after 3 days, 3 days where Jesus seems only to interact with the broken masses who need him, he tells his disciples, we need to feed these people. If we don’t, they will faint on their way home. The disciples, who just saw Jesus feed 5,000, and are talking to Jesus on a break from a massive healing spree, can’t figure out where the food is going to come from.

Jesus asks them what they have. And it is good I think to note….Jesus doesn’t feed these people the leftover gathered bread from the Jewish miracle a few days earlier. He uses good, fresh bread. He gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples. He has the disciples serve the Greeks gathered there. He has them serve the unclean. And then he has them clean up after them.

Another boat ride on a full stomach to another discussion with Pharisees where they are asking him to prove himself. At the close of that discussion he tells his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” To which the disciples figure Jesus is upset with them because they forgot the leftovers from feeding the 4,000.

Being a mother, I have mastered the slow-turn-with-one-eyebrow-raised move which immediately silences my children and warns them that any commentary from them will not go well and that what I’m about to say they better take very seriously. Mama ain’t playing, you know. When I picture Jesus replying to the disciples here, it’s after just that kind of Jesus ain’t playing kind of slow turn.

Matthew 16: 8-12 reads “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

What is that dangerous yeast? It is those tiny things which blow things out of proportion and puff us up with pride. It is adherence to the law saying, you did not wash your hands the right way and so I can’t eat with you. It is saying I did wash my hands the right way, and so I am better than you.

Today, in America, there are a lot of ways this could be applied. There are a lot of ways that we set ourselves one against the other, both inside and outside of the church. But my mind has been on the border over the past few weeks. I know that our immigration process needs work, but I don’t know how to fix those things. I know my ideas are different than the ideas of others, which are different than the ideas of still more others. I am not a politician. I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the right solution or exactly how our immigration system needs to be run so that it is a system which protects our American people, as well true to our historical values as a nation from its foundations built by immigrants and asylum seekers. I can easily become overwhelmed trying to figure out how we should fix the system.

But as I read Jesus breaking down the nationalism and legalism that even exists in his disciples to make it clear that his compassion, his care, and ultimately his complete sacrifice is for everyone, I am afraid of the yeast of the Pharisees. I am terrified more of eating that bread more than I am afraid of eating gluten. I am an American, and proud of it and blessed by the benefits of being an American. But as Derek Webb so powerfully says in his song “A King and a Kingdom,” “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man, My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood, It’s to a king & a kingdom.”

Today, this yeast says, “You did not come into this country the right way. You deserve what you get.” Today this yeast says, “I was born here. I am better than you.”

Jesus does not rewrite the law to improve it. He does not come to correct political and societal establishments and health care systems. He acts in a way that is reflective of his allegiance, which is not to a race or to a political party or an earthly ruler. He just feeds the hungry.

But if we know what the yeast of the pharisees is, what is the bread which Jesus’s uses as an allegory?  Often while I set up for communion throughout the year I think upon what communion’s meaning should be. After using the theme of bread to introduce this deep hard teaching that salvation is available to all, Jesus addresses point after point and stays consistent to that message, before returning to the bread. Tucked in a quiet room, Jesus shares his final meal with his disciples.

Take. Eat. He invites them. Take. Drink. For the forgiveness of sins.

He doesn’t feed them something fancy. He doesn’t sacrifice a lamb and make a comparison to himself. He doesn’t create the equivalent to a retirement party where he is the guest of honor. He feeds them the same thing he fed to the masses. He feeds them the common, every day food.

The last supper is a moment to see that the common mingles with the uncommon, the ordinary with the extraordinary. It is a moment to remember that these basic things that sustain us, this is what Christ longs to be. Our day to day nourishment. Our provision. Our sustenance.

Eat and you will hunger again. Drink and you will thirst. But for what our soul hungers for, we draw up to the table with the 12. We sit down on the hillside with thousands of others. We stand in the middle of the day next to the woman at the well. Jesus will satisfy. Jesus is enough. Jesus provided everything already and Jesus sustains us still.

But it’s not about the bread. It’s not just bread. The bread is an allegory.

We have made communion so very sacred, that I’m afraid sometimes we forget, I forget, that it is built on such a common thing, a common every day meal. And so in women’s prayer yesterday, it was good for me to see the bread I can eat and the juice in a coffee cup. Maybe I need to think about my common food.

As often as I drink my coffee, every morning, sometimes twice, oh, may I remember.
As often as I eat my gluten free granola bar, a few hours later, my first meal of the day, oh, may I remember.

He has done this for me.

But also, he has done this for them.

I Messed Up

I messed up.

That’s the title of this post.

I feel like I’ve been walking around wearing that title on a special tee shirt while reading that title as front page news and drinking my coffee out of a cup emblazoned with that title.

I messed up.

I don’t want to title this post this way any more than I’d want to wear that shirt, read that paper or drink from that cup. I made a mistake that I’m mad at myself for making. I think most everyone else has moved on by now, but not me. I’m still loading up the laundry pile because who knows that I won’t have to wear that shirt with this title on it again tomorrow.

Things turned out. They generally do. No one was hurt. My little mistake caused nothing really more than fleeting frustration. I apologized where I needed to apologize. I did what was within my power to do to rectify the situation. I am surrounded by gracious, loving people who have kind hearts and understanding minds.

But still…turn out as it may have…I messed up.

It’s been a tough season for me. I could lay out all my complaints…an aching back, an anxious mind, doubt, weight gain, prayers answered differently than I requested, prayers answered in ways I don’t prefer, hard conversations with my kids about the world they’re growing up in….it’s all mixed in with good stuff. It’s all mixed in with time with my family, conversations with my husband who I am so glad I get to talk to, trips, completed projects, opportunities, a job that I love, creative challenges, sweet frineds, vacation plans, a tax return. It’s all mixed together, the ups and the downs.

2017, that was a year of ups. 2018, that was a year of downs. 2019, ups and downs swirl together without respect to a timeline or a linear storyline, or much that makes the what will come next easily recognizable. The thing that is helpful though is that I wrote things down in 2017. And I wrote things down in 2018. I’m writing things down now that will help me in 2020.

This time last year I was thinking about Peter, the water walking wave watcher. The story is familiar. Peter sees Jesus out on the waves and says “Jesus, if it is you, call me and I will come to you!” Jesus calls and Peter walks. On water. For a little bit anyway, before he begins to sink.

