Monday, May 21, 2018

The Waiting Room: When Waiting on God to Talk Back Gets Hard

You do not wait alone. God will talk back, 
but the message is not yours to keep.
Acts 2:1-13 as portrayed by estralla canziani
Yep--all of the clergy are gallivanting about in Israel, so ya got me. Don’t worry, we won’t be making flames with red glitter or having you act as one of the disciples in front of a gutsy fan.
 (Or, will we?)

My name is Meg and for almost a decade now, I have been blessed to serve as the minister to children and families here. It was not an easy gig to land, in fact, it took me spending some time in the slammer.

The year was  2008 and I was so done with ministry.

As one who spent most of my life as Mandy Moore’s character from the film, Saved (a tightly-wound, Bible-thumping Holy Roller), I had reached spiritual burnout. To add to this, I had just had an ugly falling out with a teammate, and the scars left me done with ministry (a call that had been on my heart since I was 13).

Don’t get me wrong, I was not done with Jesus or spirituality. I was just done with church, done with organized religion, and for my “big life plan” that meant done with seminary.

Although I had applied to seminary (and actually had gotten in), my bruised spirit would not let me go. I decided I would serve as a teacher in my home state--Texas.

Before I could fly south and begin this new chapter (away from the messy and draining world of ministry), there was one last thing I had to do. I had to go on a mission trip to Epworth Children’s home in St. Louis with the Discipleship Team at Southwestern. I might have stopped being a holy roller, but I was still a cheap-skate who had already paid for it, so I went.

As we arrived on the campus, they asked for 3 female volunteers who could lead a time of worship for some of the “children”. Leah, Megan and I volunteered. We were then escorted by a security guard. (Yes-you heard me right.) A female police officer led us down this dark, gray, and cold hallway.

She shared that this particular hall was for young women who did not do well in a Juvenile detention center . Due to their crimes and behaviors being so foul, they now resided here. I hesitantly smiled and hoped my discomfort would not hinder whatever God had planned for this unexpected time of worship.

The guard punched in the code to the thickest door I had ever seen. As it opened, sounds of chattery teen girls filled the air. I did not think hardened criminals would be talking about prom dresses and contouring, but they were. These young women were articulate, beautiful, and surprisingly hopeful. Never had my expectations for a moment been so far off.

After some high-quality mingling, we awkwardly transitioned into a time of worship through song. We passed out song sheets and I began to strum and sing the song “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”. Everyone sang along, and by the first chorus, I lost myself in the song and closed my eyes in prayer.

As I opened them I noticed a girl in a pink shirt and a high pony with her eyes tightly shut and tears streaming down her face as she sang. The image pierced my memory. As I looked at her, I heard the Holy Spirit speak within me (I guess God resorted to words because I was so oblivious to God’s voice at that point.), “I made you for this. I made you for this.” (And I guess God repeated it, just to make sure I got the point.)

Once we left Epworth, I vetoed my teaching plans and started applying for church gigs. That same week (I kid you not) Pastor Beth called me and told me that they were hiring a Children’s Minister and here I am 10 years later.

As I entered Epworth I was

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 

This was a moment that I was not even aware that I needed to be waiting for God to speak because I had it all figured out on my own. If I was waiting at all, I was most certainly cluelessly waiting for the wrong thing.

Fast forward six years. My husband and I are in a hospital room and I am lying on a plastiky, metally bed. Our high-risk pregnancy has made it to the eleven-week mark and the CVS test is about to begin. Due to my funky chromosomes, creating life was a mere dream of ours for years and here we were seeing her on a black and white screen.

He squeezes my hand as I sing hymns and cuss through the pain of the needle in my stomach. What hurt more than the physical pain was the fear that pulsated through me.

Will our child be ok? 

Between the nervous looks between Garrett and I, the doctor shared how he had never had a patient sing hymns before, but that cussing was a common response to the pain. Our nervous laughter was interrupted by a miraculous sight on the monitor.

“Well, would you look at that...” the doctor said, “He or she’s waving at us.”

