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Conviction from a Not-Quite 5 Year Old

3 Feb

My sweet (and mostly crazy) firstborn will be 5 in nineteen days.  We are filling out her app for kindergarten and just registered her for softball.  How did she get so big?  She is brilliant like her daddy.  Her brain – and mouth – never stop.  She is currently obsessed with playing wii or computer games.  She reads like a champ and either torments or adores her sister (depends on the moment).  She has approximately 5,637 stuffed animals that seem to appear in every corner of our house.  She always has a plan or story going on in her head.  I am beginning to see how much we are alike and so we often drive each other crazy. I love her more than the planet.

And today, God used her before I had barely even opened my eyes to convict me.

I was sleeping a little later because she had visited in the middle of the night to share a dream that involved a skunk spraying her between her toes.  She has now mastered the froofy all-in-one remote her daddy has configured, so on typical mornings she usually heads to the Disney Channel before I even see her.

But this morning she climbed in my bed and started talking before I really even knew she was there.  “Mama,” she said. “Before I got out of bed this morning I prayed for all of the kids who don’t know Jesus.  I prayed that God would send them Bibles so that they could know Him.”  Then she hugged me and skipped out to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Wow.

How incredible that lost people were the first thing on her mind this morning?  And I was super convicted that they weren’t on mine.  When was the last time I had prayed for kids who don’t know Jesus and asked God to send His Word to them?  I won’t answer that out loud, because I don’t like the answer.

I’m fully convinced that God will use my girls to change the world.  They’re certainly already changing me!

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What We Put in Little Hearts

18 Dec

Both my undergrad and master’s degrees were in education.  I know textbook child development and I have learned what the books say about how impressionable little minds are.  Brain research intrigues me, especially what discoveries have been made about how much even babies can learn.

But none of that really registered until I had two little people of my own in my house.  I also learned that despite all of that head knowledge the busy-ness of each day – making breakfast, brushing teeth, settling arguments, cleaning messes, driving to gymnastics, and on and on and on – can drown out the things that we want to put into the hearts of our little ones.

–  I want to teach them to value  God’s Word – but I barely squeeze in a Bible story before bed.

–  I want to teach them to give to others – but the constant question at Christmas is “What are you getting?”

–  I want to teach them to value prayer – but then we rush to get to bedtime.

–  I want them to have a heart for missions and serving others – but our time is spent either being “busy” or resting from being so busy.

I know that there is a great gap between what I envision planting in my kids and what the volume of our days actually says.  I also become increasingly aware that the days are slipping away.  How are mine 3 and turning 5?

Today we had a neat opportunity to put the right things in their hearts. We got to deliver food to some needy members of our community.  My prayer is that in our family, these occasions will be more of the norm and not the unusual.

As the mama, I must fight EVERY day to invest in my own kids.  If I’m intentional about my church ministry, I must be even more intentional with the babies God has entrusted to me.

No Such Thing as Balance: Rhythm and Seasons

6 Sep

As a fulltime Mama and fulltime children’s minister, probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned over the past 4+ years is that balance is unobtainable.  At least for me.   I think a lot of the mama guilt and a lot of the employee guilt that we struggle with is based on the false idea that to be perfectly fair equals all time has to be evenly divided.  If I spend four hours with my family, I need to spend at least four hours on work.  There is a continual guilt because life just doesn’t divide into halves very well.  And then VBS week comes along and any hope of balance goes quickly out the window.

Instead, I’ve learned that the two key words are: rhythm and seasons.

Rhythm: Instead of struggling with wondering if everything is even, I should focus on a rhythm of life that meets the needs of my family and accomplishes the tasks of ministry.  Rhythm focuses on making healthy choices and making an intentional plan for each day so that you make sure you are a good steward of your time.  20 hour days are not part of a healthy rhythm.  Lack of sleep or lack of downtime or lack of time to eat are not healthy rhythms and lead to bad things.  Finding a rhythm that you are comfortable and that works for your family is what is important.

Seasons: Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season…”  Ministry is no exception.  Jim Wideman often says that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.  When I think in that perspective I realize that I don’t have to be all things to all people in all seasons.  I can do an awful lot more now in ministry than I could when my girls were babies.  I would have killed myself trying to do it all then.  I had to realize that for a season, I was limited in certain ways.  I would be in ministry for a long time.  They would only be babies for a season.  Right now they are preschoolers.  A new season will come in few years when they are in school for most of the day.  Hard seasons get better.

There are also different seasons throughout the ministry year.  VBS week or camp week are totally unfair to my family.  I can be wracked with guilt, or I can recognize that this is a very brief season.  There are other times throughout the year when ministry is slow and that is the season to invest a little more time with my family.  I will try to take vacation or plan special fun times right before or right after busy ministry seasons.  When I remember that it is temporary, I can do what God’s called me to do without fighting quite so much guilt.

God’s job for me is to discern what He wants me to do in the season of ministry that I’m in.  He loves my family and my ministry more than I do.  Only by following His leading can I serve both well, and keep my sanity!

