Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year recipes for good luck!

I'm headed out the country tomorrow, so I've handed over the recipes for the traditional New Year's Day dishes to my son, Chris.  Actually, I wrote them down since following an actual recipe isn't the southern way. Yes, Chris is fix in' the required blackened peas and collards to enjoy while I am somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  I no longer know why you must eat these dishes… something about luck and prosperity…but we fix them because they taste wonderful.  

So if you are interested, below you'll find my preferred recipes for blackened peas and collard greens…. 

New Years Day dishes - Black -Eyed Peas and Collards

Blackeyed peas 

2 cups dried peas
6 cups boiling water
4-5 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
salt to taste
Place dried peas in a bowl, discard any pebbles or broken beans. Cover with boiling water, let stand for two hours. In a large kettle, saute onion in bacon fat. Pour in 5 cups boiling water. Drain peas and add to the pot, add salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook 1-2 hours, keeping covered with water. Cook peas until tender.

Collard Greens or "Collards" 
2 bunches fresh collard greens - look for bunches without any wilted leaves
4 cups chicken or turkey broth
Ham hock (use 6 slices of bacon if you can’t get a ham hock)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
salt & pepper, to taste

Prep for pot liquor - In a large pot or dutch oven, add 4 cups of chicken or turkey broth, the ham hock and pour in enough water to cover the ham hock. 
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. 

Prep collards - Wash the collards in a sink of cold water. Take collards out of the water. Drain the sink and rinse again. (This time add a Tablespoon of coarse salt to the water - sea salt or kosher salt is good. If you don’t have either, table salt will work.) Take collards out of the water.  Cut the stems and all tough ribs and discard.  Roll up the collard leaves and coarsely chop. 

Add collards to the pot of ham hock and broth.  You will probably have to push down on the greens to get them all into the pot, so add so you can still get the lid on the pot.** Bring to a boil. (**As the greens wilt, you can add the rest of the collards to the pot.) Stir. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer the greens until they kind of fall apart when stirred. (Approx. 1 - 1 1/2 hours.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Note: the broth and ham hock are already salty so taste before you add salt. 

Pot liquor can be enjoyed as a hot beverage… I'm not kidding. It's pretty good. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Who can I invite to join us this Christmas?

A friend posted the following on his Facebook page:

"At the request of a friend...Sobering thoughts as we enter the holiday season...It is important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my friend(s)...... Wherever you might be, to kindly copy, paste, and share this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support. I know some will! I did it for a friend and you can too! (You have to copy & paste this one, .....NO 'sharing' please"

Funny, this has on my mind for the past few days, but I didn't know how to say it.  I hope the original author doesn't mind me borrowing it because I need it to help me put my priorities and perceived "struggles" in their place.  

If I hadn't read this post

  • I might have been tempted to shamefully blog about my large family's unbelievably insane attempt to get the entire family together in one place at one time. 

  • I would have droned on and on about my iCal exploding and the headaches of keeping up with whom I will see when and where. 

But if I had, all of you would have shouted together as one, "Boo! Hoo!" and "Shame on  you!"

And I would have deserved it.

Thank heavens, the Facebook post instead reminded me of how my grandparents did Christmas.

My grandparents'  home was always open to strangers who found themselves away from family or alone during the holidays. Soldiers passing through town on their way to somewhere else were often at the family Christmas dinner table.

Matter of fact, Norman, a young soldier from Pennsylvania enjoyed Christmas at my grandparent's home so much, he ended up marrying their oldest child, my aunt Mary Alice.  (The real story is he fell in love with her AT the dinner table and phoned his parents to announce he'd found his future bride!)

It is a sweet story and even sweeter because it reminds me of my uncle who used to tell it. (Sadly, he passed away this year.)

It also reminds me to quit making sure I make it to all my little event and instead think…

 Who can I invite to join us this Christmas?  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What I remember and what I forget.

Most people start the season by putting up the Christmas tree, but this year I started by putting out the Christmas China. As I put each piece in its place, I enjoy remembering the friends and family who added to my collection and the many meals we enjoyed together.  I can remember where we were, how I felt, the conversations and the weather at the time,  but I have to work hard to remember what year it was, how old I was, or how old my children were at the time.  

Oh, what I remember and what I forget! 

You see, my mind is a huge organized vault of information and memories I thoroughly enjoy rummaging through, but sometimes I forget the combination. It is randomly quick and slow, satisfying and equally frustrating what I remember and what I forget. Don't jump to the conclusion it is a sign of my advancing age. I have a great memory, but it has always been kinda of quirky like that. 

I must admit my eagerness to pull out the Christmas china was all about what I remember and what I forget. This time it was remembering whether  I did, or did NOT, donate my Gibson pattern to Goodwill.  You see I saw four of the Gibson bowls at my local Goodwill store, all priced at a steal - a dollar a piece. I was set to purchase them, but put them back on the shelf because I realized there was a possibility I would be buying back what I may, or may not, have donated - my own beloved Christmas china. 

For the past two weeks, I racked my brain. Did I actually give away the Christmas plaid pattern my brother gave me? Why would I do that? Did I lapse into a moment of uncharacteristic minimalism where I would commit to one Christmas pattern? It's not likely, but I simply could NOT recall.  Sometimes, I simply forget those incidental decisions within the mental clutter of my inconsistently inconsistent memory retrieval processor. 

The memory mystery was finally solved when I unpacked the china keepers to find the Gibson pattern. Whew!  No longer anxious I may have given away my china, I became anxious about whether or not the four bowls were still for sale. I  put "Goodwill" on my Reminder App then edited the note to read "Check Goodwill for Gibson bowls" to be sure I didn't assume I was to drop off donations then forget about the bowls.  

Over the next week or so, Frank and I will pull all the Christmas decorations out of the attic. The plastic tubs full of ornaments, figurines, candles, garland, wreaths, pillows, lights, bows have been stored away for the past eleven months much like my Christmas memories. Like my mind's vault of information and memories, I organized and labelled each tub hoping to make unpacking and decorating as organized as possible. I even took advantage of Pinterest private categories and posted pictures of the decorated mantel, bookshelves and Christmas tree village from last year.  

Maybe, this year decorating will only flood my mind with lovely memories of Christmases past instead of overwhelm me with all the little details I struggle to remember but am sure to forget.

And maybe instead of fretting, I can remember to be grateful for what I remember and what I forget. 

Thanks to the inconsistently inconsistent memory retrieval processor God gave me, I do forget small stuff, but it graces me with the ability to forget the other stuff that brings me down - regrets, slights and sad times.  Most of all, I am so grateful I  always remember the people I love, the moments with them I cherish and the love of Jesus who saved me. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Coaching for Life - A Movement on the Grow

The tall fellow in the bright yellow, fifth from the left, is Master Trainer, Nkosinathi Sixabayi. He is  standing with 25 High Level Coaches from the Johannesburg area of South Africa.

Coaching for Life - A Movement on the Grow

Each person in the photo above is holding a copy of Coaching For Life, a Gospel-based football (soccer) curriculum.   Coaching for Life is a publication I helped create as a member of the 2012 Ubabalo/One Hope writing team. The team met in Stellenbosch, South Africa to begin the project and went to press months later with the title "Coaching for Life".   

