Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Shoot the Ducks

Earlier this month, I spent time at a Women's Retreat up at Hartland Christian Camp.  The weekend was great.  I have been going up for years to do a workshop for the ladies.  I have done talks on the serious and the silly of spirituality and life.  

This year I was asked to do a workshop on marriage.  It was a humbling topic.  God has been speaking to me recently through the Bible studies and books I have been reading.  They all seem to deal with the same topics (honestly it was unintentional) - dying to self, facing fears, trusting God.  So as I prepared my workshop, I had Luke 9:23-24 on my list of scriptures to share.  

And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

Funny thing, because unbeknownst to me, that was the retreat theme verse and the main speaker shared several things that seemed to be speaking just to me.  

She shared about how in life she realized fear was the Lord of her life and not Jesus.  She realized she had to get God in control and not fear.  My heart echoed with this truth.  Fear has had way too much control in my decisions and actions for too long.  Some of it is fear of the unknown and the bad things that happen and other parts are just fears of being perceived as a bad mom or something similar.  I try so hard to have life controlled and ordered. 

The next morning she shared another quote that hit me between the eyes.  She shared that God said to her, "Laura, you want to get all your ducks in a row, but shoot the ducks and follow me."  

That one phase stuck with me all weekend, in fact, you may even see me wearing it on a t-shirt one day because I love it.  


Stop trying to keep everything perfect, shoot those ducks in a row and just follow Jesus!  That is the recipe for the best life, not checking all the boxes.  

What hoops are you jumping through to orchestrate your life?  Is it causing you stress or peace?  Chances are, its causing you to lose your mind, not have the mind of Christ.  Following Jesus won't always look like your neighbor or that perfect woman who sits two rows in front of you in church (p.s. she's not really perfect, she probably is losing her mind with all her ducks).  Following Jesus will look different, true its all under the umbrella of scriptural truth, but how God plays that out in us will not look the same because we are all different.  

If we are the body of Christ all with different gifts, as the Bible says, then we weren't made to look the same.  We were made to do what God created us to do.  Seek him and find what that looks like, not the standard of perfection for women in 2019.  

There is no YouTube video for how God wants you to do you.  You have to seek him in his word and study the Bible.  Getting that time to connect with God and understand how he made you allows you to put it all together and find the freedom to be that special person he designed. God's plan is better than anything you could ever imagine!!!  So who is with me?  Who is ready to shoot the ducks and follow Jesus?  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

My Life with Teenagers

Teenagers often get a bad wrap.  They are frequently described as all attitude and hard to handle, disobeying, disrespecting and dismantling their parents at every turn.

Yes, the teen years are challenging both for the teen and the parent, but teenagers are amazing people in process, who are full of possibilities and open to life.

It has been my honor for a good part of my adult life to work with junior high and high school students.  My journey with this unique population started in my junior year of college.  I worked as a volunteer with the youth group at the church I attended during my semester abroad in London.

One favorite memory was a sleepover my friend, Kristin, and I hosted at one of the girl's homes. We painted nails and hung out making snacks in the kitchen, and we also shared our experiences through timelines of our life. We even managed to learn a bit about God over the course of the evening.

I loved it! Maybe that was when working with teens became a part of me, I just didn't know it yet.

I came back to the states and my senior year intern experience for my sign language minor involved planning an event with Imagination Celebration, an arts festival for the local deaf students.  
This arts festival included deaf dancers from Gallaudet University and around the world. It was an amazing experience and I was so honored to be involved and to see the faces of the students who attended.

My senior year I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation.  It was daunting to see the end of college approaching without any idea what was in store. But then I was contacted by Julie Wood from Doulos Ministries, who said I had signed up for more information about their ministry my Freshman year (a memory I still don't recall to this day).  

Doulos Ministries offers post-college aged adults a one-year discipleship program that not only teaches about the Bible and provides ministry training, but works as the care staff for Shelterwood their residential care facility for troubled teens (now its called a therapeutic boarding school). This year also came with training from the staff counselors.  I applied and was accepted and began to work on raising support.

After graduation I returned to Visalia, Ca, the town my dad and stepmom relocated to after my dad's retirement from the Army.  He decided to trade his role as a Military Chaplain for the lead Pastor of a church.   While I was home for the summer I worked alongside the youth pastor as the assistant.  I enjoyed building relationships with the kids and teens of the church over the summer, then headed to Colorado for the next adventure. 

The year at Shelterwood was wonderful but hard, I packed my bags a couple of times in that year completely done with the experience, but I made a commitment, so I stayed.  I tell people I'd never take it out of my life, but I'd also never do it again.  

I forged friendships in that year that have been amazing blessings over the years.  I also learned a ton! Working with teenagers facing hard stuff changed me and how I looked at life, how I viewed my Bible and how I faced the world, and I was better because of it.  As the year wrapped up, I thought my time with teenagers was over.

