Baby Steps

After the immediate flush of joy is over once the diploma has been earned or the job has been offered….

After the pain begins to subside after the death of a loved one and you begin to come up for air…

Once the weight has been lost or some other goal achieved…

Once the sick child or other loved one is well……

Just as you are beginning to come up for air, there is this overwhelming feeling as you get back to your life.

I once read that one of the loneliest times in a persons’ life is after a major achievement. There has been the push of getting to the end, making something happen which is followed by encouraging souls coming out of the wood work which is followed by the realization that life goes on. The mundane is waiting the next day. Worse, now you have to face all of those things you had ignored while the blinders were on just trying to finish the race.

It is overwhelming, just the day to day. You thought the struggle was in the challenges you were facing but now you face a new challenge. The transition out of what I call “survival mode.” You are no longer treading water or pushing forward in your lane working to finish the race. As you come up for air, put your feet on the ground, hang the diploma on the wall, bury the one you loved, send the kid off to college, you have to get back to life. Now you have to deal with the messiness of your house, now you have to deal with the emotional toll the illness took on your mind, now you have to actually rise to the occasion of the new job, now you have to move on. Sometimes it is not just the mundanethat overwhelms but the big the things you’ve been putting off, like losing weight, getting the job, finishing the assignment, cleaning out the attic, getting your finances under control, healing your marriage…..

That overwhelming feeling can be enough to paralyze you. You have all of the time in the world and you have no idea where to begin. You have the new job laying out in front of you and you don’t know where to begin. You have a life that feels more whole and you don’t know what to do with it.

Some can’t handle the pressure. They retreat into some other form of drama. Rather than making the decision to move forward, they find something else to fight or begin going around in circles. Some disengage from everything and when they have the opportunity to soar, their fear keeps them grounded.

I remember the movie “What About Bob?” whose premise is that a man with severe physchological challenges learns how to live his life by taking baby steps. I remember him being overwhelmed with even the small act of leaving his house. He would walk along and chant, “Baby steps, baby steps.” Just focus on those words, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

We have to remember that if we are going to continue to move forward in healthiness, move beyond the trauma, live into the opportunity we have to just allow ourselves to take baby steps. We can open the doors and let the flood in, overwhelming us. Or we can take droppers and deal with it a little at a time.

“Baby steps, baby steps.”

 

 

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VBS…Some Good Ideas…..

The good ideas I’ve seen in our churches will probably be spread out over a few blog posts because there were many ideas.  If you haven’t already seen them, check out the pictures from my VBS tour posted at our Virginia Baptist Childrens Ministry page on facebook. It is always helpful to see how other churches set up their Vacation Bible School and see crafts and games in action. I hope these lists of ideas will be helpful planning your next event, including VBS.

* Share resources with other churches. While there are some copyright issues you want to investigate, I saw a lot of churches sharing their resources with one another, especially when it comes to decorations. One childrens’ minister said it was also helpful to spend a day visiting another church doing the same theme to see it in action. Churches shared volunteer resources as they helped each other put up and remove the decorations. Some areas have even gone to doing an area wide Vacation Bible School with other churches in the same area.

Special Sixth Grade Class. For one church that does not include sixth graders into the youth ministry, VBS provides an opportunity to give them a view of things to come. They attend XBS (Extreme Bible School) which includes special activities and access to the youth room facilities during free time.

* Pastors Getting Involved.  I saw pastors doing everything from dressing up in costume and taking on a Biblical character to doing crazy dance moves. It means so much to children and their families for the pastor to be so accessible and involved. It gives kids a great connection to the pastor as we want the kids and their families to continue in the future of the church. It is also great for connection with youth and young adults as the pastor serves along-side of them.

* VBS as Outreach to Preschoolers. This year had many churches scrambling to reschedule VBS to a later date in the summer as a terrible winter pushed the start of vacation past their traditional VBS dates. One church with a weekly preschool used this as an opportunity to reach out to families of the preschoolers. In the now extra week between when the preschool closed and the public schools were getting out, the church did a special preschool VBS. This allowed for the leaders to tailor worship, crafts and activities to the preschoolers. It gave the leadership of the church the opportunity to connect with the parents of the preschoolers that are only connected to their preschool and not the church. It also freed up more volunteers for the VBS done later for the older kids.

* Keep Connecting to Families. This same church states that there goal for VBS is to connect families in the community. They planned a family oriented event to be held in the weeks after VBS. As the children were leaving the week of VBS behind, the event gave the ministers a reason to contact and follow up with the parents and gave the families another opportunity to connect with the church.
*Be Organized.  As a visitor, I was so impressed with churches that had walky talkies to communicate with other leaders, charts to show where each group was at all times and maps of the church. This was helpful for me as a visitor and I think would be comforting for any parent who is visiting your church. We forget sometimes that today, even in our smaller towns where we feel like we know everybody, it is a huge deal for people to trust us with their children! We need to do everything we can to show them up front that we take their child’s safety very seriously.
Come back next week for my ideas….  In the meantime, any ideas you would add to the list?

