Monday, October 22, 2012

Part 2 - You want ME to do WHAT?

I can't recall when I got the call, but after a few years leading the Youth "choir" I received a call telling me I had been nominated to become a church elder.  All I could think was "You want ME to do WHAT?" Seriously, this time the WHAT was my biggest hurdle.  I am glad they told me to think about it before responding because I really needed to find out what an elder did before I committed.

I had recently stepped into another position with my Real Estate firm that was demanding even more attention.  My sons were growing into busy teenagers and my husband's pharmacy position didn't allow much flexibility, so home life was just as busy.  I didn't want to give up singing in the chancel choir or the new Women's Ensemble, but I knew in my heart God was asking me to step out and step up to this new leadership position. I'd learned from past experience if God wants it, then He'll see that it happens, so I figured it was OK to accept the nomination - let the church body decide for me.

And so they did.

I was later ordained with my class as an Elder in the Presbyterian church. As experienced elders whispered words of encouragement in my ear, I realized this was NOT about me, my conditions or my insecurities - it was about submitting myself to God and doing whatever He asked.  I prayed silently and simply,

"What you want me to do, I'll do."   And I did. 

Then a month or so later during a Board of Elders meeting, I was helping word a job description for an Interim Children's Director.  I suggested some specific educational jargon outing myself as an educator.  A fellow Elder sitting across the table from me, immediately called me out by name... at first I thought I  had spoken out of turn or something... but instead he locked eyes with me and said to the group, "Sounds like Lisa Burney should take this job."  My first reaction was to duck under the table and hide. So I did.   As I popped back up, all eyes were on me. To hide my own embarrassment, I went for a laugh with "What?  And give up my day job?" After a little laughter, we moved on to finish the job description and I forgot all about the exchange.

The following Sunday I sat down in my seat in the choir loft - (second row, second seat from the center in the Soprano section, directly behind the pulpit) - to quickly skim the bulletin as the pastor began the sermon.  The Interim Children's Director job posting caught my eye, so with a touch of pride, I decided to read what I had helped write.

As I read it, I heard God's voice inside my head say, "Little girl, I want you to do this." 

My face immediately flushed red and I felt my body temperature rise with it.  You see, when God calls me "little girl" I know it's Him.  No one else has ever addressed me like that and every time I hear it, I know He means business, so I got quite still.  He had my total attention right there in the choir loft.

In my head, I pleaded, "You want ME to do WHAT?" and waited. 

No answer came.  I only felt an  overwhelming heat bearing down on me such that I had to fight the urge to flee the choir loft.  I don't recall a word the pastor said that morning, for as I steamed I reread the job description over and over again... realizing my fellow Elder's earlier comment was either ironic or prophetic .  All of a sudden, I saw myself in the job as described with a certainty I couldn't explain.  All I knew was God was telling me this little girl should step out of a full time business and into an interim children's ministry position.

I couldn't believe I was even considering it, but I was not only considering it, I felt compelled to respond, immediately.  After service was over, I sought out the Minister of Music, a most trusted friend and a full time staff member, to see what he thought.   As we talked, I knew against all reason, I was going to apply immediately.  We prayed together and when I opened my eyes, my husband was standing behind me.  I cannot explain it, but when I told my husband what was happening, he was not surprised. Matter of fact, his knowing smile told me he already knew or had quickly figured it out.

So, I submitted my application to the church and a long list of conditions to God.  

Yeah, you didn't really think I was going to simply submit to God's call, did you?  Nope, I'm not a quick study when it comes to Godly decisions.  At least I wasn't back then.  No, I went for the biggest obstacle I could throw up - finances.

In my mind, I was sure the church couldn't pay me what our family needed to live, so I blithely proceeded through the interview process practicing my "Thank you for considering me, but I simply can't accept the position for financial reasons." speech.  I even put a minimum number up to God as a condition without an ounce of shame.

I let it go so far I found myself sitting across a lunch table with the church executive director pushing a folded piece of paper across the table toward me. As a seasoned Real Estate Broker, I'd delivered and received offers with a practiced and professional poker face, but as I casually unfolded the paper and saw what God had done, I could barely hid my surprise.  The offer was OVER the amount I had given God.

