Explaining Compassion and Justice to Kids

Social justice is a “trendy phrase” in the church.  But equipping the church to be mindful of the ways God calls us to faithfully live out biblical justice is so much more than an idea or catchy phrase to say.  Here are just a few of the ways we explain what it means to be on ‘mission with God’missional, and how we explain compassion and justice.

How we engage “Mission” with kids

At Quest Kids we are all about loving God, loving other people, and loving God’s world. Each of us can be a missionary in our own community. We have been given the special mission of sharing God’s love and shining God’s light in our schools and neighborhoods.  As disciples of Jesus, Jesus followers, we are invited to live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved, and share the good news of Jesus love with the people around us.  Really it is about participating in the work that God is already doing in the world- in our neighborhoods, schools, families, communities and everywhere.

Idea #1: Kids following God’s mission

We have friends around the world who are also following God’s mission. They are loving Jesus and sharing God’s love in their own communities!  We can ask God how he wants us to love people in our communities well.

Idea #2: What is God’s mission?

“To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.” – David J. Bosch in Transforming Mission

Idea #3: What does it mean to have compassion?

Having compassion is caring about people who are hurting.  We are aware of other people’s stories and pain or needs.  We are empathetic toward theirs stories, needs, or pains.

Think of this as a day-to-day question: What helps right now?

 Idea #4: What would justice look like for this group of people I am supporting?

Justice is asking what systems are creating the thing that is hurting people.

Think of this as a long-term question: What would help ten years down the road not have this problem anymore?

Idea #5: Other ways Quest Kids are “Kids Following God’s Mission”

  • We give to others. Our weekly offering goes to Covenant World Relief children’s projects.
  • We make friends with other kids following God’s mission around the world (Global Mission Partners)
  • We serve others.
  • We help our homeless friends in the community by making and giving out blessing bags.

What ways does your family follow the mission of God?

Scripture that remind us to in God’s mission, and not be on mission by ourselves!

indigenous people’s day

It’s Indigenous People’s Day today. Some of you may know it by it’s former name.  Columbus Day.  Maybe you were like me and you were told a piece of the story growing up.  You know, the part of the story where a brave man named Christopher Columbus discovered this land called “the americas”? Well, I finally put two and two together and realized that all those stories in my childhood of native people’s having their land taken from them, and Columbus were actually one and the same story, but with many half truths, lies, and some very important details taken out.  I finally realized that the land Columbus discovered and Europeans eventually took over, was the land that indigenous people had been living on and thriving in for hundreds if not thousands of years.  The conversations with my parents, about their generations’ games played like, “cowboys and indians”…it didn’t dawn on me how brutal and thoughtless those games were.  How did this get missed? [This one’s on my reading list.] But now I know and I can’t go back.  So here are a few things I’m committing to today [as in, for life].

  • If my kids watch Peter Pan, we will make sure to talk about the stereotypes of Native children also known as “lost boys” in the story.  We will talk about real chiefs and real indigenous female leaders.
  • We will not wear Native American clothing as “costumes”.  So that cute outfit my mom made for my daughter’s dress-up?  It resembles Native American clothing, of some time period (I’m not sure exactly) and if my daughter chooses to wear it, she will know what she’s wearing and whose story it belongs too.  She will hear about Native people’s in our own neighborhood and community.
  • We will be careful to not take tribal designs (clothing, textiles, handbags, jewelry) and claim them as our own.  We will honor them for whose they are and whose story they tell. That’s called cultural appropriation.
  • We watch this, and are amazed by the art of Matika Wilbur.
  • I will tell the stories of children of Native American/First Nations communities and the schools they were forced to attend, so when my kids hear about the challenges of life on the Reservations they will know that these communities have faced many hardships- generations of families broken apart, lack of systems that support, and emotional and psychological trauma that exceeds anything my children will probably ever face.
  • We will commit ourselves to seeing the beauty of creation that God made, and seeing the beauty of indigenous people’s cultures and traditions that keep them rooted in their identity.
  • We will read books, and books by Indigenous authors, not just books about “Native Americans” by non-native authors. Check out this list to start.
  • I will remember Richard Twiss and Wiconi International and pray for the ministry of Corey Greaves and Mending Wings.  I will thank my friend Lenore Three Stars for her wisdom and writing.
  • I will choose not to ignore the #NoDAPL.  Watch this.

It is Indigenous People’s Day.  But every day is a day for all people to be fully and completely themselves including indigenous people in this country.