When I was younger I remember proudly thinking of myself like Peter here and thinking “Well, at least I got out of the boat!” Last year I’d gotten out of the boat and walked until the water was ankle deep and on the rise. No amount of atta-boy for not staying in the boat was encouraging me, though. I read the story a few times til I saw something that I wrote down in my journal that I needed to hear this year. Here..you read it…

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter got out of the boat. Peter walked on the boat. Then PETER MESSED UP. Immediately when Peter asked for help, Jesus saved him. Jesus was honest about how Peter ended up in the situation. There in the middle of a miracle, close enough that Jesus was an arm’s length away, Peter doubted and Peter messed up. Isn’t that the whole point of the story?

I think…maybe…not.

After Jesus asks Peter why he doubted, there is a period and a space. Something happened there. The writer doesn’t say “Immediately the wind stopped.” He wrote, “. And when they climbed in the boat, the wind died down.” That doesn’t read to me like Jesus rushed Peter back to the boat before that sack of potatoes dragged him down, too.

I can almost imagine that in between the period and the “And when,” maybe Peter answered that question. A whisper to his Savior, drowned out by that gale, lost to the other disciples in the boat, “Oh, Jesus, I don’t know why I doubted. You were so close. I was so sure I could make it to you. But the wind. And the waves.”

Jesus and Peter walked comfortably back to the boat…still…in…the…storm. We know that Jesus could calm the wind and waves, but here he did not until they were back in the boat. The disciples worshiped him, in the very next verse we read,

“When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.”

The next thing Jesus did…was he moved on. He went to the next thing. He did more miracles. He didn’t sit there and rub Peter’s nose in it. He didn’t bring it back up later to make sure Peter knew what he thought he did wrong. Jesus moved on, and he took Peter along with him.

In a lot of ways over the past few years, I’ve been walking an arm’s length away from Jesus, one foot after another in the middle of a miracle. Oh, there is so much that resonates with me about Peter’s aquatic amble. I step up atop a wave, life’s ups. I step one foot further and it breaks the surface, splashing my socks, life’s downs

Do you know what I mean? If it helps you to think to yourself, at least I got out of the boat, please, think on that. Because that’s a perfectly fine lesson. But if you’re where I’ve been for a minute, wishing your high water jeans were capris instead, think of how kind Jesus was to Peter, to speak truth, to walk easily back to the boat in the storm and to move on.

It’s a good example he set for us.

As for me, as I write this, I am so thankful for the active imagination God gave me. I am standing between that period and the “And when they climbed back in the boat.” I am there on the water and Jesus has my hand. “Sarah, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

There is no accusation in his voice. I remember something he said once about even the tiniest amount of faith, the faith of a mustard seed….I step up and catch my breath as my eyes turn back to his. “Walk with me, Sarah.”

“Jesus,” I begin, “I messed up.”

Broke As a Joke? 3 Easy Steps To Get Rich Quick

The first week or so of January I did the post-Christmas cinch. Not of the belt around my too full turkey belly, but of the ol’ purse strings. You know the game plan, stick to the leftovers, no eating out. If it isn’t 100% necessary don’t buy it, or better yet, just don’t go to the store so you don’t feel tempted. If you have gift cards, it is fine to use them, but don’t get hooked on that spending satisfaction, because remember you’re a responsible adult who has the ability to brew and drink her own coffee for 5 dollars less a cup than Starbucks.

Early in our marriage, I told Kermit to let me do the bills, rolling my eyes at his stress from the previous months. I’d show him how to pay bills. I wrote all the checks at once and learned a really fast and hard lesson that I shouldn’t be in charge of that household duty. Math ain’t my thing. Math that equals our living a lifestyle that involves electricity and eating at the same time isn’t in my wheelhouse. So, I happily turned that task back over to him.

This works for us. The point of this post is not that this is the only way or even the best way that couples should handle these matters. Even if it isn’t your method of money management in your marriage, this is how we do it.

He keeps me updated. I do have a general idea of what we can and can’t afford and what our spending goals are. There will be a time once a year that I will start trying to work our budget in my head without him. I can whip myself into a real frenzy and will generally start texting him in a panic about all the things I’m afraid of. Those times end with him sitting me down, explaining how we’re ok and doing a lot of math in front of me while I nod my head wide eyed.

I hadn’t quite reached that point last week, but I just had the general feeling that because we’d just spent money in a way that is outside of our typical spending habits, I needed to reign it in. And when I reign things in, I always tighten things up in the grocery department. It is the easiest place to eliminate wants and stick to the necessities. I was getting complaints about the lack of grab and go foods available at the house. I was fielding critique about how sick and tired the short people in my house were with eating at home.

So on the drive home from wrestling practice, I called Kermit to ask him to look at the bank balance and let me know where we stood. (Don’t check bank balances and drive, y’all. Not safe.) I wanted to know if when I went to Food Lion on the way home, I should be prepared to shop like regular or if I needed to pick up the ingredients for wish sandwiches. He checked and told me where we stood. “Wait…what?” I replied.

As it turned out, we were fine. In fact, we had far more than I anticipated. Not Rockefeller money by any stretch of the imagination, but all that time I was packing old granola bars that the kids hate, I could have bought the good ones. I was pinching pennies when I could have put a little chili on my potato at the Wendy’s drive thru, ya know.

Almost immediately I thought this.

  How many of us are living like we’re broke as a joke where our faith is concerned?

We’ve just come through a big season of blessing, of remembering what God has done for us, of making extra time for Him in our lives, of giving the gift of ourselves freely and joyfully and then we pull back. We hedge our bets. We cinch our purse strings.

We have no idea what is in our spiritual bank and instead of taking time to reassess where we are, to login in on our own and keep a good watchful eye on our balance, we just decide we’re on the verge of bankruptcy and we grasp at control? We are tight when we could relax. We are feeding ourselves old granola bars that we hate instead of the good stuff that God is offering us.

This comparison only goes so far though, because where God is concerned, we’re not talking Kind Bar money. We’re talking full time private chef money. We’re talking dietician on call 24/7. We’re talking a nutritionist who knows what our body needs at all times. We’ve got incredible richness available to us. We don’t need to cinch our spirit strings.

Can I encourage you to look at 2019 and see that you are seated at a banquet table? Can I challenge you to look at your account daily, to take stock of how your funds are? And can I invite you to invest in what God is invested in?

Be in His Word. Not “be in His memes.” Not “be in the top 5 passages that you think of occasionally.” Not “be in books about His Word” (though those are good tools.)