Today, the publication and many other sports ministry tools are available for free and utilized to share Jesus with children and youth in more locations than I can count in countries around the world.  It is a movement of Christ-followers and it is on the "grow". Check out Coaching for Life and other Gospel teaching and coaching tools through the links below: 

Whole Life Coaching Resources      


My limited mind still struggles to quantify the ministries and individuals involved, understand how it works and count how many find Jesus through sports.  The photos I receive, like the one above, of one day in one country help. They remind me training events like this are happening all over the globe sending coaches out into communities in every corner of the world.  

This January, Coaching for Life is on the "grow" again!  This time the Ubabalo/One Hope team will meet to begin writing a Coaching for Life curriculum for Cricket. 

I'm thrilled to be involved, but writing for Cricket to be a growing experience for me!  It is no surprise I don't know a wicket from a paddle, but I agreed to serve without question. It's a stretch, but I expect God will help me grow into it. 

I know less about Cricket than I do about football, (even the American version), so I'm trying to learn as much I can before we get started.  Thanks be to God, I met a few Cricket fans while at Kidmin 2013 who graciously and patiently quizzed me on the basics without laughing at my ignorance of this noble and complicated game.  Thanks to those interactions, I understand Cricket is one of the hardest games to master with fans as passionate about Cricket as I am about College Basketball. Thank God, the writing team includes Cricket coaches! 

Please pray with me for God's protection as team members travel to the writing workshop this January. Pray we will hear and faithfully follow God's will for this writing project. 

 If you want to know more, I blogged all about the 1st Ubabalo/One Hope adventure - see the 2011/2012 archives in the right margin. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Part 3 - Volunteer Burn-out - A healthy alternative.

In Part 3 of  Volunteer Burn-out,  Below I've listed tools and strategies to prevent and hopefully eliminate burn-out and maintain a healthy church with healthy volunteers. This list of suggestions
is intended to bring focus to volunteer burn-out prevention.

Establish a culture of healthy and balanced ministry service.

Set boundaries and guidelines for service and require all to abide by them. 
  • Provide written job descriptions for all volunteer/paid ministry positions. Review them annually to maintain up-to-date and accurate representations of the actual time required.
  • Expect Sabbath rest for all.  Qualify/quantify Sabbath rest in job descriptions. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" Exodus 20:8
  • Expect all set aside time for spiritual development and worship. Be flexible, but make it clear service suffers without it. "Just as a branch separated from its supporting vine cannot live, let alone produce any fruit, so we are helpless when we are not connected to Jesus, the source of our hope and salvation." John 15:5 
  • Plan for, and encourage time away for play and recreation. Model it by offering a fun ministry team outing or gatherings where the agenda is relaxation and relationship building not business. 
  • Limit the number of nights one is expected to serve.  Two to three nights/week or ten to twelve/month encourages and protects family and personal time. 
  • Require staff persons to model healthy and balanced service by embracing the guidelines and boundaries along with the volunteers. Train staff to coach volunteers to do the same. 
  • Avoid asking a volunteer to take on a vacant staff position's responsibilities for more than a few weeks.  Employ a paid interim ASAP to fill in.  The interim could be a seasoned volunteer willing to set in to help out without pay, but do not abuse their gift of service by allow it for more than a short time.

Educate church body on healthy balanced service.

  • Use Biblical examples of healthy and unhealthy service to illustrate expectations.  Jonah ;-( Jesus ;-) Martha & Mary to illuminate what God wants and doesn't want from us.
  • Review the Beatitudes as a church body. God doesn't want us to be anxious or ambitious, but dependent upon Him to fulfill the needs of the church.  Meditating on Matthew 6 & 7 for illumination can help check actions, attitude and motivation. 
  • Share the church's boundaries and guidelines for healthy, balanced service regularly with the body in service team meetings, communication pieces and worship messages. 
  • Encourage all to honestly prayerfully evaluate their own service health and embrace the adopted boundaries and guidelines. 
  • Celebrate all who serve in special dedication and praise service. Avoid singling anyone out specifically to encourage servant-hearted service as Jesus modeled in John 13:1-7

Help people find a position to match their God-given gifts and talents. 

  • If God wants it to happen, He will send those needed. God covered the bases by intentionally giving individuals in the church body different gifts and talents. Build ministries to reflex this and create new ministries to match the needs and manpower as God provides. 
  • Help volunteers discover their service "sweet spot" by helping them discover their God-given gifts and talents. It can start with a Spiritual gifts class and/or a one-time opportunity to sample ministry opportunities. Follow up by assessing how they felt serving in the position, on the team and in that specific area of ministry. Adjust accordingly. For example - If interacting with preschoolers during the Advent celebration felt right, but helping with crafts was a disaster, forget crafts, but focus on finding a more suitable preschool position. Volunteers are less likely to become stressed and anxious and more likely to stay energized when in their service sweet spot.

Support, reinforce and maintain healthy ministry work habits for all.

  • Divide duties of large ministry leadership positions to establish Co-leadership positions.
  • When a position's responsibilities become unmanageable, split the role into two new positions.
  • Require orientation and training before serving. Prepare and protect volunteers by outlining  expectations and responsibilities. 
  • Make sure volunteers know whom to contact with questions or to find a substitute to fill in when they need to be away. When serving suddenly clashes with personal responsibilities and it will from time to time, grace volunteers with a stress reducing workable support system.
  • Encourage serving in pairs and on teams. Not only does it help volunteers build relationships and make lasting connections with others. They are less likely to burn-out when they have a ministry colleague to share the experience. In Children's Ministry,  two people are required when working directly with children. Create teams for administrative and supervisory positions as well. 
  • Provide direct and visible supervision and support during times of service. Make sure leadership checks in with volunteers individually for feedback and to listen for needs or challenges.
  • Rotate people through key leadership positions every two to three years. I call this the "No Dynasty Rule". Not only does this prevent burn-out, it brings fresh ideas and approaches to the ministry. It also prevents individuals from monopolizing the position and leadership cliques. (This topic as related to VBS deserves it's own post.) 
  • Look out for "Lone Ranger" behavior.  When a leader fails to delegate, remind them they are robbing others of the opportunity to serve. Encourage them to list tasks and responsibilities they could delegate to others. Coach them on team building and inviting others to serve. 
  • Grace those who've served on concentrated or intense ministry projects: such as mission trips, task forces or VBS week, by encouraging them to take time away after the job is complete, or schedule breaks within the project, to refresh and renew . 

    It is my prayer, churches no longer dismiss, cover up and whisper about volunteer burn-out like it is a dirty little secret. I'd rather we openly admit it exists, happens too often and negatively impacts families and ministries.  If, we bring it into the open, talk about it and honestly address it, we can end it.  

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    Part 2 : Volunteer Burn-out

    Part 2 - How to recognize, address and minister to volunteers in burn-out. 

    Because burn-out happens after doing a difficult job for a long time, volunteers slip and slide  instead of fall into a state of burn-out.   The gradual change from energized and enthusiastic service to burdened, anxious, detached and joyless service happens over an extended time.