A day in the life of a Kids Pastor: Reflections on story and finding hope

Sundays. Church days. Early mornings and long afternoons.  Sometimes I come home with a tired soul, a weary soul. Other days I come home elated. Grateful, thankful, amazed.  Most often it’s a mix of things.  But every week there are new stories, new prayers, new experiences that shape our church family.  This week was no exception.  Sometimes people wonder, what do Kids Director’s and Kids Pastors do on Sundays?  Especially if you are not in a classroom teaching.  These are the moments of my day I needed to reflect on.  These are the moments that remind me of my need for God and God’s powerful presence.  Here’s a snapshot of the day of  Kids Pastor.

Early morning prayer and prep.  Reading lessons in case I need to fill in for someone.  Walking through the list of things happening at church today: baby dedications, pastors visiting all the classrooms to pray a back to school blessing for every child, kids worship meeting, training new leaders, inviting kids to fill our chalk board wall with the names of their schools.  Prayer. Worship. Teaching. Small Groups.

The moment my feet cross the threshold of the church building- my spirit stirs.  I hear the worship team practicing- this week I let someone in who was running late- smiles and laughter mark the 60 second conversation.  I walk into the grade school chapel and greet our worship leader who is pouring over music and practicing for the day.  We talk about worship plans and things we left unplanned for the week.  We talk about changes and setting a meeting to finalize the new kids choir being put together.

I check with the tech team to fix an error I made in the week on an important announcement and I head to team prayer meetings.  Our Kids Staff gathers at 8. We are here.  We look at each other and take a deep breath- we are packing a lot of things into this “back to school” Sunday, anticipating over 200 kids at church this day.  Our teams are still short-handed and we wonder if our classrooms will be managed chaos or gardens of spiritual growth (probably a combination of the two).  We pray a prayer reminding ourselves that we are able because GOD is ABLE.

The leaders arrive and check-in begins.  Families trickle through the door- some with boundless energy others looking sleepy from whatever burdens they carry or late nights they experienced.  All are greeted with a “good morning” and a smile.  This is how it begins.

This Sunday in particular was filled with so many things.  At each service we dedicated a child- one, the child of our worship director which was powerful and emotional; the other was for a family that is moving away soon- bittersweet blessings and goodbyes.  I prayed a prayer of blessing over each child, listening for the spirit to direct my words as the congregation stretches their hands forward as a sign of coming alongside the family.  A few minutes after dedications, pastors and leaders laid hands on one of our staff who is moving out of state.  Another tearful goodbye.  We pray a blessing- believing good things are in store for the next chapter, while also mindful of a hole in our hearts for the deep impact this staff person carries on our lives.

The day continues. I race to the kids area to find a check-in computer spitting out blank white labels at will.  This is not what it is suppose to do!  Families are waiting in the hall with anxious and weary faces entertaining their toddlers.  A classroom is full and these parents are wondering- will my child be able to go to class?  Will I sit in the sanctuary with a squirmy child in my lap or a Bible in my lap?  We comfort and explain, we check and double check classrooms and do our best to make space for everyone.  So after resetting label printers and saying good-bye to relieved parents, I walk to our PreKinder class to share with them our exciting Tithes and Offerings project for the school year, “Kids Helping Kids: Peacemaking”.  Explaining tithe to 5 year olds is fun and funny.  Tithe is our gift to God!  “I have a quarter at home!” says a child.  I ask them what they know about fighting, not getting along, and sadness when hard things happen.  They know these things.  Fighting over toys, crying when you get hurt.  And God asks us to be peacemakers, so where there is fighting we are called to be helpers, when someone is sad we are called to be comforting.  When there are people doing good work in the world we can support that- sometimes by sharing money.  So that’s what our church does with our tithes.  We draw a connection between their experiences of fighting and sadness and communities in the world that fight- that’s war, and people groups that are sad because they are hungry or they don’t have houses to live in- there is poverty.  It cannot be a one time conversation- because there is so much to take in.  But these kids know. One little girl raised her hand and said, “my mom and I don’t have a home.  My mom had to leave.”  I knew her story and the family that has taken her in as refuge, and in that moment my heart cracked and also swelled because I know that there are good people in this sweet little girl’s life who are working for restoration in her family and for her especially.  In that room- we are nurturing little peace makers.