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Doing Ministry from Home

26 Aug

The Good:

–  Face time with my kids – even if I’m working, I get to see my kids’ faces and they get to see mine.  Though I have to say quite a few times “I can’t find your Barbie right now, Mama is working” or “I can’t help you with that stage on Wii, Mommy’s working”, I am at least here to say that.

–  Getting more done – I know everyone’s work style is different, but I truly can accomplish more in the comfortable setting of my comfy chair and pjs.

–  Fewer interruptions from tall people – I love people and I love the people I work with.  And I know I am terrible about walking into others’ offices and interrupting their work flow.  I need to do better.  But that is also part of office community.  It’s good, but at the same time it can really hinder productivity.  And, yes, at home if my little people are awake I am interrupted constantly, but I can send them to timeout if needed. 🙂

–  Great connection with volunteers – One of my biggest worries was that my volunteers would feel slighted that I wasn’t in the office during office hours.  But the reality is, most of them work real jobs too and they aren’t available to think church business during office hours either.  Part of my crazy working schedule includes lunches with volunteers and their kids or late night ice cream runs to chat ministry or Facebook chat recruiting.

The Bad:

–  Work never really stops – I fit productive times around and throughout my girls’ schedule.  This often results in working whenever I can.  I often use the phrase “I’m always working and always not working.”  I don’t clock out at 4:30.  I just get it done when I can.

Impossible to do anything in a straight line – This is probably more the dysfunction of my brain more than it is a result of working from home, but I am usually working on chunks of different projects all at the same time – usually something at the office, something before dinner, something before bed.  There’s usually lots of zig zags, lots of requests for juice, a few games of The Ladybug Game, finding a lost stuffed animal, and a few timeouts before a task is completed.

–  Having two work spaces – I wish I had a dollar for everytime I said, “Aw man, I left that at the office.”  Seems like too often what  I’ve needed here I’ve left there and vice versa.

The Ugly:

Constant struggle between:

–  Mama Guilt – When I’m working I feel bad I’m a bad mama.  I feel bad when I have to say “wait” or “stop that” or “Mama can’t right now”.

–  Employee Guilt – When I’m being mama, I feel like I’m a bad employee.  I feel I need to overwork at other times to compensate for the minutes I am being mama during the day.

Remedies:

Choose your guilt – Andy Stanley’s book Choosing to Cheat was a life changer for me.  Basically he says you can’t be everything to everybody.  You are going to cheat someone. If you are giving 110% to work you are cheating your family.  If you’re giving 110% to your family, you’re cheating work.  You will cheat, so choose your guilt.  Choose what you are going to feel bad about.   Ministry is a marathon not a sprint.  Ministry will still exist when my girls are bigger.  I can NEVER have these days back when they are little.  I do not want to cheat them.

Time management and planning–  One of the greatest skills I learned from Jim Wideman is to track my time and to very specifically plan my time.  This did two things:  1) made sure I was utilizing my time most efficiently and 2) relieved some guilt because I could see on paper how much time I was spending with my girls and how much time I was working.

Iphone – Though it could probably now be classified as an addiction, I started with a Blackberry and then my husband graduated me to an iphone.  Having email in my hand has made ministry from home possible.  I can respond to volunteers’ emails quickly even if I’m standing on the playground or at the office or sitting at a red light.

Google docs – I put important documents that I need to access from anywhere I’m working on Google Docs.  I can pull it up and edit it from home, from the office, and even from my phone.  That’s eliminated alot of the stress of forgetting.

So, I know there are more of you out there who work from home.  What are your good/bad/uglies?

Making Decisions About Balancing Family and Ministry

24 Aug

This post is part of a series called “Being the Mama and the Minister”.  You can read the other posts here and here.

In the last post I shared a little of my story of dealing with decisions of how to stay home with my kids and continue in ministry as well.  If you’re facing this kind of decision whether it is because of a new baby or any other family issue, here is my advice (for whatever it is worth):

–  Pray a lot.  You are about to make decisions that impact you, your family, your future family, your church, your staff, your volunteers… you get the point.  You want to be very clear that you are walking in God’s path.

–   Talk to your spouse. Don’t make any decisions alone.  You are one team.  Make sure you both are as close to being on the same page as you can be before you take another step.  You don’t want to set your relationship up for hidden resentment (he made me keep working or she quit and is costing us money…)

–   Define your priorities. Decide for yourself what is most important.  Being home with my babies was most important to me.  If the choice had been put the babies in fulltime daycare or quit, I probably would have quit.  Now, let me clarify that this was the decision and priority that was right for our family.  If you’re a mama reading this who has made a different choice, I rebuke the mama-guilt creeping in.  🙂  Your family decisions are between you, your spouse and God.  But it is essential that you define those and make your choices based on them.

–  Define your non-negotiables and define what has give-and-take. How much childcare are you willing to do and feel comfortable with?  How much time can you be in the office?

