I was at a campground north of Spokane, WA outside the dining hall, freshly covered in bug spray. Various aunts, uncles, cousins, and their small children were playing all over. A group of them played music in the chapel, a competitive basketball game was underway, and a few of my cousins were chasing their toddlers up and down the hill, with coffee in hand. Our annual family reunion trips are a big part of kicking off our summer Memorial Day weekend.
I was headed to the chapel and crossed paths with my Aunt Billie. We squeezed each other tight–a quick hello in passing turned into meaningful conversation instantly, as is inevitable with us. I asked how she was holding up as she’s been doing a lot of care taking for her parents; my grandparents. My grandparents live in their own cozy house on shared property with Billie and her family. The daily care my aunt and uncle, cousins, and extended family offer make it possible for them to live at home much longer than they would’ve been able to otherwise. We talked a moment about the deteriorating health and memory, the struggle and fatigue of care taking, and also the grief involved.
Then came a pause and the intense look Billie gives that means, “Hear this. This is important. Track with me.” She tilted her head to indicate a story was coming. “Sometimes I don’t know why they’re still holding on. I asked my mom if God has told her why she’s still here. I was wondering what He still has for her."
One of our barn cats gets himself in some crazy places. He was high up in a tree while I was raking leaves below. My kids were concerned and wondered if we should get the ladder and get him down.
“Nah. He’s a cat. He’ll come down when he’s ready.”
As I spoke, I had a sudden, vivid memory of being not much older than my oldest daughter is now, hearing a cat in a tree in the front yard of my childhood home.
“Mom? There’s a cat up there and it’s meowing. Do you think it’s stuck?”
“Nah. He’s a cat. He’ll come down when he’s ready.”
My mom was a farm kid, raised on a ranch in Montana, so I believed everything she said animal related. Who am I kidding? I believed everything she said, period.
The next day getting off the bus I thought I heard a meow again. “I think there still might be a cat stuck in the tree out front.”
“Maybe. When it gets hungry enough, it’ll come down.”
One other time I thought I could hear it. I peered up, but the branches were too thick to catch a glimpse of anything.
Fresh out of college, my husband was hired at a new church to get a youth ministry off the ground. The church was a year old, our marriage was a year old, and we all had more momentum than experience. We ran like it was a sprint and panted through burn out and fatigue when we realized it was looking more like a marathon. We made some adjustments and kept going.
We spent a solid 15 years doing some form of vocational ministry. Nearly two years ago we decided to step away from paid ministry so we could focus on other goals.
I’ve realized many of my take aways haven’t been exclusive to ministry–they apply across the board. They’ve also been learned the hard way. I'm writing a few of them here, not because I've mastered them (a work in progress), but because it's important to slow down long enough to acknowledge morsels of wisdom gained along the way.
1. If I’m going to lead people, I better know darn well what I’m leading them to.
"We need to attract the next generation." "We need unity." "Let’s build community.” "Start a movement," For what? What does that even mean?! Anyone can string together a bunch of buzz words. What am I leading people to? WHO am I leading people to? My primary goal is not to be relevant, cool, deep, or charismatic. My primary goal is to reflect Christ so people will trust Him, not me. My goal is to love people; not to impress them. Our ministry found focus when we stopped fancy sounding mission statements and sought God's heart for loving people.
2. The most vital ministry happens under my roof.
I wish this one wasn’t true. The people at church and in my community see me with makeup and smile on. They validate me. They send me cute thank you notes when I serve. The people in my home see me when I’m depleted, confused, without makeup. They aren’t always as validating. Ah….where the real work happens. I had an hour a week with my small group. I had 24 hours a day (for years) with my kids. Where is the biggest potential investment and the biggest potential for return on investment? If I’m slacking on my biggest ministry at home because my “put together” work in the community feels nicer…yikes. The people in my home–my kids, husband, whoever is living with us at the time, friends over for dinner, see the mess but they also see Jesus’ grace to us and God’s provision. Real life relationships grow us more effectively than any sermon or workbook.
Last fall got a little crazy. I was writing a Mentor's Guide to be published along with my book, Brand New. I was promoting Brand New. I had many speaking opportunities and was able to teach classes. My days were crammed with pouring out in teaching and writing. The instant my kids were home I was pouring into them as we navigated homework, sports, and all the details of raising four kids, often while Sean was traveling for work. It was intense but all things I was made for.