One little boy is lying face down on the floor- resisting encouragement to sit up and participate.  Another child is wandering around the back of his classroom, eyebrows knit together clearly upset to be at church this morning.  The wails coming out of the 1 year olds classroom echoed in the hallways.  It was a hard day for some of our babies.  There were three bloody noses at one of the services, but everyone recovered well, including the teachers who had to quickly respond to these incidents while managing a classroom of kids.  These are the things that volunteer Kids Ministry Leaders don’t always know they are signing up for.

I visit our 4th and 5th grade classroom where they are discussing the impact of Adam and Eve’s sin and separation from God.  One child astutely asks- do you think that because Adam and Eve left the garden, God put obstacles in their way to teach them when they try to rely on their own abilities they will become stronger?  Or does God put challenges in their way so they will fail and recognize they need him?  Another child says, well not that sin was a good thing, but it’s good that they had to work- work is a good thing for us, so we don’t get lazy.  As our small group leaders navigates the ins and outs of big questions and big ideas and swirling thoughts- we see kids thinking, wondering, trying to imagine and fill in the gaps of the stories.  Of course- we run out of time to have all our conversations tied up neatly- if that is even possible.  We did our best to remind the kids that the sin was to disobey God and eat the apple, but the greater sin and consequence of the Fall was separation from God.  Adam and Eve wanted to figure it out on their own- to be in charge of themselves, and that was not a part of God’s plan.  God had created them for community, and communion with their Creator.  This is what God pursues in restoring people to God’s self.

I was reminded of my own fallenness as I had a conversation with a parent who had showed up prepared to do something for kids ministry and I cancelled the opportunity without speaking to her first.  I recognized my own brokenness in that moment, trying to “make things work” and “make wise choices” which sometimes means I take control when I just need to let go.  It stuck with me for a while, and I had to return to the parent and ask for forgiveness.  Yes- we all make mistakes- even Kid’s Pastors.

As I walked through the area behind the sanctuary I saw one of our parents standing alone- and I walked right over.  This parent is part of a family that has lovingly opened their home to dear friends from out of state whose child is battling cancer.  And though they hold onto hope for a miracle- the family was saying their goodbyes and heading home for care.  It’s been a bloody and brutal battle and the prayer warriors and doctors have been fighting around the clock, and love has been showered out, and this little girl has demonstrated strength and resilience and joy beyond her precious eight years of life…but the burden is great, and not carried alone.  As I hugged this friend and we cried together, we sat with the hurt- reflecting on the unbearable pain it would be, were it one of our own children, empathetic pain for another parent.  How do we help? How do we pray? Why is cancer taking our babies?

Shortly after, I was stopped by a mom between services who asked if she could pray for me.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I never refuse.  She had sensed God asking her to pray for me as my youngest heads off to Kindergarten.  This was something that had been consuming my thoughts all week as we waited with anticipation for the start of the new school year.  I received the prayer- fully aware that God was ministering to me even as I was ministering to others.  I love that about God.

As the day was winding down and we were saying our goodbyes to kids for the week, a parent stopped by and dropped some heavy news.  Her husband had just left her.  They were okay for the moment but she was worried about her three kids and how they would manage this burden.  Oh God. Not another one.  With tears in our eyes, we talked about resumes and jobs and paying bills and buying groceries.  We prayed and made a plan to connect later in the week.  I looked up and was greeted by a another parent who is also walking through a difficult season of life.  I was reminded as I saw a small glimmer in her eyes- eyes that had once been hollow and empty- were showing signs of life.  We embraced with a knowing look that it was good to see her at church, even if it’s a struggle to show up.  She showed up and that was good.

I was gathering my things and looked up to see one of our volunteers who I had been hoping to connect with- she was free for coffee so we decided to have a spontaneous meet up.  We sat down for coffee and she began to share her life story.  Bits and pieces came out as she shared challenges and struggles and calling and gifts and passions she has been able to use and dreams she is seeking to fulfill.  As story after story of struggle and brokenness and hope and life were shared I was- once again- so acutely aware that this was sacred space, these were stories of pain and also of courage, of challenge and also resiliency.  What was seemingly impossible- was made possible.

I share these stories- as much for myself as for anyone who might read them.  Ministry in the church is often hard.  It is often painful.  People face really hard things.  And ministry in the church is also full of goodness and joy and hope.  Without masking pain, or hiding things, it is possible to share burdens and have hope.  It is possible to doubt God’s goodness, or wonder if God is present- while still allowing God to demonstrate God’s love.  Church is a place that holds both sorrow and rejoicing! We experience powerful connection to God through worship music – dancing, singing, arms wide-open in full surrender.  We experience encouragement in our faith by allowing others to share their faith and wisdom with us, to teach and guide us.  We are strengthened when we allow the church family to come alongside us and support us. We are recipients of God’s grace and unending love when we participate in communion- taking the bread and drinking the wine- marking us a followers of Jesus.