Vacation Bible School Visits

I work in the area of leadership development with our Virginia Baptist churches, specifically spending most of my time with those in associate positions including our age group ministers and volunteer leaders. One of the fun, and tiring things, I’ve done in this position is to spend a portion of my summers visiting Vacation Bible Schools around the state. I’ve logged a lot of hours in the car but it is a great way to meet ministers, volunteer leaders and children around our state.

I love visiting with the children! My favorite story is still from last summer. I was visiting in a preschool class, my favorite to visit, and as I knelt down to see what a four year old boy was creating in craft time, he looked excitedly at me and breathlessly said, “I watched Star Wars last night.” We began talking about the movie and I asked him who were his favorite characters. I asked about Darth Vader and he immediately put his hand over his mouth and started breathing heavy, immitating the sound Vader makes, and then he said, “Luke, I am your father.” Best moment ever. This summer I was again in a preschool class and knelt down to a boy during snack time. I noticed all of his goldfish were already missing and commented that must be his favorite. He shook his head and then opened his mouth to show me the mush bits of all of the goldfish he had crammed inside at one time. I love to see how excited the children get, the ones who ask, “Can we do this again next week?” I love to hear children answer questions about the Bible and missionaries, amazed at how they are growing in their faith.

I love visiting with the volunteers. It is amazing to visit with older adults who have been volunteering with VBS for decades. They come alive for this week. I believe that VBS time in our churches can really be our churches at their best. I love to see teenagers working along side adults and senior adults in ways they normally would not. I love to see the creative side of our church members as they take a theme and run with it. I love hearing about their heart for the kids and hearing stories about VBS throughout the years. I love seeing teenagers shining in their first opportunities to lead.

I love seeing our church leaders in action. I admire pastors who are willing to dress up for Bible story time or to lead silly action songs. I love seeing volunteer leaders step up to organize such a huge event in our days of ever-shrinking staff. I love to hear leaders who are asking good questions about the effectiveness of VBS and about the best ways to use their resources of people and money. I admire leaders who take the craft ideas that come with the curriculum and spend hours searching the internet for less expensive ways to find supplies. And the charts…it seems every good VBS has a carefully thought out chart showing where each age group is at all times. These charts are so organized they rival any kind of government strategic plan.

To the churches I visited with this summer, thank you for letting me walk along side you. Thank you for letting me sing and dance with you and adore your children with you. Thank you for telling me stories about your children and the ministries you love to be involved with.

For pictures and description of these visits, go to the Virginia Baptist Children’s Ministry page at https://www.facebook.com/VB.Children. Stay tuned for a series of posts that will share some ideas and some questions from these visits. My hope is that these will help us as plan for ministry.

The Shock of Suicide

It was a Sunday night, and as a good Southern Baptist, I was in church.  I was sitting in a pew towards the front because I was about to play a piano solo. Someone got up at the beginning of the service with a special prayer request. One of the teachers at an area middle school had committed suicide. I was a freshmen in high school at the time, but I had loved Mr. Stout, my eighth grade North Carolina history teacher. He was a little cranky and sarcastic, but in a way that you knew he cared about you. He had great stories but many of them were laced with memories from Vietnam. As the gulf war was ending, living in a military town had triggered his ptsd to a point where he took his life. Unfortunately just a few weeks later, one of our classmates copied Mr. Stout taking his own life in the same way. James hung himself just days after finishing his freshmen year.

Even now as I type this, I cry over these two. How could we have missed the signs? Years later, in my first year as an intern in campus ministry at UNC, September 11 happened and in the wake of that tragedy a rash of suicides and suicidal attempts spread through campus. My mentor, Bob Phillips, said the same thing happened when the vietnam war started. Students not knowing how to deal with the trauma looked for a way out and then many others followed.  It was in these days that I found myself visiting one of my students who had committed herself to the hospital. She had tried to commit suicide the year before and could not handle the pressure of the times.  I remember walking into the psych ward once they had buzzed me in, her mother grabbing hold of me and holding me so tight. I had come as her minister and in that moment, in the face of the tragedy and grief, I was the presence of God for her mother and she was clinging to me tightly. Being just as overwhelmed as the mother, I remember thinking clearly, “Look, I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know what to do here.” Luckily that student got the help she needed and is now a healthy young woman, married with a young child.