    Therefore, be on the look out for volunteer burn-out in those who…

    •  Stay in a leadership position much longer than initially intended.  Why that happens is another blog entirely. Regardless of why it happens, the individual may agree to serve until a replacement is found but ends up feeling like they have to serve "until Jesus comes".
    • Temporarily take on a staff role in a volunteer capacity and serve an extended time waiting for the new hire. The intention is always to replace the staff member quickly, but when the search drags on and on, temporarily "helping out" becomes an imposition and burden. 
    • Take on a volunteer leadership role and fail to delegate or utilize team support.  Leadership roles requires followers.  Without teammates to follow the leader, it is a one-man band. One man bands are burn-outs in the making. 
    • Experience extended personal or family stress during their term of volunteer service. No one can anticipate these seasons and the additional time and energy they take. It just happens.
    Church leadership and/or staff persons can recognize volunteer burn-out by checking in with volunteers on a regular basis. It is imperative to observe the volunteer in action, during leadership meeting and in one on one conversations to get a true picture of volunteer health. Look for :

    • Negative or fatalistic talk: Expressions of extreme frustration and cynicism such as "I can't… they won't…." and "It will never…" 
    • Detachment and/or waning interest - such as unusual tardiness, continual absences, arriving unprepared, rush or distracted for service or leadership meetings. 
    • Agitation with others or the tasks at hand - display tension and irritation over normal  challenges or interruptions.
    • Emotional outbursts in inappropriate situations -  express anger or frustration with emotional  outbursts. May loose their temper, unload or cry while serving. 
    • A marked change in personality - usually upbeat and now pessimistic or usually quiet and now totally withdrawn and/or non-communicative. 
    • Gossip - others are talking about or asking others what's wrong with the volunteer and/or the volunteer is talking "about" instead of "to" people, this unhealthy breakdown in communication can signal the beginnings of dissatisfaction and eventual burn-out.  I know gossip is sinful, but it signals an unhealthy situation is brewing. Where there is smoke there just might be burn-out smoldering.
    Blessed are the volunteers who recognize a problem on their own for they will seek guidance and a healthy intervention.  I don't worry about them, but I have stolen many of my strategies from them! 

    As for those who never see it coming, proactive ministry is recommended and highly effective.  
    Waiting until burn-out is full blown is the alternative and is destructive to both the individual and the church body. I'll talk more about prevention in Part 3

    When bathed in prayer and done in love, proactive ministry can stop burn-out in its tracks.
    • Prayer - It should be happening already, but taking extra time to pray with the hurting volunteer is the best place to start. Bathe the entire process in prayer; for and with the volunteer. 
    • Listen- Meet for coffee, lunch or another activity.  Resist "fixing" things for them by being a supportive listener.  Reflect back what you hear them saying and let the Spirit lead them to discover and problem-solve for themselves. I'm amazed how often self-discovery of a solution happens when someone simply listens. 
    • Suggest and support setting new boundaries. If self-discovery doesn't illuminate a solution  and even if it does, help them set new boundaries between ministry and personal time for worship, adult Bible study, leisure and family without the worry of ministry responsibilities.
    • Protect and reinforce the new boundaries by respecting their time away and encouraging others to do the same. Also, check-in with them to be sure it's working for them. 
    • Invite the volunteer the opportunity for a short sabbatical.  Gifting the volunteer with a week or two of time to get away and refresh is a great start to restoration. Sometimes being away from church and the related responsibilities all together is helpful. A short absence from ministry responsibilities can make the heart grow fonder for it. 
    • Reassess the position and responsibilities. The job might be unrealistic in scope and time required. Reassess, and if possible, split the role into two positions or create a new support position. Added support and a lighter load will go a long way to restoration and will strengthen both the individual and the ministry.
    • Offer them "an out". Sometimes life's responsibilities and challenges just get in the way of ministry. Offering the individual the option to step down to dedicate time and energy to season of personal stress or family needs is a God-send. Affirm their good works by telling them they are welcome to return at anytime and will be eligible for the position if still available, or the next time it becomes available. In Children's Ministry, there is ALWAYS a position waiting to be filled!
    Usually with helps, intervention, support, encouragement and prayer offered in love, the volunteer can return to service in the same or modified position with a renewed joy. 

    If Restoration doesn't happen, remember "failure" is not an option, it's just a tool. 
    • Do NOT "fire" them.  They've already felt the heat, crashed and burned-out. Why fuel the burn-out by adding shame and blame? Remember, failure is not an option, it's just a tool. 
    • If you must let them go, blame the position not the individual. If the volunteer and the position were a bad fit, be truthful. Acknowledge it as a miss and encourage them to use what they learned to improve their aim as they choose another position of service. 
    • Thank them for their service! Invite others to join you. Express your appreciation in emails and notes of encouragement. It means more than words in passing to put your thoughts in writing. 
    • Affirm, Assess and Retool - Meet again to intentionally retool for future ministry. Together, assess and celebrate what was discovered about their gifts and talents while in the position. 
    • Follow-up and Reaffirm - A few weeks later, make a follow-up call to thank them again for their service with them about how God will use the experience to help them find a good ministry fit. 

    Friday, November 8, 2013

    Part 1 - Volunteer burn-out - a dirty little secret

    It is time to talk about a dirty little secret - volunteer burn-out.  

    Webster's Dictionary defines burn-out as: the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time. 

    Burn-out and the church's lack of response is a complicated and sensitive issue. Instead of blasting you with a really long post, I'm going to allow time for reflection by presenting my thoughts in three separate posts.

    In Part 1 -  I will describe my thoughts on why burn-out happens in Children's Ministry as well as why it is a dirty little secret. 

    In Part 2, I will explore ways to recognize, address and minister to volunteers in burn-out. 

    In Part 3,  I will share tools and strategies to prevent and hopefully eliminate burn-out and maintain a healthy church with healthy volunteers. 

    Part 1 - Why burn-out happens.

    Burn-out can happen to the most dedicated and passionate ministry workers. Swept up in the joy of serving others in Jesus' name, many healthy, good hearted and hardworking saints over serve. Many times, encouraged or guilted to over serve by church leadership, our once engaged and motivated workers become cynical, unhealthy, overburdened, overcommitted and exhausted shadows of themselves.  Over serving sanctioned by church leadership and innocently disguised as calls to "sacrificial service" is insidious, manipulative and destructive. The results are devastating to the individual, their family and friends. The fall out from volunteer burnout is the dirty little secret few churches are willing to admit or address. 

    Since I am a Children's Minister, I'm acutely aware volunteer burn-out within Children's Ministry leadership. Burn-out exists in other areas of the church, but the constant demands and needs of children's ministry require more people and more responsibility than any other church ministry.   Over the past few decades, Children's ministries have improved safety standards requiring even more people and background screening for all volunteers.  These changes are a good thing, but created a huge challenge because the pool of potential workers for Children's Ministry decreased while the required number of workers increased.  Many churches only allow adult workers further limiting the pool of potential volunteers.

    Hands down, Children's ministry requires the largest number of workers each week.  It takes, on  average, a ratio of one adult to three children to provide administration, supervision and fully staffed classrooms/groups for a safe and effective children's program.  Add to that, multiple weekly programs/sessions and a church with 120 children requires 40 workers for Sunday and 40 for one  additional program. In this case, 80 workers per week for 120 children brings the weekly ratio to less than one adult for every two children. 