As Garrett and I looked at the screen, we saw the tiniest little hand greeting us, as if to say, “Hey, mom! Hey, Dad! What’s goin’ on? I’m doin’ great in here!”

While it would be another week before we knew that Henley was healthy, that sacred sight was enough to still my scared soul. God shared a message of courage and comfort that day, not by words, but by sight.

In that hospital room, I was

Waiting, and anxiously afraid. 

The situation was totally out of my control. No choice of mine would make things any better. I was just fearfully waiting on God to do something because there was nothing that I could do. The problem was way bigger than me. I was just waiting; waiting and anxiously afraid.

Image result for Miki de Goodaboom painting of widow
Miki de Goodaboom
And then we get to 2018. We arrive at today. Over the last few years, a very special relationship of mine has been broken. With a horrible decision swept under the rug by others, I am really struggling to forgive. Time has passed, yet I see no signs of healing.

While I have witnessed first-hand just how miraculously God can communicate and am confident that God will do it again, I now find myself asking, “God, what are you saying in this moment? Will things ever get better? How do I move forward in a relationship in which there is such a strong disagreement? I want to restore the relationship, but how? God, share with me the steps you would have me to take. Speak again, Lord. Speak again. I am open and I am trusting, speak again.”

Right now, in this tough situation, I am

Waiting, and seeking next steps. 

Another way to look at this type of waiting is shared by one of our pastors here, Dave. He shares that months before he was called on by the bishop to serve at our church, he began feeling a divine nudge towards something different.

He could not quite articulate what he was being called to, but he shared these faint whispers with his wife months before the phone rang. He remained open and keenly tuned in to the Holy Hums, and when the call came, it was obvious that this was (we were) his next step.  (Side note: Dave has always comforted me over the years with his famous line of, “Don’t doubt for one second that God will graciously redirect you if you have misunderstood the nudge in some way.”)

When I am waiting, and seeking next steps 

Some parts of how this turns out are within my control. My thoughts and actions can make a difference. I know that God wants me to move, and I am willing to take the necessary steps, but I am unsure of what these are. I am aware that the Holy Spirit will guide and equip me, and I am open and listening for direction.

I am waiting, and seeking next steps.

I am waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 
I am waiting, and anxiously afraid. 
I am waiting, and seeking next steps. 

I am sure that Jesus’ closest friends were, on some level, waiting in similar ways on Pentecost.

Being one of the most popular of Jewish festivals, Pentecost was a time of celebrating the giving of the law to Moses (the ten commandments) and the new harvest. It’s name, ‘Pentecost’ comes from the fact that it fell on the fiftieth day after Passover (a holiday that celebrates how God protected the Hebrew people as they escaped the reign of Pharaoh in Egypt.).

Like most holidays, everyone took off of work and every Jew within 20 miles of Jerusalem would have gathered to celebrate. Needless to say--the place was a-buzzin’ (and we see this in the listing of the countries in today’s Bible verse) . Everyone showed up for the party--except for Jesus’ closest friends. Yes, they were there physically, but I would not say that they were in the party mood.

There they were in a place where Jesus had met them many times before--the upper room. There they were in a space where so many lessons of loving service had been taught; where the bread was broken, feet selflessly washed and the proof of wounded hands shown. Here was where Jesus had asked them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The weeks building up to this moment had been extremely puzzling. From the cross to the tomb, from the tomb to the sky, nothing was certain but uncertainty. Not only were they unsure of what God was going to do next, but they were unsure of what they were supposed to do next….so they waited.

Perhaps his disciple and friend, James, was waiting, and concededly clueless.

After all, he was known for his rash decision making and his inability to apply the gospel to earthly matters. Even up to the time of the ascension, he was questioning Jesus about what all of these weird events meant. He might have been waiting, but I doubt this “son of thunder” (nickname) was reflectivity waiting on the right thing.

Maybe there was some waiting, and conceitedly clueless going on in the upper room that day.

James Tissot 
Perhaps his pal, Peter, was waiting, and anxiously afraid.