I close my eyes at the end of the day, heart cracked in many ways, but somehow still beating strong and blood flowing.  My reflection feels incomplete- there is something that I’m missing.  Maybe it’s something to do with strength.  Something to do with offering up all these people, these stories, these experiences of the day to God.  That God sees it all and knows it all and is still God over all.  Peacemaker.  God is the ultimate maker of peace.  I want to be a peace maker too.  My heart longs for families to be whole, for kids to have hearts turned toward Jesus- fully submitting to this God of love who will journey with them through all of life’s challenges and bring them to greatness as they walk with God.  My heart longs for healing and restoration.  My heart longs for hope to be stronger than defeat, for courage to be stronger than fear, for faith to be stronger than doubt.

This the anthem we are singing in our house these past few weeks.  It’s a banner that covers everything we say and do and experience.  Hakuna mungu kama wewe  – Swahili for there’s no one like Jesus. We sing it at the top of our lungs.  We dance.  We remember. We celebrate, there is no one, no one like our God.

This is Sunday.

My Journey to Kids Ministry

M101_0111y journey in KidMin began when I turned 10 or 11 and was allowed to volunteer in the church nursery on Wednesday nights.  I had sung on the kids worship team, memorized the books of the bible and the scripture memory booklet as fast as I could.  I knew the church layout backward and forward and could not wait to love on some little kids.  To serve, was the highest form of responsibility and ownership of my faith I could imagine.  To be trusted with the care of the church’s little ones.

After graduating from college, I was entrusted with my first kids ministry at Quest in Seattle, WA. This picture captures the first experience we had together, bonding outside of Sunday mornings. This VBS included the 4 kids from our church, 4 from the church across the parking lot (which would later become our own!), a handful of friends from the church planting community, and the kids that I nannied.  We were an eclectic mix, to say the least.  A lot has changed since 2003.  Our journey has been special, unique and unforgettable.

Quest-VBS-38

My favorite “shift” in ministry at Quest has been our growth to become a vibrant Children and Family Ministry.  It has not been so much about programs, but rather the ministry philosophy, and the way we view the work that is being done in the church, for and WITH children. We do not DO children’s ministry because the children need us.  God is always at work, our job is to simply come alongside God in God’s work.  As the Holy Spirit moves and stirs in a church, kids are in a great position to hear the voice of God and respond in worship.  We create environments and space for God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.  By inviting kids to participate, we learn and grow together.

KidMin is a dynamic and changing culture in church ministry.  I believe within the next decade the church will move from seeing kids as the most vulnerable people in the worshipping community (though they will certainly be vulnerable) to the most valuable in the worshipping community as we move toward re-integrating them into the church body and allowing God to bless the church through their gifts and passions and dreams.  Keeping kids connected to their faith, when the world seems to draw them away from God at every corner, will mean providing space for their faith to be acknowledge as authentic, real, and a true gift to the church.

The Decision to Go Back to School

When I graduated college, I had a plan. 

Get a job. Get some ministry experience.  Go back to school. Somewhere along the way I was going to start a family and write a children’s book series about the Bible with a specific multicultural lens.

Yeah, about our plans.  They don’t usually happen the way we think they will, do they?

Isaiah 55:3, 8-9 “Listen and come to me. Pay attention to me. Then you will live. I will make a covenant with you that will last forever. I will give you my faithful love…“My thoughts are not like your thoughts. And your ways are not like my ways,”
announces the Lord. “The heavens are higher than the earth. And my ways are higher than your ways. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

After four years, falling in love with my job and faith community, I left Children’s Ministry to start a family.  My husband and I, yet again, had a plan.  I would stay at home with the kids and get back into ministry when they were older.  Open-ended discussion.  I loved being at home with my newborn son, but it wasn’t long before my heart was beating again for children and family ministry in the church.  After prayer and struggle and identity crisis, I returned to my church and began ministry, now as a mom.  By the time I returned, my second child was born and the 3rd trailed not far behind.

Going to seminary became a distant dream…until one season where I began to address some fear issues (thanks church community, you really like to break me out of my comfort zone don’t you?!).  Suddenly when my fear was laid bare on the table, there only seemed to be one response:

COURAGE.