I got a call from my dad asking if I wanted to come be the youth pastor at his church, after the one I'd worked with had to be let go.  I really wanted to stay in Colorado but had a hard time getting a full-time job.  I told my dad if I didn't get a job I applied for at my church, I would consider going.  I didn't get the job,but I still wasn't sure.  One night I decided to stay in Colorado, and before calling my dad, I called my mom in Ohio.  She wisely told me to sleep on it.  I woke up the next morning and knew I needed to go, despite my resistance to do so.

February 1, 2003 I drove out with my dad in his van behind me and moved myself and all my belongings to Visalia.  It started out as a very part-time position that came with free housing in my parents' guest house.  I told myself this was temporary.  

My hours grew and so did my years there.  Before I knew it I had been there 15 years.   It was crazy to see adults around town who I knew as a teenager.  The silly moments, the tearful exchanges, the relationships and spiritual growth were all part of this career I accidentally built.  

Shortly after my 15 year marker, my dad announced he was retiring.  He and my stepmom were moving to Texas to live near some friends and I was faced with the reality of being without my family in my work and in my town.

In this 15 years, I had gotten married, helped raised my husband's two girls and birthed two kids of my own.  I have my own family but it is different.  What was really weird was,  I was going to stay at the church.  That church of my dad's I had temporarily come to help.  A new pastor stepped into my dad's spot and things started to change.  

I saw 16 years come and go, but just after that, our children's pastor stepped down from her job, and the offer to do both children and youth full-time was offered to me.  I didn't want full-time and I also knew I couldn't be a youth pastor forever.  Some of the aspects of the job were proving hard with kids of my own.  

So plans were made to hire someone and shift me into an Associate Pastor role working primarily with women.   It seemed like natural transition as many of the teens I'd loved over the years, came back to me seeking guidance as adults.  It was like my past created a new position for me.

I knew it was time for a change and I am happy with my new role, but I have to say I miss teenagers.  My husband says I will never stop being a youth pastor because being there for teens is just part of me.  I'm sure he's right, and as I reflect over the journey, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you to every teenager who crossed my path and just know I am always here for you from the youth group kids still in high school, to the ones in their 30's who I knew when it all started.  Teenagers are a blessing, something more people should appreciate! Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Power of Us

"Trending" seems to be a word we hear a lot. To sell your product or even yourself, paying attention to what is trending and getting yourself that title seems to be the name of the game.  

Since the rise of the internet, the trends seem to change at rapid speed.  The culture has shifted from generations to micro-generations and with each new shift, old age gets younger and younger.  

I am blessed by two amazing gifts in my past.  When I was 7, my mom and I moved in with my grandpa and I spent four years of my childhood living with him and spending time with his sisters.  It wasn't your typical childhood, but its an experience that I more deeply cherish the older I get.  I was given an appreciation for people at a variety of ages and the traditions that can be passed down. 

The other gift was travel.  My parents divorced when I was two, but my dad's military career meant that summers where spent wherever the Army sent him.  The last two years of high school, I got the privilege of living with him in Germany.  Travel birthed in me an admiration for different.  I love seeing the many ways "normal" is played out among people groups and cultures around the globe.    

Sure I love to have my way, but I also have an ability to see how the contrast from others can add to my life and my perspective.  

Recently, I've had some conversations that touch on this subject.  We tend to think if something isn't now its not worthwhile.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  Each generation has a skill the ones that bookend it don't have.  The best value comes when we come together.  

Family is an excellent example.  We don't kick grandma out when she gets too old, grandma always has her place.  From birth to death, each age presents a gift that is best treasured when we are together.  

In the church I hear people who are older getting upset when change is mentioned.  They don't want to add the newer ideas to their rituals, but never changing is not a sustainable model. 

On the other end of the spectrum is younger people saying that church must fit a list of the latest offerings.  This perspective is just the same as their older counterparts.  Demanding church be your way fails to appreciate each other.  It fails to embrace different and to love your brother you first must see him.  Instead we must all ask, "how can we take old and new and create something wonderful?"

If we fail to see the gifts in those different from us than we miss the point of the gospel itself.  "For God so loved the world (not just a subsection of it) that he gave his one an only son..." (John 3:16)  

Getting the view of all of God's people expands our view of God.  I'm not saying we all agree or rubber stamp every choice but I am saying that your perspective should include a broader view than your own personal box.  

How can you apply this to your life today or decisions that have yet to be made?  Are you bucking an idea just because its different without further examination of its merits?  Are you dismissing someone in your life because they are too old or too young?  Let's quit using those labels and see the people without the descriptors.  See who they are.  

Happy Wednesday!