–  Are you being realistic? You’ve dreamed and determined your ideal plan.  Before you talk to anyone, take some time for some  honest evaluation.  Is your plan realistic for your church?  Can you work the way you have planned and truly be productive?  Can you do what you are planning without hindering the work of your ministry?  Can your family still function in the arrangement you have in mind?  Answer the hard questions before someone asks them.

–  Talk to your supervisor and/or pastor first.  If he/she is not comfortable with your proposed arrangement, you need to tread lightly.  Remember your job is to serve those God has put over you.  And just because they don’t immediately agree to what you want to do doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, that they hate families, or that they aren’t listening to God.  I could mean that either they just aren’t ready for it yet and God has to work them through it OR that your plan just might not be a fit for the organization.  This is why you have pre-determined your non-negotiables and what you can and can’t live with.

–  Be patient and don’t have a sense of entitlement. No one owes you anything, no matter how long you’ve worked somewhere or what you’ve done.  Be humble.  Be grateful for any amount that your church is willing to work with you.

–  Honor your commitments. Work harder than anyone expects.  Do what you said you were going to do.  Go above and beyond the call of duty when you can.  At the same time, be intentional about carving out time for your family and honoring your commitment to them as well.

How I Know My Church Truly Values Family…

23 Aug

This is post is part of a series called “Being the Mama and the Minister”.  The first post was here.

So I was pregnant, I didn’t feel led to quit my job, and I didn’t feel comfortable with putting my child in childcare all day long.  Sounds like an easy problem to solve, huh?  🙂

The first hurdle we had to cross was the issue of maternity leave.  I was the first pregnant staff person, I think ever.  We had no maternity leave policy.  Thankfully I had not been sick much and had LOTS of days saved up.  This was a plan that made me nervous because of the unknown of what happens after the baby is born.  What if she was sick or what if something happened?  But I trusted that God and our staff would provide.  It was a catalyst, though, for our teams to formulate an official policy (unfortunately that happened after I had my SECOND baby, but that was God’s fault… we didn’t plan for them to be so close together. 🙂 )

The second was the big question of what happens to my job.  My proposal was to be able to work from home for a large majority of the work week.  I usually accomplished more in the evenings with my laptop than I did in the office anyway.  I felt I could do it, but it was a very different concept from anything we had done before.  There was also the question of how other staff and how my volunteers would respond.

I also tried very hard to make known that along with my proposal, if the arrangement ever became a detriment to the ministry or to the church, we would change it at that moment.  I did not want my personal needs to negatively impact what God was doing in the kids ministry.

I really think most churches and most pastors would have laughed at my crazy proposal, if they would have even listened in the first place.  Working from home is a lot more common now than it was 5 years ago.  They could have very easily told me if I wanted to keep working there I would have to make childcare arrangements.

But they didn’t.

They were gracious enough to let us try it.  And we did.  And it has worked.  I won’t say it has always been easy, but we’ll talk about that in another post.  And I feel that God has blessed both sides.  As my oldest prepares for 5K next year, I can’t imagine not having had this time to invest in her.  I feel I would have always regretted sacrificing her early years for ministry.  And on the flip side, had I quit, I think a part of me would have always felt like something was missing.  And in some ways, the escape of ministry has given me sanity in the crazy days of mothering two preschoolers.

And God has blessed the ministry in spite of my crazy working arrangement.  We survived a relocation, programming changes, and more.  I don’t say that to brag because it was definitely all God, but He was able to use me even when I wasn’t in my office chair 40 hours a week.  More posts later, but I’ve learned more in the past four years than I think I would have in a typical situation.

But what I’ve learned most is that my pastor and staff love my family more than they love me being in the office.  (Wow, that totally set them up for lots of sarcastic remarks).  Our church values family, and as long as I have maintained my end of the bargain, they have fully supported me being the mama and the minister.  In fact our administrator allowed my girls to sit in on a phone conference meeting in which my 4 year old was trying to lick ketchup off her arm.  Doesn’t get more family friendly than that. 🙂

How can we be a church that says we value families if we don’t invest and support the families within our own staff?

Being the Mama and the Minister: New Blog Series

20 Aug

A little over five years ago my ministry world changed dramatically.  I found out I was pregnant.  My husband and I were beyond thrilled.  However, we had some things to figure out.  At that point I had served as Minister to Children at our church for three years and I loved it.  I had no doubt that I was still called.  I had no sense from God that He was done with me at Westwood.  Not to mention that quitting was not a financial option either.  In fact my husband lost his job 4 weeks before my daughter was born!

Yet, my husband and I both had quite a burden for fully investing in our babies’ lives.  For goodness sakes, I have degrees in education… I have read all the studies of how important it is for a baby to have a mama home with her.

And so, 9 months later, the great balancing act began… but more on that tomorrow.

I recognize that mine has been a somewhat unique situation, but maybe some of our story will resonate with you somewhere along the path. I know many of you who read this are parents and many of the struggles are universal.  Many of you are in ministry and seek balance of family time.  Some of you may have someone on your staff one day who is living my world.  Who knows?  🙂  But thanks for being along for the ride.