Reflecting on how God was asking me to be courageous led to a one year process of pursing licensing with our denomination, Evangelical Covenant.  I am now the Associate Pastor of Children and Family Ministry at Quest Church  my home for the past 12 years.  Due to working with the best staff ever, and a fantastic team in Children & Family Ministry , I serve part-time at church and enjoy “work at home mom” status half-time.  Continuing the pattern of courageous baby steps, I’m returning to school part time in Fall 2014 for the MDiv program at Seattle Pacific Seminary.  My alma mater.

Proverbs 4:11-13, I instruct you in the way of wisdom
and lead you along straight paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
when you run, you will not stumble.
Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
guard it well, for it is your life.

When I graduated, God had a plan. I am along for the ride.

More on the journey to come!

Why Reconciliation and Family Ministry?

Two things in ministry have deeply impacted my life and calling as a pastor to kids and families.  I feel a deep sense of personal conviction to Reconciliation and Family Ministry.

Art Easter 5AMy journey of reconciliation began in my first year in college.  I was 17, excited to leave home and discover what God had planned for my life.  I took courses my freshman year that turned my life upside down and shifted my whole perspective on culture, faith and ministry. I was suddenly face to face with Jesus, in the midst of personal pain and trial, feeling called to global and urban cross-cultural ministry.  Through God’s nudging, my tripping, and the prodding of people who loved me, I developed a new lens by which to view my faith in light of God’s multi-cultural kingdom.  I took steps forward and began a new season of listening and learning and responding.  I developed an awareness of privilege and power and discovered in new ways Jesus’ love of the poor and marginalized in our world.  It was a time to pay attention to the world around me and be attuned to God’s work- reconciling, redeeming and transforming people.  I noticed this in friendships, through listening to other people’s stories; in what I read, in the conversations I had, in the people and places I felt called to serve.

As I sought to live into this new perspective I found my self developing new relationships with people who were different than me; involved in homeless ministry; getting to know my city in new ways, exploring churches and discovering the rich cultural diversity of Seattle; leading a campus worship ministry; serving in inner city Philadelphia, traveling to the Yucatan to learn and serve alongside the people of Merida, Mexico.  In this season I met my husband and got to know his bi-cultural Lebanese and Dutch family.  Along the way I learned a lot about myself, my family and heritage, and my own identity as a white female who was called to multi-ethnic children’s ministry.  What I began learning about myself and others so many years ago, I am still learning.

Faith in my youth years was about personal devotion time, faithfully attending church, participating in worship and serving my church and community.  It was about praying and reading the Bible and memorizing scripture and telling others about Jesus.  All good things.  Overtime though I have seen that all these things- apart from understanding God’s work of reconciliation in my life and our call, as believers, to the ministry of reconciliation- had meant my faith was about me.  It was individual and in many ways self-gratifying.  If I do the right things, say the right things, pray the right prayers, I’ll be good with God.  But if I am truly following Jesus, then I will be not only spending quiet time with God in the early hours of the morning, and participating in the life of the Church every week, but I will be seeking out ways to love those our society rejects, to clothe the poor and feed the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless and seek the welfare of our city.  I will be speaking out against the injustices of our culture- these are things that Jesus did and I want to follow his footsteps.  This is radical kingdom faith that is not only about my personal relationship with Jesus, but my faithfulness and obedience to a life of radical kingdom living.

Reconciliation is a transforming journey of confession and forgiveness with God and between people that restores broken relationships, social structures and systems.

This is the life of devotion I have been invited in to.  And so I began asking new questions. What does it mean to trust God when there is no hope? What does faith look like in the face of cancer?  How can I walk along side brothers and sisters of color who face micro-agression, racism, and prejudice daily? What does it mean to truly listen to someone and love them as Jesus would? How do I offer a Jesus-size measure of compassion, mercy and justice in the world? How can I praise God joyfully and still lament with others when confronted with pain, loss, violence, abuse, issues social injustice, racism, and human trafficking?  What does it mean to have a teachable spirit? What bold, brave and courageous steps is God calling me to, as I seek to be faithful to God’s mission in the world- to see all of creation redeemed, restored and made new?  What am I to stand up for, who am I to stand in solidarity with?  How can I be a better listener?  Whose story am I invited into- to hold with dignity, value and worth?  These questions have formed me, and continue to be a part of my journey of transformation.