    Unless the ministry limits the number of sessions to match the available pool of personnel, the need for workers consistently exceeds the number of volunteers available so qualified workers feel obligated to serve in multiple leadership roles.  The well-meaning saints bound for burn-out give up their worship hour, Bible study group, fellowship time and/or family time to serve extra sessions and provide added hours of leadership.  When they make a habit of skipping worship or Bible study to serve, they miss the important spiritual recharge and renewal essential for service. When they make a habit of short-cutting family time, their personal lives and relationships suffer.

    Soon, they find themselves running on personal and spiritual empty. It is a slippery slope to decreased joyful spirit-filled service. Left unchecked, running on empty eventually leads to volunteer burn-out in which the once energized and enthusiastic individual presents as burdened, anxious, detached and joyless and bottom out as angry, resentful and cynical. 

    The individual's reaction to burn-out varies from healthy and helpful to unhealthy and harmful.  People might….
    • Ask for a break from their service or reduction in responsibilities to renew and refresh, then  return to serve, but never over-serve again. 
    • Seek out a spiritual mentor to provide counsel, pray with and for them.  
    • Resign and find another area of ministry where they can limit their service OR worse, repeat the same mistakes in the new area only to burn out again.
    • Become physically rundown suffering viruses, colds and malaise. 
    • Project their negative feelings on others; blame or create conflict with others around them. 
    • Ignore or deny burn-out until depression or detachment creates marital and other relationship problems.
    • Act out with angry outbursts of frustration. 
    • Leave the church. Some leave quietly and find another church and some leave the church altogether. 
    Unfortunately, many volunteers in Children's ministry sliding down the slippery slope toward burn-out live in total denial or suffer in silence fearful to admit their struggles until it is too late. It's a dirty little secret, they keep to themselves until it is too late.

    Personal reasons for denial and silence are reinforced by church practices. The church shares in the dirty little secret from the beginning. Whether intentionally or not, these examples of common church practices set volunteers up for burn-out and punishes them when it happens.
    • Ask the same few "Yes" people to fill in or lead and do it over and over again. It is much easier to use them than rotate through the large list until you get a Yes!
    • Recruit an inspired new believer to take on multiple ministry leadership roles. New to the church, John's  great joy teaching kindergarten is noticed by church leadership and suddenly he's asked to lead the men's ministry, join the Preschool board AND continue to teach.  
    • Allow church staff to model unhealthy church/home boundaries.  Church staff is required or encouraged to always be at church or available setting up expectations of over serving.  
    • Add programs before there are enough people to run them. Add programs without assessing feasibility in effort to attract more young families or provide "childcare" during Adult offerings. 
    • Minimize the time commitment and responsibilities of a leadership role. The idea is people  don't want to know, already know or will not volunteer if they know all the details. 
    • Celebrate and single out volunteers who over serve with awards or excessive praise.  Base incentives to serve on external rewards or awards for high profile positions with long hours.  
    • Use Pastor's influence to get a volunteer to take on a huge ministry commitment.   Most people find it hard to say no to the Senior Pastor, so send him in to close the deal. 
    • Fail to minister to and/or punish volunteers who burn-out.  Failure is not acceptable and usually addressed by dismissing or asking the volunteer to resign.  Reasons for dismissal or resignation are reported as spiritual issues, illness, family problems, personality conflicts, etc. 
    • Let burned out volunteers leave the church "unnoticed". Let people leave quietly and without follow up to avoid embarrassment or minimize church conflict. 
    I believe churches mean well and their motive is to spread the gospel, NOT to do harm.  Hopefully, by openly talking about burn-out and admitting it exists, we can bring the dirty little secret into the light…

      To be continued in Parts 2 & 3.  

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Kidmin 2013 - Why I deleted my last post.

    I just finished writing a blog post about whether or not Kidmin 2013 met my giddy over-the-top expectations.  It was full of details about my personal experiences, joys, insights and highlights.

    Then I deleted it.

    Why? Because if I was reminded about ANYTHING at Kidmin 2013, it was this.


    • Kidmin 2013 is not about me.
    • Children's Ministry is not about me, the children or the parents. 
    • Church is not about me, the Senior Pastor, staff, members or the building.

    • It is about His great love for his people.
    • It is about His son Jesus who came to earth to teach us of God's love.
    • It is about sharing God's love with others. 


    While suffering a time of confusion about this, a wise man reminded me...
    • It is not about me. 
    • It is not about them.
    • It is about Him. 

    And that is why I deleted my last post.   Thank you, Kidmin 2013.  

    Monday, October 7, 2013

    Kidmin 2013 - My giddy over-the-top expectations

    Group's Kidmin 2013 Conference in Columbus, Ohio is only days away.  I'm trying to control my excitement about connecting with my Kidmin peeps - the ones who "get me".  Unfortunately, I'm losing control of my expectations.  I've moved past psyched and quickly approaching giddy!

    In my own defense, Kidmin Conference is the one weekend of the year, I get quality time to play, laugh, study, pray, worship, laugh, play, dream, learn, listen, play and laugh with others who share a passion for Children's Ministry. It is probably the giddy talking because I mentioned play and laugh more than once, but I really like to play and laugh! If you follow Chris Yount Jones' blog you've already been warned!

    And before I launch into my giddy over-the-top list of expectations,  I must admit I have a weakness for dreaming dreams that are too idealistic to be real, so I've toned down my list... at least I tried. Besides God has His own expectations and I'm even more giddy anticipating what God's going to do.

    My giddy over-the-top expectations for Kidmin 2013 are to....

    • Arrive in Columbus, Ohio early Friday after a safe, on-time, uneventful flight from RDU. 
    • Introduce myself to someone sitting alone on the shuttle from the airport to the Hyatt.  Don't worry, I won't stalk them the entire weekend!  I simply hope they feel welcome and included.
    • See every conference attendee enhance their conference experience with the new Kidmin Conference APP.  I'll be in the registration area Friday AM to help people get started, explore and begin taking advantage of this very user friendly conference tool. 
    • Find, hug and squeal with delight as I spot each one of my Groupie friends. Repeat as often as needed.  Hopefully, my voice and all those around me will survive the mania. 
    • Experience in depth and thought provoking conversation in the Friday afternoon Conversations. I look forward to participating in a conversation about women in Children's Ministry and another on Summer Programs and VBS. 
    • Connect with others who volunteer in Children's Ministry - I can't wait to listen to their stories,  hear how God is using them and watch them make life long connections with others in the Volunteers in Ministry Connect Group lead by my good friend, Debby Albrecht. 
    • Worship with abandon! I tend to be a "high church" worshipper, but when with kids or Kidmin peeps, I like to throw myself into familiar worship songs and learn a few new ones. 
    • Discover new inspiration to renew my commitment to ministry during General sessions and workshops. 
    • Allow God to cleanse me by pointing out areas of weakness or hidden barriers blocking me from effective ministry. It may happen during quiet time alone or in the middle of a General session or workshop, but I know wherever or whenever it happens I will be safe. 
    • Listen and learn from others during the workshops I've already carefully chosen or in the workshops God inspires me to choose at the last minute. 
    • Find time to grab a meal or share a coffee break with old and brand new friends. 
    • Enjoy copious amounts of time playing and laughing. I may join the Groupie VBS team for Zumba at crack-o-dawn, drag myself into the Hyatt gym for some cardio or work those abs by laughing myself silly at a late-night event.  I'm 100% positive I will get lots of laughter in, not so sure about the gym.
    • Be privileged to sit with, listen to, encourage and pray with another Kidmin in need.
    • Others will experience all the above and whatever else God has in store. 

