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!

 

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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.  ❤

Honest Confession

26 things.

Week before last a friend asked how she could pray specifically for me and I gave her a list of 26 things that were occupying space in my head and heart.

As the list grew, I thought, “You know, this is a lot of things!” When someone asks what they are can pray for you about, generally they are expecting maybe 2 or 3 things tops. Not 26 things. And if I’m honest, the last things was a sort of summation of all the things that I hadn’t listed yet, but was starting to get scared that I’d never be able to stop listing prayer concerns.

A few days later I found myself in tears over those 26 things, plus more that I hadn’t laid there for that dear patient friend. Kermit tried his best to comfort me, but his attempts were getting neither of us anywhere and eventually he just fell silent and listened as I listed all the things that I could do nothing about. About just how powerless that made me feel. It was incredibly cathartic.

There is great comfort in that story about the man who throws starfish back to the sea one at a time and cheerily says “Made a difference to that one!” But after a tsunami hits and every starfish in the sea is on the beach alongside the most horrific sea monsters of the deep that we didn’t know existed, and those are only the decoration in front of the wreckage of homes and lives and families torn apart, that story doesn’t really feel like it has the same impact. And while the tsunami wasn’t hitting me, it seemed like everywhere I turned, be it family, friend, coworker, acquaintance or just flipping on the news, starfish were raining down.

I wanted to close my eyes to it. I wanted to not feel the hurts of those around me. I wanted to run away. What was I thinking, signing up for decades of ministry? What is ministry if not a constant barrage of starfish?

A few nights later, I had this world shifting conversation with God. In this tone of voice like I had brand new information for him, I told Him I couldn’t look at it anymore. The brokenness of the world just broke my heart. And He replied, “Yeah, it breaks mine, too.” Then a pause for me to hear what He said, followed by “And I didn’t close my eyes and I didn’t run away.”

Oh. There I had allowance to say I’m not ok with the things people do to one another. I am not ok with sickness and injury. I am not ok with Columbine today any more than I was nearly 20 years ago. I’m not ok with comfortable blindness which allows us to ignore our fellow man, be they at close at hand or on the other side of the world. I’m not ok with it.

Understanding that He is not ok with it either, oh, it changed my perspective. So I could go out and pick up a starfish and fling it. And another. And another. As much as I was asked to do for those 26 things, no more and no less, I did them. I didn’t like that there was so much debris on my beach, but I could at least see a place to put my feet down for a second. I could breath again.

As I inhaled and exhaled I watched the flick of my wrist and the arc of the little creature. Sometimes I thought it was a good throw and on other occasions I started to think, well, I could have done that better. I could have had a better attitude. I could have smiled more. I could have at least kept my mouth shut. My brain and body were sore from being intentional and accountable all the time. I started to worry what others thought of how I threw starfish. Those little nags were enough to make me uncomfortable.

Just in time. Just in time I was given a penny for my thoughts and received a wealth of kindness in return. I can’t put down a clip of the best words or the most meaningful exchange, but through reflection and remembrance and the counsel of someone who is well beyond where I am, this is what I walked away with.

Caring about people is hard. The stories of hurt and brokenness don’t stop, they become novels and series and volumes and libraries. We do what I already know to do with them, file them on His shelves and trust Him to use His pen to work these things out.

But the process is hard work. And in the process of doing the right thing, of helping people to the cross and then allowing them to cling and cry to Him instead of us, turning to walk back down the road to find the next person and the next and the next, you can find yourself at times feeling lonely. And hurt. And sad.

What I heard was this person I respected admit that they’d felt hurt. They’d felt lonely. They’d made hard choices that they knew hurt feelings, but were the right choices.

What I heard was Sarah, you don’t have to try to be too holy to be hurt. You need to be smart and aware. You need to learn from each story for the next. But being sad, getting your feelings hurt, having emotions that wouldn’t fit with the perky pastoral portrait, it isn’t a sin. It’s just saying that there is stuff you need Christ for, too.

In this morning’s sermon, I heard the retell of Peter telling Jesus “Not I, Jesus! I will never fall away! Even if everyone else runs, I never will!” Oh there I stood a few weeks ago, declaring, “All the starfish in the world may lie at my feet and I will throw them all back in His power and will show the world I can do it with a right mind and a smile!” Because, what would I be saying about God if I felt bad that the creature was there in the first place? What would I be saying about God if someone knew I cried about starfish?