About a year and a half ago, I rediscovered the hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” I love the words which say “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He has said?”

If you are relying on what you read in the Bible when you were growing up or what someone told you was in the Bible, but you haven’t bothered to look for yourself, you are eating old granola bars when you could be getting fresh ones.

Pray without ceasing. You have the financial adviser on call 24/7. There is no reason to worry that you are going to bring about your own ruin, if you are running all your purchases through Him.

And this isn’t some financial adviser that you found on the internet and you have to pay to get advice from. This is like having your husband in charge of your books. He is deeply invested in caring for you, in providing for you, in making sure that you stay afloat. He’s not going to charge you for looking out for you. He loves you. Don’t hold off a conversation with Him that could let you know that everything is not just ok, but better than ok.

Keep a record.  When I started taking classes, one of the assignments which is a part of every class is to keep a journal. I journaled in college. I wrote my prayers down and recorded where I saw my prayers answered. But when I left college I gave up the practice. Getting back into the habit has been invaluable.

What better way to keep tabs on where you are spiritually than to write down all the deposits and investments, where you overspent and your plans to get back on track? Being purposeful in the practice of examining your spending habits and keeping documentation will help you be more aware of what you can and can’t afford.  It will also help you to identify where there is piles of wealth just laying around you waiting to be picked up.

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I am hopeful that this year I will see the glory of God through the abundance of His richness waiting for me, ready for me to receive it if I will open my hands. I am so excited to live 2019 like a kid splashing about in a fountain filled with glittering coins, in awe of all the extravagance all around me.  I am ready to quit eating leftovers and to eat every meal tucked right up to the banquet table savoring the goodness of God.

❤ Happy 2019, y’all. I hope to see you at the feast.

 

The How To’s of What Child

I can picture her, Mary, walking to the well with her friends giggling about Joseph, how tall he was and how he was good to look at. He was not the highest up in the community, but he was respectful and respected, a hard-worker whose labor had given him broad shoulders and kept him healthy. She was young, but not so young that her interest wasn’t there, that her curiosity wasn’t piqued.

They discussed the wedding plans and the celebrations, and Mary thought about how life would change after the big day. Where she would sit, live, her role in her family and her new family, how she would relate to this man she was just getting a sense of. And what would change between her and her younger friends who wouldn’t understand what she didn’t understand yet. As her friends spun her around, she already missed them a little. She looked forward to their time when they too would be matched and things would start to settle into a new comfortable rhythm.

It was in the middle of this comfortable life at the edge of the next big thing for Mary that the angel came to her.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary looked around for someone else. Highly favored? Who could he mean? Me? Certainly not. I am just a girl and I don’t have much about me that makes me different than any other girl. In fact, if this angel looked hard enough, he’d notice the lack of adornment, the manner of speech, the evidence in my body that I am common, at best.

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary posed the obvious question, and the angel explained, tucking inside that explanation that she could know that the impossible would be possible with God by looking at her relative, Elizabeth, who was too old to have a child and yet, she was indeed pregnant.

Ok. If this is what God wants for me, if this is what God says will be, ok.

She visits Elizabeth and finds that what the angel said was true. She was overjoyed and in that moment of confirmation she worshiped, a song welling up in her in a way she never had sung before.

But there were moments. Three months later she went home. She talked to Joseph. It was a difficult conversation. She cried and she prayed and she worried all the way up to the conversation. What did the angel say? What had God told her to do? What was the action plan?

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

The conversation came and went with Joseph, and better than she expected, really. Her friends were a different matter. Or the girls she thought were her friends. She cried and prayed and worried over those conversations as well, but many of those conversations never happened. They just wouldn’t talk to her. How could she help this situation? What had the angel said to her?

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

There were many days she went about her chores, humming to herself that praise that had welled up in her,  “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” But there were days that the words escaped her, that she replayed the conversations with people over and over and thought, “How can I explain this better? How can I make them see the angel the way I saw the angel? How can I convince them to hear what he said to me?” And she’d cry and pray and worry, finally comforting herself with the thought of the words spoken by the angel, “The Lord is with you. But what is the plan?”

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

She began to set plans. Though there were sideways glances and eye rolls, she was a part of a community and her mother and a few others knew she would need care when the time came. They spoke to her about what to expect and promised they would help. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” they had said, “We will be with you.” There was something holy and sacred in those plans, in the gathering of women and the preparations for this little life coming into the world. It would be alright, because she had some support, she had a place and a plan and a few special things collecting in her house to make that terrifying moment seem manageable.

The census was announced and she made plans to travel with Joseph, and while there was something nice to think about traveling with this man, the one who could see the angel the same as her, but it meant this jostling ride through the wilderness to an unfamiliar town, to Joseph’s people, not hers. She huddled into the crook of his arm for comfort as they sat by the fire eating what never felt like enough. They arrive, and there is no room.

But there is straw to sleep on when they arrived, arranged by Joseph who sat, head in hands on the side of the trough. As each contraction came, with it to came waves of awareness that her things, her people, her plans, they weren’t in that barn. With the contractions came the angels words, back to her, over and over.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

That is not enough information! Why are there no how to’s with what child this is? It is true and I will do it, but it is not enough information! I have tried to do well and be responsible and prepare and plan, but I didn’t have enough information! Is there no way to go back to the before, to the walk to the well with my friends when it was just easier? Is there no way to do this the way I had planned? Is it always going to be just me and Joseph and this baby and no one else on Earth?

You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus.

What more should she have known? What of this journey could the angel have told her that would not have made her say, pick someone else! What should he have said differently? What could he have told her about the plans of God and the cost of obedience that would have prepared her for any of it?

There was help to be found in the crowded inn. Joseph and his carpenter hands did not deliver the baby. It worked out. She made it through and there was the promise of God, held in her hands. The angels, the shepherds, the star, the lowing cattle, it was all more beautiful than she could have anticipated. It was hard work. But she was never alone in it. There were provisions that God set in place and she was often reminded of the scripture from Isaiah which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It was not her mother who helped her with that first nursing session, which was much more difficult than she’d anticipated. But as she cradled the living, breathing God of the universe, she treasured all of the things that had happened. She held them in her heart and pondered them.

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I can imagine Mary this Christmas, how everything went outside of her plans, how she would have had so much innocence so that she would have had no idea of just how hard this journey ahead of her would be. If Jesus in the garden was so raw that he would ask for another way, I can’t imagine that the same thought didn’t occur to Mary. She believed, oh, she had faith that was as dangerous as a lion, strong and wild, untamed by the whip of the world. And she held fast to the promises God had given her.