The disciple that experienced every feeling at the highest, most animated extent was most likely anxious at Pentecost. From what we know of Peter, scenes like him reactively cutting off ears of those trying to arrest Jesus, sheepishly denying he knew Jesus (#groupThink) or impulsively jumping off boats to be close to Jesus were all too common. “That’s so Peter,” was most definitely an inside joke among the gang towards another ’s swift change of mood.

Maybe there was some waiting, and anxiously afraid going on in the upper room that day.

Perhaps the disciple, Andrew, was waiting and seeking next steps.

Being known as the truth seeker who worked in the background of his brother, Peter, Andrew led others to Jesus. At all costs and with great methodology, he valued and sought after truth. Feasibly on this holiday, high above the hype in the streets, Andrew humbly opened himself up and waited.

Maybe there was some waiting, and seeking next steps going on in the upper room that day.

Regardless as to what type of waiting was taking place, their patience was suddenly rewarded as,

“Without warning, there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks,”

(Like other times in the Bible, NT Wright teaches, "these scaredly strange moments are described with practical words and very real senses".)

“and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world (remember--because of the holiday?). When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck.”

Here, unlike anytime before, these flaky friends and distracted students heard the voice of God in a way that shook them to their core. Not only were they convinced of the message of Christ themselves, but the message permeated through them in a way that it became contagious to others.

After the waiting, God did talk back, but the message was not theirs to keep.

Moved by the winds of the Spirit, it was time for them to leave the comfort of the upper room and go out into the streets. They would not go alone. They would be equipped with a boldness of speech, draped with wisdom and the Spirit would make it possible for others to know the healing love of Christ through their work.

Or as one of my favorite authors, NT Wright puts it,

“If Pentecost is simply all about us having new private religious experiences, however exciting and dramatic, we are turning Christianity into a private hobby.
 The gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing if it's not public truth, issuing a costly and dangerous challenge to the world's conceptions of truth. The world of the first Christian centuries was full of competing and clashing cultures, religions and tongues, and the followers of Jesus discovered that the tongues of fire which rested on the apostles enabled them to address these different cultures with a fresh judging and healing word of truth.
May it be so again in our day.”

No matter the type of waiting you are doing,

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless 
You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are waiting for the wrong thing.

Waiting, and anxiously afraid
 You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind.


Waiting, and seeking next steps 
You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.

Know that you were not made to wait alone. Your tribe is here with you and God will talk back, but the message is not yours to keep. It’s for the benefit of others as well. 

With the help of the Holy Spirit moving through you and our community, we now offer up this space for a time of intentional waiting. Feel free to simply breath, pray, and seek as the following questions guide you.

How are you waiting today? 

 Are you waiting, and conceitedly clueless? 
(You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are simply waiting on the wrong thing.) 

If so, what was a recent conversation that left you surprisingly defensive? What were you talking about? Offer this observation up to God, and if it occurs again, pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes and  (if necessary) adjust your vision. 

 And taking this question beyond yourself--are there other sides of the story that would be helpful to hear? Can you ask him/her to do coffee this week? Or lunch? Can you attend that meeting and just observe--just listen?

Are you waiting, and anxiously afraid?
 (You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind. Whether it is the poor choices of one you love, or a diagnosis for yourself or another--there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome.)

Are you making space in your day for this grief? Are you letting yourself lament? Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you to discern which parts of this situation are truly within your control and which ones are not. God is faithful. God will ground you in wisdom and adorn you with peace.

 And taking the question beyond yourself--is there someone who is going through a similar type of waiting who would benefit from hearing your story? How could your story offer healing to another? You do not wait alone. Hope awaits us in each other. 


Are you waiting, and seeking next steps?
(You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.) 

 Are you making time to listen intentionally? Or are your days too loud? Too full? When did this divine nudge begin? What do you know for certain that this nudge is not? What do you know for certain that it involves?

 And taking this question beyond yourself--is there someone within your community who has a similar interest? Perhaps someone who had a similar nudge a few years back and noticed it too?  Could you call him/her and swap stories? 