This transformational faith is simply about reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others. God invites us into a personal relationship with Him, be we are also invited into the Covenant community of God.  This is holy ground. Mercy, compassion and justice are foundational in this place.  So how do I live it, teach it, preach it?  I am reconciled, and I am called to be a reconciler in the world.  This is both terrifying, humbling and awe-some.

Family Ministry is my jam. I love working with kids.  But I do not do kids ministry in a silo.  Not only do kids need a village of people surrounding them, the village needs our kids.  We know that parents are the primary influence on a child’s faith, and that faith that sticks in a child’s life is faith developed in community.  I dream of the day that children are seen as full participants in the church.  As I have learned over the years, my job is to teach kids, but more than that I believe we are called to create space for kids to learn about and explore their faith.  They practice worship expressions and they “do/live/experience” worship, they ask questions, they provide thoughtful answers to questions.  They play, they laugh, they cry, they sing and pray.  They struggle.  They have hope.  Family ministry is about laying a firm foundation and allowing kids to experience their faith in the safety of the church community, and go out into the world to practice it and live it out.

I also am called to the multi-ethnic or multicultural church.  I see the multi-ethnic church as  joyful expression of God’s love for the world and the Church.  We more fully reflect God’s kingdom when we worship God together- all ages, all ethnicities, all abilities.  This is the beauty and gift of the family of God.  There are many barriers in the US to multiethnic ministry, but Jesus came to break down those barriers.  Jesus is our role model in this.  Jesus did not only heal the most faithful, Jesus did not only teach the teachable, Jesus did not only minister to the religious people.  Jesus loved those whom no one else wanted to love.  Jesus invited the “sinners” to a life transformed.  Jesus praised the sacrifices of those who had little.  Jesus reached out to the poor and called them faithful.  Jesus honored the faith of those who genuinely desired to believe, even when they struggled to believe.  Jesus broke down cultural, social, ethnic, gender and ability barriers.  Jesus invites us to follow Him.

If we are to follow Jesus, then reconciliation must be woven into the fabric of children, youth and family ministry.  What it means to be reconciled to God and the people must be taught, practiced and lived out in our homes and churches. Intentional conversations, awareness of our cultural identity and faith identity, how we treat other people, how we grow and learn from those who are different than us, how we listen and give dignity to people’s lives and stories, and the ways we live out the gospel; all of these are transformational and faith shaping.  I am learning how to be a practitioner of these things.

My hope and prayer is to see children and families wholly reconciled to God and other people, participating in the whole mission of the church; as a community sent by God.

Advent: What Holy Message?

Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of yearning, hoping and expecting. The Israelites waited hundreds of years for God to restore them to a right relationship with their Creator. We have the aid of history on our side today. We spend the season of Advent, not wondering what good news will come at the end of the season, but slowing down the rush to the manger scene. During Advent we wait with anticipation, for the coming of Christ. We wait with hope and expectation to see and hear the good news of God’s Son, the Messiah who arrives on earth to reconcile the world; to restore hope and healing; and who proclaims the kingdom of God breaking in to the world. Advent is a time for the church to remember the light and love, joy and peace that Jesus brings into a broken and deprived world.

We too are like the Israelites and wait in lament and experience the weight of God’s silence in the midst of oppression. We witness illness and death and injustice. We stand with our Latino brothers and sisters who wait for fair immigration reform, or for our black brothers and sisters who face crushing pressures daily through racism, micro-agression, and an unjust criminal system. We sit with those who are homeless, fighting cancer, or battling depression. Their pain becomes our pain. How does the message of Jesus Christ, born in a lowly manger, startling the world with such subtly and humility rather than grandeur and the pomp and circumstance of royalty speak to lament, pain and suffering? What majestic and holy message do we find in the filthy, fetid manger scene? Where does heaven meet earth? God is an out-of-the-box God. God’s glory and presence appears out on the fringes, in the fields with the “least of these”.  Where does Jesus light shine brightest? In the churches, temples and sanctuaries? Or in the depths, the darkness, the corners of the world, with the rejected and outcast. Advent is a season to be reminded of our sin and depravity and brokenness and how God’s light pierces through the darkness, illuminating, healing and strengthening the family of God who is the body of Christ.