But there is no denying that there was a lot that she went through that she didn’t bargain for. Or that the directions she received could have felt woefully lacking in the face of her challenges.

She experienced the entry of God into her life away from the comforts of home, away from her birth plan, away from her closest family and the women who might have shown her how….

And honestly, right now, there is a lot in my life that I’d like more direction on. I feel like I need more details. I want to know how things are going to play out so I can trust the promise of God for me. But that’s hardly the way things work, certainly hardly the way God works.

I have put my hand to the plow, and the work is ahead of me not behind. My husband quotes a teacher who quoted someone else saying, “Hoe to the end of the row.” This is what I want for myself, to experience the entry of God in my life, to find myself sitting under a star hearing the voices of heaven proclaiming God’s majesty and sovereignty displayed for all to see. It means no matter how blistered my hands get from the hard work, I press on to the end of the row.

It means no matter how simple the directions, how unbelievable the task, how formidable the challenges, no matter how far outside my plans, no matter when or where or what, I believe what the angel told Mary.

For no word from God will ever fail.

And I reply like Mary.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May it be fulfilled. I still will.

Why I’m Glad I Was A Church Nomad

I grew up Presbyterian, handbell and children’s choirs, Sunday school and church picnics. I went to Catholic school, kneelers and religion as a subject, catechism and rites. I was blessed to be given an upbringing which gave me a strong foundation in scripture. As a teen, I began to figure out what I believed as a person independent of my parents’ beliefs. I tried a number of churches before I found my way into an Episcopal church.

This church was like no other I’d been to. It was lead by a dynamic, brilliant rector who blended respect for church history and faithful forward motion respective of biblical truth. The church claimed to be Spirit filled, mission minded, Bible believing, church of God and so it was! I found the reverence and the elegance of the more traditional aspects of worship, the robes, pews, windows, hymnals, the book of common prayer; simple items filled with a bit of wonder as they reflected the light from the candles. As the cross was brought up the center aisle at the start of service, all these plain things around me came under that cross, as did I, just one more plain thing filled with wonder.

Each week we would confess our sins together and be involved in drawing our minds to the sacrifice made for us. Then in remembrance and thanksgiving, we would file to the front and receive communion where I would kneel and having the liturgy spoken directly to me, as the elements were placed in my hands I would feel as though I was being entrusted with something precious. Dipping the bread in the cup and then placing the elements in my mouth, my tongue warmed at the touch of wine soaked wafer, that little sensation one more indication of the physical life Christ lived.

Missionaries and bishops from all over the world would come and speak and I leaned in, absorbed in the stories of the persecuted church or of believers who did not have the abundant material blessings by which I had grown up so comfortably surrounded. “To the ends of the Earth,” drew near to me and there was a reminder that I am just one of many, a lesson which I was grateful to receive.

I left that service most  weeks and traveled to a charismatic Assembly of God service. There were many large families in this church, 5, 6, 7, and more children running about, growing into teens who gathered in front of the doors. As I walked in, the difference from the tailored Episcopal church to this unhemmed gathering was plainly obvious, but the sense of welcome and belonging was one in the same. People spoke in tongues, the input of the congregation not scripted by a pamphlet given out at the door, but people looking for the words of the Holy Spirit in a different way than I’d ever witnessed. I would watch with a curiosity which drove me into God’s Word.

In the evenings, Wednesdays and Sundays, I would drive to a non-denomination mega church, worshiping without a hymnal singing with a band which pounded out praise, sitting in a room packed full of people the same age as me, facing the same challenges as me. I could hear the practical teachings on what God would have to say about choosing a career path, about drama, about evangelism, and as we avoid too much direct eye contact, we heard preaching on dating and purity. All this life advice was wrapped in tightly into the doctrine of eternally security, which I needed to hear. I needed to hear that God would love me, no matter what. I needed to hear about a God who pursued me.

While I attended college, I found myself back in the Presbyterian church on Sunday mornings and in nondenominational on campus ministries throughout the week. I graduated and got married. In our first years, we didn’t find a church that suited us and we bounced, with our bouncing becoming more and more infrequent, from church to church. We moved to Richmond, to Northern VA and then to Ohio.

Ohio we tried a Church of Christ for a number of months before landing in a Methodist church. This is where I first heard Wesleyan theology, and though I didn’t agree with all of it, the minister explained I would be welcomed as a member if we chose. Membership was less about ascribing to a firm set of beliefs, he said, and more about saying, “This is my group.”

And finally, in Ohio we moved to the Church of Christ in Christian Union. It would take its own post for me to say all that I gained from this church, so I will save that for another time, but this church was Wesleyan-Armenian in doctrine and from the holiness tradition. I was introduced to the concept of surrender. I was introduced to the idea that a person could live a successful faith life. I’d heard my whole life about people who were considered “Saints,” or “saints of the Lord” but I had held no real belief that it could be a possibility for me. I saw young people standing firm in their faith, loving their friends but not bowing to peer pressure. I saw local missions being served onto the plates of the hungry and into the ears of the outcast. I heard some of the best sermons I have ever been privileged to hear encouraging not just depth of knowledge of the word, but daily living out the truths therein. I learned about conditional security and about the power which makes that doctrine a blessing not a curse.

This was the first place since I’d decided to make my faith my own when I was 16 that I truly felt was home. This was no nomadic experience. I was setting brick after brick into place, putting into place a shelter which would remain. Home. This church was everything I wanted a church to be. It was everything I would have chosen for myself.

But as it turned out, God walked up to us and handed us our knapsacks and said, “Come on. Let’s go.”

It was incredibly difficult to settle my heart after leaving that church in Ohio. But it was because I lived life as a church nomad, I knew that I could go through the process again. Walk into new places, shake hands, look at unfamiliar faces and wonder, are you my family? Is this my next home? Knowing that each place would have something valuable to offer, but that not every place would be for us.

I knew what  I wanted, but I also knew what I didn’t want. One by one, down fell churches with theology that I couldn’t align with, with practices that I was uncomfortable with, with southern gospel music as their only offering (I know it’s for some, but not for me.) Down fell churches with sound preaching, but inner turmoil. Down fell churches with unified congregations, but teaching I found uncomfortable. But even in those places I could see, their practices, their doctrine, their styles may differ, but again and again it was the same gathering, the same welcome, the same goal, to worship together, to grow deeper in faith and understanding, to love those in their communities and to care for those in need.