This is what it would say. We need a big big God. We need Him because as much as we hate children being shot and cancer and abuse that carries on in the lives of children while services designed to defend them ignore it for generations…….He hates it more. We can’t fathom the disdain He feels for the depth of our shattered existences.

It would also say this. I need a big big God. Because even while I claim this holiness life, I need His grace so badly. Holiness is no release from grace. It only shows where His grace can go deeper.

At best some days I am just a big ol mess, and it was an encouragement for me this week to hear someone else that I respect admit that they need Him, too. I don’t want to minimize the power He has to change people and grow people and heal and restore people. I just need to go on record and say this…

I am not done yet.

And that is just my need of Him, a need He is ready and able to meet.

Just like all those other starfish. Just like the ugly monster from the depths of the sea.

I need grace, too.

My God Is Inconvenient

A piece of trash sat on the floor under a chair. He probably couldn’t see it, but I could and it was distracting me.
“Can you pick that up for me please?” I asked?
“I didn’t put it there,” the student replied.
I knew the answer was coming before I asked it because probably 75% of the times I asked if a kid could throw something away, hang something up or get something off the floor, I was given the same answer. In essence, that is not my fault and it is not my problem. And every time I said the same thing.
“I didn’t ask who put it there. I asked if you could pick it up.”
And with a deep sigh, the student moves reaches under the chair to get it.

Why didn’t I try to find the responsible party and make them fix the mess they made? After all, we all have to be accountable for our things and respectful of our surroundings. What lesson does that teach the child who threw their trash on the floor and left it? This is their problem and they should have to deal with it like a decent human being who doesn’t throw trash on the floor!
Sure. I get that. I really do. We have to make it clear that those who make messes are trained to not make them in the future. We need classroom rules. We need boundaries.

But we also need each other. We also need to be willing to care for our surroundings beyond just picking up our own junk. We also need to be willing to reach out and see a mess we didn’t create and help, because this is our classroom and these are our classmates.

This is some incredible confession here and I ask for your mercy as I speak it. In the past few months, and forgive my lack of being specific here, I had something cross my mind occasionally when I looked at a certain situation I saw near me. I would shove it out of my head because it was very obviously not what I was intending to do. I thought, that is just an idealistic daydream solution to this situation. One friend made a joking suggestion to the solution that was dangerously near what had crossed my mind. A week later a friend from a different area in my life made the same joke. And then asked if maybe it wasn’t such a joke after all. Peculiar.

A few weeks ago, it became clear that there needed to be a solution. Someone needed to pick something up. Someone needed to help out. And here came the question…

“Sarah, will you pick that up?”
“No. I didn’t put it there.” I replied.
“That’s not what I asked. Will you lean over and reach out your hand and pick that up?”
“No. I don’t want to do that.”
I could feel the raised eyebrow so I avoided the eyes.
“And what lesson does it teach others?” I began to prepare my defense, “And what are people going to think if I go around picking up other people’s things? And to be frank, I am tired and I don’t want to go through the hassle of bending over and then going all the way to the trashcan and all the way back to my desk.”
“You know who you should talk to about this? Kermit”
“Well, I don’t want to do that either.” I replied, because let’s be honest, Kermit is good and Kermit is bold and Kermit puts others first and because I already know what Kermit would say.

So I had the conversation with Kermit. Kermit’s first point….in essence…was that if we look at the things we’re asked to do as messes, as problems, we’re a billion miles away from who we are supposed to be as Christians. It was not language I had placed on the situation, but it was the attitude of my heart a the root of my fear. He talked to me for a while and said things I already knew and already believed and already agreed with and then he ended it with this. It would be wrong for us to not do something and let something bad happen when we can do something about it.

And so we walked out of that conversation with me willing to help, but with a lot of limitations placed on what I was going to feel good about. The thing was, the limitations I placed did not make me feel good. they made me feel exactly the opposite.

“Ok, I will do what you’ve asked….this much.”
“You know that’s not what I am asking.”

Deep sigh.

I only struggle this hard with something when on the other side of obedience to the task is unimaginable blessing. I only struggle like this when to refuse would be to lose. I knew she was right. In that conversation, my heart stopped dragging its feet. My mind knew before what the right thing to do was. My heart wanted to do the right thing. But my attitude, was being a real pain in the butt.

A few days in I was working through these thoughts with a friend. I was busying myself trying to find a solution within my parameters. I am busying myself to find something that is easier on me. I am avoiding conversations I should have and having conversations that I know won’t lead to a fix. I want a good, healthy, whole solution. Let me be clear about that. I wanted good. I wanted healthy. And I wanted whole. I was not looking to solve the problem halfheartedly just to make it easier on me.