Seminary Life- Adjusting

Every couple days someone asks me “how is school?” I am not always sure how to respond, it just depends on whom I am speaking to. Adjusting to seminary life as a working mom has been exhausting and exhilarating. I wake up most mornings at 5:00 and quietly tiptoe past my children’s rooms to the office downstairs. It is dark, but not yet cold, though I know winter is coming. Some mornings, I awake with a heart and mind full and ready to take on the day, other days I wake up overwhelmed by all there is to do and see and listen for and tasks to complete in a day’s work. My goal is to begin each day with prayer and scripture (and coffee). Some days, the two hours I have of quiet is not even enough space to complete my studies or morning prep for the day ahead of me, so I skip the reflection and go straight to work. I have always wrestled with the guilt of making decisions that don’t always reflect my truest, deepest yearnings- out of response to what feels like my most basic felt need. I am learning to accept grace in these spaces that God has for me.

Even something as simple as, what do I put my mind to when I first wake up?, is a very real question I ask myself. In these places where I am tempted to feel guilty about what I am not doing, I aim to remind myself of God’s presence with me in all things. The heart of the matter is where do I place my hope and trust? Is it in my own abilities to accomplish what needs to be done that day? Is it to succeed at doing my job, my role, my position whether that be as wife or mother, pastor, student, or even friend? There are times I am keenly aware that I am striving out of my own efforts, and other days that I sense God’s spirit urging me to press on, sustaining me when I can’t imagine how I will be able to complete a task or finish a day well.

This week, my sister called me from Portland and asked if she could come to Seattle for 2 days. I knew the reading and writing for school that needed to be done. I knew about a very heavy work load at church that I was facing. But after not spending time with my sister for three years as she has traveled the world with YWAM, I knew I had to say yes. We had two awesome days together, though far too brief. When she left however, I was overwhelmed with all I needed to do and I wasn’t sure how it would all get done. My nights were long and my mornings were early, but as I pressed on, taking things a day at a time, by God’s grace, again, what needed to happen, happened. What did not need to be, was not.

The wisdom comes in knowing what it is that does not need to be in that moment or day. Sorting through what is important and what is priority is what I find myself doing these days. My values are right in front of my face, brushing against me like branches of a bush on a nature walk deep in the forest. I cannot get away from them. Does this matter? How am I caring for my children? Does this lead me to a better place in my relationship with my husband? Does this help me connect with people? Does this help me prepare for a day of worship with the church family? Is this life-giving, or energy draining? These questions help form and shape my day. In these questions, God’s spirit speaks and encourages me; and challenges and chastises me.

The choice I made to respond to God’s call and take courageous baby steps of faith by applying to grad school, came with a cost. There is much sacrifice and compromise and giving up of former personal ways of being. The ways I am present for people are different. I can’t host a community group, I can’t volunteer at my kids’ school, I can’t read novels in my free time, the dishes are left in the sink for far too long, but this is only temporary. The gains outweigh the perceived losses. Spending time in scripture, reading, reflection, sharing with other students on the seminary journey, learning from amazing men and women who love God and are serving God through instructing, is just so amazing. I feel the weight of the privilege- and also the joy of responsibility- to soak this season in, and let seminary inform my ways of being. Ultimately it is God who is doing the forming and shaping, and I believe God will use seminary in powerful ways in my life. I will continue to seek quiet space, to receive grace God extends through my own personal acceptance of it, and to ask God for an abundance of hesed– steadfast loving kindness, as I navigate the day-to-day joys and trials of life as a mom, friend, wife, pastor and seminarian.

Joy, Prayer & Thankfulness

20100130-IMG_2415Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

1 Thessalonians 5 does not mince words. We are instructed to do three things:

1) be joyful- always
2) pray continually
3) give thanks in all circumstances

Really God? Always? Continually? In everything?  So many thoughts flood to mind when I read this passage, which is pretty straightforward yet so seemingly impossible!  I can respond a few different ways to this instruction.

I can ignore it. [word of advice: not a good idea.]
I can try my hardest to follow it. [enter: possibility of striving, best intentions, guilt for “not quite living up to expectations”]
I can submit myself to trust Jesus and lean on verse 24 which says, “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it“.  [I’m pretty certain this is the route I want to take!]

This joy, this prayer, this thankfulness is not about me.  It’s not in my own strength that I could be joyful in the midst of pain and heartache.  It is not of my own ability that I could utter a prayer every second of every day when perhaps I’m cursing under my breath; exasperated by any number of situations that occur on a daily basis.  And thankfulness in all circumstances?  By my standards or the world’s standards this is just impossible. 

It’s not about my abilities or giftedness or spiritual up-right-ness.  This instruction is not given to make you and I feel bad, fake a prayer, falsely put on a joyful facade, or lie about feeling thankful. As we seek a genuine, authentic and real relationships with our creator- there is room.  Room for tears. Room for sadness and grief and feeling overwhelmed.  There is space to doubt and question and yell at God (yes, God is big enough to handle my temper tantrums!).  Space to search and wander and wonder and to feel frustration and confusion and experience mystery.