You were not meant to wait alone. 
We are here with you.
God will talk back, but--
the message is not yours to keep,
it’s for the benefit of others as well.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tomato, Banana: The Differences Between Children's and Youth Ministry

"Tomato, toma(h)to?" It's more like, "Tomato, banana" when it comes to comparing Children's ministry (KidMin) to Youth Ministry (YouthMin).

Yes, they both coexist in the figurative fruit bowl of careers, but these two callings are vastly different.

It makes sense that one is often confused/enmeshed with the other, for there are some similarities. They both involve lesson planning, pastoral care skills, and volunteer teams to lead homo sapiens that are not yet adults. However, upon a closer look, one can see just how different these two gigs actually are.

When compared to YouthMin, KidMin takes more:
  • Volunteers due to the regulated kid/adult ratio. Not to mention that the variety of developmental needs of early to middle-aged kids will require a plethora of gifts among your volunteers.
  • Relational work with parents due to the child being less independent. Parents are (usually) much more protective when their kid is in elementary school, so more connections with parents are needed. (#SaysThisHelicopterMom) This will also call for a teacher who is comfortable with her participants being more dependant on her. 
  • Classroom management skills. Kids reveal when they have checked out mentally much quicker than teens.  Plus, kids (usually) have more energy than teens.

When compared to YouthMin, KidMin takes less
  • Work getting kids through the church doors because they have fewer options of outlets to be with their friends, most kids don't own their own car, and it frankly takes less to impress them. This is not permission to lower the standards of your KidMin programs though! You are not running a YMCA! Make fun the means to the end, and the end goal is always authentic spiritual formation! πŸ’ͺ 
  • Managment of peer relationships and dating drama. 
  • Breaking down of the emotional barriers that a teen might put up as she's trying on different identities as part of her healthy social development. (Thanks, Erik Erickson!) Ya just can't beat the authenticity with which a 4th grader presents herself, and I think in a sense we spend a lot of our adult lives trying to return to this state of presence, wonder and sense of self. Whoa--that got deep *real* fast! Lo Siento...

Contrary to popular belief, both YouthMin and KidMin involve:
  • A leader's ability to tap into a silly/fun mode of being/leading. Up that retention in their brains--make 'em laugh! You are telling the greatest story ever told, tell it with joy! Make the lasting impression that church *can* be fun. 
  • The talents to play the "political church games" enough to shift member's mindsets on what valuing kids and teens as equal and heard members of the Body of Christ looks like. 
  • Biblically sound teaching pedagogies. While in YouthMin, you want to guide your teens in safely thinking abstractly on the mysteries of the faith. In KidMin, you want to understand theological truths so well that you can transpose complex concepts into age-appropriate forms *without* dumbing it down to some weaker version of an Aesop's fable. (Get that out of here!)  

This a huge subject matter and I am excited to hear from you below on the other differences and similarities between these two vocations.✌❤πŸ’¬

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Mother Used to Always Say: The Catchphrases of My Childhood

My Mom, Dena Carol 'Hargrove' Mojica  

In honor of Mother's day, I would like to share my most beloved one-liners from my Mom.

Throughout the years, these catchphrases echoed through our home and now they echo through my heart.  My mom is a power-house of a woman with the energy of the Energizer bunny on Red Bull.  As the writer, Michayla White puts it, she "raised kids and dreams" and continues to crush it in her career as an Assitant Superintendent at Mabank ISD.

She looks like God mashed Jennifer Anniston and Sally Field together and then deep fat fried her in the fountain of youth. Like all true southern belles, she can be charming but can also put the "kill" in "kill 'em with kindness".  She loves her four kids tenaciously, and very few obtain her passion for teaching.

She is fierce, at times unruly, she is my mom.

Even though it is annoying when she looks at me like I don't feed my toddler, when I don't blow dry said toddler's hair, my goal has always been to make her laugh--to bring her joy. Her laugh is quite the experience. It is unquenchably wild, as it involves her entire body and is explosively loud. When I was in 2nd grade she and my teacher encouraged me to be a comedian, and ever since then, I have been living up to the challenge with her. I hope you laugh as well, friend, and to enhance your experience, please read the below in a southern accent.