In shock and disbelief, I carefully re-read the figures and asked for clarification before hearing the words,  "I would be honored to serve."  Those words were coming out of my own mouth.

And as we closed with prayer, I promised God, "What you want me to do, I'll do."

And for the next 16 year, with joy and energy that could only come from God, I did! 

Even today, after all the changes, struggles and challenges this Kidmin has been through and will go through,  I do!

Many, many thanks go to the folks at Group and the Kidmin IT Team, who prayed us through Kidmin 2012 and are praying us into Kidmin 2013.  I say,  Bless you for inspiring me to revisit, and in doing so, restore and renew My Dream of Ministry for Children.... 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Part 1 - "You want ME to do WHAT?

I tend to do everything backward, or in an irritating non-linear fashion, so even if it doesn't make sense to you,  this is exactly how I've revisited the dream.  It's more like I'm peeling an onion as I take a BIG step back to the build up to the dream.   I simply call this the Part 1 installment of 

You Want ME to do WHAT? 

Looking back towards the events in spring 1996, I now see how God had been doing the ground work building up to the dream for several years.  In truth, I'd say He spent many years building ME up.

Each event was so subtle and steady, I didn't have a clue God was doing anything more than helping me see Him walking beside me - making me a better person, wife and mother. As God drew me closer and closer, I trusted Him more and more with daily life problems and big life challenges.  

Boy, it felt amazing as the "30 something" angst and stress of carrying everything on my own shoulder lifted ever so slightly, every so often. As one huge life stressor sought to drag me down, I finally broke and gave it to God in its entirety. In time, I learned to pray to Jesus to reconcile me to people important in my life then and now.  More importantly, I allowed Jesus to help me release those negative relationships I needed to cut loose.

Note : I would love to tell you I was putty in God's hands, but in my stubbornness, I'd wait until an emotional and mental breaking point before I'd "let go and let God." I'm STILL working on that.

During that time, my family found a church home and became active members serving and growing in a vital church environment.  Funny thing, most of my service was NOT in children's ministry.  I never helped with VBS, reluctantly taught Sunday School for a year and threw myself into music ministry.

Probably to escape being asked to serve in the Children's department, I joined the chancel choir and eventually was drafted to co-directed a youth drama & music group. Looking back, I wonder WHAT the Minister of Music saw in me other than a background in choral music and a love for young people. The night he asked, I laughed out loud and quickly countered with "You want ME to do WHAT?" 

Later that night, in an attempt to earnestly seek God's guidance I prayed the same question.  However, in the presence of God, I didn't laugh.  I waited for him to agree with me the whole idea was ridiculous. All I sensed was He'd rather I remain open to the challenge.  Instead I attempted to leverage the personal challenge and service opportunity with a condition so ridiculous only God could meet. It seemed a safe, sane and reasonable way to blamelessly beg my way out.

My condition was simple. I would take on the challenge, if God would equip me for the task.

I KNEW I did not possess the talents, skills NOR training to direct music or produce a musical.  My experience in acting was limited to bit roles in High School and a summer as a costumer in the cast of the NC outdoor theatre production, The Lost Colony.  I played a few instruments as poorly as I read music, so directing music was totally out of the question.  I thought it a safe bet to make myself available and willing because God would never meet my conditions.

It would have been helpful, if I'd known the truth of Mark 10:27.  "Everything is Possible with God."  At least now I know by my own experience, if God wants it done, He will equip you for the task.

And in this case, He not only equipped me personally, He sent others to my side to fill in where I was lacking.  For the next two years, our little group produced some very creative musicals despite my involvement. The second years' musical was an original production conceived and written in collaboration with the youth.  A few very talented youth even wrote some of the music. As a result, I learned I could trust God to do the impossible by watching God do what I was sure was improbable.

Little did I know this was all building ME up and preparing me to favorably receive and positively respond to God.  I'm ashamed to admit, I continued to repeat the "You want ME to do WHAT?" question out loud and in prayer. I kept throwing up my impossible conditions like road blocks building right up to, and continuing on after , the day God planted a dream of full-time children's ministry deep in my soul.

