Sunday, January 24, 2016

Necessary reminders

When I was going through a hard time, I talked to a colleague to get some advice. He was incredibly helpful and in the conversation said, "Remember this: you're not hopeless, you're not helpless, and you're not alone."  It was a trying time, and those reminders were both helpful and necessary. 

Last night I learned that a high school friend had taken his own life.  I was shocked and heartbroken.  And having experienced that kind of darkness before in my life, I knew how dark and isolating and awful it is.  And I wished that I could have shared these simple truths with him too...

You're not hopeless.
You're not helpless.
You're not alone.

The darkness will try to convince you otherwise. And it can be awfully persuasive. But I also know, the darkness lies. 

Though it might be impossible to feel and ridiculous to believe...there is always hope and there is help and we are not alone. 

I believe in the light and hope and redemption of the Gospel and so I trust in God's saving grace even in the midst of such tremendous pain. 

May we all be reminded and always know, we are not hopeless. We are not helpless. And we are not alone. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

"I don't want you to hurt yourself"

I'm learning a lot about God through my kids these days.  It seems the regular lessons I teach (and re-teach) our 4 year old seem to have a lot of resonance or theological perspective for me.  For instance....This week Ruth was wanting to do an art project. She had been painting and wanted to cut the page. So she went upstairs to get a pair of scissors.  Now, she uses scissors a lot and does a great job of only cutting the paper and not cutting fabric, hair, or herself.  But, she doesn't do a lot of walking with scissors, let alone down the stairs.

When I saw her coming down, scissors in hand (incorrectly) I hurried up the stairs and stopped her. I asked her to give me the scissors so I could show her how to hold them correctly and not get hurt.  She refused. I asked again. She refused. I grabbed the scissors. She pulled away. I pulled them out of her hand.  She stormed off in tears to her room.  I called after her to no avail.  So, I took the scissors to my room and told her to come talk to me when she is ready to learn how to hold them correctly. 

A few minutes later she came in and started scrounging around (trying to find the scissors).  I asked if she was ready to learn and she fussed at my and stormed out again.  Another minute later she came in tears and mad, but asking if I would show her how to hold the scissors. 

So I showed her the different ways and different dangers in holding them. Then I showed her how to hold them correctly, first in my hand, then in hers. Then she was free to go do her project. 

As I reflected on the incident, I couldn't help but think that's how we I sometimes am with God. Sometimes I want to do something and I want to do it my way and on my terms.  God has no objection to what I want to do, only what I'm doing and the risks involved in getting there. So God says, "slow down, let me help you." and I object. "No, I can do this myself." God insists, " me, I don't want you to get hurt, please let me help you."  And, bull-headed as I am, I object. But God knows what is good for me. God wants what is best for me. And God does not want to allow me to get hurt.  So God stops me. 

Can you see where this is going? 

I have to trust God--both as the know-er, and as the one who is benevolent toward me.  I have to be humble and accept (sometimes ask) for help.  Not because I'm incapable. In fact, quite the opposite. I'm very capable, I just need direction sometimes. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Prayer for "in the ring"

O Lord, you have given me strength and capacity for so much.  I know I can do a lot and try to be faithful with all that is on my plate. But it seems like the hits just keep on coming. If it’s not one thing it’s the next. And when I think the pressure might ease up, there seems to be another “something” that surfaces.  I know you are not in the ring against me. You are there as a trainer and a coach.  But I sure wish there was an intermission or something to regroup and have a little help with a few more things.  Guide me. Direct me. Hold me. Strengthen me. Protect me.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's the simple things

It’s the simple things that start to go first…laundry, vacuuming, cooking real meals.  You don’t mean for it to happen, not in a pre-meditated kind of way. But when things get crazy, you have to prioritize and something takes second chair and most often, it’s the simple things…cleaning out the car, refilling the soap dispenser, sorting through the junk mail.  Those things matter, but when push comes to shove, something’s got to give and you let them go. It’s only when they are REALLY obvious and overwhelming, undeniably necessary that you do something about them.

Laundry is the arch nemesis in our house, it always has been.  We don’t have much trouble getting it washed and dried (except for when the laundry was in the detached garage, somehow that proved to be more problematic, we would completely forget and it would sit in the washer for a day, or two, and then it would need to be rewashed before it could be dried, but aside from that…).  So we have clean laundry that gets placed in a basket, and then it sits there.  Now, I know this is not an uncommon phenomenon, especially in the homes of busy parents who both work outside the home, or who both simply despise laundry. It just so happens it is also our phenomenon (as busy parents who both work outside the home AND who both despise laundry). So we have stacks of clean laundry in baskets, on the table in the garage, on the deep freeze. You set one load aside just so you can keep things moving thinking it won’t be all that hard to do with the next, but then you stack the next and the next and then suddenly, somehow, it becomes 7 loads of unfolded laundry all waiting to be returned to its rightful place. 