Which brought me to the Nazarene church. If our church in Ohio was everything I wanted in a church, this church had the decided disadvantage that it just wasn’t our church in Ohio. However whether I liked it or not, and for a good chunk of time I didn’t like it, this was clearly the church God wanted for me. At my first interview for my local license, one of those interviewing me looked me in the eye and said, “You might not be a Nazarene, and that’s ok. I know plenty of people in ministry in other denominations and they are great people. Maybe you’re supposed to be somewhere else.”

I looked around me in that moment and saw God raising an eyebrow at me. Didn’t I know that He had picked this church? Didn’t I see Him asking me to hand over my knapsack? Didn’t I see Him pushing a wheelbarrow of bricks towards me? Could I quit my wandering again?

Over the next year, God changed me, my mind, my attitude, my behaviors. And I am eternally grateful for it. I have been struck over and over that the more I learn about my denomination, the more convinced I become that I have been a Nazarene all along, I just didn’t know it. Each attractive part of each church I wandered into….plain things lit up with the wonder of God, the freedom of restraint found in the company of young children and the presence of the Spirit, practical life application, the assurance that God will pursue me, the acceptance of the person who is seeking, the sense of belonging, the ability to say “Yes, I will” to the challenges God walks us through, the commitment to missions both local and global, the freedom of choice and the responsibility to choose….each of these things I found here. I am at home again.

To the other wanderers out there, I encourage you, press on. But I also want to offer you this. The wandering was not aimless. The goal was always the same. To bring me home to where I could be held closest to Christ.

I wouldn’t have known what to look for without the wandering. It has given me a deep sense of belonging within the broader body of Christ, not just within a denomination. I learned to preserver in the search. I am glad that I was a church nomad, but the bigger truth is this. It has nothing on what I have gained from settling down.

Do not wander forever. Do not jump to run away at the first sight of difficulty or disagreement. Be willing to bend and to be molded. The nomadic life teaches great lessons, but it is difficult.

When you arrive at your home, don’t wait outside on the front porch. Don’t linger in the company spaces. Unpack. Settle in. Let yourself be home.

Behind The Scenes: VBS

This morning I greeted people at the front door as Romper the River Otter. It was clear a number of times that a few people did not get the memo that it was VBS Sunday or that their morning would include shaking hands with someone wearing a purple otter nose mask.

I climbed on stage and shimmied through 6 songs that fall into the stylistic category I refer to as “kid’s worship zumba” and listened to the recaps that Pastor Julie took us through. I was pleased no children leaped off the front of the stage and did great jobs at  their kid duty of worshiping in front of “big church” in a precious and fun way.

I do sort of wonder at the wonderment of VBS. I mean, I remember a time that my involvement during VBS was as an attendee at my grandmother’s church’s VBS and I remember a time where I dropped my child off and used the time to catch up on laundry (I think, just the once maybe) and I remember a time where I volunteered for one station or the other. But having worked full time at a church now through 2 VBSes, I now can hardly imagine not knowing what goes on behind the scenes, and I think perhaps I might share a bit with you, just because, you know, why not?

MONTHS BEFORE

We learned from last year that there is no such thing as TOO early to start working on VBS. This time we met for our first meeting 6 months before to vote on a theme and to start dreaming about what could be. This meeting will sound something like this…

Ok, so we’re going to vote on a theme. We have two choices and I won’t give away which one I want, but ONE COMES WITH ACTUAL PONIES, ponies, and capes for every child. It has an awesome soundtrack and for the set we could bring in astro-turf and line the stage with that and then there are these magical seeds which grow the world’s biggest sunflowers in three and a half days. Each child is guaranteed to have a deeper understanding of 1 Peter 1:23 and the “imperishable seed” though I don’t quite understand how the ponies apply to that bit, I’m pretty sure it all works out. And then we have choice number two….which gives every child a whistle.

So then once we’ve chosen the one with a  whistle…because what kid doesn’t like whistles….we begin to daydream what summer will bring. And we will pray for the children who are coming to VBS and thank God for the opportunity to be involved in this.

MONTHS PRECEDING

During the months leading up to VBS we meet once a month for a few months, then twice a month. We choose which stations we’ll be doing and map out what exactly will happen each night at each station. We will work up a menu for snacks and then we will abandon that menu and make an entirely different one. We will work up a supply list for crafts/missions and then abandon that and start all over. We will flip through all the different station and leader guides and make lists and plan.

We will hand the game guide over to the guy leading games and say “You know how to play games right? So, uh, we trust that. Have fun.”

And we will pray for the children who are coming to VBS and thank God for the opportunity to be involved in this.

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

This is crunch time. Work hours increase to a manageable 60-70 hours a week. We build set and try to find places to hide a 9 foot waterfall for the next two weeks. We cut out more trees, because that is what we do. We paint and paint and paint. Then we stand up and realize that our bodies are not as young as they used to be.

We email volunteers and run downstairs to the front desk to accept packages of the most ridiculous things and trash our office. We start gathering donations, like huge boxes of chocolate and popsicles, 4,000 goldfish, 8 billion graham crackers and marvel at how people are so ready to give so generously.

You redefine the terms “free time” and “social life” to mean, find people you like to work on VBS stuff with and work on VBS stuff. You cut things and tie things and punch things out. You spend hours (days? weeks? millennia?) up a ladder laying layer after layer of door tinsel over the upstairs railing until it resembles a waterfall. You try not to think about the word “waterfall” because every time you do you hear “water…fall off this very high ladder” and then get scared.

You have good friends who bring you food and remind you to put that food in your mouth and chew and swallow it, because otherwise you would forget to eat…except coffee. You never forget coffee.

You repeat this phrase over and over regarding everything else in life, “Um, sure I can find that out for you, but could you email or text that to me because I’m going to forget otherwise. Thank you so much!”

We pray for the children who are coming to VBS and thank God for the opportunity to be involved in this…and then you look at someone and say quietly, “I don’t know if or how this is going to happen.” Speaking it out loud gives you the chance to say “Well, if God did it before, He can do it again.” Speaking it out loud gives you the chance to hear that those around you are in the same place as you. Speaking it out loud gives you the chance to turn to God and say, “I need you.”

These weeks are the weeks where you are keenly aware of just how much you need God.