And that friend spoke straight with me. She got real and without directly quoting her, she gave this message….Why you, Sarah? Because you are the person for this, and you know it. Because He asked you to do it, and you know it. Because we heard Him ask you and you aren’t going to wriggle your way out of it. And honestly, the reasons you are giving are crap reasons and sound like things you should probably be working on being better at anyway. So go…do…it.

By Thursday I had been able to process all that has happened over the past few weeks. I was able to see the path that had led people to perfect positions and my own journey to the first steps of blessing.
In the rearview mirror of reflection this is what I read.

God does not ask us to sit at our desks with our feet up. God has tasks for us. This is a hands on class and we are all responsible and sometimes, maybe even often, He is going to ask us to do things we don’t want to do or things that are inconvenient. If you are being asked to do something and your only argument is your own comfort and convenience, you might need to ask just whom exactly do you serve?

There plain as day in that rearview mirror I read this….

                 Either my God is inconvenient or my god is convenience.

He never asked us to be comfortable for our glory. He blessed us with comfort to return that blessing back to Him.

Don’t believe me? Go read Philippians 2:6-15. I was going to copy and paste it here, but I thought….that seems a little convenient. Here is this morning’s challenge on the topic. Can you be inconvenienced enough to open your Bible and read 9 verses?

2018 Resolution Winner!!!!

A few years ago I resolved to run a 5k. I didn’t want to walk it or run/walk it. I wanted to run the whole thing from start to finish.

I’d worked hard in the months leading up to that New Year’s Day to lose weight and had some pretty proud moments. I was certain if I stuck with it I could do this. So one cold January morning, in Ohio, where it makes this Virginia chill look like a balmy beach vacation, I took to the roads.

My knees ached. My lungs screamed. My neighbors watched out the windows.

I ran 1 mile and made it back to the house where I drank 64 gallons of water and nearly died on our recliner.

Oh. Running is hard.

A couple of months later, my friend Heather asked me to lead off her Autism Run which she coordinated. It was so special to have that moment be in support of such a lovely friend and her sweet son. I completed that 5k….but I walked part of it. Not exactly what I was looking for.

A few months after that I ran my second 5k. What a thrill! I ran the entire thing and in victory celebration…I barfed off behind the football bleachers. Because, oh yeah, running is hard. I was super lucky to win a Nike hat that time.

Well, at that point I figured I was pretty much a pro at the running thing so my next goal was to run a trail 5k. I sort of think I was trying to break my ankles and be done with running, because that is super possible when you’re running like slanty on wet hills with every gnat in our small town biting your legs the whole way. Not only did I run run that entire race, but I beat my best time and dropped my time under 30 minutes, which for me was huge. And then I barfed again.

I had accomplished what I’d set out to do. For the first time ever I had completed my New Years Resolution. It was an incredible feeling. Well, not the barfing part, but the rest of it felt awesome.

Usually I set vague resolutions that weren’t particularly quantifiable. This year I will be nicer to my brothers. This year I will keep my notebooks neater. This year I will be a better wife. This year I will lose *coughcough* pounds. This year I will eat some pudding. I mean, just sort of like general, sure, this year is gonna be super cool and all that.

Last year, though it felt very much like all the rest…a statement made that couldn’t be quantified or qualified….I decided that in 2017 I wanted to know God in a new deeper way. My friends, at the end of 2017, I can tell you that on more than one occasion did I find myself so overcome by the adrenaline rush of what God had done in my life that I was certain I might be right back behind those bleachers hoping no one would see me losing my lunch.

2017 has been an incredible year. Incredible. I can’t even begin to put it all down and keep it to a reasonable length. But suffice it to say this, for the second time, I kept a New Year’s Resolution. But really, I think I had very little to do with that one.

A few months ago I gave myself a writing challenge. A couple of weeks ago I knew my 2018 resolution would be to finish this writing project. I thought a few times wouldn’t it be neat to finish it before the ball dropped, to be so ahead of the game that I didn’t even have to wait for a new year to accomplish my goals. But alas, midnight came and went, and I was far closer than I anticipated, but still not finished.

My fears were probably right. I wouldn’t finish it until February and that is IF I don’t give up.

But at 1:45 this afternoon on January 1st, I finished my project. For the third time I have met my New Year’s Resolution and this time in RECORD time. I am officially the New Year’s winner!

It felt like a goal I thought I’d never meet, but I did.