And then it’s too much, so you really don’t want to deal with it.  

So when crisis happens (like a big medical thing), it becomes even more of an issue.  And somehow, that which was tolerable as just part of how you run your household becomes totally overwhelming.  It may not be true for everyone (as is generally the case) but somehow that thing that just is becomes a complete and total failure in my mind.  On a regular day I would like for the laundry to be done, but not enough to spend 10 extra minutes a day folding and putting it away.  So it’s odd that somehow, under the weight of stress and anxiety I am beating myself up for not keeping up on housework, or letting us run out of eggs, or not folding the laundry.  It’s not any different than any other day, so why is it under my skin?  

Maybe because it’s a simple thing I boil everything down to, “I should at least be able to handle the simple things” without giving myself any grace for all of the other things I am dealing with that have taken the majority of my time and attention.  

Which, I guess, is all to say, it's ok. It's ok to let the simple things go. Time with your spouse or your children, or with your feet up for a few minutes of sanity really are more important. And if it was "no big thing" before, why let it be something bigger now? Besides, it will always be there tomorrow.  :/ 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A new battery of tests

Rick has been dealing with non-stop headaches for 7 months now.  It's hard to believe it's been that long. And we've known for 2 months that there was a tumor.  It's been slow getting the care we think we need but we've tried to be patient in the waiting.  

This week brought it's own discoveries and challenges.  And this is the update:

Rick has blacked out twice in the last 2 weeks. So, they ordered a PET scan and he had that yesterday.  They have also ordered extra blood tests and today he was in for a portable EKG type test that will monitor him for 24 hours.  (I think they are trying to rule out heart trouble for the black outs).
They did not seem to like what they saw on the PET scan, so they have ordered another MRI, an ultrasound of his heart, and an ultrasound of his brain stem (to see if the tumor has reached that point in the brain).  They said they are trying to schedule all those tests for the same block of time.  We had to go to Panorama city for the heart thing today and will have to go back tomorrow. 
We won't know anything until a doctor reads results, but this round and intensity of tests seems to be more stressful (on us) than before.

We are ok, more or less, but both anxious about what is to come. 

​Please continue to pray for healing and for strength as we go through the paces.​

Thursday, May 21, 2015

New giver thank you note

In a follow up to this post, here is a sample note, in case you need a starting place. This is for someone new to the church who has recently started giving financially.

Dear ___________,
I am so glad you are here at [church name]. It has been a delight getting to know you.  I pray God uses this church family to bless and support you.  I want to thank you for the gifts and offerings you have given.  They are a blessing to the life in ministry that we share together.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. 
                                                                                                     In Christ,
                                                                                                      [sign here]

Thank you notes

THANK YOUWhen I was young, I was taught to write thank you notes for any gift I received.  From about the time I could write, my parents would make sure I sat to write my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others for their gifts. 

In ministry, writing thank you notes has been huge.  I try to take time to write thank yous for meals, special gifts, thoughtful touches, and the time and energy people put into the life and ministry of the church. 

However, aside from giving statements for individuals or collective acknowledgements for special offerings, I was not taught to thank givers of the church.  It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but money has been "one of those things" and I just assumed people gave for the reasons they gave and their thanks came from God. 

This year, we hired a coach and he has been working with me on all kinds of things that pertain to ministry, stewardship being only one of them.  I regularly send emails with questions and he responds from his wisdom and experience. 

I will say I was not prepared for the schooling he gave me/us. 

here is one exchange:

1) Do we call or send thank you cards on pledged special gifts? 

[The coach] replies:  You should have finance person alert you anytime:
1. A person INCREASES their pledge unsolicited.
2. A person decreases their pledged giving
3. An additional donation is made OF ANY AMOUNT
4. The first time anyone identifies themselves as giving financially to the church (vs. anonymously).

When you are alerted about #1,#, or #4,  send a hand written thank you note.  In the case of # 2, meet personally with this person and begin conversation something like this, “Its come to my attention that your giving has decreased.  As your pastor is there something that’s happened that I need to know about?"

2) If so, what is the threshold amount? $1000, $2500, $5000? 

[The coach] replies: ANY TIME.  Size does not matter.

