Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Children's Ministry

When I realized it had fallen to me to put together the children’s ministry at church, I’ll admit my first response was trepidation. I’m not sure this is the right place for me, I thought. I mean, yeah, I love children and I think children’s ministry is important, but wow, this feels like a big deal. With some encouragement and affirmation from people who know me well and were sure I would be great at it, I decided to give it a chance. Then we promptly purchased a curriculum that turned out to be a horrible fit for us, stopped meeting at the theater, started meeting in a home, and completely abandoned any notion of children’s ministry for a while as we located and renovated a permanent place to meet.

Now we are settled into our new location and we are ready to get the children’s ministry up and running again. And again, I have an underlying feeling of anxiety. But this time, I am better able to pinpoint what the problem is. As much as I care about children and families, and as much as I love putting together a curriculum that fits into the vision of our children’s ministry, I find it so overwhelming to think of the enormous responsibility involved in teaching children about God. I have heard too many stories of people whose view of God was warped by the teaching they heard as children, and as adults they are still trying to sort it all out. And I am reminded of the scripture that says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways.” Combine that with the idea that “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” and yeah, there’s some anxiety there!

I look at myself and see how imperfect I am, and all the ways that I stumble on a regular basis. And I wonder how on earth anyone, much less God himself, could think it’s a good idea for me to teach children about God. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. In many ways I am still learning about who God is and how much he loves me. I’m still sorting out all the different teachings I’ve heard about God in my lifetime. How can I presume to teach children the right things about God? What if I inadvertently cause them to stumble?

But as I thought through this, a couple of things happened.

I realized that no one has a perfect, completely accurate understanding of God. Every last one of us is doing the best we can with the understanding we have of God, and every last one of us is going to get it wrong sometimes. At some point we may all give others an inaccurate view of who God is, not because we are doing it on purpose but because we are human ourselves and we are all still on the journey. Of course that doesn’t mean we can be careless about what we teach others about God, but it does mean that we can have grace for ourselves. God knows that none of us are perfect, and luckily, he is bigger than us and our mistakes. If God was limited by our understanding of him, we’d have no hope at all. I mentioned earlier that I’ve heard so many stories of people whose view of God was warped by teachings they heard as children, but then I realized that most of those people have hung in there and are trying to come to a more accurate understanding of God. Others may be in the process of walking away from damaging teachings they’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean they’re walking away from God himself. Perhaps they are taking the steps they need to take in order to gain a better understanding of who God is.

When I look at the whole situation, it makes a lot of sense for me to be involved in family and children’s ministry; it’s something I really do care about very much. But I have been too afraid to put that passion to use because of my fear that I will mess up. Now I am seeing that it is better to move forward prayerfully and carefully than to let fear stop me from moving at all.

So, children’s ministry, here I come! I'm excited about planning a curriculum and building a family and children's ministry. I love figuring out how to put our vision into action. I'll admit that I feel my strengths lie more in planning and administration than the actual teaching, so for that reason I'm still a little nervous. However, I think it is going to be okay. I definitely do have a heart for families and children, and a desire for the children at our church to learn about God in ways they can understand. I also know that we have an amazing group of volunteers to work with the children. I'm excited to see where things go!

Monday, December 20, 2010

His Grace Is Sufficient

Looking at me from the outside, you might think I pretty much have things all together. Sure, you may think that I mess up every now and then, in little ways, but it doesn’t seem like anything too major, especially when you compare it to my accomplishments and the way God is working in my life.

But I have a secret. There is something that keeps coming back to haunt me. I struggle with this thing over and over. Try as I might, I cannot seem to permanently disentangle myself from it. Sometimes it feels like there is a battle taking place for my very soul. When the temptation arises, I fight against it, but eventually I become so weary and I start giving in. I know what I should do, but I find myself doing the very thing I hate.

The struggle is exhausting and painful. Sometimes it feels like a huge thorn is lodged deeply into me, piercing my flesh and going all the way down to my spirit. And when I look at this recurring battle, in all its ugliness and pain, I can see just how broken I really am. In that moment, I cannot be prideful, I cannot fool myself into thinking I have it all together, I cannot pretend to everyone else that all is well. On my own, I am nothing. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

And so I cry out to God in frustration. I ask him to take this thing away from me. His answer stuns me. He says no. But why would he let me keep struggling through this when he could just make it all better? I plead with him to take it away. It is too much. I cannot bear this own my own. And then the answer comes more clearly than ever.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

He tells me that he is not going to take this thing away from me. We all have things that we struggle with, some publicly, some privately. Humanity as a whole is broken, far from the way God intended us to be in the beginning, and I am no exception. I am humbled by my own humanity, my own weaknesses and failures and temptations. I realize that I cannot do this on my own. I cannot be perfect. I have no business being prideful.