Part 2 of "You want ME to do WHAT?" to follow. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Part 2 - The Dream grows....

It's been twelve years and God hasn't written me again. He spoke to me once, but I'll save that story"You want ME to do WHAT?"  for another day. Instead, He's spoken through others continually, and through His Word whenever I open the Bible.

  • The situations and opportunities along the way have been varied and at times unpredictable, but the message hasn't changed. 
  • I haven't moved away from Raleigh, but I am "a visitor in many different places." 
  • I've learned to be a messenger of encouragement equipping others for ministry wherever I go and even in places I'll never go.
  • I continue to be a recipient of many blessings every step along the way. 
  • The territory keeps expanding and at each expansion, I'd think this was what God was talking about - "This is it!", but I'm wrong every time.  
The dream God gave me, the one He wrote with my own hand, keeps growing and evolving. 

1999-2003 - God lead me out of North Raleigh into a new church in an older established church in another area of Raleigh. There I began serving as their first full time Children's Ministry Director.  For a time, I did feel like a visitor, but in time, it became my church home. 

2004 - As a consultant with Group Publishing,  I began sharing God's message of hope all over North Carolina and Virginia.  I visited, trained and encouraged others in the local church to share the gospel with children using effective ministry resources. It still amazes me how God gave me the energy to consult while continuing to serve in a full time church position. Matter of fact, I am convinced consulting re-energized, encouraged and feed me enhancing my local church work.

2005 & 2006 - The territory as I understood it, went way past my original dream. It expanded to Guyana, South America. (Shoot,  until that time I didn't even know the country existed!)  I thought I was only going there to lead VBS and serve on a construction team, but God used me as a messenger to a woman with a passion to minister to children in her church. And soon, I began looking for those potential ministry leaders and praying with them that God would equip them to minister to children in their own communities.

June 2006 - On the move again, I stepped down from my local church position. For a year, I wrestled with God about this move. I begged and pleaded with Him struggling to understand why I had to leave a place, and a congregation, that had become my faith family.  When it got right down to it, it took some mighty difficult circumstances to pry me out, but I learned once again, obedience is not always easy or personally rewarding.... at least not right away.

July 2006 to February 2007 - God pruned me. It hurt, but in cutting away activities and responsibilities gave me the strength to grow stronger and more resilient.  I also enjoyed spending time with friends I realized I'd neglected over the past decade. For some it was not as much my realization as a few very close friends outright telling me I'd been distant and too often absent. Thankfully, they gave me the opportunity to make amends and rekindle friendships God knew were essential to His plan for my life.  Basically, I learned future travel and ministry work would require a better balance of time away and time "at home".  My life depends on it.  I could write several cautionary tale posts about how churches promote unhealthy dysfunctional living, but I'm not ready to address it with diplomacy and tact. 

February 2007 -  My travel became a fact of daily life. I was called by a rural church 32 miles away from my home.  I thought I needed another full time position, but God provided exactly what I needed at the time -  a thirty  hour per week position.  It gave me more time to consult and be present at home.  I adjusted quickly to the commute and the new work week. My church responsibilities and consulting assignments were in balance.  At least until the children's ministry and my responsibilities there grew beyond part time.

2007 - 2011 -  Air travel became a fact of life. I grew into a new presenter role and began traveling further than I could drive.  For someone who usually flew every year or so, I found myself flying so often I kept a bag packed.  I didn't quite live out of a suitcase, but I could have.  I've yet to quantify how many times I've been "a visitor in many places", but whenever I thought the territory has reached its max, it expanded even further.  It's been equally amazing to see how God worked through me in so many different churches and how often he used other people to inspire, encourage and speak God's truth into my life.

Simultaneously in 2007 - 2011 -  My responsibilities in the local church grew beyond my grasp.   I realized I couldn't do it alone and began purposefully working myself out of ministry roles. One on one, I trained others to do what I could never do alone.  I delighted in watching God work through others, developing them, molding them to be children's ministers in leadership roles I used to fill.  While on church mission trips, the youth I was privileged to train stepped up and were actually leading me.  I giggle thinking of one in particular telling another it was OK to tell "Ms. Lisa" they didn't need my daily input... or was it interference? Whichever, it was a highlight of my journey. 