And I recognize that this may not be the most interesting post I’ve ever written, but dang it, I’m writing it anyway, because when I started this blog….it was because my pastor looked at me and said “Sarah Kinzer. The writer. Keep writing.” And it felt like a vague New Year’s Resolution. You can read about it in that first post I wrote… Been Some Time

I’ve written and I’ve posted. I’ve journaled and I’ve put together papers and sermons for classes. But today I feel like I followed that advice finally.

And that makes for a darn good feeling.

I am intensely proud of myself today.

And I didn’t even throw up.

Little Women and God With Who?

A few weeks ago when I was just starting to get in the holiday spirit, I thought of the Hummels. Not those breakable collectible figurines, but the poor sickly ones which brought about the downfall of Beth March.

Little Women was a favorite story of mine. I have read the printed pages a handful of times, listened to it as an audiobook too many times to count and ever since Winona Ryder took up the task of Jo, I have watched it each year about this time.

But the part that came to mind this year, even before I watched it was not the damaged dress and the singed bangs, not the romance that was not to be or the ice skating disaster or the manuscript in the fireplace. It was the Hummels.

They came in my mind as they came into the story, shrouded by back streets, a walk to reach, unexpected to find this second family of mother and children tucked in the attention of the Marches or myself. I found myself rolling the story through my mind and getting hung up right at that point where Jo opens her eyes on Christmas morning. She pauses feeling a little sorry that there are no presents, but then slipping her hand under her pillow she finds a Bible. Her sisters each rise and find their own copies and they spend some time reading quietly together. They head downstairs to discover Marmie is gone, she’d gone off with a beggar who’d come to the door according to Hannah, the servant.

When Marmie returns, here is what follows…

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m so glad you came before we began!”

They set out and care for this family with what little they had to offer, which was richness to them, but nothing to us. They kindled a fire in the hearth and warmth in the children’s heart. That poor mother called them angels and found hope kindling inside herself while Mrs. March promised continues help, a promise which she indeed kept.

At the end of the little story of that Christmas morn, we read…

“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
“That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,” said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.”

They began their day reading and then rising to start their holiday, they put it into actions. At the end of the experience it is all tied up, back to the source of the inspiration for the action.

Oh, how I wanted that when I was young, to have the opportunity to find someone to care for at Christmastime. I wanted to be happier with an empty stomach headed for bread having handed off my plateful of cakes and sausage. But it has been years since I thought of the Hummels.

I had a brief wish I presented to God, that I would have an opportunity to know something of that. That I would see someone who like that mother needed caring for, and even someone who looked more like that mother than I could understand. I have had the privilege of hearing about other people’s Hummel experiences over the past week. I have seen good will to men performed by those around me. I am so proud of my friends. I have seen my prayer answered in my own season and know there is more answer on the way.

Tonight I was thinking on the Hummels again and there was that conversation with God again. And hears what resounded in my heart….”I am Emmanuel. God with us.”

Oh, he came to save the likes of me. He came to save me! Oh how glad I am of that! But He is God with us…us….corporate…together. He came to be with us, so really is it that big of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that we be with one another?

When we are looking at how to hold Christmas in our hearts, how to honor Emmanuel, perhaps what we should do is stop looking at how to make it the most possession gaining experience for our children and consider how we might make it a moment to love our neighbors better than ourselves, like Meg point out.

There are a few more days. There are a few more chances to make this Christmas be the one that stands out as the year you started the tradition of overwhelming generosity,  of promised and delivered continued support.

Make this the year that you involve yourself in the business of the us that God came to be with.

I’ll close with a passage from another classic Christmas tale….spoken between a soul who never took time to rest his eyes, his heart or his mind on his fellow man and spent eternity mourning his mistake, and the man awaiting salvation.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
`Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
`At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said `I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’

God with us.

Crucifying Christmas

Don’t worry.

This isn’t about Walmart greeters or Starbucks cups.

Sunday before last we had some visiting musicians at church that played “Mary Did You Know.” Now, time for a little confession…I believe that Mary Did You Know is one of the top three worst Christmas songs ever… every bit as good as Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear.

While they were playing the song, for the first time, I could imagine Mary there, holding that baby. I mean, we read that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloth and laid Him in the manger. But realistically, she must have held that sweet little thing, nuzzling Him, tracing the outline of a little nose, touching ten tiny fingers, leaning into Joseph to show him the dream that rested on the infant’s face.

I sat there imagining Mary and looked around for someone with a baby near me who i might convince to let me snuggle for a minute or two. Drats. None at hand.