In life, especially ministry and leadership, we find ourselves faced with the demon of depression all around us. Often we don’t know how to step into this space with those in need. I still don’t have all the answers now but I can still remember the overwhelming sadness I felt as a freshmen and want to help anyone I can on the journey dealing with depression or those helping those dealing with depression. I’ve spent the morning compiling a list of what I hope can be helpful articles. I hope they can be a resource to you if the death of Robin Williams has triggered something for you or to pass along to someone else. I hope that if you are in ministry and/or leadership, you can find helpful information that resources you as a leader.

White Middle-Age Suicide in America Sky-Rockets

What Can We Learn From Comedian Robin Williams’ Suicide

Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor

The Six Reasons People Attempt Suicide

How You Can Help Teens With Mental Illness

Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

Where is God in Mental Illness

What Will It Take for Us to Get Serious about Helping the Mentally Ill?

5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

Mental Health a Christian Perspective

4 Issues to Educate Your Leaders On

Mental and Emotional Illness in Small Groups

The Spoon Theory

A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma

 

May the Road Rise To Meet You

A few years ago, I started running. It seemed everyone was doing it and I had this vision of training for a 5k. I cried the night, yes literally cried in the middle of the gym, the night I ran twenty minutes straight. I loved the high I felt as I ran and loved the sense of accomplishment.

I was only into running for a brief period of time but in that time I learned the difference between running on the treadmill and the real road. The real road, even the flattest of roads, is more difficult to run on. Or walk on for that matter. There is a reason the prayer says, “May the road rise to meet you…” On the treadmill, the road really does rise to meet you and even propels you forward as the belt rolls round and round.

I was thinking about this again earlier this week as I was walking…and even doing a little running despite my orthopedic surgeons advice to never run again….

I was also thinking about all of the ways that I try to stay on the treadmill in other areas of my life. Relationships I want on my own terms, avoiding the dreary of day to day or conflict or the kind of deep intimacy that is always hard but always shapes and changes you for the better. I want the treadmill of relationships.

I want the treadmill of church involvement sometimes too. I want to just volunteer when it is convenient and do just what I want to do, when I want to do it, being careful not to be too dependable. Not really get involved in the hard work of community but rather be able to slip out unnoticed.

I also take the “treadmill” way out of life. Let me let you in one of life’s little secrets….BEING AN ADULT IS HARD! And it never seems to get easier. Whether you are dealing with your own sickness or the sickness of those you love, cleaning your house, paying the bills, worrying about whether you will have enough for retirement, taking care of the things around your house that need fixing and maintaining, dealing with the triumphs and disappointments of work…..Sometimes all of that makes me want to take the easy way out. I don’t want to hit the pavement, I want the road to rise and meet me and because there are so many “pavement” moments in my life I sometimes take the easy way out.

There is something to be said for balance and giving yourself grace when you need it. But in a world where we can take the easy way out, sometimes we have to hold our own feet to the fire…or the pavement as the case may be. We have to dive in when we’d rather just splash our feet in the warm shallow end. We have to get messy when we’d rather stay clean.

Otherwise….we wind up avoiding our own lives. Living life solely on a treadmill isn’t really life at all….

It looked better on the rack

I recently had the privilege or spending time with a few talented younger women in ministry and amongst the thousands of other things we discussed, we talked about the challenges for women moving to higher level positions. Many churches are willing to hire a female minister in the area of youth, children, or other jobs seen as entry-level jobs, especially if the position is part time. The challenge comes when female ministers are looking for their next position and it is only increased by the fact that often in higher level positions, you are competing against other women, even against your friends. The question was asked, “How, in that environment, do you create community and support for other females in ministry when you are often competing against them for jobs?”

I believe, most importantly, it would help if we each knew what our gifts were and how to present ourselves. Each of us who reads a job description, sees what we want in the words. So, obviously, it feels like we are all “competing” for the same jobs. But, what if we each knew our “specialty.” What if we knew our talents, our passion and our vision in ministry? What if we knew, as Parker Palmer states it, what it is we cannot not do? What if we could represent ourselves well, having something like a brief statement or elevator speech about our “specialty”? Then we could leave the interview, submit the resume, etc. knowing that if this was the right job for us, if it was the job we had read and dreamed about, we would get it.

I was once sharing with a former coach about how hard it was to be rejected in the dating world. It made me feel like I was not enough, or too much, or something was wrong with me if the guy decided he didn’t like me enough to pursue something more. He helped me reframe he experience with an image given to him from one of his former coaches and said, “It’s like if you go shopping. You see a sweater hanging on a rack and you really like it.  You try it on and it just doesn’t look right. You take it off and hang it back up and it still looks good, you still look good, you just weren’t a fit for each other. It looked better on the rack, as we always say. Nothing wrong with you, nothing wrong with the sweater.” He went on to extend the analogy to dating. You have to “try people on” to know if they are a fit. If it doesn’t fit just right, you can hang it back on the rack, or find yourself back on the rack, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with either of you, you just weren’t a fit together. You, as a couple, just looked better on the rack.