October 2011 - God put me on the move once again.  It became crystal clear my work at the current church was done.  I left without regret, remorse or fear. The team of ministers I left behind were quite capable of maintaining the ministry without me. Funny thing, I knew I would miss the people I'd grown to love, but I was 100% certain and secure in the decision to step down.   I didn't have a clue how all this fit into my dream, but I was confident God would guide and direct me in His time.

November 2011 - It didn't take God long.  He tells me through a friend, He's going to send me further than I'd ever imagined - South Africa.  I spend the next few months planning, seeking out prayer support and financial support.  I was not sure why I was going.  I only knew God wanted me to visit another place and He'd explain once I got there. To learn more about the South Africa journey, you can start with this post..

Asking for Help

February 2012 - The Dream evolved beyond ME.   I returned from South Africa to complete a writing project. The curriculum I co-wrote would be translated into several languages and used all over the world to reach children with the gospel through sports and whole life coaching.  It wasn't just ME traveling and equipping others.  The lessons I helped write would go instead.  Yeah, about the time I thought I had the dream figured out, God found a way to make it totally different.

May 2012 -  With the writing project going into Field Test and me still consulting up a storm,  I carved out time to simply BE.  I traveled with my family and friends celebrating the blessing of actually HAVING friends and family.  I highly recommend this to balance ministry life.

Recently - I hate to admit it but at times I didn't think much about my ministry dream.  Frank and I spent most weekends away from Raleigh, so we didn't visit churches or even attempt to look for a new church home.  Occasionally, we worshipped in some amazing places, but never while in Raleigh.  I don't know WHY. It simply felt right to take a break.

Yesterday -  After an invitation from an old friend in ministry, we finally worshipped in a local church.  I know my experience at Kidmin 2012 was the catalyst to finally get us there.  It's a good restart and I KNOW God's hand was in it. OK, His hand was ALL over that worship experience!  Communion AND an infant baptism?  Oh my, Lord! You had me at communion.  Witnessing the baptism of another precious child helped me remember the day God originally called me into full time service.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I only know God will get me through today.  I'm happy to wait on Him for the next step, the next visit.

One thing I DO know, God's moving in me.  To be sure I move in the right direction, I must revisit the day he called me into ministry.   If you will indulge me, I will retell that story in the next post.   I think I'll call it....

You want ME to do WHAT? 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Step 1 - Re-visiting the dream...

Yesterday, I earnestly took the first step in the process of re-inventing myself.

Step one - I re-visited the Dream God gave me long ago.

It took me several hours back tracking through prayer journals. I got side tracked a few times stopping along the way to look up scripture passages I'd referenced, but God used each passage to light my path through the stacks of journals until I found the words written in my hand so many years ago. Words I thought I'd never forget, but in the midst of my recent funk, I could barely recall.

Let me explain and if in reading, you think I'm crazy, that's OK,  at the time I wasn't too sure I've wasn't going stark raving mad.

May 27, 1999, while prayer journaling, God did the most shocking thing of my life.... He took the pen and started writing - right there in MY journal in shocking pink ink! (Yeah, I WOULD grab the fuchsia  pen on the most important day of my life. sheesh.)

Here's an excerpt.
See, I wasn't kidding about the pink on pink.
I ended up in the most honest and gut wrenching conversation you could imagine. In the midst of it.... in shocking pink and, the journal just happened to be pages of pale, yeah, so embarrassing...God gave me a new calling - a dream to guide me.

 In this surreal moment, my hand was writing faster than I could read. I would ask a question and God would respond. He even addressed me as "my child" and sometimes as "little girl".  Now, THAT got my attention. I hung on His every word and the following words jumped out at me.

"I will be guiding you to be a visitor in many different places. My messenger, if you can grasp that concept yet.  I will refine you and train you in Spirit and body - "

I kept the exchange a secret for a while, but finally took the journal to my Pastor.  I figured he's either confirm the experience or confirm I was crazy.  Thankfully, he did the later and afterwards, I became convinced it truly was a message from God.

