Saturday, September 27, 2014

What I'm doing while NOT at Kidmin 2014

Kidmin 2014 is in full swing in Columbus, Ohio, but alas, I am not attending this year.  I'm bummed and disappointed, but I will survive.

To keep regret and depression at bay, this is what I'm doing while NOT at Kidmin 2014. I am…

  • finding comfort in the "Miss you!" messages from the friends I made while attending past Kidmin Conferences and serving on the Kidmin Inside Track team.  The Facebook pics are precious to me. 
  • preparing and enjoying dinner al fresco on the deck with family instead of dining at the Hyatt. 
  • praying for those attending for the first time - that they make as many connections as I did at my first Kidmin. I hope I get to meet you at Kidmin 2015!  
  • Washing my hair.  Washing my mass of thick hair is an ordeal, so please don't judge. ;-) 
  • I am praying throughout the day for the Key Note speakers, presenters, workshop leaders and behind the scenes volunteers. Yeah, I wish I was there to glean encouragement and insights from your leadership and hang out with some of you during breaks, but I know you are pouring yourselves out for my Kidmin colleagues and that makes me smile. 
  • writing this blogpost instead of taking notes. 
  • preparing for a Raleigh Premiere night of Thom and Joani Schultz's film, "When God Left the Building" If you're in Raleigh, October 2nd, please come. 
  • reorganizing my laundry room. Yeah, that's so lame.
  • attending the Christening for my great-nephew, Liam.  I wouldn't miss this special dedication to the Lord for the world! 
  • playing "Dots".  I'm on level 136 and determined to reach 200 without spending any money. 
  • sleeping eight hours a night.  If I were at Kidmin, I'd be lucky to squeeze in six! 
  • nursing a bruise on my arm from the flu shot. Since I was NOT in a workshop or leading a Connect Group, I had time to get my flu shot. 
  • putting reminders all over my iCal to sign up for Kidmin 2015.  I will NOT miss out again! 

So, if you, like me, are a Kidmin missing out - What are YOU doing while NOT at Kidmin 2014?

Here's to seeing YOU at Kidmin 2015!

Monday, September 15, 2014

My season of change creating change.

This morning, I chuckled as I read the nature of cause and effect King Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 3. And with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Turn, turn, turn"  running through my mind, it hit me how naturally change creates around us and in us.

My summer has been a season of change creating change.

It all started with a new deck.  Our 40 year old deck had structural issues and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. Several years ago with a deck rebuild in mind, we hired a landscape architect to design the deck as part of a full landscape plan.  My reasoning was, the more you plan ahead the less mistakes, changes and added expenses you will have.  Yeah, right.

Sitting here on my beautiful new deck, I still think the landscape plan was a good idea, but I learned even with careful planning against it, one change, no matter how well it is planned, inherently create more change.  I assure you the avalanche of changes which left me deep in a season of change creating change was not my the plan!

The unexpected changes to the deck footings, deck layout and size of the final project were very positive changes, but every one of those changes created obstacles and challenges which required unexpected and problematic changes. 

  • The concrete slabs and drainage systems we installed as part of the original landscaping plan looked like blood red swiss cheese after the code required deck footings were installed. The drainage work will all have to be redone and slabs back filled and power washed. 
  • The displaced pea gravel, sawdust and red clay left from digging the footings and general deck construction turned our side yard into a mud hole. We're still digging out. 
  • My beautiful mundo grass was buried under mounds of clay and gravel and choking to death. We spent an entire afternoon raking it away to save what we could. 
  • The new deck is only one foot deeper than the original design, but we still had to relocate both the chain link gate as well as rebuilt the front wood fence and gate.  It also means we will have to tear up then redirect the stone pathways.  (That's one back breaking job I'm NOT looking forward to doing!)
  • The new deck exposed unpainted siding and after a successful paint matching job (thanks Home Depot) we only had to feather in and paint the virgin siding - a little change but another unanticipated chore. 
Putting the deck furnishings and lighting back onto the new deck aren't really changes, but doing so  inspired us to update and upgrade. 
  • The new graceful and multilevel deck inspired me to purchase new cushions, new plants and planters and replace worn out deck equipment. 
  • While reinstalling, my husband made a few changes and improvements to his ingenious deck level garbage and recycling container opening system. (He cleverly hid the ropes and pulleys out of sight.) 
  • We didn't want to trash up the new deck with the old storage totes, so we had a storage room built in the backyard. Seriously, like painting the walls after buying new carpet, what used to look OK instantly looks shabby in comparison to the new. We just had to do it! 
Yep, if I learned anything this summer, I learned change not only creates change, but it opens us up to inviting and anticipating change in other areas of life. 
  • My daughter-in-law's brother finally accepted our invitation to move in with us.  Having a young person living with us again is a positive change.  For one thing, I can't imagine doing without his help with the chores the new deck created!  He's a hard worker and eager to pitch in where needed. 
  • We've known for a while our oldest son and his wife plan to relocate back to the triangle, but were surprised when our son secured a job, not only in his field, but right in his wheel house! We welcomed change when he moved in with us last week. 
  • We pray for and look forward to my daughter-in-law landing her dream job and moving home. A full nest and full driveway will be yet another big change, but one we welcome. 
But even the full house won't be for long. I know change continues to create change.  My son and his wife will purchase a home of their own. Our young tenant will eventually begin to step out into his new life and my life will change again.  

