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Weeds and Nerf darts

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Youth MInistry

On Starting Over

Starting over is hard. Moving to a new city, finding a new job, starting kids at a new school, learning to find a new favorite grocery store… its a lot of new, and a lot of tough stuff. This past year has been a year of starting over for us. We finally moved from outside Memphis TN to Decatur Alabama, where my husband had been living nine months prior to our move. We’ve spent the last year with lots of new in front of us, and its been quite the journey. 

Continue reading “On Starting Over”

Holy Spirit Prayer Stations

A few weeks ago our youth small groups did a lesson on the Holy Spirit from Francis Chan’s Basic series (great series by the way, you should check it out). The video went well, the intro to small groups was great, and then I talked to my leader’s afterwards and they said that it was crickets. Nobody seemed to have much to say about the Holy Spirit.

As we gathered a week later as leaders to discuss this we came up with a few reasons why our rooms seemed so quiet that night. Continue reading “Holy Spirit Prayer Stations”

Crazy Volleyball: Youth Group game with lesson ideas

If you have the ability to play volley ball in your space, then I hope you play it frequently. Its a great game and is awesome for team building. However, unless you have some seriously competitive volleyball players in your group, then they may struggle to just get it over the net, in which case, maybe crazy volleyball is for you! Continue reading “Crazy Volleyball: Youth Group game with lesson ideas”

Sweet Summertime… in Youth Ministry

Mission trips, church camp, national conferences, and retreats. Water gun fights, trips to Sonic, Monday afternoon Mexican food, and laser tag outings. All of these add up to summertime in youth ministry, for some the favorite time of the year, and for others the most exhausting. So far this summer I have done the following.

Continue reading “Sweet Summertime… in Youth Ministry”

I didn’t sign on for this

When you work with youth, you receive the privilege of experiencing a full range of emotions. You get the giggles and hushed whispers for hopes of a new relationship, and the utter heartbreak when the relationship dies off. You rejoice over touchdowns scored, awards won, and valedictorian honors received. You counsel and mend broken friendships, crises of faith, and doubts about calling and vocation. All of these life events are part of the day to day of youth  ministry, and it makes us feel pretty wanted and a vital adult in the life of an adolescent.

Continue reading “I didn’t sign on for this”

The Day Starbucks was Closed

So my driving foot is in a boot right now, for reasons that don’t pertain to this post but the short version is I didn’t listen to my fiance when he said “you should really have that checked out” and now three months later here I am. I say that so you’ll know that my driving is limited because its a pain to take the boot off. So yesterday my lovely partner in ministry Lauren from the church down the road came and rescued me for a quick trip down to Starbucks.

For reference purposes, we live in the boonies, so the closest Starbucks is 25 minutes away, and we spend a lot of our meeting times to discuss ministry and tend souls in the car to and from our chosen provider of all things caffeinated. So yesterday we made our trip down and back like any other day, and it was glorious.

So this morning I’m sitting in my chair with my giant boot, my own coffee, and beginning my Monday morning emails and I get a phone call from Lauren. She informs me that she was heading down to Starbucks (not even going to focus on the without me part) to finish her seminary work and the Starbucks was…

So she calls me, in an obvious panic, to tell me of this development. Apparently there were construction vans and the inside appears to be in the process of renovation. So this lead to an insane round of questioning on both sides of the phone call. “Why didn’t they tell us yesterday?” “Is it closed closed, like forever?” “Is it just renovation, and why it was fine inside?” “Seriously what are we going to do?” “The next closest Starbucks is like an hour away from town.”

At the end of our freakishly long conversation about the possible loss of our favorite latte location she decided to drive to the next closest Starbucks to finish her work and I went back to my work and at home coffee, life as usual.

But then I started thinking about the whole situation. In our churches, do we feel this way when someone doesn’t come to church? Or when a youth stops coming to youth group? Do we worry about what has happened or what we will do without them, or do we simply move on and figure they are probably fine? After all is it really our problem if they don’t come, its a free country, they don’t have to come if they don’t want to… right?

Or what about that kid that drives us nuts? The one who won’t stop interrupting, or getting in fights, or being generally defiant and argumentative, do we we silently rejoice when they don’t come on a Sunday night? Do we worry when we can’t find out why, or do we decide the break was great and surely he/she’ll be back next week?