DAY BEFORE

Your goal should be to have so much set up in advance that you can take this day off. You meet friends at the pool. You eat tacos. You see that life exists outside of the church.

DAY 1

You spend all afternoon putting the remainder of the set and decorations up and prepping the stations. And with a few spare minutes you gather in the sanctuary and pray as a team. For the children. For the program. For one another.

And then you head out to the lobby.

Children rush you with hugs. Adults rush you with questions. Volunteers rush you with registration forms. You have answers. Or you don’t. And then somehow you are on stage in an otter costume singing and dancing and the kids are dancing and laughing and responding. You count the offering and do more random tasks and all of a sudden you realize that it’s closing time and sing, dance, make a weird otter noise, high five a million kids and then somehow you are at home in bed.

DAY 2

You barely move. Every muscle is tired. It hurts to blink. You crawl to the coffee. You crawl to church. You hear the words coming out of people’s mouths. You smile and nod. You frown and nod. You crawl from station to station and reset things. You crawl to the coffee again.

Then registration is open and you think that last night may have been a fluke, or some other doubt or fear overtakes you. Maybe this is just my experience. Maybe everyone else out there doesn’t doubt or fear, but does it seem that unusual that this sort of attack would be a part of the week? If it’s just me, then I’ll tell you…I went off and hid and prayed. I prayed that I would see with God’s eyes. I prayed for the kids. I prayed for the volunteers. You pray for your leaders. And then you walk out…just willing. If nothing else….willing….to see what God will do, because you are so tired.

And then otter onstage and sing and dance and there is the energy! And there are more volunteers than you knew you had! And look how great they are! You remember that you are there for more than just counting offering and doing tasks, so you do those quickly and then you go through the stations and play with the kids or sit and watch a skit with them. You realize that your games station guy is super capable and you were right 5 months ago to toss the book to him and go  “You know how to play games, right?” You see teenagers investing in kids and becoming instant celebrities to the littles.

This was the day I answered the question of someone I respect greatly about how they could pray for VBS. And in asking for the specifics, I really saw what we wanted. Changed lives for kids. Strength for our leaders. Continued connection beyond the week.

DAY 3-5

These 3 days fly by. And these three days are just about watching God answer your prayers. The specific prayers for VBS you asked for the day before. The prayer you prayed in your doubt to see what God sees. The prayers you prayed in the weeks and months before.

You are still sucking back coffee, but you walked to the coffee machine, instead of making pouting faces until someone took pity on you and moved the coffee closer. You have enough shame in the past month’s diet to maybe eat protein or something like a salad at lunch.

You will run into glitches. You will have moments. You will have to operate from a give and take stand point. You will get on the job training on thinking on your feet. You will be receiving a huge portion of miracle grow and you will be applying the lessons as you learn them and be better in the next moment for it.

The children who are new to your church are comfortable now and you recognize one another with excitement. When they run towards you, you turn your flip flop feet to the right so they don’t jam your toes and you pray, “Oh God, this one. Help him know you. Let him want to know you his whole life. Bring him to you young, and don’t let him wander.” Each high five, each hug, each time a child yanks your otter tail, you pray, “Oh God, this one.”

The gospel is presented, in a gentle way, in a precious way that a child can understand, but not in some coercive persuasive argument, just looking at the outstretched arms of Jesus in any church nursery saying “Let the children come to me.” And because the Word always returns fruitful, children’s hearts will be changed. Over and over you hear the stories of church members who trace their faith back to their own childhood VBS, without multi-level waterfalls or special VBS song and dances. You pray over and over, let this be the aim. Life long commitments made. Hearts changed. Little ears filled with promises of hope and a future.

And somehow each night you make it home to bed, thanking God, for children, for His provision, that nothing caught on fire and that there are still plenty of thematic band aids left in your group bins.

DAY 6

Well, the church ain’t gonna put itself back together. You get it as set as it needs to be for Sunday and go to a friend’s house who you haven’t seen in forever for dinner. Your kids play with her kids and you listen to stories and tell stories.

DAY 7

Meet your friends at the pool. Lay still. Eat tacos.

VBS SUNDAY

Do kids worship zumba not in an otter costume and kinda scaled back. Can’t do a cartwheel on stage with all those kids up there with you. Do a presentation. Repeat. Repeat again.

Tear down all the rest of the set. Appreciate that you have people who are willing to help you. Like super appreciate it. Like you coulda had to do it all by yourself, but you have these people…these good people…who will help you, with or without the use of begging emojis (though begging emojis are a fun addition.) Be amazed at how fast it all comes down. Go home and sleep for 4 hours.

And then hold hands with your kids and pray again. Thank God for their sharing you with others. Thank Him that your little ones have come to know Him young and ask Him to protect their faith. Thank Him for hearing you. Thank Him for rest. Thank him for VBS.

And that, friends, is VBS…more or less. The experience may change from church to church by size and budget, by theme and by volunteer base, but this is the take away that I imagine to be true across all VBS weeks.

1. The kids will be pumped for it and talk about nothing else during it.
2. The earlier you start, the more chance there will be that you can have the day off before.
3. You will bond with and SO appreciate your leaders and volunteers…even if you all don’t think that the fake trees should go in the exact same spots or even if you don’t all fall on the same side of the glue stick/glue dot debate.
4. You will be extra thankful for whoever is doing games out in the 90 degree heat.
5. Everything will get done, or it won’t. But what the kids notice is if you notice them.
6. Pray. If you don’t have time to pray, you don’t have time for VBS. You don’t have time for anything, actually. Pray and then wait and watch expectantly for God to do His thing.
7. If you give the children whistles, the parents will lose them. You should teach their children how to make loud otter noises because parents can’t lose their children’s voice boxes.

And that’s a wrap!

 

Sarah Writes A Food Blog: Take 2

WORLD’S MOST OKAYEST GLUTEN FREE WAFFLES

Prep Time: 2 and a half hours
Cook Time: About a minute a waffle
Serves 0-4 with leftovers

This recipe is not only for the world’s most okayest waffles, but also for a solid hour of quality time with your child. Recipe modification is welcome to be made at your discretion.

Step 1: Awake to a snuggling daughter who coos “I’m hungry, Mama” in your face. Suggest pancakes but you’re out of premade gluten free pancake mix, so figure this might be a nice morning to make GF waffles from scratch. It’s a beautiful morning. It’s time to bond with your daughter. Get out the mixing bowl and let her crack in 2 eggs.