 "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."Ecclesiastes 3:1

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Letting go…

This week, I lost a dear friend.

She was suffering and in pain, so her death is surely God's gift to her, but not to those of us who knew and loved her.

I don't like it one bit!  I admit I wish God could have miraculously healed her for us.

So here I am - in shock and conflicted.  I'm simultaneously feeling robbed and totally ashamed of my selfish indignation.  Oh how I want to feel more generous and selfless, but I'm not… at least, not yet. With God's help, I'm working to get there and I know I will be working on it for some time.

Like everyone who has suffered a loss, I find myself deep in a selfish and sloppy ordeal called grief.   However, that word just doesn't cut it for me, so I choose to call this messy work I've entered into - letting go.

Letting go is….

  • Admitting I am NOT joyful for her, at least not yet. I am going to be empty, then angry, then sad before I will experience joy for her new life in heaven. 
  • Hanging on to my old friend just a little longer by revisiting memories when she was healthy and full of life. The pictures, letters and journal entries will bring her back to this life, if only for a moment.
  • Reaching out to others who knew her. Sharing in the sadness and loss helps. 
  • Being present at the memorial. Nothing I say or do for them will lessen her family's pain, but I know simply being there confirms she is loved and so are they. 
  • Giving myself time to get over my self-centered feelings of loss, but reminding myself the gravity of the family's loss is a boulder and mine is a pebble. Pray on their behalf.  Act and speak accordingly. 
At least, that's "letting go" for me.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Who is my neighbor?"- Do growing churches ask or care?

As one who grew up in a church, served as an Elder in my local church and worked for several growing churches, I recently realized how blind I had become to the downside of church growth.  

It was the slow take over and consumption of my childhood neighborhood by a local church which opened my eyes.  The slow moving but devastating changes this church subjected my parents and their neighbors to over the years went from mildly annoying to a downright affront to their once peaceful environment.

The entire experience left me wondering if growing churches ever stop in the midst of expansion and honestly consider, "Who is my neighbor?" and what that means. From what my parents experienced, it left me asking, "Do churches ask or care?" 

Unfortunately, I realized I never heard anyone ask nor did I when in church expansion mode, but we all know what our answer is supposed to be.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:14b

Here's hoping and praying my true story serves as a cautionary tale for church staff, church officers and church members in times of church planting, building and expansion. As for me, the entire experience puts church expansion in the "proceed with compassion, care and caution" category.

In 1960, my parents moved our growing family to a home on a dead end street in a brand new neighborhood. When we moved in, their were only a few homes in a little valley behind a major road. The dead end street and the entire neighborhood was bordered by acres of woods owned by a small neighborhood church on the main road. At the time, we could barely see the steeple for the road, but we could hear the lovely chiming of the hours.

We coexisted as good neighbors. It didn't take long for neighborhood children to establish the woods as a playground. The church didn't mind our presence on their land or the bike trails and "camps" we created on their property. The neighbors who went to the church actually used the bike paths as short cuts to services on Sunday morning.

In the mid 1960s, I am sure the small church asked the question,  "Who is my neighbor?" because they were very interested, inviting and welcoming to the new families and even helped transform the new subdivision into a community. My family chose to join the large downtown church of the same denomination, but on occasion I attended the neighborhood church's VBS and other outreach functions.   It was clear, reaching out to their immediate neighbors was their mission.

Actually, in the late 1950s the church I grew up in built and funded the establishment of small  neighborhood churches as a mission outreach.   Planting churches near new subdivisions was my landlocked church's growth plan. Instead of continuing to increase their footprint downtown, they invested in building and supporting new churches out in the suburbs. My parents told me the church decided against impeding on the immediate neighborhood to create an even bigger mega-complex. Their mission to build small neighborhood churches on available land out in the suburbs let them care for their immediate neighbors and provide church homes for future neighbors in the growing suburbs. 