And, in fact, if I were able to do just fine on my own, I would never be able to experience the amazing grace of God. There would be no need for it. The truth is, I don’t deserve this grace at all. Yet there it is, offered to me by a God who is able to use even my biggest screw-ups to remind me of his power and love.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

Inspired by Romans 7:15-25 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thy Grace Alone

Several months ago, I began going through the book of Romans, reading and then writing about a chapter at a time. I only made it through a few chapters before I quit.

I'm thinking that it's about time to pick that back up. Romans always speaks to me in such a profound way, and it is especially hitting me hard lately as I grapple with the grace of God and my own brokenness.

I've realized that while I seem to understand grace in theory, I have such a hard time understanding it and accepting it when it comes to myself. Recently I have come face to face with my own brokenness and the issues and struggles that come from it. I've tried denying it, I've tried hiding it, I've tried giving in to it, and I've tried fixing myself. But I've come to a point where I have stopped trying to do all those things and instead am trying to wrap my mind around the unfathomable, amazing grace of God.

The song "Not What My Hands Have Done" by Aaron Keyes has been on my mind, and I think it fits perfectly in this post. You can also read the lyrics at the following link if, like me, you don't really like to watch videos. ;) http://www.lyricstime.com/aaron-keyes-not-what-my-hands-have-done-lyrics.html

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beauty To Be Found

I find winter depressing and ugly. The bare trees, the gray sky, the chilling cold, the extra darkness. It feels lifeless and drab.

I feel like I am going through a personal winter right now. Where there once was color and joy, things feel dead and gray. I don't necessarily mean emotionally, although it naturally takes an emotional toll too. I mean within myself, spiritually, as I struggle through this season of life that reminds me so much of winter.

Yesterday I looked out the window and saw snowflakes coming down. It was like an extra measure of grace, a bit of much-needed beauty in the midst of the freezing air and the gray sky. And in that moment, I was reminded that beauty is still there. Even in the grayest, coldest season where everything feels lifeless, there is still beauty to be found.

It is the same in one's personal winter; there is still beauty to be found. It may be harder to come by, at times, but it is there. Perhaps in a hug, the kind words of a friend, laughter, a song, thoughtfulness.

I was also reminded that winter is just a season. The winters come and go, but they do not last forever. They are followed by new life, growth, and warmth. Though I may be in a dark place now, it will not last. Spring is coming. Joy is coming. There is hope.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nine Years

When my husband and I got married, let's face it, the odds were against us. I was 17 and a senior in high school, he was 19 and a college student, and I was pregnant. People don't normally look at a situation like that and think, "Oh, that's going to work out great!" Many times, it doesn't work out well at all.

And it was tough, especially the first few years. We were still young and immature, and we said and did several things to each other that were hurtful and inconsiderate. We struggled, we were often distant from each other, and we were both at fault. I remember feeling at times that we were basically roommates. We had very few mutual friends or common interests. Somehow we managed to hang on.

When we had been married for about three years, I began to long for something more, but I didn't know how we could ever get there. It felt like we would have to start anew in so many ways. And so I prayed. I prayed that the slate would be wiped clean and that we could leave old hurts and habits in the past so we would be able to start building something new together. And my prayer was answered. It was amazing how things changed in my heart from that point on. Things improved, but we still had a long way to go.

When we had been married for five years, lots of things changed for us. Several things happened within the time span of just a few months. I joined a message board of other Christian women, and from reading there I began learning so much more about healthy communication and boundaries in marriage. I know the things I read there made a huge difference in me. Around the same time, we both became less dependent on our best friends and more dependent on each other, and we began discovering common interests and goals. And we started going to a new church, where we developed mutual friendships. Those things all sound so simple, but they made a world of difference in our relationship.

Since then, we have grown closer than I ever thought possible. Of course we still have our own interests and hobbies, but we also have common ones. We share important goals and dreams. I feel so blessed to be married to a man who I can truly say is my best friend. It's awesome to look back and see where we've been and how far we've come in the past nine years.

Happy anniversary!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just Breathe

I am at a self-reflective time in my life. I know some of you are thinking, "When is she NOT in a self-reflective time?"