Step 2: Realize you cant find your waffle iron. It has been a solid 6-8 months since you made waffles. That’s like a Christmas thing to eat, and a rare mommy’s in a good mood thing to make because the waffle iron is hard to clean and I’m not doing that job with any frequency. It is not where it should be. Do light reorganization of your Tupperware cabinet. It’s not there. Check pots and pans space with flashlight. Reorganize that place. Realize the rice cooker lid is missing. Deep sigh. Double check where the waffle iron should be. Find waffle iron where it should be.

Step 3: Turn down daughter’s idea to use a recipe out of your cookbooks and look any ol’ recipe up online. Prepare to replace regular flour with your GF special mix. Realize you are almost out of special GF flour mix.

Step 4: Carefully measure out one even cup of each: brown rice flour, white rice flour, milled almond meal, and corn meal. Try to answer questions about why this is flour but we can’t eat flour, so is this flour or something else? Try to convince daughter that almonds are not yuck. Try to explain why we aren’t using 5 cups of the special GF flour mix.

Step 5: Throw away egg shells. Notice ants are back. Sweep and spray. This leads to further sweeping. When you are finished sweeping around the cat’s litter in the next room and have fed the cats, rewash your hands.

Step 6: Put all the things the recipe calls for in the mixing bowl. Follow the recipe carefully. Let your daughter measure and pour. Let her use the mixer with guidance. This builds her confidence and allows her to bond to you.

Step 7: Plug in waffle iron.

Step 8: Notice the light didn’t turn on. Notice the thing isn’t getting warm. Give it another 5 minutes to warm up. Unplug it and replug it in about 6 more times and then decide the stupid waffle iron is dead. Make a loud frustrated noise.

Step 9: Check online to see if Dollar General carries waffle irons. No point in going if they don’t. They do! Find daughter who has wandered off to watch Barbie that you’ll be back in a jiff.

Step 10: Go to Dollar General. They don’t have waffle irons.

Step 11: Go to Family Dollar. They don’t either. Think of your most grown up friend and hope they aren’t using their waffle iron this morning, but you know they’re the type who actually know that their waffle iron is where it is supposed to be. No answer.

Step 12: Go to Food Lion. No waffle iron there either. Your super responsible friend calls you back. Great news! She will let you borrow hers! She knows right where it is.

Step 13: Got to friend’s house. Feel bad that her husband is working on VBS things while you are now approaching hour 2 of trying to make waffles. Make mental note to mention how dedicated and special Jonathan Taylor is and how impressive the VBS bridge is that he is making. Maybe you can get him a ribbon or gold star later.

Step 14: Go home. Get your daughter back in the kitchen and warm up the waffle iron. Spray cooking spray on waffle iron. Pour on batter.

Step 15: Call in son and stand around tasting first waffle.  Wonder what is wrong with waffles. They taste AWFULLY baking soda-y. Maybe it was because you used an internet recipe. Make another 2 waffles. They taste the same. Add another egg, another cup of milk and another cup of flour to see if that doesn’t balance something out.

Step 16: Realize the reason it tastes baking soday is because you used baking soda, not baking powder. Receive honest critique from children. The waffles taste like soft pretzels. Maybe what you made was soft pretzels. Did you mean you make soft pretzels?This ends the bonding portion of the experience. Throw kids out of the kitchen and tell them to leave you alone to deal with this mess.

Step 17: While the kids are out of the room, fry a pack of bacon and eat 6 slices. You need your strength.

Step 18: Dump the soft pretzel waffle batter. Make a new batch of ACTUAL waffle batter following some other internet recipe. Substitute GF mix for real flour in recipe. Make the stupid waffles.

Step 19: Put a scoop of ice cream on a waffle with a couple slices of bacon and feed it to the children in the living room because while the waffles cook, you’ve begun mopping the kitchen, because, you remember…ants.

Step 20: Husband arrives home from going out yard sale-ing. He tells you he likes the pretzel waffles better than the regular ones. Eat 2 of his slices of bacon. You need more strength.

Step 21: Accept dishes back from daughter who looks at you piteously. Tell her she can have a popsicle when the floor is dry. Son eats waffle after waffle and doesn’t seem to notice that anything has happened around the house this morning.

Step 22: Eat a waffle.

It is fine.

I mean, it’s ok.

The okayest waffles ever.

One Year In: (or) 7 things I didn’t know about working for a church

A year ago today I walked, no, floated on cloud nine, in to our church ready to start my new job. I was giddy with anticipation and ready to reap the rewards of my saying yes to what was not only a great offer, but an incredible challenge. I have learned so much in the past year, and I feel confident that this learning will continue, but I feel like this anniversary is a good time to take a moment and record a few things I’ve learned.

1.  Nearly a year before I told my friend, Jen, who worked for the church that she had my dream job. Little did I know that Jen’s world would change so dramatically in the next 12 months. Jen followed God’s call to a new chapter in her life and her absence left an opening at the church. The position was reworked a fair bit, but the shoes she left to fill were some pretty special ones. I knew it was a compliment when people assumed I was “New Jen” even though our duties weren’t exactly the same.

It was a challenge for me to work out what it meant to come in behind someone who impacted others so greatly, and who has such a big impact on my life. There are 100 things I find easier than sorting our social dynamics, and this one presented a lot for me to sort out even in my own mind.

There are still days that within myself I find it a challenge to fill her shoes. On those days I go back to a conversation she and I had where she talked about a sense about feeling like she wasn’t exactly fitting into the mold she thought she should be fitting into. I can’t remember the exact words, but I replied to her that we aren’t made in a mold, we are hand-crafted. We aren’t made to fit into some shape defined by those around us. We are made to fit into the palm of our Maker’s hand. So stop trying to cram yourself into some mold that was never intended for you anyway.

Soon after I started someone asked me what I did for the church. I explained in great detail, and the person nodded along and when I finally took a breath, they replied, “Oh, so you’re new Jen.” And I just smiled and shrugged and said “Sure.” If I am to be mistaken for someone else, I am happy to be mistaken for Jen any day of the week. I am so thankful for the honest conversations we’ve had and the timeless truths we’ve passed back and forth which resonate in the moment and reverberate through the years. But the best part about my friendship with Jen is how she encourages me continuously to be comfortable being me.
One year into working at church and I am settling in to just being comfortable doing my job as myself. Right or wrong, this is where I am.