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    A Kidmin 2013 Dream Come True - There's an APP for that!

    Kidmin 2013 in Columbus, Ohio is 21 days away and I've been putting off planning my individual schedule simply because the amazingly large list of workshop and activity options is overwhelming for my ADHD brain.  For the past 2 years, I would attempt to make myself sit down and make choices only to become frustrated with all the overlapping options and sheer mass of options and give  up.  Usually I ended up settling for a "by the seat of my pants" Kidmin Conference schedule out of one part desperation and one part love of adventure. (Hey, don't laugh! It's my own little delusion which makes me feel better about myself and that's.... OK. he-he-he)

    But this year, my Kidmin 2013 dream came true!

    Group created an APP for Kidmin 2013 to change my scheduling whoa's into WOW's! I'd use even more exclamation points, but I'm trying to restrain myself, really I am.  Instead I recommend you follow the link below and find out how wonderful this APP is for yourself.

    Kidmin 2013 App

    In less than 30 minutes, I've crafted my own schedule, complete with workshop selections, after hours events, Connect Group, Conversation choices and transportation to and from the airport.  I've reviewed Handouts for the selected workshops and checked out the Hyatt floor maps, too.

    I'd love to go on and on, but I'd rather you experience the Kidmin app to see for yourself what a great tool Group has provided to make your conference experience a breeze to plan.  I can't wait to see what this APP does to make my real time conference experience more enjoyable. (If that were even possible.)
    Goodbye, "seat of the pants" Kidmin Conference Experience & Hello, intentionally selected tailor-made for me experience with a side of "on-time" behavior!

    Friday, July 19, 2013

    Sign up NOW for Kidmin 2013 Pre-Conference

    If you are going to Kidmin 2013, sign up NOW for a Pre-Conference session! 

    Consider my personal experience.... 

    Participating in the Pre-Conference session on Leadership was the perfect way to kick-start my Kidmin2012 experience.  Usually when arriving at conferences, I feel as if I am in the midst of strangers.  In the past, I felt blessed if I connected with at least one other participant during the entire conference experience. 

    The very interactive Kidmin Pre-con session helped me immediately meet and get to know many other participants as our session leader invited us to share our common challenges and best practices. I left the session with tons of ideas, but more importantly I left feeling I was among friends. 

    My new friend in ministry, Heather Foxworthy, echoes my endorsement in her own words. 

    "KidMin was exactly what I needed.  In case it wasn’t incredibly obvious all over my face, I was so tired and disheartened, feeling like I couldn’t keep fighting an uphill battle.  I feel more focused and back on track now.  I think it just helped knowing that I wasn’t alone, that there were others just like me.  And that others were, and hopefully still are, praying for me.  I have tacked on my office bulletin board the Frisbee with a stranger’s name on it as well as several business cards for whom I pray as a reminder to keep praying from them.  On Saturday night at the conference I took the “Here Alone” button off my lanyard as a symbolic gesture of not feeling alone in the ministry anymore." 

    Heather sat at the same table at Pre-conference Session and this young red head from Kodiak Bible Chapel in Alaska was one of my first new connections during my Pre-Conference experience. Months after Kidmin 2012, she emailed to tell me how excited she was to see my picture in Children's Ministry Magazine.  (My mug was under my bi-monthly contribution to CMMag's Discipline Q&A column.)  More importantly, she wanted to tell me she'd shared her Leadership Pre-Conference experience to cast God's vision for children's ministry at her church. 

    Heather said I could quote her here on "Free Fallin'" if I promised to ask all my partners in ministry  to pray for Kodiak Bible Chapel's upcoming Vacation Bible School.  Preschool/Kindergarten is July 31-Aug 2 and 1st-6th grade is August 5-9.  Please remember Heather Foxworthy in your prayers that God will use her in a big way! 

    I'm also praying you will kick start your Kidmin 2013 experience by signing up for a Pre-Conference session .  As we say in Raleigh, North Carolina, "You'll be glad you did." 

    Here's a link to available sessions.  


    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    What I've learned from my container garden.

    This spring, my husband and I decided to add a small container garden to our front deck.  We started small because neither one of us has any gardening skills beyond lawn care. We planted okra, tomatoes and cucumbers in a square canvas contraption with four 18 inch planting quadrants.  Eager to be successful, I researched watering, pruning, and boosting production. I also consulted a vegetable gardener friend to find out the answer to the most basic questions.

    How often should I water and how much water each time?
    Do I need to prune the plants? If so, what part of the plant do I cut away?
    How much produce should I get from one plant?
    How long do I have to wait until I have ripe veggies to pick?

    I wasn't surprised to get many different answers to my questions so I chose the answers heard most often and hoped for the best.  I made many mistakes along the way and have made notes so I can improve my garden next year. I'm not going to claim I am becoming a good gardener.  I'm afraid that's going to take more than one growing season.

    However, I CAN say my observations and reflections while gardening have inspired lessons for ministry.

    There's a lot of good advice, but not all of it pertains to me.  My little garden is uniquely mine.  It is my job to assess my garden's needs and choose wisely from the wealth of information and advice available to me.  The needs of a container garden are different from a raised garden, a regular garden or a commercial vegetable farm.  I did my best to follow the advice and ideas that fit my situation and ignore the rest.

    It is the same in Children's ministry. Knowing and understanding the unique characteristics and needs of a children's ministry is key. Researching best practices and listening to others in ministry is always advisable. Sharing my best practices and training others for children's ministry is how I reciprocate. However,  I'd be foolish to give, or take, advise or use ideas that worked somewhere else without carefully considering whether or not they match the individual ministry situation or setting.

    God is in charge.  God provides the rain, sun and makes the plant grow.  Yes, I fertilize, prune and fuss over the tiny plants, but I can no nothing to make them grow. Anything I did only supported or got in the way of God's work. "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6

    I reflected on how true that is in ministry and life. I can do nothing apart from God.  I can only support what he's doing, try not to get in the way, and pray for a good outcome. Oh, many times I was tempted to accept praise for a growing children's ministry or beat myself up for a ministry crisis.  In reality, I was merely a caretaker for a small part of God's ministry.

    Growth is always desired, but not all growth is good or healthy.  My aggressive cucumber plants were slow to start, but while I was away on vacation, they took off growing higher and bigger than the container could accommodate. The little tendrils the cucumber plant uses to climb up the bamboo frame climbed onto the other plants and even back on itself.  With no other place to grow, the cucumber tendrils tightly wrapped themselves on the branches of the neighboring okra plants and tomato vines. The cucumber plant was huge, green and glorious, but underneath, those tendrils were in danger of choking out, and therefore killing, my entire garden. I actually sacrificed a few budding cucumbers and a bunch of vibrant leaves and shoots while pruning back the monstrosity, but it was necessary to save the entire garden.

    In Children's ministry, growth is always desired, but not all growth is good, or healthy.  A growing ministry must be carefully monitored and modified to remain healthy.  It is much harder and more painful to cut out resource hogging programs and events once they're established than to wait and carefully add as staffing and facilities are available.