After that morning I went from part time carol singing to full time, like it was my job.

This morning I went into work early this morning and hit play on some of my favorite Christmas music. Oh there was the best of them all, with its grit and its darkness, its admittance of struggle and shadow. It is a walk on a damp fall day, the smell of wet decaying earth around you, coat pulled tight around you for it is colder than you anticipated. Winter is coming.

I sing it all year long. I sing it in those aching times when I just long for His company and His comfort.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

I could continue but these are the two verses I always pick first. Captivity. Gloom. Death. Shadow. Who is this writer that he would make such a depressing song, 4 lines of “Look at my woe!” Followed by 2 that are just the same over and over.  Over and over. Christmas should be hope and joy and love and peace. Who is this writer?

I think, perhaps, the writer is someone who knows the Bible. I think the writer is someone who knows the history of the people of Israel. I think the writer is someone who knows us.

In Matthew 1 starting at verse 18, it reads: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”

Joseph entered what should have been a time of celebration, the advent of his marriage, and he is met quickly by a reality which doesn’t match his expectations. He should have been joyful is instead overwhelmed by mess….divorce, presumed infidelity, shame, scandal, a blow to the pride, and trying to manage himself in a way that was to his standards, legal and upright in the sight of the Lord.

The angel doesn’t come and change the situation. He doesn’t say the pregnancy was a mistake and apologize for Joseph’s hurt feelings. He doesn’t stop what Joesph sees as the problem.

He just changes his perspective.

This mess, says the angel, this thing you see as a problem, it is the design of God to bring the salvation of all. It is the design to bring “God With Us.”

What of your life are you walking into THIS Advent season pleading God to come into? Captivity? Gloom? Death? Shadow?

Could this word not be for you? Could the mess you are consumed by be the design of God to bring about salvation? Change your perspective and like Joseph move in the direction of God’s command.

But changing your perspective is not nearly enough. We must also change our expectations.

We have been trained by Hollywood, like little Susan Walker, to think if we just believe in Santa enough, we will magically get a house far from 34th Street in a nice neighborhood and all will end in true love.

We are looking for the big flashy miracle to prove at Christmas that He does exist. We have been around long enough to know He does big, flashy miracles. We celebrate the biggest each spring. It is the shining moment, the Resurrection, the conquering of the grave, death defeated. Oh, it is glorious! Christmas without Easter, oh it is nothing at all.

So why bother to celebrate Christmas at all then?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is to remind us, just as the Israelites needed to learn, that God did not come to be an earthly king. He came lowly in a manger. He came into a world without a place for him to be raised by parents who just months before were on the verge of divorce to a government hell bent on murdering Him.

All of this in the arms of Mary, she held this tiny baby. Oh Mary, did you know?  When you tipped him towards Joseph to show him this little face, I want to imagine that you had the humanity that I have, tempted to think, “This is it? This is what the angel spoke of? This is who is supposed to save us? A baby? He can’t fed himself or clean himself! How is this going to work?”

Time never turned back. There was no big showy miracle. Just a baby.

I have to ask, are you holding a baby when what you’d really like is for God to show up like Resurrection? Even if you’ve changed your perspective, you’ve said, this mess is blessed, it is of God and I’m consecrating it to Him…are you still walking around looking for the wrong cave? You’ve run inside and there are no discarded grave clothes, just this terrible box with a little baby inside who can’t do anything for Himself.

And you stand there gesturing to this disappointment, eyes upward, and yell, “I didn’t agree to this? I have some suggestions on how to sort this out. Are You listening? WHAT AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS?!?!?”

I’ll tell you. You don’t throw the baby up on the cross! You don’t demand what God is withholding for a later date. You don’t scream for big signs and wonders while you stand before the greatest wonder of them all. You appreciate that in your captivity, your gloom, your death and shadow, oh, He came.

You cradle that baby. You lift it up and you nurture it. You hold it as a precious fragile beginning and do everything you can to protect it. You tip it to others so they might see this sweet thing the Lord has given you even if you have NO IDEA how God will use it.

He came and He stayed and He will come again!

Is it true or is it not?
Is it true?
Or is it not?

If it is not true, than go and find comfort in the fireplace and the family and put your mind to rest that it is of no consequence, now or ever.

But if it is true….if this little baby was born God with us…..If His very nature is the answer to God’s command from the earliest history of man for the conquering of our greatest enemy, that He is with us….oh it is of EVERY consequence. Everything hinges upon it!