Since this conversation, I’ve expanded this image to applying for jobs. (which I believe is much like the dating process but I’ll save that for another blog post) When I apply for the job, I describe why I believe I would be perfect for the job. I share my experiences, my vision, my gifts, etc for the job description as I read it. If they don’t choose me, it’s because it just wasn’t a fit. There’s nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with them. I know what I look like on the rack in terms of applying for a job. I know that I have to try things on. Women know that with each item you try on, you have a better understanding of what is going to look the best, what is going to fit. It is the same with applying for jobs, with each one I get clarity about my calling, my gifts and what I’m looking for. With each person they interview, they get clarity about what qualities and experiences they are looking for.

I wrote in my last blog post about this idea of churches having a specialty and I think women must embrace this idea. They have to know what they have to offer a church, know how to communicate that clearly. If five of my friends, all women, are applying for the same job but each of us knows how to describe our gifts and strengths clearly, we are each presenting something different to the interviewers. Then we aren’t competing against each other, but the church or organization is just picking the one they know will be the best fit. It’s not that those who did not get the job are less than, it’s not that there is anything wrong with the church or organization, it just wasn’t the right fit.

What is your specialty? Do you know how to confidently present yourself in an interview process? Do you know what it is you cannot not do?

….I’ll be blogging about this more in the future but would also encourage to contact me or another coach if you are interested in developing answers to the questions.

The Most Important Work

This past Sunday, I drove to church for worship with anxieties and doubts filling my head. Feeling called to denominational life, I worry about the future of the church. Really, I worry about the future of my job or my calling.  If I am called to lead ministry leaders, where do I fit into the future.  It is an incredibly naval gazing way to live out call and these moments are not something I’m especially proud of.

I read a lot of articles and books in my efforts to resource others and it seems to me there has been an onslaught of writers that are now proudly jumping on the bandwagons crying for change in our churches. They are proudly exclaiming to those who are still inside the church walls that they will have to change, have to close many of the church doors and reimagine them. There seems to be a new pride in their voices and they speak to something that really at this point, we all know needs to be changed. It is nothing new to say that church will have to look different in the future and it does not take a vision caster to say that the world of denominations and the Christian religion will look different in ten, twenty, fifty years. But, when I listen to a lot of these bandwagon jumpers, my stress can increase. I get worried about the future and my place in it.

Oh, I will challenge churches to think about church differently. I will challenge them to think about the possibilities outside the walls. The greatest frustration when I was pastoring was that I felt like we were too often just making decisions that would keep the doors of our church open for the members of our church the longest. I am not sure that is really living out the gospel, either.

So, on Sunday, I’m driving to church with all of my doubts about church as we know it rolling around in my head and my gut. The church I’m visiting, First Baptist of Richmond, is having work done on their sanctuary and so this was the first Sunday meeting in the gym for worship.  It is an awkward space to say the least and by the time I got there, I was sitting way in the back. I could not really see the platform.  The sound wasn’t working well in the way back and I had a moment where I felt like all those doubts that had been rolling around were just confirmed.  What was the point of this? Why was I crammed into this awkward space where I couldn’t clearly hear what was going on, couldn’t see what was happening? It was a beautiful morning, I could be worshiping God out there somewhere…getting some exercise, sitting out in the sun, etc.

And then one of the pastors got up to pray. He spoke in his prayer about coming together to do the most important work of the church, worshiping God. He prayed for the important work we would be doing that morning. That we wouldn’t be distracted and that in that time we would be reminded of just who God is in our world and in our lives. He prayed that we would feel the weight of the importance of worshiping God and that we’d feel the value of doing this most important work.

There has been some criticism from folks my age that it doesn’t seem right that we are called to be light in the world and yet we separate ourselves every Sunday morning. I once heard Patrick Johnson, a pastor from Connecticut who has done his pHd work in missional preaching, challenge that the most counter cultural thing we do, the biggest statement we make to our world, is to separate ourselves for an hour a week to worship God. To say in that time that nothing is more important.

I do think there are a lot of changes on the horizon for our modern churches and denominations but the reality will always remain that we need worship. We need spaces to separate from the world and be reminded who God is and who we are and are not. It is the most important work that we do. And in my best moments, in the moments where I don’t listen to the panicky voices or the voices of band wagon jumping “visionaries” that tell me we should close all the doors to the churches and just get over it, I know we will always need church. We will never lose the need to worship our creator. I will always have a place that I can be reminded there is a God who is worthy of worship, who is worthy of praise and who is worthy of my life and calling.