Even though I loved all of it, I've been in ministry and parenting long enough to know output with minimal input is not sustainable. When I was able to get my feet under me again, I determined to focus on input before I burnt out or exhausted myself . One of my fun resolutions was to read a variety of books. They had to be interesting but they couldn't all be the same genre. 2018 isn't over, but here are some of the books that have been on my shelf:
Historical fiction is my favorite genre. Mad respect to authors who spend years researching and imagining to put together believable, compelling stories that suck me in. I'm even more impressed when I learn history and geography without even realizing it until the end. I was mesmerized by Doerr's story telling. Incredible. It crawled into my dreams at night and I found myself rethinking pieces throughout the day.
Hemingway's life fascinates me. Starving writer to world traveler to international spy–he couldn't write anything quite as interesting as he lived it. This memoir confirms his self indulgence. Hotchner doesn't skate around Hemingway's sins; he tells of Hemingway in an honest way that made me identify with a man who I have only a few things in common with. This specific story is a personal one of sweet first love and lifelong regrets. Even though I was frustrated at his self involvement, I cried in the last chapters.
I couldn't very well cry for Hemingway and not follow it with reading one of his novels. Farewell to Arms is one of his most notable works but I'm telling you–his life was more interesting to me than this story. His rhythm of writing (particularly dialogue) was a lot to take in and hard for me to identify with. That being said, historical fiction in time of war draws me so it wasn't a loss.
Humes has instant credibility in teaching about speeches and leadership with this title. What are epic speeches without Gettysburg or Churchill? I tried to read this one in small doses so I could implement some of the points before moving on. It was still too much to absorb–I'll be revisiting it.
"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." -W.Churchill
I've studied quite a bit about the effects of trauma on young brains. Most of my studying has focused on the emotional and cognitive effects. Out of that, I've learned a lot about helping young brains heal through attachment, therapies, early interventions. When I saw Dr. Burke Harris' Ted Talk on the medical perspective she developed on the effects of childhood diversity, I couldn't stop sharing it. Watch the Ted Talk. If you're interested in more background and where the research and experience is headed now, get the book.
One of my favorite quotes that Moore included in his book was, "The advice I like to give young artists or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work." –Chuck Close. Moore writes about how ego and desires inevitably lead to writer's block and self loathing. Oh man, I needed to hear that. The word "mindful" in the title could have tipped me off that the author was Buddhist, but it didn't. Many of his points still applied to me–I just have a God higher than mindfulness and guidance more sure than my own.
Another historical fiction book; this one opened my eyes to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, made real by dynamic (fictional) characters. My 13 year old saw it on the counter, picked it up, and was sucked in, too. I advised against it–the imagery was disturbing to me and I imagined it would be for her, too. She went ahead and we couldn't stop talking about it. We ended up doing more reading on the pandemic after we finished the book.
The cover looks like every book my parents had in our home library from 1988-1998. I didn't completely agree with a few of the Scripture interpretations, but the principles and heart behind finances was helpful. Financial decisions tend to cause me stress and I've been working (praying) through a lot of my attitudes about money. Not my pleasure reading, but important in challenging and surrendering things that aren't easy for me.
This is kind of fun reading...for my nerdy teacher side. It's the second book I've read by Dr. Bauer. I'm drawn to her work because she is passionate about education but doesn't love our current educational system. She thinks outside of the box and challenges me to be intentional in my kids' education, regardless of what form it takes. I quote her a lot.
It feels like cheating but I listened to this book! Audio books are a joke because my life has constant interruptions, but Sean had a brilliant idea to listen to this on our road trip home from Montana this summer. A couple kids slept and a couple listened with us. "Love God, love people" is not a new idea but Bob Goff does a magnificent job through story telling and practical application, bringing the greatest commandments home. I'd still like to skim a hard copy, being a visual learner I think I might retain more than just the stories that way.
There you have it; random readings of my year. If you have recommendations for what I should add to my "what to read next" list...have at it!