Find Christmas, dear one, find Christmas not just where you weren’t looking for it, but find Christmas where you were specifically saying God couldn’t be there.

And find Christmas, my friend, in the little bit of life that hardly fills more than two hands, that can’t support itself, and care for the promise of God that He has already given you to tend to.

Come and worship.

Rejoice,
Rejoice,
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel.

 

Sarah Writes A Food Blog!

Now, I don’t want y’all getting jealous or anything, but tonight, like, several people asked me for my soup recipe. Several. I said the directions out loud, but then one of them said I should write it down. So this is how I came to the decision to write my food blog post!

Food blogs like to give lots of info before they just write down like the how much of everything, so if you just want that, scroll to the bottom, but realistically, it’ll make more sense if you read the steps.

Sarah’s Delicious Soup.

Step 1. I knew I had some things that turn into soup and I know that soup is an easy economical choice when feeding a large group of people. Also, my kids really like soup, so even if other people’s kids think soup is gross, I won’t have to listen to my kids whine later that they’re hungry. Anyway, I had to go to Walmart to pick up my medicine after work, so I bought a few more things that go in soup in case I didn’t have what I thought I had at home. This was at around 4:30. (This is important later.)

Step 2. Drive home. Be surprised the kids aren’t home. Find 2nd biggest pot. Pour in the big box of broth from Sharp Shopper. That’s not nearly enough broth.

Step 3. Get out chicken bouillon. Add 6 more cups of water and 3 of the big bouillon cubes.

Step 4. Cut up the leftover half of the onion that looks totally fine from the veggie bin. Scrape it in to the pot.

Step 5. Add salt to make it boil faster, because who knows how long this will take and you have to be at the Taylors at 630. Shake in like 4 shakes of pepper, 2 or 3 shakes of garlic powder and 3 or 4 of poultry seasoning. *Poultry seasoning comes in a small container marked poultry seasoning and after Thanksgiving at some point it was marked down to like 35 cents a container or something, so you bought 4 and use it in most everything  you cook that involves chicken. It’s like basil or parsley or like dehydrated chicken or something. It smells Thanksgiving-y. 

Step 6. Husband and kids arrive home. Chop up carrots while husband comes in. Husband stares in soup pot and glares at the onion. Point out that he never eats your soup, so you put onion in it. He says he always eats your soup. You say that is not true at all, or if he does he complains it’s gross. He says he used to eat it all the time with the tortellini. Point out that you can’t eat gluten anymore and anyway he always said that the soup ruined the tortellini. He says nu-uh. You say, well this soup has onion in it. Add the carrots.

This is the correct amount of time in which to allow the stuff in the pot to come to a boil!

Step 7. Cut up 2 celery stalks. Give a third to your daughter. The rest of the steps must be accomplished while telling someone to stop screaming Junie B Jones or mumbling it, but rather reading in a nice normal voice after she’s swallowed the mouthful of celery.

Step 8. Add one cup of rice. This seems like a good time to do that.

Step 9. Open a can of peas, a can of sweet corn, a can of beans. Once a guy told you he made his soup without draining his canned veggies, and his soup was good. Dump in corn undrained. Drain most of the pea juice, because pea juice sounds gross. Dump nearly drained peas in the soup. Drain like a third of the green beans because you don’t want it to turn out too green beany. Dump it in, too. It will need more veggies. Nobody wants more peas or corn. Open one of those jumbo cans of green beans and drain some of that juice off and dump it in. There. That should be plenty.

Step 10. Cut up mostly the dark meat from a rotisserie chicken. Throw some to the cats. Chase off the bully cat who is eating it all. Perform a very large begging the other cat to eat pantomime and then shoo off the bully cat again. Put the rest of the chicken in a container to pack for the kids’ lunches. Decide that people will notice if you only put in dark meat and think you’re just trying to hide that you’re not giving them white meat. Cut up some white meat and add it.

Step 11. Now here is the tricky part. Stare at the soup for a minute and wonder how long it’ll take for one cup of rice to get big. There seems to still be a lot of liquid. Free pour rice in. Like maybe another 1/4 cup. Maybe 1/3 cup. Enough so that you have time to think, “Um, I’m sure that’s good now.” Then shake in some more pepper, salt, garlic powder and poultry seasoning. Then get out the onion powder, because half an onion is probably not enough. Shake in some of that.