  • Upon all 4 of us wanting a sip of her Dr. Pepper she would say with a grin, "I swear if I was drinkin' cow pee you'd all wanna drink!" 
  • Whenever I was experiencing friend issues at school, she would say, " Trash attracts Trash, ya know? It's gonna happen naturally at work, at school, and all the days of your life. You gotta be careful with the friends you choose and maybe this friendship's not workin' out because you're not trash." 
  • Museum trips were huge in our family, which is explained in her most popular line, "Surround yourself with beauty, Meg, and you will feel better." 
  • While checking the bathroom of the three sisters, we would hear her shout, "There's a pink ring in this toilet!!!! Someone's gonna get a staff infection!!!" 
  • After a high school break up, and I was sobbing on her shoulder, she said, " One of these days, you are gonna look back and be so thankful for this moment. Even though you are crying  now, one day you will be thankful." (And she was right.)
  • Anytime one of us was dating someone that she wished we would break up with she would say with a chuckle, "My prayer for you is that you land a man who does not take nearly as much work as your Dad did." 
  • For some reason, my mom created a new term for when she talked about physical boundaries in dating, so in my teen years I would hear, "Now don't be too frothy now!" (Yes--'frothy' is the ladylike term for being too H-word.) 
  • After tiffs during my last year at home, she would swing open the front door and shout, "You can be mad at me, but don't you drive fast out of anger!" (I still hear this one whenever I leave a meeting angry.) 
  • After hours in the lake, she would holler as she picked up sopping wet swimsuits and towels, "cootie-booty, cootie-booty, baths are not an option tonight! If ya don't bathe after playing in the lake, you will get cootie-booty!" ('Til this day, I'm still not sure of what medical condition she was referring to, but her strategy sure kept us all clean.) 
  • Church was important to my mom. I recall her leading church at our kitchen table when I was a kid because we had just moved and had yet to find a church home. One of my favorite lines regarding "the church" and its inhabitants was, " Some Saturday nights lead to you rightfully taking your place in the back pew on Sunday mornin'. That's the problem with leaders today. They don't know when to humbly step down from the front pulpit and take their place in that last pew. If your personal life is not lining up with the values of your public position of leadership, ya need to take a season of sittin' in that last pew 'til ya figure it out." 
  • Sometimes after a heated meeting, she will call me and say, "Ignorance, just plain ignorance. I mean--are they even thinking about what's best for the kids?!" 
  • Anytime I would call her to vent on a crappy day, she would end the convo with, "Tomorrow is a brand new day. And although you can't control all of this, you can control how you look and feel. So wake up tomorrow and put on your lipstick and feel good about yourself!" 
  • (This last one needs no setup.) "My hope for all of my kids is that they speak their minds, infuse every conversation with love, know that when one door closes, the one that opens will be better, and above all else, I hope that they know not to fear because God will take care of them." 
Please share your favorite lines from your mom in the comment section below and happy mother's day, friends! ❤

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Samuels Among Us: An Interview with Myself

My offspring and I hard at work at our desks
Last month, I interviewed four persons who entered into a full-time ministerial position under the age of 25 and remained in that same position for at least 5 years. After many requests (one), I think it's only fair that I answer the questions that I expected others to answer. Asi que, here we go! 

As one who entered into a full-time ministerial career at a young age, is there something about this profession that makes it weird? If not weird, what makes this type of work unique when compared to other professions?

For sure, this is such a weird gig. Only the called survive in this line of work, and not only survive, but thrive! Before I go any deeper into the weirdness of serving on a church staff, I must first express how weird my story is--how weird I am. πŸ˜‚ I am an odd-ball of a case because I have (thankfully) served on the same church staff since I was 18, and I turn 32 in two months. With this said, my story might read a little differently than others.