    Picking fruit is the pay off, but it starts by planting the seeds.  The last few weeks, I've had a blast discovering ripe veggies in my garden. Picking cucumbers, tomatoes and okra to enjoy with my family and friends has brought me such joy.  Who knew a bumper crop of 5 okra pod grilled by my hubby would bring such a feeling of joy and accomplishment? As I shared above, I was not alone in this endeavor. I simply play my part. God gets the kudos for the growth. Someone in a greenhouse planted the seeds and nurtured them as they grew from seedling to small starter plants knowing someone else would enjoy the harvest. And that someone else is ME!

    Children's ministry is a lot like that. This lesson was driven home by a dear children's ministry co-worker just a few days ago.  She told me of a formerly homeless man she met who shared his faith story from addiction to wellness.  He said his life turned around when he was saved by the same Jesus he met as a child at Vacation Bible School. She said she remembered me telling our eager team not to be discouraged by measuring immediate ministry results, but find joy in our role of planting seeds for the future.  The man's humble story affirmed that truth and encouraged her as well as inspired her to share her joy with me.

    Honestly, next year I will NOT be attempting to start my garden with seeds. I will be satisfied to allow someone else to be Paul and plant the seeds.  I will gladly play the role of Apollos and water while God  makes everything grow.

    As for my role in children's ministry,  I will remember my little container garden and the lessons it taught me.

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    Sometimes I want to BE Solomon!

    As a Children's Minister, I pray constantly for the wisdom of King Solomon, but...

                                          Sometimes, I want to BE Solomon! 

    I bet King Solomon didn't need things in writing to back up his wise decisions, but I know Children's Ministries do.  Working to establish and implement sound written policies, guidelines and procedures for a safe, organized and effective ministry with children has been a labor of love for me.  Pulling together task forces to evaluate, trouble shoot, revise and edit existing policies and procedures as well as helping churches draft, edit, ratify and put new policies, procedures and guidelines for volunteer screening and background checks was a major focus in every church I've served.

    Even before task forces got busy , I dedicated myself to training our teams to understand, practice and embrace best practices even before they came together in writing.  It was more important to me than vacation bible school and age-appropriate play equipment! (That's huge!)  In some cases, I moved on to another church before the ink on those documents was dry, but in all cases, I left knowing the bulk of the work was done. King Solomon would have both proud!

    Still, getting the church to rarify the documents was always approached with fears of major confrontation and much trepidation. The task force members thought old Aunt Ida would give us a fit.  I can still hear her indignation accentuated by a finger in my face.  "Background check? No way! I'll quit first!"  Seriously, I woke up in a cold sweat dreading the church wide uproar and perceived insults, but  ratification and implementation was always smooth and effective.  I guess those prayers for Solomon's wisdom were answered after all.

    For the record, dear old Aunt Ida didn't quit and sheepishly admitted the background process was utterly painless and respectful. "They do it in ALL the schools, don't you know!"

    With everything in writing and teams trained so everyone is on the same page, day to day ministry was  smooth sailing, most of the time.

    You'd think it would continue to work well, but there was push back.  Oh, to BE Solomon! 

    • In those growing churches, and I pray all churches are growing, new people joined the church bringing new ideas and other ways of doing ministry.  "Why can't my friend help me teach? At our old church, non-members were allowed to teach Sunday school." "My child refuses to go to Sunday School because she says she's not a baby. Kindergarteners belong in the Elementary department."
    • Then there was the long time member who voted against the PP&G's, was a big influencer back in the day, or simply resist change of any kind. "Why I've always taught with my husband. These new rules are ridiculous!" or "Multi-age grouping? Good old Pastor Smith would roll over in his grave!" 
    • Let's not forget the overwhelmed parent hoping, nope praying, I'd bend the rules to make their life easier by preventing another temper tantrum.  "What's wrong with Jimmy climbing the fence? He does it at home all the time."
    • This was the one that almost puts me over the edge. "I want to enroll Susan in the three year old class.  I know she's only 12 months old, but she's extremely advanced for her age." 

    Friends, those were the times I wanted to BE Solomon.  There I was caught between what our leadership has thoughtfully decided is best and responding favorably to the desires or perceived needs of the parent and child.   

    In wanting to be Solomon, I'm not saying I was going to"split the baby" just to force an issue, but splitting a baby is exactly what I felt I was asked to do. It felt like no matter what I decided, one was going to give in and the other give up..... hopefully, by choice not by intimidation.

    It required diplomacy, but boiled down to knowing whether to be persuasive or persuaded.  

    Let me explain.

    Sometimes, they just had a bad day and I was a convenient punching bag. In those situations, I found a quiet place to address concerns, then approached with grace. I learned this not a time to be persuasive or persuaded. I learned to listen, reflect and schedule another meeting when defenses were  down. I prayed with them before parting because honestly, we both needed it.

    Most of the time, people simply weren't vested in the PP&G's (Policies, Procedures and Guidelines). Even if I gave them a copy, they lacked an appreciation for and attachment to all the work and wisdom poured into the ruling documents.  Usually diplomatically explaining "why we do what we do" satisfied their concerns and they are willingly persuaded to accept the status quo.

    Other times, a fresh perspective persuaded me to see things I missed.  By utilizing their insights to make adjustments, the ministry improved and the persuasive person felt welcome and valued.

    Inevitably, no matter how amazing I thought the PP&G's were or how well I handled those interactions, it kept happening. People saw exceptions to the rules, holes in procedures and problems with policies

    In each case, just like Solomon and the baby, I had two choices.

    1. Be persuasive by honoring the PP&G's through explaining and clarifying 


    2. - Be open to being persuaded to embrace change where needed. 

    But I struggled over which to choose in any given situation, so I pleaded.

    " Please God, I want to BE Solomon!" 

    And then God whispered the answer to my prayer.... 

     "The wise decisions of Solomon came from his faith in Me.   My child - BE Solomon!" 


    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    The dangers of letting other people define me...

    Early in my ministry, I made the huge mistake of allowing others to define me. At first church members and supervisors heralded me as if I was "the golden girl".   Some said I was creative and inspired. Others praised my organization and people skills. My supervisors told me I was a quick learner and quite talented - a dedicated and hard worker.

    I believed all the accolades and worked even harder and longer to please my church family. Soon I was working day and night, fueled by their favor and kind words.  It was a happy time, but I was unaware of the dangers of letting other people define me.

    Children's ministry was bustling along, but the church climate was turning toxic.  Since I was working 60 hours per week to keep up with a Children's ministry growth spurt, I did not sense the danger lurking. Looking back, I was aware of mounting tension and discord among the Elders regarding a land purchase, but I clung to an altruistic belief that Christians act in love and church disagreements are resolved in a Godly manner.

    To this day, I am unsure how I ended up in the crosshairs of conflict and condemnation, but all of a sudden I found myself under intense scrutiny from my supervisor.  I've been told I was used as a scapegoat to divert attention from the land debacle, but it doesn't matter. I know what man means for evil, God uses for good or in my case - God used this to teach me and I am thankful for it. 