2.    My official title is “Director of Children’s Ministry/Assistant to Worship Ministry and Facilities.” I have THE longest title at the church. I will often joke that I don’t need a desk plaque, I need a desk plank. What this means mostly is I have a variety of hats and sometimes I have to wear a few hats at once. All of a sudden, 37 years into my life, it almost seems like my inability to focus on only one task at a time is an asset, as if I was designed to be able to hop from one track quickly to another.
There have been positions I’ve held where my inability to focus has left me feeling crazy and there are times when I REALLY have to push myself to block out the world and see only the task at hand, but one of the nicest things I’ve experienced in the past year is I am able to see things I always thought of as a weakness be used as a strength. 

3.     This is a job. There is the old running joke, or well worn punchline, delivered to those who work for the church, in particular pastors, that they only work one day a week. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To get to Sunday there are 100 million things that need to be accomplished, by everyone who works there. I have day in and day out tasks that are routine and mundane.

And, hold onto your chairs, y’all, there are some tasks that I don’t enjoy. Just like there are some tasks that you do at your job that you don’t enjoy. I LOVE painting sets. I don’t love washing paintbrushes. I LOVE helping plan an event. I don’t love forms. I LOVE making worship slides. I don’t love learning new software and programs. There are times just like when I worked in early childhood education or as a receptionist or as a paralegal that I have to stop and tell myself, “Sarah, do it as unto the Lord. This one little thing matters to Him so do it well for Him.”

It is precious to imagine that I sit around all day eating candy and praying (ok, come on, I work in children’s ministry, I do both of those things daily), but let me be clear, this job is work. Hard work.

4.      This is not just a job.  Even in the mundane, gotta be done things, I am so blessed by the tasks at hand. Each week while I make the worship slides, I get a sneak peek into Sunday’s service and whether the finance office likes listening to it or not, I will be singing the songs over and over. There has never been a seemingly banal activity like making song lyrics satisfy a good number of qualifications, (accuracy, phrasing, font size, spacing, contrast, punctuation etc) which in its forcing me to focus ushers me straight into the heart of worship and prepares me for Sunday’s message. This position is of tremendous value to me in this way.

And, all the times in all my jobs before when I’d wish I could look at someone and just say “Can we please stop and pray about this right now?” Oh, I can’t tell you how precious it is to me that I work in a place where that won’t get me ostracized or reprimanded.

One more example of this is that I finally work in a place where it is ok to ask for help. Every other job I have worked there is a learning period, but when that time is up, you better know your stuff and if you have a question, you better find the answer yourself and not admit to anyone that you didn’t know. I can not tell you what a relief it is to be able to admit that I need help to a coworker and to have them be ready and willing to lend a hand or point me to the answer, and to do so without shaming me for asking. It is as if they just understand what everyone else wishes their jobs understood, that helping one another makes everything run more smoothly. When I said that Jen had my dream job, I can’t tell you how right I was.

5.    I have never been so busy in my whole life. People have observed that somehow even though they see me eating an absurd amount of candy, I have managed to stay a reasonable size. The reason is simple. We have these huge sets of staircases which I am booking it up and down 20 plus times a day. I have something to do all the time.

A few months in, Pastor Roger asked me to tell him the three things I value most. The third thing I told him was what I explained that I don’t believe I treat it as valuable even most of the time, but its absence from my life devastates me. Rest. I told him that I was becoming quite aware of the suspicion that he and Pastor Jim and Pastor Kerry would likely all agree that it is mind boggling how fast the past 20 years of their ministry together had flown by. Time is set to warp speed as revival became VBS became back to school became revival became Christmas became special event nights because Easter and back around to VBS. And that’s JUST my church speed. I have two kids who are shooting up before my eyes and I don’t want to turn around in a few years and wonder how I missed their childhood.
     Rest is necessary. Rest is good. Rest is nothing to be ashamed of.

6.    This has been maybe the biggest human lesson I’ve learned this year. The people I work with are people. I say that kind of tongue in cheek, but seriously….there are perceptions and images. There are stories you’ve heard and stories you’ve told. At the end of the day, the people who work at church are just people…for better or for worse. That means that just like Jesus got hungry, so do they. That means just like Jesus hurt over the grief of His people, they hurt over the grief of their loved ones, too. Jesus was fully human, and so are the employees of the church. It has impressed upon me the importance of valuing the things for others that I want others to value for me.

But that’s not all. It also means that we don’t always approach situations with the same thought process or opinions. It means that we don’t all keep our desks the same level of neat. It means that there are preferences and partialities that we have which lead us to moments where we REALLY get one another, and where we really don’t get each other as well. I mean, there are Mac users and PC people.

We talk a lot about unity and loyalty around church. This is something I am still working out in my head, because there is the initial concept and there is the deeper harder ramifications of what it means to work and serve in unity with people, real honest to goodness PEOPLE.

Here is the key…I have worked at jobs where we are sitting in team meetings discussing social dynamics and doing little ice breaker games and I was just overwhelmed by the thought of, “We’re all supposed to be passionate about the same thing!!! How can we not just put the passion in front of the preferences and get over ourselves and work together???” The key is this, yes, I have learned that the people I work with are people, but more importantly, and oh I so hope it is like this for others who work for other churches, the people I work with are people with a common passion, a baseline measurement which at any moment we can grab a hold of and swing back into sync. That baseline is to bring glory to Him. It is to honor Him first. Let me encourage you…if you go to my church, you have a staff which is committed to putting Him before themselves, and who is willing to live in the discipline of the Holy Spirit, like Hebrews 12 talks about…and learn from their example if you don’t already know…holiness is worth it.

7.     I am in my position by God’s will, not my skill.  I lived so many years so very confident that if only people would notice how amazing I was and would take me on as the leader of this, that or the other, I could straighten out all that ailed the world and every organization or team would be set right by coming under my authority. Over and over I am reminded as I do this job, there are so many things I need help on. There are so many things that I will be learning for decades to come. Each day teaches me to rely less on my own strength and more completely on His. This is all joy, to let go of my way, my talent, my offering, and to just stand empty handed ready to put my hands to whatever He has for me. I hope I always choose to present as my offering not what I can bring to the table but rather what He places in my hands.

So one year in and this recap is full. It doesn’t even begin to touch the personal lessons I’ve learned about trusting God, about valuing others, about maintaining relationships, about being brave, about loss and about miracles. But let this little pile of seven stones serve as a reminder when I pass this way again of all the things He has done for me.  ❤