Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Concern and Responsibility, Loads and Burdens

~Mark Driscoll

Oh how convicting, and freeing, this was today. On any given day I'm at either end of the spectrum, trying and wanting desperately to take something from someone that isn't mine to carry. Or begging someone to take what is mine...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A lovely Saturday in San Antonio...

This past Saturday I headed down to San Antonio. It's only about an hour south of me and I had some special people that I owed visits. :) First on my list was Cristina, a sweet friend who moved back to SA this summer. I've missed her a lot...she's my fellow artistic/performance- minded friend, one whose conversation I cherished while she was here. We had great time of catching up at Panera for lunch. (Ignore my hair in this picture. It's not as short as it looks.)
After my visit with Cristina, I went a few streets over to see this little poptart...
Sweet, tiny, Lillian Michelle. One of the closest little things I may ever have to a niece. She's already being trained to call me Aunt Jen. :)
I'll be real honest...I've never been too much of a baby person. But I'm realizing that may have been because I'd never gotten to experience someone close to me having one. Being given an opportunity to see who this little one is and what she means to friends like Shannon and Keith, well, it's just different than working in a church nursery or babysitting your neighbor. She's the most important thing in the lives of 2 precious friends. And as she laid in my lap for nearly 5 hours, dead to the world, I realized that I might like babies just a little more than I thought.

But I still have my grandfather's genes...especially that one that loves taking photographs of screaming babies...
That mood shift happened in about 15.3 seconds. And I loved every one of them.

As I drove back to Austin that night, window down and radio blaring, I passed a church. A huge church. It was the same church I had interviewed for a job at in March of 2008. My mind immediately went back to that time in my life. I had come home to St. Louis from the mountains, relying on a student ministry internship that fell through pretty much as soon as I crossed the Missouri border.

So I was just there, unemployed and struggling to figure out where God was leading me. When I first got the call that I had been selected as one of the top candidates for a position as the Next Generation Ministries Event Coordinator for this church, I was convinced that was where I was meant to be. I borrowed the money to fly down to San Antonio and spend a weekend there, interviewing and getting to know the students and pastors.

During that weekend, I knew something felt off. But I didn't know what. I prayed a lot, knowing that if I was offered the job, I didn't have the strength to not take it just because it didn't "feel right." I needed a job. And I couldn't afford to keep flying around for interviews. About three days after I returned from San Antonio I got the call that the position had been offered to someone else.

I was crushed, but I didn't know why.I knew it wasn't right. It couldn't be. It didn't feel right. But why?

Was I not meant to be working with students anymore? Was I meant to just stay in St. Louis? But if I was, why wasn't anything working out there? Was I supposed to have stayed at camp and my failure to be obedient to that was causing me to struggle now?

I was a little lost. (And a little crazy). And not really trusting.

And when I think back on the things I just didn't know. Wow. And what I couldn't even begin to fathom was that God had something SO much better waiting for me. At that time, I couldn't have known the people that I would meet in Austin, the friends who would embrace me so sweetly. I couldn't have known the job He was preparing for me. I couldn't have known the desk that was sitting empty, the chair that would become mine. I couldn't have known the church home that had a chair waiting for me every Sunday morning. I couldn't have known the middle schoolers that I would get to lead.

I can't be faulted for not knowing the circumstances to come.

But I know now to always trust. I know now that this move, more than anything in my life has taught me that He always has my best in mind. He knows what's good for me far beyond what I could ever dream and He will lead me right to it.

There was about a month's time in the spring of 2008 when I didn't think I would ever be able to see the outside of that church and smile. Where I would be able to drive past it, carelessly, feeling untouched, unbroken, unbruised.

But Saturday evening, as I drove past I smiled SO big and all I could do was whisper, "Thank you."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday's Fabulous Moment...

Part 3:

Mom: Well I'm really excited that I got to be a part of a Monday blog. That's special. Not like special needs...where you forget to zip your pants...the good special.

Monday's Fabulous Moment...

...just got better.

Of course the first thing I did when noticing my zipper situation was emailed my mom to tell her. We have since been going back and forth on the topic and it's looked like this.

Me: Oh, and I just looked down and noticed my pants were unzipped. Awesome.
Mom: Haha how long do you think that had been going on?
Me: I have no idea. :-P Shouldn't things like that stop happening by the time you're 25?
Mom: I've seen plenty of old people with that situation.
Me: Right...OLD people do things like that. But isn't there supposed to be some sane season of your life where your mind is still sharp and you don't have acne and you can generally manage to get yourself out into public without doing something embarrassing?
Mom: Yeah, so what's your problem?