I appreciate this movement I’ve seen, mainly in social media, of no mom shaming. No judging; no looking down our noses at the moms we see out in the world doing their best. Yes! As the mom who has dripped sweat dragging screaming toddlers out of the store, as the mom who has lost a child in the pig barn at the county fair, the mom who has chaperoned a field trip and cringed when realizing, “My child is the loudest child in this class. Eesh.”, as the mom who once went to the ER twice in one week (each time with a different son), I say, “Yes! Don’t judge me! Celebrate my efforts! Understand that I’m doing the best I know to do with the tools I have and the kids I’ve been given!”
Simultaneously, I want to guard against another attitude that occasionally comes on the heels of, “I accept where you’re at!” That attitude is, “You deserve to slack. The fact that you are a mom is enough. Putting forth minimal effort is enough.” Pretty soon I give myself permission to say, “Eh. I tried. I survived and my kids survived. Pour me a drink!” The bar lowers. "I’m not the only mom surfing instagram instead of engaging my family. It's not like this parenting thing is a paying gig." The attitude grows until I find it funny to make fun of high achieving moms who get their kids to school on time with shoes tied. “If you’re succeeding, you aren’t my people!” I have my own snarky pride in being marginally "good enough”. I'm not alone if I've given up and let video games take over by the end of summer break. In fact, other moms commiserate and I'm validated! My efforts slow. No big deal.
I’ve put a lot of thought and prayer into my attitude as a mom. Can I have tremendous grace with myself? I’m raising souls, not churning out a product. It’s messy. It’s dependent on God’s forgiveness and His direction. It reveals my own sin and weaknesses. It’s hard. I want the freedom to be honest that this is difficult, often dirty, exhausting work!
The Mentor's Guide to my devotional, Brand New; a 40 Day Guide to Life in Christ, is ready for purchase!
The job of this book is to enhance the first. The Mentor's Guide is what I wish I would’ve had in my hand when I started youth ministry more than 15 years ago. It’s what I wish I had in hand during college when my roommate and I were having conversations about new faith. It’s what I wish I had in hand every fall when we trained leaders how to effectively lead small groups.
My first book, Brand New; a 40-Day Guide to Life in Christ is a 40 day devotional. It’s practical and walks through the basics of Christian faith; the story of the Bible, the character of God, and the practices of Christian life. Each day has Scripture to read, questions to answer, and a prayer. The book is a great tool for small groups or mentoring relationships because it provides opportunity for discussion and reflection.
I wrote the Mentor’s Guide, because I know it can be intimidating to lead someone (or a group) through a Bible study when you don’t have all the answers, are unsure how to structure it, and feel like a little back up would be nice. If you think, "I'm a leader and I'm ready!" this book is for you. If you think, "I'm not a leader and I'm terrified to lead another person!" this book is for you.
Jesus is clear that we are called to make disciples. He isn’t just talking to pastors and leaders–He’s talking to all of us! The Mentor’s Guide will help you walk through the basics of faith with anyone. In the section of tips for leaders you can glean tips for awkward silence, distractions and how to make the most of your time. For each day of the study, the Mentor’s Guide has additional Scripture, possible answers and tips for the questions the book asks, and the big picture for the day you’re studying.
To purchase Brand New and/or the Mentor’s Guide, you can check out amazon (click any links on the blog home page or the "Brand New" page on the top of the blog) or at lexhampress.com you can buy both books as a bundle (lexhampress.com often has the best deal). If you’re considering using Brand New for a large group, contact Lexham Press for bulk purchases.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:19–20)
My sister was born 19 months after me, yet somehow managed to snag a few firstborn tendencies. She took the punctual, straight A’s, high achieving perfectionism. I’m not sad. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to carry all of that anyway. For years I thought that being more laid back meant I had dodged the traditional firstborn traits.
Now I realize even if I didn’t get straight A’s, I can’t escape my own firstborn tendencies. I often feel overly responsible for the people I love (they may call it controlling?). I’m reliable, typically play it safe, and I lean toward being a bit of a moralist; I care a lot about doing the right thing.
The desire to make the right decisions can lead to mustering up effort. Historically, I’ve exhausted myself trying to do what is right; “I should want to save money and make wise financial decisions.” “I should go to college.” “I should get to bed at a decent time. I should eat more vegetables.”
The door to the suburban swung open and Everett jumped in after a full day with friends. He was tired but already mid-story. After we debriefed about his day, he asked what had been going on at home all day. I told him a few things we had done and then I added, “It was weird to have you gone all day, Everett! Our house is not the same when you aren’t in it.”