People are messy. They don’t always make us feel warm and wonderfully perky like our morning (afternoon, evening) coffee. We can’t send them back when they aren’t made to our liking. But the wonderful thing is, we are all made to God’s liking, even when we are too bitter, sickeningly sweet, or even after we’ve gone bad. We aren’t perfect, but we keep working on it, and that kid, the one you just cringe at the thought of, he’s working on it it too. So maybe we start to care about each other as much as our macchiatos, and we can worry more about the ride, and less about the Starbucks at the end of the drive.

Reasons why we do the Famine

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I have been working in youth ministry for about 5 years now (where that time has gone I’ll never know) and this year was my fourth 30 Hour Famine. If you are unfamiliar with World Vision or the 30 Hour Famine process I highly suggest you visit their website.

For my first two 30HF’s I did a traditional lock in style event with a service project. We would stop eating around 1pm Friday and then break the fast with communion and then a meal together. For the past two years I’ve been blessed to live in the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church where we have an amazing camp called Lakeshore where we hold a famine retreat every year. This experience is an unforgettable one every year, and every year we inevitably get the same question “Why would you not eat for 30 hours?”

I’ve given lots of answers, some really in depth and some really superficial. I have decided to give it some real thought and offer some of the top reasons why we continue to do the 30 Hour Famine year after year.

1. Fundraising for a Cause I Believe In
Part of the effort behind 30 Hour Famine is fundraising for the work World Vision does. One in eight people in the world are hungry and World Vision works to combat hunger and poverty related issues around the world. $35 feeds and cares for a child for a month, we are able to make a tremendous impact in a child’s life through fundraising for World Vision. Over the past 5 years and 4 famines my small groups of students (anywhere from 4 to 20 per year) have raised around $7,000 to combat world hunger. Its just a piece of the greater puzzle, but its our piece, and I’m proud of my students for making it a priority.

2. Fasting is Becoming Uncommon
Fasting, as a spiritual practice, has become less and less common. Fasting at its root is about self denial for the purpose of bringing us closer to God. Much of our life is all consuming, even the food and drink of which we partake. I for one am a wee bit obsessed with coffee and Diet Coke. And by a wee bit, I mean of course a lot. My friends are constantly posting pictures on my Facebook wall like this one.

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And while this is all in good fun, its kind of true too. I can be a really hard person to deal with if I don’t have my coffee. So some self denial of what I consider to be a “necessity” for my life, is always a good thing. It reminds me of what I take for granted, not just caffeine, but food as well. When we participate in the famine we have to face the fact that we take our readily available abundance of food for granted, and that our neighbors, not just people in some far away country, experience real hunger every day. This may be the only form of self denial my students experience, but for once a year they get to practice fasting, and its well worth it.

#3 Developing Empathy
Lets be real, not all of our students are incredibly empathetic, and I’m not here to say that every child will end up with this overwhelming understanding of what it means to go hungry by participating in the famine, but it does open the eyes (or stomachs ) of some. Here are some quotes from students over the past five years.

“I never really thought about the fact that if you were on free lunch, and your family was struggling, you might go from Friday afternoon until Monday morning without eating. I can’t imagine doing that every week, I’m having trouble doing it for 30 Hours” – Girl, 8th Grade

“I have a headache, I’m sleepy and I don’t want to do anything. I wouldn’t be able to even get up and go to school like this, I sure wouldn’t learn anything” Boy 9th Grade

“Did you know Ethiopians live on like a $1.50 a day? Who can live on that? How is anyone supposed to live like that” Girl 11th grade.

Now, will every student go on a crusade to change the world after experiencing the famine? Probably not, but in the middle of being forced to realize what other people go through, maybe an activist will be born.

#4 Youth Group is more than silly games and pizza
One of the main reasons I love the 30 hour famine experience is it takes students out of the fellowship mode youth group can turn into. There is a time for fellowship, and as I’ve said before games teach great lessons, and pizza is an easy food to fill the masses, but at times it can seem like we get in a rut of pizza games and fellowship. But the famine forces us out of our normal routine, both physically and spiritually. We have to gather together without the focal point of food, forcing us to focus on each other. We also are forced to take a look at the justice issue around hunger, which can be an uncomfortable task for middle to upper class churches. But Jesus did not call us to be comfortable, and at least once a year the famine gives us the chance to step way out of our comfort zones and participate in the living work of the gospel.

I hope if you’ve never done the 30 Hour Famine that you will seriously consider participating, either this  year or in the future. This can be a life changing event for you and your students, or at least an eye opener to the world of hunger. I pray you have an experience like this with your students, and that you allow yourself to be changed.
Peace be with you.