3) A gift may be "large" to one giver but not to other words, for one person, giving $500 might be "huge" whereas another doesn't hit "huge" until $5000 or even $ do we honor both the gift and the giver understanding that it's not just the size of the gift that counts?

[The coach] replies: You thank them.

Now, it makes perfect sense to thank someone, I just didn't realize it should happen so personally and so often for tithing.  For extra gifts, above a pledge, I have started making thank you calls and sending notes.  For our capital campaign (which is drawing to a close) I am sending individual, hand written thank you notes to those who have given a one time gift and those who have completed their pledge. All who give will receive a personal note from me at the end, regardless of whether or not a pledge was completed.  

I have written notes and called for special asks that I have made for special projects and now am sending notes to those who have begun (seemingly) a tithing pattern to the church.  

I am grateful. We couldn't do ministry without the faithful giving of those who support these ministries.  I am now regretful and embarrassed that I didn't know to do this sooner. I always left it to the finance secretary except in the case of special gifts.  So, here is my learning, in case it is of help to you and your ministry.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preaching Prep

I am working on my Easter sermon and am trying to access the meaning and power of the story in a new way. As a starting place I transcribed the scripture (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and then began asking questions.  Below are the questions...hopefully the answers will provide the sermon. 

  • What if you've never heard the resurrection story before?
  • What if you've heard it 50+ times?
  • What does it matter?
  • What difference does the resurrection make?
  • So the tomb is empty, who cares?
  • What does it matter that Jesus is alive?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Making the #leap (kid part 2)

That was phase 1: the pre-phase.  It was a stage of anxiety and worry.  It was a time of wondering and waiting to see what would happen.   Phase 2 was the phase.  It was us showing up, in pajamas from Saturday night because she didn’t want to wear a church dress and I didn’t want to force her when her whole world had flipped upside down.  Phase 2 was getting acclimated to 300 people who wanted to say hello to my cute little blonde girl who had no desire to say hello to them.  Phase 2 was preaching my first sermon on my second Sunday without my husband there to watch her and packing a play pack and snack pack to keep her occupied. It was allowing her to sit with me in worship because she refused to do the nursery or Sunday school and I was not going to force her. It was watching her dance during the anthem and hear her plead to stay the second service.  Then hearing her plead to leave during the opening song of second service and looking around trying to find someone, anyone who could take her for me. After all, I was the pastor, this was worship, at my new church, my first “time” for many to see me “in action” and I didn’t think walking out in the middle of the music would be a hit. So I found one of a handful of women whose name I actually knew and asked her to take my daughter to the nursery and then chased her down with the backpack of goodies. Phase 2 was dealing with the complaint following that dance during the anthem hearing that she was “too distracting”—my joy-filled, talkative, very active child, who behaved beautifully in worship and did just what she was told, was too distracting. Phase 2 was having my greatest fear (rejection of my child) actualized in that complaint.  And it was moving forward despite the critiques.   Phase 2 was attending a 7:00pm leadership meeting with child in tow because my husband had to work and then having her melt down because she was dog tired. It was pleading with her to be quiet and not whine. It was bribing her with food, toys, and drink. And finally, it was stepping out of the meeting, scrounging around in the nursery, and finding a stroller and pushing her until she fell asleep in said meeting. 

Admittedly, phase 2 was a little rough. It wasn’t unbearable.  We survived it. All 3 of us. But it was hard.  It was hard to struggle with who to trust and who to turn to with our little one. It was tough to find a new “normal”. It /was tough to see my daughter struggle, and have her not know  what was behind her anxiety,  stress, or fear.  And it was hard to know when to “let go” and let her work it out (even if that meant she was screaming and in tears) and when to hold her close and let her know that despite all the things that had changed in her world, our love and support had not.  

I also have to say that on the positive side, Phase 2 showed me a lot of grace.  The grace of phase 2 came in the form of that woman in the middle of worship who was willing to take my child without question or hesitation.  The grace of phase 2 came in the compassion and care of the lay leaders who were tasked with sharing the complaint but still showed deep concern for both of us.  The grace of phase 2 came when a woman on the leadership team helped me push my daughter home after that late night so I could juggle her and all of our belongings beside.  The grace of phase 2 came from all the people who sought to greet her and say hello despite her reticence at so many new faces.  And the grace of phase 2 came with my parents who helped with the day shift in my first week so my husband and I could both report to work without worrying about Ruth.  

There were struggles as we acclimated to our #leap.  There was heartbreak and there were tears.  And, there was a whole lot of grace shared with us too and for that I am eternally grateful.