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. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Preparing to #Leap (kid part 1)

When I prepared to #leap, I was very aware that it wasn't just me who was moving and transitioning, it was also my husband and my daughter.  When I started at my first two churches, I was single. Starting at a new place with a spouse and a child promised to be a very different thing.  

This is part 1 in a 3 part series:

When I met with the outgoing pastor, we talked about a lot of things.  We had an initial phone conversation that lasted about an hour and a half.  Then a face to face that was nearly 5 hours.  Multiple email exchanges and then about another hour to hour and a half at annual conference.  We did a good bit of talking before the transition. At some points it felt like way too much information and at others it felt like we had only scratched the surface.  We covered church history, leadership, vision, staffing, and finances.  We also covered a multitude of questions I had both as I thought my new place and things I wanted the incoming pastor to know for the place I was leaving.  Some of my questions were related to theory and some were more pragmatic.  

I remember one in particular because I was taken aback by the answer.  I asked, “So, on a Sunday morning, if you need help with your kids, who do you turn to?”  He asked, “What do you mean?”  It seemed like a straightforward and simple question to me, but I did my best to clarify, “I mean, say your wife is sick and you have the girls before worship and you need to do something, who helps with the kids?”  His response, “That’s never happened.”  Now, that may be the luxury of having a stay at home wife, or of being a man, or of some other weird quirk in the universe, whatever the case, I don’t really know how to explain it, or even understand it.  

I am the mother of a three year old, a well-behaved, intelligent, articulate, church-accustomed 3 year old and I can’t even imagine a world where needing help with her on a Sunday morning “has never happened.” From sick days, to tantrums, to unexpected counseling, to regular post-worship conversations, to diaper blow outs, to extended naps, I have had many occasions to need reinforcements.  And, at my last church, the one where I announced my pregnancy and shared my first months with my first born, I had a whole village of support and care.  No matter what the event, there always would have been someone to help with her.  Someone would have taken her at her best and in a screaming fit to help me do my job.  They were our church, but more importantly, they were her village.  They helped us raise our daughter, from time in the office, to time in the nursery, to babysitting at our house when I had Bible study or we had an emergency, they were there and I had a list of folks I could call on.

So, when I was anticipating a transition, I thought a lot about who I might turn to. Who would be there to help? Who would not mind taking a screaming child out of worship? Who could stay late to keep her entertained while I did this that or the other?  This was a big deal for me.  I felt pretty sure I could take whatever the church could dish out, but I wasn’t sure how my young child who only knew one home and one church would fare without “her people.” 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

She Should Dye Her Hair Blue

“She should dye her hair blue.”
“She didn’t make me feel welcome or accepted.”

Those are the two statements I remember from my annual resident review when I worked for Res Life at UCLA my senior year.  Those are the only two statements I remember.  I had 99 residents and most of them filled out the survey and most of them said positive things about me, but these two are the only two that stuck in my mind.  

I don’t know about for you, but for me it’s always been easy to focus on the things I did wrong and was critiqued for instead of the things I did well and am affirmed for.  I could tell myself that there were some 80+ positive comments made.  No complaints from those folks.  But the good isn’t what stuck.  Even 10 years later.  

So, it’s not really a surprise that 7 months of positive feedback from a congregation and 8 years of solid ministry are overshadowed by the skewed complaints of a handful of folks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of affirmations about my preaching, my care, my compassion, my wisdom, my maturity, my leadership compared to a couple dozen complaints and I can be thrown completely off my game.  It’s ridiculous. 
Not that I shouldn’t hear those complaints or do some self examination.   But when I hear them, I tend to quickly accept them as absolute truth and then beat myself up for not getting it perfect, despite all the other wonderful things that have been said about me.  That seems unreasonable, at least when I step back to look at it.  

In talking about it with my uncle, he said, “Someone can call you a tree or a cow, but that doesn’t make you a tree or a cow.”  But my inclination is to take it as truth if they said it.  My rule in ministry has been “perception is 9/10 of the rule.” Perception becomes the truth you have to deal with.  Which by default means that when I’m perceived as “hard to read” “not a team player” or “too negative” that I have accepted those as truth for myself. They are the truth of the perception, but they may not be the truth of my character, my style, or my leadership.  

Going back to the quotes at the top, I can ask, “Did I really need to dye my hair blue or was that one person’s opinion or maybe just their attempt at comedy?”  and for the other “Did I offer welcome to everyone or did I treat this student differently?”  If I offered the same welcome I did other students, then it might be this student’s issue and not my failure.  Or maybe it’s my failure, but 1 out of 99 isn’t all that bad.  Not to be dismissive, but just to put it in perspective.  
Regardless of who you are or how well you lead, complaints will surface.  Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s something you didn’t do. Or maybe it’s just that you’re not the last pastor.  Or that someone has an axe to grind.  It is important to be open to feedback and accessible for conversation. It’s also important to remember that just because someone said it, doesn’t mean it’s Gospel truth.  You may have to clean up a misperception, but you don’t have to wear the words that are thrown your way.