“Yes! This morning Haley said, “I wish Everett was here to play on the trampoline with me.” Then I heard Hudson say it feels strange to not have you here when we were eating lunch. Hobbes definitely is sad when you’re gone-no one wrestles with that dog like you do.”
I went on to tell Everett that his sense of humor is missed when he’s gone. “Plus, I didn’t trip over any collections all day. What am I supposed to do without your collections at my feet?” I teased.
This is a typical conversation I have with each kid nearly every time they’re gone for a considerable amount of time. It’s a conversation I have very intentionally. Sean and I were involved in youth ministry for a decade and a half. One thing that broke my heart repeatedly was how discarded so many of our teens feel. Many of them don’t feel missed when they’re gone. They don’t feel valuable and don’t know that they have something unique to offer. Their homes consist of people going separate directions and not establishing any community or united purpose under their own roof. The lack of purpose contributes to feelings of worthlessness, depression, and a disconnect to community. I vowed to point out to each of my kids their value and place in our family every chance I get.
2017 slipped away during a power outage. We were a few days into the power outage when the inside of our dark house dipped to 40 degrees. I told everyone to pack an overnight bag and we headed to my sister’s. Sean was d.j.ing a swanky party; my kids watched the ball drop with their cousins at 9pm and fell asleep soon after. No fan fare and no quiet moments of reflection (which is my favorite New Year’s tradition).
I'm not content to let 2017 disappear without acknowledgement. I went into 2017 with bleary eyes. A year ago, when I prayed for 2017, words came to mind like “celebration” and “visible evidence of what has been internal work.” I barely dared hope and I didn’t really have a reason to believe it was true.
2016 had worn me down. My parents divorced after more than 40 years of marriage. My mom remarried within months and my dad was dating and would also remarry less than a year after finalizing the divorce. My father-in-law had a bad fall and brain bleed. Sean stayed for an extended time in Portland as we teetered between fear that we would lose him, and gratitude as he recovered. At the end of 2016 we were moving my father-in-law into assisted living in our town and helping him sort through finances, a house sale, and belongings. We were pulling through an intense season of youth ministry, feeling like crisis and losses were coming too fast to process.
Twenty years ago this month on a hot August day I drove my ’89 Ford Tempo (with no air conditioning) 268 miles north, following a procession of U-hauls and cars to my new hometown of Lynden, Washington.
We had only visited Lynden a couple times before the move. The first visit was late spring of ’97. My parents were in the front of the suburban and I was sandwiched in the back with my younger sister and two brothers.
We were hit with the smell before we hit the town. Lynden is known for it’s dairies and berries, which means spring is the season for spreading manure. “Oh GROSS! Roll up the windows! That is RIPE!” We were all gagging.
“Does it always smell like this?”
We looked at each other with wide eyes as Mom and Dad laughed at us. My brother Elijah, known to be slightly dramatic, closed his lips tightly. “I can taste it. It will actually get stuck in my teeth. You can CHEW it!”
“Do you think we’d get used to it smelling like this if we lived here?”
“No way. We better not. No way. Let’s always call it. If we always say “I smell that!” then we’ll never let ourselves get used to it.”
We couldn’t stop laughing. The tension and emotion of the unknown, the questions that needed answering that weekend to determine if we’d move from one end of Washington to another, bubbled up and came out as laughter as we watched cow shit spraying out of sprinklers.
Moving a week before my senior year of high school started was less than ideal and had plenty of heartbreak accompanying it, but still I was enamored with the little Dutch town we had landed in. Everything was closed on Sunday, but the cops were out ready to ticket people speeding to church. The lawns were immaculate. (Yes, the rumors are true–there are laws here about keeping your lawn under 7 inches.) The windmill on Front St. was charming. The entire town showed up for the high school football jamboree and there were an abnormal amount of tall blondes.
I’m Dutch but I didn’t grow up in a Dutch town. Arriving in Lynden had an interesting type of familiarity. The houses were immaculate like my grandma’s house. The Dutch Bakery had treats I recalled from holidays as a kid. The work ethic was admirable. I recognized the Dutch brogue in many of the older generation and it reminded me of sitting at my grandfather’s kitchen table.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...