    Our leadership team was preparing a Children's Ministry evaluation survey and we invited my supervisor to attend the open meetings. Instead of participating in our self-evaluation process,  he decided he would run the meetings and told me I was not to participate.  My leadership team resisted, but he over-ruled them. He even added a secret survey/evaluation of me and announced he was going to send it to a select & secret  group of members of his choosing.

    From day one, I was told you are doing a great job and was used to superior evaluations, but I thought it odd I was the only staff person being evaluated. I did think it ridiculous to ban me from the meetings, but I respected my supervisor - assuming he meant no harm.

     Here's where most folks would see the red flags, but  I went along with the plan, because all my" intel" assured me everyone would be fair and I would be better for it.  Seriously, I was THAT naive. 

    Let's fast forward to my doomsday.  Called into the Senior Pastor's office, my supervisor handed me an evaluation report.  The only words I recognized as descriptive of me was my name written across the top of the page. The rest was a damning description of a most incompetent and repulsive person.  As a final blow, the summary paragraph defined me as "Arrogant, abrasive, aloof, abrupt and several other unflattering "A" words I'd never heard said about me.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm perfect... far from it.  I'm saying I'd never received a negative evaluation, much less a character assassination.  People usually defined me as confident not arrogant, diplomatic not abrasive, approachable not aloof, and admittedly direct, but not abrupt.  It had always been easy and safe for me to see myself through others eyes, because it was all good.  Now, it was all bad and it felt horrible.  I was devastated, crushed and falling apart.

    I fought to keep my emotions in check, but the tears in my eyes and my shaking hands betrayed me. Choking back tears, I looked into the eyes of my Pastor, once warm and encouraging, now icy and piercing and asked, Who would say these cruel things? I would like to talk with them." I trailed off saying, "I don't understand."

    The Senior Pastor didn't speak, he just stared blankly at me. He let my supervisor take the lead.  My supervisor told me he could not tell me who was asked to write the evaluations. He said I was to accept their definitions as fact and immediately turn in a letter of resignation.

    I didn't buy it. I couldn't accept their scathing review.  I put up a fight for my job and for my self-esteem, but the damage was too great.  Eventually,  I negotiated a severance package and left quietly, but it took me years to fully recover from the traumatic lesson in allowing others to define me.

    And this is how I was finally healed.

    I eventually learned to allow only God to define me.  In the weeks and months that followed, I turned to God spending hours each day in prayer and reflection. I searched the Bible and landed in Exodus, Psalms and the Gospels.  There I discovered Moses, David and even Jesus endured people's praise and scorn. Moses and David, like me, usually deserved a lot of the negative press, for they sinned... just like me.  But, unlike me, Moses and David did not crumble because they put their faith in God, not man.  Jesus, perfect from the get go endured more negative characterizations that anyone in the Bible, but He knew who He was and only God could define him.

    Vowing never to allow other to define me, I started a most unusual form of prayer. I took that horrid evaluation with all it's hurtful "A" words  and burned it. As it turned to ashes, I thanked God for making me just the way he intended reading from Psalm 139, which became my anchor and my prayer.

    I continue to participate in evaluations and self-evaluations.  I try to listen and learn from other's perspective and impressions of me, but I no longer let their words of praise or correction define me, color my world or damage my self-worth.

    And when I slip allowing high praise to charm me, I remind myself people's favor and praise is as fickle, fallible and dangerous as people's criticism and judgment.  I instead seek the safety and security of God's favor and judgment.

    Thursday, April 4, 2013

    God bless the creative mind of a three year old

    This is a true story a friend told me about her three year old daughter at her preschool class Easter Celebration last week.

    The Teacher is showing the parents how well the children learned the Easter story using the resurrection eggs. When she opens the empty egg & says the tomb was empty, she then prompts, "So children, Where is Jesus?" After the children all shout as if on cue, "He is Alive!" My friend's daughter adds, "Yeah, Santa Claus took him!"

    Mom tells me she was barely able to keep from laughing, because she knew no one taught her daughter any such nonsense and more than likely the cutie made it up on the spot.

    I bet the other parents' were probably thanking God she wasn't their child. Wouldn't you?

    I pray the teacher was not embarrassed, but according to my friend she was not pleased. Oh my, i thought. What a pity.

    All I could think was..... God bless the creative mind of a three year old - the place where fantasy and reality play side by side and mixed in together just as God intended. A little confusion or embellishment at this age is nothing to fret over. In God's time, each will grow to understand fantasy and reality are neither equal nor interchangeable.

    Until that happens, God bless parents and teachers who patiently and gently keep on sharing the truth of Jesus...even when Santa Claus gets an unwarranted honorable mention.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Saturday, March 23, 2013

    Life before Facebook

    What was life like before Facebook?

    This thought came to mind when trying to remember exactly WHEN I joined Facebook.  According to my time line, I joined April 27, 2008.  I joined to stay in touch with my kids who lived hundreds of miles away. Over the next few months, I discovered Facebook to be an essential communication tool. Within the year, I was using Facebook to stay in touch with my Children's Ministry friends across the country, my church family and Children's Ministry team, extended family,  local friends and friends I hadn't contacted in decades.

    It is easy to know what I've done since Facebook. There is more than enough information recorded in my Facebook "timeline" to answer that question. By clicking on the Activity tab, I can retrace the events of my life back to April 27, 2008.  It is a virtual longterm memory vault build with hundreds of photos and short term memories bites.

    I rarely go a day without logging into Facebook on my laptop, iPhone or iPad. I've logged into Facebook from the comfort and familiarity of my own bedroom as well as from the tip of South Africa. I've posted photos at sea level from my lounge chair on the beach and from the edge of a frozen lake high up in the mountains of Colorado.

    I have friends from all over the world who are just a click away.  I may only see them once a year, but we share our lives through quips, prayer requests, shared photos and virtual chit-chat.

    It's more of a challenge to recall what life was like before Facebook.

    Before Facebook.....

    • I was tethered to a land phone or cellphone.  I talked on the phone, a lot!  I purchased my first cellphone in 1986 to keep up with my real estate customers, clients and colleagues. It was the best tool for my business and it quickly became my go to mode of communication for personal communication as well.  When smart phones became available, I used the new features mainly for email and web browsers.  It would be a long time before I sent my first SMS text. 
    • I wrote more letters and notecards. This is not a positive change.  I still think letters and notecards are the most intimate and elegant forms of distance communication. I save the ones I am lucky enough to receive so I can reread them.  I have a drawer full of notecards and stationary, but do not write as often as I should. I'm ashamed to admit I am quick to say thank you via Facebook when a Thank you note would make a better statement of my appreciation. 
    • I exchanged and collected real photographs.  Good of bad, I had prints of every photo I'd ever taken as well as copies of photos taken by others. We exchanged photos by mail or in person.  I had boxes and photo albums full of pictures. When friends or family visited, they would flip through those photo albums and let me bore them with a narrative of each one.  I still have framed photos all over my house, but they are becoming somewhat dated.
    • My friendships were limited by proximity. Friendships are built on day to day connections while doing life. It is difficult to develop friendships with limited contact, so my friendships were limited to people in my community.  Basically,  I had close local friends and acquaintances I saw once a year, I would have liked to call friends. 
    • I had more hobbies.  I took piano and voice lessons, created projects around the house and rearranged closets and furniture more often.  I knew I would never play piano or sing well enough to entertain others. I surely didn't need another knitted scarf.  It was how I avoided  boredom and entertained myself. 
    • I regularly journaled on paper with pen.  I learned early on I process things better by putting my thoughts on paper. I could write for hours until I began to experience sourness in my hands and fingers. I filled volumes for an audience of one. I began a prayer journal and my audience grew to three - God, Jesus and me.  I still journal sporatically, but only to express my more private thoughts and prayers. 