And then she just writes to me, "You have 'doing something embarrassing' showing up twice. That's embarrassing."

Mom...I fixed it.

Monday's Fabulous Moment

looking down and noticing that the zipper on your pants is REALLY open...and wondering how long it's been that way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Short Attention Span Faith

That's the title of a really interesting article in Relevant magazine this month. I'll keep my thoughts on the topic to myself (for the moment). But here's just a bit of it...

"The thing the Church must think long and hard about is whether modern communication technology is making things too painless and too easy. Facebook is making it easier to get news out to vast social networks (like church groups). Twitter allows Christians to more readily keep tabs on their congregation's daily life. Cell phones make it easier to schedule prayer breakfasts and Starbucks devo meetings. But is easier always better? Just because something can be done, should it be?

Take Twitter. Does it really have any compelling purpose? Some have suggested the 140-characters-or-less mandate of Twitter might actually improve the quality of our communication. The logis is thus: The bite-sized requirement forces people to be more concise writers and to learn to use words with a newfound economic precision. When you have so small a space, you can't rely on throwaway words. It elevates our diction, supposedly. It forces us to be better writers and more-to-the-point communicators.

This may be true, but we also have to ask ourselves this: is there anything in life that is simply untweetable? Are some things too big and complicated to reduce to 140 character bursts or installments? Can the Bible and the Gospel be properly communicated in a micro-blogging paradigm? Pastors everywhere are voraciously adopting Twitter and rapidly gaining thousands of 'followers,' but these are questions it's imperative they ask themselves. There's always a danger that the Church-by embracing such things as Twitter-is simply catering to (and propagating) the lowest-common denominator, no-attention-span stew of technological trendiness.

It's important to seek out the sacred in the secular, but it's also equally critical to recognize when the secular is interrupting the sacred in our lives- to dare question the assumption that 'new' and 'cutting edge' always means better. The Christian must at least consider that technologies are not benign-that they may be good for some things or bad for others, but they are not neutral."

Full Article

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry: Part 2

It's okay to rest. On your own. And with your students.

It's so easy to fall into the, "But I'm the leader. I have to be 'on' all the time."

And that's a lie. One whose trap is to believe that our God NEEDS us to do His work rather than graciously inviting us in to experience that joy with Him.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a rough week. I don't even remember why. It was just, hard. I was tired and I was emotional and things just weren't quite going right. On my way over to have lunch with my girls, I got lost in worry and anxiety and frustration and all of that just became a cloud that shadowed any amount of good sense I normally have on my way over to the school. And the time that I normally spend in prayer became a time to figure out how I would fix whatever was going on in my life.

When I walked into the office, none of my mom's were sitting at the desk. No big deal. The secretaries had let me in numerous times. But that day they questioned me. They asked me why I was there. They asked if I had ever been there before. (Yes, every week since February). They looked at me like I had 4 heads. They wondered if they should let me in. And after the power of persuasion helped them to believe that I was only there to eat with the girls, not to lead a Bible study at the lunch table, they printed off my dorky visitor's pass and let me through.

It was nearly a breaking point for me.

I was...confused(not trusting). Angry(selfish). Frustrated beyond belief (self-absorbed). All this time and the secretaries still don't recognize me?

Gold star for Jen's attitude.

And then I realized that I might as well be walking into the cafeteria with fire shooting out of my eyeballs. And no middle school needs one more person walking in with a bad attitude.

But that realization didn't cause me to pick myself up by my boot straps and throw on my happy face. It made me go sit down at the table with my girls and just watch them, and laugh, and listen, and rest. Truth be told, it was all I could do.

My normal behavior is to bounce around, trying to get to know other kids, doing my best to remember names, who plays what sport, which kid has a hedgehog, who is whose twin brother, answering questions about who I am and why I'm there.

That day I was tired though and I just sat down and gave in to it. I sat down long enough that after I had asked one of the girls how her day was going and she had told me, I heard her say, "How's your day going Jen?"

It almost threw me off. Had none of them ever asked me that before? Or had I never heard them? Or never given them the opportunity to ask?

But when I'm honest with them about my day, it gives them the opportunity to love me. To be compassionate toward me. To pray for me.