In the early 1970s, the neighborhood church expanded the parking lot to accommodate the harvest of new members. The woods still buffered the church from our neighborhood, but a few acres of trees had to be cleared away.  I was too old to roam the woods, but my little brothers still enjoyed playing there and enjoyed playing basketball on the church's outdoor court.  The church loved their neighbor as themselves.

I'm not so sure when the little church stopped seeing themselves as a neighborhood church and began aspiring to become a mega-church, but sometime in the 1980s I became acutely aware of it because our neighborly neighborhood church started to change their tune.  Their answer to "Who is my neighbor?" became "Who cares?"

The church expanded the parking lot and connected it to the dead end street so their attendees could have another entrance and exit. When the neighbors objected to the latest parking lot expansion and creation of a thoroughfare in a quiet neighborhood, the church response was typical.  "Think of the lost souls we might have to turn away if we don't expand!" Is that love?

My parents just shook their heads in disbelief. Sad to say, when they shared the news with me, I was deeply ashamed of my own unloving attitude.  I'm not so sure I hadn't use the same rationalization of building bigger to save souls at my own growing wanna be mega-church in Raleigh. Nope, I am SURE I had!

What was I thinking? What were THEY thinking?

It didn't take long to find out just how invasive the new mega-church mission was to my parents. Not too long after the floodgate for lost souls opened at the end of the street, the mayhem began. On Sunday mornings, from 9am to 12:15pm my parents thanked their lucky stars they left early for church downtown, because our quiet little street became a major thoroughfare.

With all the trees missing, the sun blinded the early morning attendees causing them to drive right into cars parked on our street.  At least, that was what the lady told my brother when she crashed into his car. She should have stopped talking until the police arrived and before she told my brother it was HIS fault for parking in front of his own house.  Good thing she was a believer with a ticket to heaven, because my brother totally wanted to send her there after her callus excuse. Because my brother is a kind Christian and was backed up by the insurance company and police, her trip to heaven was delayed. Whew! Talk about saving souls!

And it happened a few more times! And again and again, the driver tried to put the blame on the car owner for daring to park in front of their own house. It got so bad, when we'd visit Mom and Dad on Sundays or Wednesday nights, we'd do our best to get all the cars lined up in the driveway. If one had to stay on the curb, we'd hold our breathe and pray for the best.

Less than a decade ago, the neighborhood won the battle against the thoroughfare. The dead end street would be closed and a buffer of trees would be planted between the neighborhood and the church. At least, that was what the church promised as they bought up the homes backing up to their property to create an outpost for their Youth ministry, Adult Singles Ministry and other departments. Seriously, I'm not sure what each outpost is for. I lost interest and hope.

Fast forward to today! "Who is my neighbor?" and "Where is the love?"  .

For all intents and purposes, the immediate neighbors are gone. Many sold their homes to the church and moved out. The homes not used as outposts were torn down. There used to be three houses and several acres between my parents and the church. Now there is one house, a four foot strip of curb and gutter with a buffer of spindly shrubs planted 6 feet apart and asphalt from the buffer to the main road.

The parking lot is so huge, the city required them to create a holding pond for the excessive run off.  Of course, they put the holding pond beside a home with small children. The safety perimeter is inadequate at best and any landscaping is non-existent.

The noise levels of the church's HVAC equipment is loud and magnified as it bounces off the asphalt. It was to be surrounded by a sound barrier, but when running, the roar turns talking outside into a shouting match. Get this. The church says they can't afford to build the sound barrier because they had to pay to re-engineer the huge they built within a few yards of the main road. At least when the AVAC is running it drowns out the unbuffered noise of traffic from the main road.

That's not all folks! The parking lot halogen lights make night into day. I don't know how my parents sleep at night. The neighborhood hopefully has the church in check and it won't get any worse. At least, the church's current financial situation makes further expansion cost prohibitive.

So, here ends my cautionary tale of church growth and expansion. 

As always, my forgiving and wise parents continue to take it all in stride.  They still love their neighborhood church and wish them the best. My mom even chuckled when I suggested they brought it all on themselves by contributing to the church planting fund. (Insert here: Edina M. singing "No good deed goes unpunished!") 

As for me, I promised myself I will forgive and love their neighbor. I'm also hoping and praying the realization I may have behaved like them will make me find a way to like them

Galatians 5:14
For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Remembering my uncles

My mom came from a large farm family with ten children. She had only one sister, Opal, but so many brothers I must name them to keep count. Not in exact age order, my mother's brothers are Ray, Ralph, Joe, Clyde, Edgar, Dean, Dennis and Jimmy.