It took me a while to get over the experience and only in re-reading did I discover a re-invention of my original calling to become a Children's minister.  I knew in my heart, He wasn't taking the original calling away. He was adding to it.  I puzzled over the details for a while. For instance, anytime I went ANYWHERE, I would ask God, is THIS one of those "places" you meant? What I am supposed to do here?"  And over time, I relaxed and tried to simply learn and remain open to God's direction to share, encourage or simply listen to the people in my path where ever I visited.

Over the years, I became the visitor and messenger He described. It has been an amazing journey of twists and turns and major ups and downs.  I'm sure that's evidence of the "refine and train" part. 

In my future posts, I will chronicle the highlights and a few lowlights of journey from there to here.  With God's grace, re-visiting the dream and in doing so, re-invent and refocus myself for His service.

Next post - The Dream grows....  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

God's Changes in Me, Part 2- Kidmin 2013 - Warning - If you don't want change, don't GO!

Part 2 - God's Changes in ME.

One of my good friends has a saying, "PEOPLE - DON'T - CHANGE!" 

I used to bristle at his words, but recently I've come to believe his words are true.  People don't change. It used to make me sad, but not any more.  Now, I realize the REAL truth is....

People DON'T Change, but GOD does change people. 

I know this because God has been changing ME since I was a small child; molding me and refining me as a woman of God, a wife, mother and teacher and finally making me into a Children's Minister. Since God took over my life,  I learned one thing I could count on was change either in me or around me. I accepted change as God's will and God's way. 

Then, recently, I pushed back. I told God, " I'm tired of changing for you. It hurts too much! I'm tired, frustrated, and used up. Can't I just be still for a while?" 

I don't know why, but God graciously allowed it. I gratefully put my engine of change into neutral and idled.  I even toyed with the idea of shutting down and leaving Children's Ministry. I wasn't really serious, but for the first time in decades, I entertained the notion. It is hard to share, but it's true. 

Thankfully, my imminent shut down was adverted by God's changes in Me at Kidmin 2012. 

Here's how it started...After leaving my chosen Deeper Track on Spiritual Formation to give someone else a seat, I wandered down the hallway wondering if there was another workshop I might find interesting. Two words on a sign, "Re-inventing Yourself" grabbed my attention. Maybe what I needed was a revision, a do over, a resurrection, so I beelined it to the front table and took a seat. 

In the next few hours the presenter, Jeff Harmon, told the story of Joseph, the dreamer with the coat of many colors, and his life journey of ups and down. He shared how Joseph reinvented himself over and over again until he fulfilled God's plan for his life. Through triumph, betrayal, and set backs Joseph remained faithful to God and never gave up on his dream. 

As I listened, I thought... My life has never been as dramatic as Joseph's, but I too was once a golden child with a dream to serve God as a Children's minister in a local church. I too was betrayed, beat up and tossed aside by those that I thought loved me.  There were times I too was in the pit of despair, but by God's grace I rebounded to serve and find favor in another place.  If I could only remember what I did then to pull myself out of that pit of despair, surely I could repeat it to jog my out of my self-imposed inertia. 

Then I remembered... I studied God's Word. I prayed hours each day pleading He'd explain why He took my dream from me. I wrote my prayers so I could keep track of my growing list of questions, prayer requests and petty grievances.  In time, God worked with me to change me; sooth my soul, pull me up out of the pit and set me on a new path so I could get back to living out my dream... and in the years to follow, I did. 

And if it worked then, It will work now.  I'm going to do it all over again, which will be good for a change.  Right?

Many thanks to Chris Yount Jones and her team at Group for Kidmin 2012. There's no telling what God's going to change with Kidmin 2013.... It might just be YOU!    

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kidmin 2013 Warning - if you don't want change, don't GO! Part 1

WARNING- If you...

  • don't want change
  • are afraid of change
  • think you don't need to change
  • think the status quo is the way to go...

Kidmin 2013 is not for you. Don't even consider going and do NOT read this post!!! 

Part 1 - God's changes to my Kidmin 2012 plan. 