I remembered a time last year when one of my girls somewhat jokingly said, "Jen, I'm pretty disappointed in you?"

"Oh yeah? Why's that?"

"Well you always go hang out with other people during lunch. You never just hang out with us anymore."

I was quick to explain why it's important for me to get to know some of the other kids. Why it's important for all of us to get to know the people around us and how in order to spread the gospel, you've gotta be willing to get out of your comfort zone.

Right answer on paper. Maybe not the right answer in practice.

I don't know to be honest. But maybe laughing and saying, "You never just hang out with us anymore," actually means, "We need you too. We still have a lot to learn."

These girls know how to "do." I don't need to show them how to do. They do volleyball practice at 7:00 every morning. They do dance 5 nights a week. They do church twice a day on Sundays. They do band concerts and birthday parties and sleepovers and chores and homework and projects.

Maybe it's more important that I show them how to rest in God. Rest in His graciousness, His truth, His mercy and His love. And what that might look like is what used to be intentionally pursuing relationships with many different students, sometimes intentionally pursuing rest with the ones I already know.

To simply rest in Him, with them.

A more substantial post to come later...

But until then, my boss just yells from her office, "Gurl! Get in here and come look at yo people."

I got people, but these are not them...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry Part 1

Hold loosely. They're His.

If only this weren't a recurring theme of my entire life...but my inability to operate this way on my own makes itself abundantly clear when it comes to student ministry.

At the beginning of this year, around February, I started going to have lunch with my 6th grade girls at their school, once a week. When I had the idea, I was told that it could be pretty difficult to get in there if they knew I was a Bible study leader. But I wasn't going to lie about why I was there and I knew if God wanted me to be there, He'd make it happen. I walked in the first day, told them who I was, why I was there and they handed me a visitors pass and never asked any questions. In the weeks that would come after that, there was almost always a mom of one of my girls at the desk. God made a way for me every single time.

Early on in my time there I noticed a little tiny girl sitting by herself. I asked my girls who she was and they said her name was Skylar, that she got picked on a lot and that she wasn't very friendly to anyone...of course, none of us would be if we got picked on a lot and sat by ourselves in a middle school lunch room every day. One day I went to introduce myself to her and one of my girls, Claudia, decided to come with me. Skylar was a little scrappy, as many middle schoolers are, hair hanging in her face and baggy clothes, but when she looked up at me, she had the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen on a kid, hidden by plain round-framed glasses.

I told her who I was and that Claudia and I just wanted to see how her day was going. She smiled this amazing, big, sparkly smile. As the weeks went on, Claudia and I would continue to go talk to her. She became more open, always only answering my questions, but with longer, more detailed answers. She would smile when I headed over, although I don't think she ever knew my name or really understood why I was there. But she never once gave me any indication that she wanted me to leave. My girls began to embrace her. Never to the point of recklessness. Never in a way that would compromise their social comfort zones. But in sweet little ways. At Bible study they would tell me if Skylar had a bad or good day. They would tell me about the kids who picked on her and we would laugh about how we were going to beat them up. (Yeah, I'm not the greatest leader in the world. But my girls will learn how to fight for justice. :-P) They just began to notice her. They would tell me if she wasn't at lunch one day and they usually knew where she was. And little by little they would care for her. When we found out it was Skylar's birthday I went and got a piece of cake and a card. All the girls signed it and they all wanted to take it to her.

When we handed her the card the first thing out of her mouth was, "Oh, that's not how you spell my name." I could tell it hurt my girls. They looked at me confused, not understanding why that would be her first thought, but they stayed long enough to see how big she smiled, to see how she read everything that every girl wrote, every signature that covered the inside of the card. But then when things got awkward, when they had said their "happy birthdays" and didn't know how to continue to interact, they took off, back to their normal seats. I was proud of them that day for the steps that they took and I talked to them about the need to continue loving people. How we can't just throw a gift at them and walk away. The girls were in the middle of a great learning process and the difference in Skylar was increasingly apparent.

As summer got closer I asked her what she was going to do during the break. I was broken-hearted to find out that her only plans were to play video games, all summer long, by herself. I asked her if she would be interested in coming to our Bible Study and she very excitedly said she would. She wrote down her phone number for me and I promised I would get in touch with her.

When our summer session kicked off I called her house. No one answered and no answering machine. It was the only number I had. And it did me no good. I never did get in touch with her this summer.