Growing up I remember all my uncles always being present at family gatherings at the family farm land in King, NC, but I was much more focused on spending time exploring the pastures and fields with all my cousins. Matter of fact, I have so many cousins I'd totally fail the test to tell you how many, much less name them all!

As my cousins and I grew up, left home for college, married and began their own families, we didn't get together that often.  We drifted apart and only saw each other at a few family reunions or chance meetings in unexpected places.  I still chuckle about being assigned to present for a Christian Books store only to discover the bookstore contact was my cousin, Ed. And there's the time, I ran into another cousin at a civic function.  When I recognized him, I gave him a big hug and his colleagues eyes bugged out of their heads until we told them we were cousins.  There are so many cousins, I shouldn't have been surprised we'd eventually run into each other. 

But my mothers' brothers remained a constant in my life; always warm, affectionate and interested in the lives of all the nieces and nephews. Of course, my uncles were frequent visitors at our home in Greensboro.  They brought Papa to visit us, but after Papa died they continued to visit us frequently as well as be present for weddings and other family celebrations.  I would never say I was close with any of them individually, but I loved each one of them.  I was always comfortable in their presence and knew I was loved because of their gentle kindness. 

Each was a well-respected southern gentleman in his own way. My uncle Joe, the bus driver, drove our youth choir all over the East Coast and my friends considered him an integral part of the choir.  I remember staying at my uncle Ray's house for an overnight visit without my parents.  I loved to visit my uncle Dean's grocery store and play in his barns behind his house. My uncle Dennis, a car mechanic, could troubleshoot a problem with a zen-like intuition and owned a busy gas station.  My uncle Ralph taught me pigs didn't eat cucumbers and neither did he, which always cracked me up.  I admired and looked up to my uncle Edgar, a power plant executive, almost as much as my mother did. My uncle Jimmy, my mother's kid brother, worked at my uncle Dean's store and lived in my grandparents' home with my Papa, so I saw him every time we visited King, NC. 

Over the past few decades, my oldest uncles, one by one, died in their old age.  Men of strong Christian faith, their funerals were testimonies of lives filled with service to their God and their community.  After the recent deaths of my uncle Dean and Uncle Edgar, it dawned on me where once my mother's brothers were too many to count, only Uncle Dennis and Uncle Jimmy are still with us.  Dealing with the sadness of that profound loss, one very special and touching memory of my uncles rushed back at me as if it were yesterday. As comforting and sweet as it is, it truly shows what loving humble men, my mother's brother are, and were.  

The day of my sister Caryn's funeral,  I was totally and profoundly lost.  I don't remember much about that day, but I DO vividly remember my uncles; specifically Uncle Edgar, Uncle Dean and Uncle Dennis volunteering, nope… insisting they were going to babysit my two month old nursing son, Ian, while I attended my sister's funeral.  Gently and confidently, they took him out of my arms and proceeded to coo and cuddle him as I was ushered out the front door.  I remember how relaxed I felt handing over my infant and I was more than a little surprised by my feeling of total trust.  Honestly surprised for I'd always seen my uncles as business men and this was the first time I recognizing them as fathers - not  just providers, but nurturers.  

After the funeral, I returned to find my uncles joyfully fussing over my boy sleeping peacefully in Uncle Edgar's arms.  They teased they weren't going to give him back.  It made me laugh for the first time on that horrible day; for all I could see in their faces was how much they loved me and my son.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow day memories by decades

This week's snow caused a flood of memories of snow day memories.  I decided to list my highlights by decades.

Late 1950's - Kinston, NC

  • A dusting of snow was all we ever got,  but Dad found enough to make a snowman.
  • Moms improvised southern style snow boots made from layering socks, shoes, socks, then bread bags secured with rubber bands, but every kid had a regulation snow suit. Go figure!
  • I got my first taste of snow cream - a delightful mixture of fresh fallen snow, milk and sugar. 
1960's - Greensboro, NC