    Good or not so good changes and not good or bad just different, that's my short list.   

    How has your life changed since you joined Facebook?

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    Kinda Scary

    I've been mulling this over for a few months and just didn't know how to express my angst.   When I make this post live, I will probably offend many, but it's my own guilt and shame that drives me to post.    

    First and foremost, I confess and seek to convict then correct my own actions.  I am NOT calling YOU out.  I am calling US out!  If any of this rings true in you, I invite you to join me in confessing to the world.... We, as Christians, have a real image problem.

    Sometimes, we Christians can be kinda scary.

    I don't think anyone who follows Jesus ever intends to scare the very people we attempt to reach. We mean well, but by our words and lame attempts to speak for God, we can actually scare people away.... far away... from the most amazing love relationship of all times with Jesus.

    Christians are scary when we convict others as sinful or make it our business to take political stands to make sure others are set straight or penalized.  Christians are even scarier when tempted to share their opinions on others' actions, life choices and decisions on Facebook or Twitter.  It's blatantly self-righteous,  downright offensive and invites God to come after us.

    Jesus was VERY specific about the punishment for judging others.

    Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged."

    I need to be reminded. Jesus tells us to judge ourselves, only.

    Matthew 7:3-4  “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

    Nothing is scarier than when Christians find out unsolicited judgments and bold statements of religious convictions are received as off-putting and offensive instead of enlightening.  When called out, you'd think we'd respond with grace and repent of our judgmental behavior, but most of us just don't want feedback.  We simply shut down and throw up barriers by going into self-righteous mode.

    Instead of remaining open to listen, fully understand and love those we've offended, we throw up self-protective barriers. We may think we are "standing up for God's word" or "sharing the truth...in love", but in reality we end up using God's word as a shield of defense or a weighty cub to hit others over the head with.  We rarely apologize and reach out to the offended.  Instead we dismiss, disrespect and, as a result, alienate just about everyone - at least everyone who otherwise might love to hear about our loving Lord Jesus.

    I am most ashamed of my own bouts with self-righteous and judgmental behavior and grieve the damage my scary self caused.  I don't want to be perceived as a scary Christian, but I've been guilty....more than once. Of that I am sure.

    So, I'm challenging myself to focus on extracting the big old plank in my own eye. I may need to unfriend or hide friends who continue to use Facebook and Twitter as a bully club of judgement instead of a vehicle for love and understanding. I'm not doing it as a protest but as a commitment to remove myself from the temptation to comment. (I still find it difficult to keep my big judgmental mouth shut.)

    I'm praying I can learn to throw all that wasted energy into deepening honest and open face-to-face relationships with those around me.  I want to learn to listen and understand praying God will open the door for me to share my heart.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Take off the blinders

    I spend a lot of energy every single day purposefully focusing to maintain concentration on productive  activities. If I don't make a point of focusing, my days slip by and I have little to show for it. At least, that's what I've been telling myself for decades.

    It has finally dawned on me I might be going through life with blinders on.  I may actually be missing out, or discounting, some very delightful moments and experiences God wants me to not only acknowledge, but celebrate.

    It all started Monday morning.

    Early Monday while enjoying my first sip of coffee and planning my purposeful day of activities, my phone pinged telling me I had a text message. Since I rarely receive text message this early, I was quite curious to read it.  It was a sweet message from a friend letting me know she was thinking of me. The following short text conversation, nay connection, brought me such joy and reminded me that my friends are gifts from God. It also got me thinking how my super focused concentration usually gets in the way of my friendships.  I'll admit I'm usually so hyper-focused, I'm not even aware of where my phone is so I miss too many of these chances to connect with those I cherish and love.

    Monday evening I was so focused on catching up on recorded television shows, I almost missed a text from another dear friend sending me a shout out from the west coast.  Luckily, I did hear the ping and remembered to check my phone before bed.  The attached photo of a Nordstrom Rack sign brought back memories of good times.  I was delighted my friend, in the midst of a busy business trip, stopped to connect with me.

    As I climbing in bed, I asked myself why I don't take time to do considerate things like my friends.

    The sad answer came easily. I live with blinders on.  Like a horse, I am programmed to look straight ahead, keeping my eyes only on what is in front of me.  I tend to be so intent on my own agenda, I forget to include others.  I guess most of the time I exclude others just to stay on task.

    As I drifted off to sleep, I asked God to help me discover a way to take off my blinders when total focus is not required.  I prayed God would balance my need to focus with a healthy awareness of what's going on around me.

    And today?  While enjoying a quiet lunch, I looked away from the TV and the midday news to gaze out the floor to ceiling windows of my breakfast nook.  At first, I saw trees... just bare trees.  Then I mentally took my blinders off and I saw something I'd never seen before...and might have missed had I turned my head back the news.

    Do you see it?

    How about  now?

     It was a huge hawk hiding in plain sight among the bare trees. 

    I crept out onto the deck with my phone and took these pictures.  While I struggled to steady the camera and zoom in as much as my phone's camera would allow, he turned his head and stared directly at me.  He didn't seem to mind me clicking away.  He didn't flinch until I stepped out of the shadows for a closer look.  Startled by my sudden movement, he spread his wings, flapped them once to gracefully glide away. 

    Wow! What a special encounter! And to think I almost missed him.  

    I'm so glad I remembered to take off the blinders. 

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Life is too short

    An old beach music song "Summertimes Calling Me" by the Catalinas has been looping through my head for a while now.

    "Life is too short to worry about the unimportant things..." (Add in your best beach music shuffle here.)

    I have ABSOLUTELY no idea why it's looping, but I suspect it's because if God can't get something through my thick skull, he can resort to music for my college years to get my attention.

    OK, God you've got my attention.  Now, can you do something to make it STOP? I promise I'll do better.  At least, I'll try.

    "Dear God,

    I'll do my best...

    - to let go of hurts, slights and grudges.  Licking my wounds or mentally condemning others to the absence of my favor has NEVER worked well...Ok, never worked at all.

    - to shut down my nagging inner voice... you know the one that constantly second guesses, shames and convicts me of every lame comment or move I make. I could use all that energy asking others for forgiveness or fixing my messes. Duh.

    - to worry about tomorrow tomorrow.  If I keep that going I can eliminate worry all together.

    - to schedule all those doctors' appointments I've put off.  I do realize health IS more important than my abject fear of stepping on the scale. For me, there is never a number on the scale I'm happy with, so what am I waiting for?

    - to treat myself to more exercise each week.  (Are you picking up on my attempt to put a real positive spin on this one? Seriously, I alway feel so much better after a good workout.)

    - to find a way to be of service rather than look for ways to be served. (Oh, please! I don't have to explain THAT one to You!)

    - to live each day with JOY? Oh, why not, Lord?  I am on a roll.  Amen."  

    And Amen.

    Go Ahead - Google it!