Today I was ecstatic to head back into that cafeteria for the beginning of my kids'
7th grade year. I walked into the office anxious, hoping that God had already paved the way for me to be allowed to continue to have a presence in that school. Sitting at the desk were two moms of two of my girls. I whispered up a quick thank you and as I pulled the backing off my dorky visitor pass, one of the moms said, "You know, they're a lot louder and a lot crazier in there this year." I smiled and said, "Perfect." She shook her head and said, "You're a saint," and walked away. If only I could ever explain how much fun this is for me and that it's not nearly the suffering people assume it is. :)

I headed into the lunch room and looked around. All my little guys had grown about a foot. A bunch of the girls were wearing eyeliner. My group had switched tables. And yes, it was louder and it was crazier. My girls didn't know I was planning on being there and it was fun to surprise them.

I asked Claudia where our friend was. She just looked down and said, "She hasn't been back to school. She transferred." All the other girls chimed in and said, "Yeah, Skylar doesn't go here anymore." Claudia said, "She would have been in my homeroom this year if she was here."

I didn't know how to respond in front of the girls. It quickly became so bittersweet to be there. I had a wonderful time and I can't wait to go next week, but I couldn't help but wonder why.

Why, when we had spent an entire semester pouring into this kid. Why when my girls were learning so much, but still had so much left to learn. Why when I know I could have gotten Skylar to Bible Study, somehow. Why when I wanted her to know someone had looked forward to seeing her again all summer long. Why when I wanted her to know that someone loves her. Why when my girls went back to school looking for her. Why when she would have been in Claudia's homeroom.

I don't understand. I can't help but wonder if the people He puts in her life will listen to Him. If they'll be paying attention when she crosses their path. If she's got a much longer, harder road ahead.

I don't know. But I know I have to trust Him with her. She is His child as much as anyone else is and I am not going to be able to do more for her than He is. My girls cannot do for her more than He is.

So I will continue to pray...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monday's Fabulous Moment

I was so worried that yesterday would get away without a really fabulous moment.

Why I ever doubt...

Monday's Fabulous Moment was simply waiting in my mailbox for me.

A few posts ago I talked about the fact that I'm incredibly lucky to still have all four of my grandparents. It's a blessing that I don't take lightly or for granted. They're all amazing people that have taught me and loved me in ways I could never explain.

My dad's mom is simply...fabulous. She could totally beat your grandma up. Guaranteed. She's 6'2. She's got a huge heart for the Lord and a wicked sense of humor. For those of you that know me, pretty much my favorite combination. She also has an amazing gift for telling stories, but through writing. Since I moved to Austin she has been incredibly diligent in writing me letters and keeping me posted about what's going on in her world. I love them and cherish them. I've never gotten rid of one and don't ever intend to.

See here's the thing about grandma's letters. They're full of stories of the day to day goings on in she and my grandpa's life. She sometimes tells me stories about what the neighbors are up to. Fills me in on what's going on with my cousins or her sisters. She talks about what it's like getting old, being silly and making me laugh about the harder things in life, things like illness and your body falling apart. One time she wrote and told me that sometimes she wakes up, looks down and says, "Who the hell does that arm belong to!?" But the thing about her letters is that there's always a priceless gem in there. There's some story that starts out routine and quickly becomes, well, not routine. Like the one she told me one time about how they were making a fabulous pot roast or something and was so excited about how good it smelled and upon getting it ready to serve, realized her cell phone had fallen in the crock pot and had also been roasting for hours. They ate the meat anyway. These are the kinds of things that make her letters amazing and yesterday' didn't disappoint.

After reading about about some of my grandpa's health problems and a trip my dad made to go visit them, I stumbled right into Monday's Fabulous Moment...

"Uncle Ben and Aunt Florence and Terry just got back from a 3-week trip. They were at an RV park in San Diego parked right next to an elaborate RV and Uncle Ben was outside early in the morning and this lady comes out and starts talking to him. She was wearing a long caftan and was really made up. Later on, Florence came out and sat down and this lady comes out and starts talking to Florence; asked if she could sit down. They talked and then she told Florence she was a transvestite and she had been an officer in the navy and was an eye surgeon. When she turned and walked away Florence could see her manly muscular legs. Ben couldn't believe it. Anyway, they had a good time."

Here's to you grandma...I love you.