In this passage Paul was speaking to a young church in Thessalonica which was in need of some encouragement and comfort and hope.  Paul did not say these things so they could pretend to have it all together.  Paul did not say these things to give them a “to-do list” for spiritual formation.  He was speaking courage over the people.  He was giving hope to the people.  He was challenging their doubts that God is able.  He was calling them to reach out to the One who rescues and redeems and restore and reconciles and makes right the world unto God’s being.

Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all things.

Paul was not calling them to perfection.  He was calling them to a posture of trust and love and encouraging the Spirit at work within them to come alive.  Let the Holy Spirit live and breathe through you.  You don’t feel like being joyful? That’s okay- take a posture of joy and let God fill that space you might think is empty.  Don’t feel like praying?  Take a posture of openness to listen to God or honestly share what you are thinking and feeling. Let God in to that space. Let the Holy Spirit do her work of taking your thoughts and prayers and rants and tears to the feet of your Maker. Don’t feel like being thankful?  That is okay too.  Allow God to fill that space of gratitude for you. Take a posture of thankfulness and watch the Holy Spirit move and stir.  Faith does not need to be based on your emotions, I have struggled to learn that my whole life.

Have hope that Jesus will return. Hope that the resurrection is real and life after death is possible.  Hope that Christ is faithful in the midst of everyday life. Hope that the Holy Spirit really is alive and at work.

The instruction to be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all things is only possible when we surrender our own ability to Jesus, acknowledge that we certainly can’t do it alone, and invite Jesus to lead the way.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it- 1 Thessalonians 5:24

This is my prayer; one I hope transforms my way of being; to that of gratitude and humility and shalom.

Jesus be my joy when I struggle to feel joyful. Jesus hear my prayer when I have no words to utter what I am thinking or feeling. Jesus be my thanksgiving when I cannot seem to remember what I am thankful for. Your joy is my joy. Your prayer is my prayer. Your song of thanks is my song of thanks.

Family Lent Activities

Scripture
Select a scripture verse that everyone in your family can work on together.  Simplify the language for younger children, or add extra verses for older children and adults.  Write the verse down in a place everyone congregates daily.  Work on the verse together throughout the Lenten Season.

Paper Chain
Make a chain of 46 days (40 days of Lent plus 6 Sundays).  Commonly made of purple construction paper, with a black chain link for Good Friday, this activity is great for a variety of ages.  Each link can have a scripture verse, activity, thought, or just help count down the days to Easter Sunday!

Candle Lighting
Candle lighting is a common practice during Lent, similar to Advent.  You can use 6 white pillar candles, or purple candles.  Place the candles in a prominent place in your house where they will serve as a visual reminder of the Lent Season.

Table Talks
Pick a day of the week that you all eat a meal together and discuss these topics over dinner.  If there is a better night than Monday- switch it up!!!

Table Talk #1 Personal Reflection:

What is something in my life that I can work on during the Lent Season (i.e. being more thankful, better attitude about household chores, kindness toward siblings)

Table Talk #2 Family Compliments: Go around the table and give each person in your family a compliment

Table Talk #3 Serving Each Other: Pick someone in your family to help during the week.  Find at least 2 things you can do for them this week (i.e. do their chores for a day, help with homework, make their bed, pack their lunch, etc.)

Table Talk #4 We are Special: Go around the table and share your thoughts about this question: What is something special about our family?

Table Talk #5 What does Lent mean to Me?  Share with your family what Lent has meant to you this year, what you have liked about it, and how God has spoken to you or been with you.

Table Talk #6 Taking Care of God’s Creation: how can we as a family do a better job of taking care of God’s creation?

Worship & Game Nights
Schedule a special activity time for your family when everyone can be together.  Set aside 45-60 minutes of your evening to listen to some good worship music, or sing together, and play a favorite family game.  Make it fun & special.  Light candles, make popcorn, or do the activity in a family size fort!

Recipes
A great recipe for Hot Cross Buns can be found at: http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/hot-cross-buns-i/Detail.aspx
A recipe for Soft Pretzels can be found at: http://www.faith-at-home.com/recipes/pretzels.html

Resources
40 Ways for 40 Days, 2001, Ligouri Publications
http://www.makingmusicprayingtwice.com/kids-activities/lent-activities