If you've been following my blog posts, you'll know I had high expectations and big plans for my long weekend at Kidmin 2012.  I was determined to be the student, volunteer a little and connect with my Kidmin kin.  (The links below will take you to my blogposts on the original plan.)

Part 1 - Expectations Still High... 

Part 2 - Expectations Still High..

I went one step further by crafting a plan with a ministry buddy to see Downtown Chicago my first day in town. I was a girl on a mission! No one was going to derail or change my pre-arranged Kidmin 2012 plan.

But looking back, I messed up, friends....

I invited God into the plan, but I did not give him control of the plan... Oh, yeah, I gave lip service to God's plan for me, but in fact, it was MY plan all along.  Clearly, I was at the helm. I was IN control.

Lucky for me, God TOOK control before I ever stepped onto my United flight to Chicago.   And being the fun loving gracious God I've come to adore, HIS changes to my plan not only complimented my original plans, they elevated my plan, far exceeded my expectations and reconnected me to my big dream - the one I had long ago abandoned. (I'll address the dream in Part 2) 

God took control of my plan.

  • My flight plans changed. My air miles to South Africa bumped me to Premiere status. We're talking free checked bag, priority TSA line and priority boarding.  I even scored a free  upgrade to business class with more than ample leg room and my priority bag was the first bag to appear at baggage claim.  What a delight to arrive refreshed and with $25 more in my pocketbook. Thank you, God!
  • Thursday downtown plans fell apart.  I ended up running errands with three kidmin buddies; catching up, cracking on each other, taking a few wrong turns, being silly and laughing until our sides hurt.  Returning to the hotel, we greeted arriving Kidmin friends, helped with a friend's pre-con workshop set up then headed back out for a delicious dinner at a restaurant beside the planned restaurant destination. I enjoyed more meet and greet time before finally falling into my cozy Hyatt Regency king size bed.  For a girl who likes to make a plan and follow the plan, I was delighted with my fly by the seat of my pants day. 
  • My plan was to get the entire Leadership Matters Pre-con experience.  I volunteered to moderate the "Ministry is More Than Sunday AM" conversation but didn't realize it would cut into my Pre-con time.  I was a little bummed, but God ordained the change, so I figured he knew best.  At first I was overwhelmed by the standing room only attendance, but with God's guidance to employ REAL small group and pair shares techniques, the exchange of great ideas and encouragement shared at each table was electric, inspiring and hope filled. I left knowing Kidmin friends and their teams are taking the gospel beyond the Sunday AM experience in creative and innovative ways. What I perceived as a fouled line in the rigging, also connected me to two new Kidmin friends; not just from Raleigh, but from my neck of the woods - NORTH Raleigh. 
  • I had a plan to limit my volunteer time.  I struggle with balancing service and being served, so I signed up to help only in specific areas; promising God I would focus on Him and my own personal development. "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" Against my better judgment, I signed up to help a ministry area struggling to cover requests. Yes, it cut into workshop and worship time, but God chose the new volunteer opportunity to reveal Himself to me as a palpable presence. OK - that was not how I planned it! God was supposed to meet me in General session worship. 
  • My plan was to focus on one Deep Track- Spiritual Formation.   Gordon and Becky West, master teachers, loaded the first two sessions with a wealth of resources to illuminate spiritual formation guiding me to new insights and motivating me to commit to further study in the months to come. At the beginning of the first session, I realized the room was filling up quickly and if I gave up my seat one more person could benefit from Becky and Gordon's practical methods for facilitating spiritual transformation, so I left.  I wandered further down the hallway thinking I'd just made a big mistake, (I can be selfish like that...) until I saw the words "Re-invent Yourself..." and God whispered, "There - I want you to go, there."  

As I flopped into a chair at the front of a workshop, I never even considered taking, I told God, "Ok, OK! I get it. My plan WAS my plan, not Your plan, so why don't you just take it from here?" He didn't say anything... He didn't have to... I'd finally surrendered to Him.

 Now, it's about more than changes in my plan, it is was about changing ME...

Kidmin 2012 - Day 1
                                       ...check in tomorrow for Part 2 - God's changes in ME

Go Ahead - Google it!