  • The first ice storm brought us a winter wonderland of icicles, but no electricity, heat or school.  Dad drove the family back to Kinston until electricity was restored and schools reopened.
  • For one blissful winter, it snowed every Wednesday for weeks. We enjoyed snow days Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays and attended school Mondays, Tuesdays and most of June.
  • Same year, Hathaway Drive turned into a protected sled hill on snow days. Blocked off by the city, our hill featured a bonfire at the top, 4 inches of packed ice for maximum speed and the gruesome frozen blood in ice from an unfortunate kid's sledding accident to stop and gawk at on the walk back up the hill. 
  • The exhilaration of the run was everything! I remember my sisters, lined up with me and holding onto each other for dear life atop the Radio Flyer while friends performed the essential running push to ensure the fastest 2 block thrill ride of our lives. 
  • A few winters later I mastered the art of solo sledding - Hold the sled to the side, take a running start, drop face down to the boards only inches from the ice, grab the cross bar pulling back right or left to steer and dragging the feet to brake. (I can't believe we didn't break something!) 
  • Not long after my first solo, I survived my first sledding collision with a hint of terror, but a rush of adrenaline to fuel the long walk back to the top of the hill with an even more solemn stop at the blood in ice. 
  • I learned to share the family sled and alternated runs with my sisters. A bonus was time by the bonfire and sipping hot cocoa from a thermos. 
1970's Greensboro, Chapel Hill, North Wilkesboro and Raleigh, NC
  • Learned not only to drive, but drive on snow. Dad taught us to downshift the automatic transmission instead of using the brakes. White knuckled, we practiced steering with a fish tale instead of against it. 
  • The March snow storm in Chapel Hill the week after a Spring Break Bahamas trip, had me resenting the necessity of covering my dark tan with layers of wool, but enjoying the boy's surprise snowball ambush on the quad. 
  • Snow day Senior year I was delighted by a surprise visit from my future husband, Frank, and his friends. I fell in love with the black and white photo of Frank taken during the following snowball fight in our apartment parking lot.  I still have it… and him. 
  • As a first year teacher in North Wilkesboro, snow days were dark days of real worries my kids on Free breakfast and lunch plan might not eat that day. I'm sure some did not.  
  • Regardless of the severity of the storm and road conditions, my sweet husband braved it all to open the pharmacy while I got a snow day or a teacher's workday.  I never relaxed until he called to say he'd arrived safely.  
1980's in Raleigh, NC
  • As a first time mom with a snow day, I bundled my baby, Chris, in a snow suit, pushed him around the yard in a laundry basket and built him a snowman. 
  • Add little brother, Ian, to the family and I enjoyed the snow days even more. I became the biggest kid in the house and made sure the boys experienced snow cream, making snow angels and sledding safely down the driveway on a lame plastic trashcan lid. 
1990's in Raleigh, NC
  • We got the boys their own Radio Flyer sled. I bounced between adult knowledge of the inherent danger of downhill sledding and the childlike desire my sons experience the thrill of a good run.
  • A two night sleep-over at our friends house, during a long week of snow days in the mid '90's, was the highlight of the decade. My sons got to sled and romp in the snow with their best buds while the adults supervised and/or added wood to the fire, made chili while sipping spiked apple cider, aka "Rocket fuel". 
2000's in Raleigh
  • 2000 started out with the wildest - a blizzard with 22" of snow. My ever inventive boys shoveled pathways around the front yard for our Jack Russell to disappear into, relieve herself and run her little heart out.  Standing on the deck or at the front windows was like watching a mouse run a maze - crazy! 
  • December 2005 and the surprise one inch ice storm that brought Raleigh to a standstill was most surreal.  I thought watching a city bus slide down the street outside my office door was astounding, but the 8 hour commute home was astonishing.  Imagine my reaction to finally making it home to find out my son, Ian, had just returned home from slip-sliding on the back roads to meet his buddies at a local restaurant. Unbelievable! 
  • The night the Christmas pageant ended with a snow shower was a wonderful God moment… until the Associate Pastor, a kid at heart himself, announced it was snowing.  Keeping the kids focused and singing instead of trying to get a glimpse of the snow flakes was a struggle, but no one minded.  Even the older adults were excited it was snowing and turned to look!
2010's to today - 
  • Winter storms are named like we name hurricanes. I guess 24 hour news and weather channels must create weather hype to keep us watching, tweeting and posting. 
  • This is the first decade we got most of our information about winter weather and snow days from friends on social media. I've gotten weather updates and pictures from friends and family as far away as New York, Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado faster than TV news can deliver.  I especially enjoy the pictures of my friends sharing in that first snow experience with their own children and some with their grandchildren. Makes me smile! 
  • High Tech aside, what I will remember most about this week's Winter Storm Leon is we didn't need Weather Channel to tell us it was coming, nor that it would bring snow to… of all places… NC beaches. You see, 10 days ago, while enjoying a weekend at the beach with friends, we experienced a winter thunderstorm. Any real Southerner knows…. If it thunders in the winter, it will snow in 10 days.  And 10 days later, it did! It snowed here in Raleigh AND at the beach! 

Go Ahead - Google it!