I've realized that I'm running out of the emotional energy to keep up the idealism that has been part of my life for so long. Many times I have created all these ideals for myself and then I don't understand why I can't do them all. I've often found myself thinking something must be wrong with me.

But nothing's wrong with me. I'm human, and I can't do it all. So I've been working on taking the pressure off myself, figuring out what works for me right now and what doesn't, and then doing what I need to do without berating myself and feeling guilty.

In some areas, that means I've stopped trying to do things that are clearly not working at this point in my life. Homeschooling is one of them. Elijah went back to public school a few weeks ago, and it has made a tremendous difference in my emotional state (in a positive way). He is very happy with it too. I'm realizing it's okay to admit that something just isn't working.

In other areas, it means remembering that I am still on the journey myself. I haven't "arrived." No one has. It's okay to not have all the answers. It's okay to mess up. There's no need for me to judge myself so harshly, or to judge others, for that matter. We're all on our own journeys, learning along the way, and doing the best we can in our own day-to-day realities. And that's okay.

Friday, December 3, 2010

In Which My Child Is Very Cute

It was close to naptime, and as I looked back at Isaac in the rearview mirror, I could see how sleepy he looked. I decided to drive down my favorite country road in hopes that he'd go ahead and fall asleep.

This is a great idea, I thought. We'll be away from the busy roads and the traffic lights and all the things that could distract him.

As we drove through the country, I glanced in the mirror again. Isaac was not yet asleep, but his eyelids were drooping, his head was turned slightly toward the window, and he was very quiet. It wouldn't be long until he was sleeping.

Then suddenly, he sat up straight, his eyes flew open, and he pointed toward the fields. "A DOW!" he said, loudly.

("Dow" is Isaac-speak for cow.)

"Yes, those are cows," I affirmed. "See all the cows?"


We rounded another curve, and again he pointed. "A dow!"

"That's a horse. See the horse?" I said.

"A dow," he repeated, matter-of-factly. "A dow."

He pointed out every cow he saw, and also a few things that were not cows, as we drove through the countryside.

He did eventually fall asleep-- as we were at the traffic light to cross the highway on the way back home. So much for getting away from it all to help him sleep. ;)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Labels: Good or Bad?

Labels. They're everywhere. They're in parenting. Politics. Religion. Sexuality. We are constantly using labels to define ourselves. Why? And are labels really such a bad thing, or do they serve a positive purpose?

I think there are pros and cons to labels. On the positive side, when we see that we identify with the stated purposes of certain groups, it's convenient to be able to use that label to give others an idea of where we stand. Attachment parenting. Libertarian. Emergent. Democrat. Baptist. Gay. Muslim. Christian. Republican. Those labels all evoke certain thoughts and images in our heads, and if the labels are accurately understood by the people we're talking to, they can be a positive thing and an aid in getting to know people better. And labels can create unity. As a parent, if I see someone else label themselves as an attachment parent, I know right away that we are going to have certain goals in common, and possibly certain practices as well.

On the other hand, labels can also create division, especially when they are misunderstood.

I've noticed over the past several years the tendency for Christians to be hesitant to label themselves as such, going with terms like "Jesus follower" instead. Why? Because for many people, the label "Christian" is a loaded one. It often evokes a mental image of legalism, judgment, materialism, and a whole host of other things that are not true to the heart of Christ. Many people feel that the proper response is to distance themselves from the label that brings up negative feelings for so many. And I can completely understand that.

At the same time, though, I wonder if we should distance ourselves from labels that have become misunderstood, or if we should seek to redeem those labels by keeping them and showing what they really mean. But that brings me to another question-- do labels keep their original meaning even when they bring up other connotations for large segments of the population? Or does the actual meaning of the label change along with the popular perception of it?

Another alternative would be to throw out labels entirely. Perhaps it would be a good thing to simply live our lives according to what we believe, have honest conversations with people about our thoughts on things like parenting, politics, religion, and so forth, and never bring labels into it.

I tend to believe that there is value in sticking with the original definitions of labels and seeking to clarify their purpose when people misunderstand. At the same time, there is also value in abandoning labels that are creating division.

Labels are complicated. They can bring unity and clarity, but they can also cause division and misunderstanding. Their meanings can change over time, at least in people's minds if not in the strict definition of them.

I'd be really interested in hearing thoughts from people who are well-versed in social psychology or linguistics. I definitely think both of these things play a part in the dynamics and understanding of labels within a culture.