Step 12. This is actually the most important step in all my soups. Add 5-7 shakes of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. It doesn’t make it taste like hot sauce. It just gives it a boost of flavor and warmth. This is like legit cooking directions because in the 90s my mom used to buy Turtle Island Soup kits and all of their soups included a tiny bottle of hot sauce to add to the pot, because it makes all soup better.

Step 13. Now you send the person reading Junie B Jones away and call in someone else. You try to get information about when their next social studies quiz is and walk in and out of the kitchen a few times before telling them that since you’ve caught dinner on fire before when cooking for life group you can’t go off and look on your computer on the other side of the house to find the info for him. So make up a quiz on the spot about the Native Americans and their languages and the Powhatan’s main town when the settlers came and be sure to point out that the Disney movie while nice and all is inaccurate.

At this point you should have let enough time pass to realize the rice got really big. Like there might not be enough liquid after all. Pour like half of a cupful of water in the soup. Not like a measured half cup, but like, half of a plastic cup. You fill the cup most of the way up but don’t put it all in because that’d be too much. Then you’re sure you’ve ruined the seasoning ratio. Shake in some more salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Sniff the poultry seasoning and be happy Thanksgiving is on the way.

Step 14. Turn the soup on low. Remember that you probably should have had a lid on it or something. Put a lid on it. That might keep it from evaporating. Leave it like that til it is time to leave. Stir it one more time and hope it doesn’t slosh in the car.

While it simmers you can make Mrs. Remnant’s Pumpkin Fluff and gluten free buttermilk biscuits, which are totally easy and actually good, but you need like 5 more minutes than is left after you complete Steps 1-14 in order to make sure the biscuits are all done. That turns out fine though if you have good friends like the Taylors who will tolerate your blowing into their house all like HEY CAN I USE YOUR OVEN! That’s probably because they know they can keep an eye on things so you won’t catch the dinner on fire. Which only happened that one time.

This is a lovely meal. All the grown ups liked it and everyone else’s kids didn’t seem to hate it. Just mine. So, I don’t know what happened there, because I made it just like that last month and they loved it. Eh. Shrug.

Recipe

Total Time (However long it takes to get home from Walmart on Port which I left at maybe 430? 445? to leaving to go to the Taylors at 630…toldya it’d be important about going to Walmart.)

1 box of chicken broth from Sharp Shopper (maybe Swanson?)
6 cups water
3 big ol bouillon cubes
Half an onion that is totally fine
6 or 7 baby carrots
2 celery stalks (plus however many it takes to satisfy the kid)
1 can undrained sweet corn
1 normal sized can of sort of drained green beans
1 jumbo can (not like cafeteria jumbo, but like family jumbo) of sort drained green beans
1 can of mostly drained peas
3-15 shakes each of all of the following: Garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder, poultry seasoning, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
All the dark meat off a smallish rotisserie chicken minus what you feed the cats
Enough white meat so you don’t look like a jerk
1 carefully measured cup of white rice plus like…some more.
1 half of a plastic cup of water
The lid to your second biggest pot
Social Studies notes

Hope you enjoy my soup!!!

What Even Is Holiness?

Point blank, holiness is for weirdos.

The first time I heard “in the holiness tradition” I was pretty sure I just needed to pretend it hadn’t been said. If I were to repeat that phrase to most of my friends, they’d check my pockets for snakes and tell me to go find my big white tent.

It didn’t get any better either. “Entire sanctification,” they said. I mean, come on, guys. That is neither hip nor cool. Holy Spirit talk should be reserved for Pentecost. But Pentecost came and went, and these people were STILL talking about “the power of the Spirit that lives in us.”

In my youth, after Pentecost, we put away the banners with the felted tongues of fire and began to talk about what Youth Sunday would look like this year. Growing up in a church where we prayed corporately reading lines from the bulletin, I was happy to sticker the little flames over the disciples heads and talk about how they all spoke in different languages. I could list off the fruit of the Spirit but as far as this theology was concerned that was sort of it for me.

I listened through a few years of sermons which preached from this theology and just didn’t get it. Mostly I could make everything mesh with what I already believed and rewrite the messages I’d heard to suit my viewpoint. I could hang when they referred to it as “second blessing” which was comfortable in like a folksy, NPR phraseology sort of way, but every now and then someone would say “perfection” and I’d have to sigh quite deeply to drown that nonsense out.

I sat through conversation after conversation and explained how holiness is simply spiritual maturity. It is just learning to act like a decent human being. Sometimes I could badger people into agreeing with me and feel like a conversation winner, and sometimes they just looked at me like I had two heads. Life kept moving on, I behaved like a decent human being (for the most part) and I felt fine enough going to a church in the holiness tradition, because yo, check me out, I’m super spiritually mature.