Ashes in the Mirror

We have embarked upon that season in the church once again. That season of fasting, prayer, and waiting we call Lent. Those 46 days when we remember when Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, that lead up to the festivities of Holy Week.

We start off Lent with the Ash Wednesday service, by receiving the imposition of ashes on of foreheads while the Pastor says something like “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” (if you’ve never understood that reference these are the words God spoke to Adam and Eve after the fall Genesis 3:19, as well as many other references to ashes throughout scripture).

I remember growing up in the church with anticipation for the Ash Wednesday service, not because Lent held some deep special meaning for me, but because we were going to church on a Wednesday, in the dark! Obviously I did not grow up where it was common to have Wednesday evening activities. We would go to church and it would be very quiet, we would sing the liturgy, take communion, receive the imposition of those burnt palm branches in the form of those dark grey-black ashes, and then we would quietly leave. I remember going home and looking at myself in the mirror, scrunching my forehead to make the cross move around, and wanting to keep in there for when I would go back to school the following day, but my mom always made me wash them off.

I look back on myself staring in the mirror looking at those ashes and it reminds me about how we take this season of lent to reflect on our lives, and our relationship with God. We fast, we take something on, we give something up, all in an effort to draw closer to our creator.

I sometimes wonder if many of us would rather just skip Lent all together and get on with the jubilant celebration of the resurrected Christ. I mean, that’s the fun part, right? The pretty dresses, the boys in little bow ties and vests, and the singing Alleluia, this is our big show in the Christian community. But to get to Easter, we have to start with the ashes, and then pass through the suffering and betrayal that is Holy week.

We get nervous when asked to self-reflect, because we are afraid of what we will see. Our lives aren’t all Easter dresses and Alleluias, many times our lives reflect those ashes, those ashes that tell us we came from dust and from dust we shall return. Those ashes confront the reality that we don’t really have it all together. The accomplishments of this life, and the busyness with which we surround ourselves, won’t overcome our own mortality. The ashes of suffering, sickness, grief, and hunger aren’t as easily washed away as the ashes on Wednesday night from the scrunched up forehead of a little girl.

But, as always with the Gospel, there is good news! Those same ashes lead us into the season we love so much, they lead us to be an Easter people. Because Jesus suffers and overcomes death so that we don’t need to fear our return to dust, because we have abundant life in Him.  So in this time of reflection, I pray you can reflect on those ashes in the mirror, and that with celebration you can begin to wash them away in the knowledge that we are truly an Easter people, even in this time of waiting.

Peace be with you.

If God is a dude…

Created in the image of God!
Created in the image of God!

“Our father in heaven…” If you are someone who grew up in a church I’ll bet you couldn’t even stop yourself from finishing the Lord’s prayer in your head. And to be honest, before I started in Seminary, I hadn’t really thought much about the gender of God. I mean, we say the Lord’s prayer and it says Father and there are a whole lot of “He” in the Bible in reference to God, so it becomes natural for one to think of the creator in a masculine form.

However, the first time the question “Is God male?” was asked of me, my immediate reaction was “well… no”. If I am reasoning this out, God the Creator is neither Male or Female, and is not subject to time or the size and scope of human beings. As I continued in my seminary studies I found that we would spend a lot of time talking about this. We would argue about it, write papers about it, and talk about how our churches need to understand it.

Then one day in Sunday school a very profound statement came out of a 6th grader. I love middle schoolers, always have. They are silly and awkward and have moments so profound they astound you. We were discussing attributes of God shown in the Old Testament vs attributes in the New Testament and I posed the question “Does God change?” This question was pretty hard for 6th through 12th graders to answer but the consensus was that No, God does not change, but our understanding of God changes because we are human and He is God.

So I said “God is hard for our brains to understand, because we live in a place constrained by time, but God is bigger than time, God is bigger than gender…”

“What?” Shouted one of my boys. “What do you mean God is bigger than gender?”

I wasn’t really prepared for this conversation, but if you’ve opened the can of worms might as well go fishing, so I asked the group, “Alright, this wasn’t our topic for the day but since we are here… Is God male?”

I got a mix of answers, ranging from “Yes, why else do we call him Father?” to “I guess God is whatever he wants to be” to “I don’t even know what you are talking about”

Before I could address any of these answers one of my 6th grade girls said, in a quiet voice “I’ve always wondered about this, because if we are created in God’s image, and if God is a dude… then what does that mean for me?”

Everyone in the room got silent, as they processed what this meant for women, and the students began to understand God in a different way. All I had said before had set a stage for this profound question from an 11 year old, and taught the class more than I ever could. I love it when God works that way.

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