There came a day where I finally had to have a conversation with myself. “Something has changed in me. I am waiting for it to go back to what it was, but it’s not going back. I know what these people would call this from the pulpit, but I am NOT using those theological terms and I am NOT ready to address the difference publicly. I might need to take a minute and think about, what even is holiness?”

I studied. I prayed. I engaged in conversations. I listened more carefully to the sermons being preached in my presences and I got online and dug into sermon archives to see what I’d missed the first time listening through. I beat my brains against the rock of this theology trying to see just how it could be so, how what I was experiencing could be what these words were describing.

And one day it came to me….

And for the friends I have who don’t really get what I’m talking about when I start talking about holiness, this is what I’m trying to say.

I pushed out to sea in a boat built for me by God sent to carry me across the ocean which separates here from eternity. The horizon stretched out beyond me, unimaginable that I’d ever reach it. I sat in that little boat, and watched as I drifted away from shore. I peeked over the edge and could see the bottom with shells and rocks and I dipped my arm in and tried to reach over the edge to grab a particularly pretty one, but my arm was not long enough.

“Strange,” thought I,”but this ocean seems deeper than I imagined.” And that thought began to needle at me. Because I understood what the water was. The water, that which held my little craft aloft, was grace. It was cool and it was shiny and it was constantly in motion.

It started out as a shallow curiosity, just how far below one might find the sea floor. Wasn’t it Paul who’d said, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Paul wants me to figure out how deep the ocean is! Well, if anyone could figure it out, I am super smart AND super insightful, lots of people have said so.

I reached in my gear and pulled out a ruler. I’m even equipped to measure this! I reached my arm over the edge of the boat again and find that the boat has continued to pull towards the horizon. Deeper and deeper still the ocean grows and my silly little ruler is to short. The further out I traveled, the more this bothered me. This ocean…this bottomless well of His pardon….I should be able to grasp it’s depth, certainly! If thousands of years ago Paul could grasp it, surely I can with all my modern book learning.

I look up and see my Savior approaching, walking on the water towards me, and I know this may be my only opportunity. I call to Him, even when He is a long way off, “How deep is it?!?!” No reply. I draw breath in all the way to fill up my belly, “How deep is it?!!?” I bellow. He just continues to draw near.

Now all I want to do is figure it out before He reaches me. I scramble about the boat, looking for a yard stick, a fish finder, something, anything that I can use to measure better, but all I can come up with is this one limited little 12 inch ruler. It is obviously not enough, but it’s all I have. I drop my arm back in the water, stretching that ruler down as far as I can. I have to have an answer. I have to be able to properly thank Him for the depths of this ocean.

He reaches the boat and I sit up, dripping wet from all my leaning. He reaches a hand towards me, but we have a conversation to settle first and my hands are gripping that ruler tightly. It is my only means of measurement and if I let it go, I will have no way to solve this.

“It’s really deep,” I say, unable to look at Him, embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out the answer, ashamed of how stupid I must seem.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies, seeming almost uninterested in my intense theological quandary.

“I was pretty sure I could figure out how deep and how wide and how vast this ocean is, but this ruler is like, super short. I don’t want to complain about the gear in my boat, but I sort of fill unequipped to measure this.” I shifted uncomfortably on the boat bench.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies again.

“There is still time though. The horizon is still a long way off. Do you have anything with you that can help me? Sonar? One of those tiny submarines that I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel?” He looked at me quizzically and smiled. “I thought not,” I sighed.

He walks alongside of my boat while I consider my situation. After some time, minutes, hours, days, years, I don’t know which, I turn my face to Him again.

“It’s really deep, isn’t it?” I ask again.

He nods and smiles at me, “Mm-hmm.”

I look at my ruler and then at the ocean. I look at the face of my Savior and see His hand still out-stretched.

I reach once more over the edge of my boat…and release my little stick.

I don’t even notice it floating away as I place my hand in His hands, rise up, and step out of my boat. I have seen that the depths of the ocean of grace are not found by my limited understanding of measurement.

The depths of the ocean are found in walking on water in the company of my Savior towards a beautiful horizon.

There are no felted tongues of fire, no snakes, no tents. There is no hard to explain theological language to comprehend. Just me and Him, not worried about how strange it appears to see the two of us, wrapped up in conversation now, strolling further out to sea, foot to wave, together, hand in hand.

That, my friend…that is what even holiness is.