Ok, back to the weirdness of the gig to which I have been called. Serving on a church staff as a minister is weird because:
  • People consider the weirdest things as "good donations to the children's and family ministry program". Wallpaper, a (new) catheter, and a stack of old photo albums take the cake as the oddest over the years. 
  • It is assumed that you live like an Amish-nun (Not a thing, but a funny image!), and are not up-to-date on the current trends of fashion, entertainment, or technology. 
  • Folks confuse necessary relational methods from a minister with a desire to be their new best friend. 
  • In honor of being nice and in the name of (how they are defining) 'grace', churches sometimes discount (actual) talent and emotional maturity when selecting volunteer leaders. This lack of standards can be a huge liability and end up hurting the entire team/tribe. 
  • Never will there be a place where volunteers have so much power. This can be a good thing (priesthood of all believers and such) if the above point does not happen, but if it does it will take a strong staff to do some major damage control. 
  • Because all of our staff's job descriptions get blurred by our church members, sometimes blame is misplaced. 
  • When you live in a small town, some always think you are "on the clock". It takes years to teach folks how to treat you when you are at Nieves with your family. (What?! Ministers eat chips and queso?! What?! Ministers leave the church?!) 
  • It is so odd that some want their church to grow and be sustainable, but are highly intolerant of the noise of kids and youth in the said church. It's as if they don't see the connection between the two. 
  • Some were raised on translations of the Bible that were somehow filled with typos. Their versions were sadly void of the stories of Esther, Mary, Joanna, and Lydia. I'm so sad for them because they have been misinformed and believe that women can't lead in the name of the Lord. πŸ˜‰ Occasionally running into these folks is most likely the weirdest thing about the gig. (Let it be known though, I preached my first sermon in the Bible belt, was a chaplain on the east coast and serve in the Midwest, and I have never run into this with members of my own tribe.)  These people are out there though, and we really need to get 'em better versions of the Bible.πŸ˜† 
What is one common misconception of those who serve in full-time ministry settings that you would like to correct?

We are not all like Hilary Faye in Saved or Ned Flanders in the Simpsons. Most of us are genuinely caring people (and I thankfully serve alongside these types). Some of us are not socially awkward.  We are normal people who are capable of feeling the full range of emotions. We have hobbies, vices, friends, and families. We have a work hat, and a mom hat, a wife hat, and a friend hat. And at our best, we know when to wear each one and when to not.

What was it about this ministerial “gig” that made you feel called to it? 
  • The ability to advocate for the church's role as a supplemental family to kids of troubled homes
  • The opportunity to encourage others (of all ages) in their gifts and empower them towards action
  • The love of building strong teams
  • The excitement of exploring the relationship between neurology and spirituality              I have always loved learning about the brain, and one gets to do this a lot through lesson planning or motivating different types of personalities on a team.
By your 5th year, what percent of your job involved these pieces that brought you there in the first place?

Thankfully, I now get to do even more of this type of work than I did when I was first hired.

During your first year on the job, who was your mentor? What made him/her a good mentor?

I was most likely guilty of having too many 'mentors', and by 'mentors' I mean people who I wanted to impress so that I would feel better about myself. So, they weren't really mentors at all, just lil' signs of my emotional unhealth at the time. (Yes--I'm going to make up a word and leave 'unhealth' right there for the moment.😁)

Thankfully God has worked wonders in my heart over the past 14 years since I entered into this church family, and looking back I would consider 4 persons as true mentors to me when I was a mere rookie.

My boss, Dave, has always encouraged a healthy work/life balance for me. And since I came out of the womb a workaholic, this voice was greatly needed. Another strong one over the years has been Rev. Ashlee Alley, my campus minister at college. She was an awesome mentor because she was never afraid to speak the truth in love, and she was very self-aware/self-disciplined. I would also say that the way we are wired is a tad bit similar.

Dr. Michelle Adler was another one who was fierce in the secular classroom and in the religious #KidMin realm. She also carried out her calling as a mom with great conviction and honor. Her compassion for kids with special needs was always inspiring to me, and her confidence was contagious. When I got to Bethel Seminary, I met Dr. Denise Kjesbo who is a powerhouse leader in children's ministry and she models being an academic and a practitioner very well.

All in all these 4 were great mentors to me because they had seen me at my most confused, most emotionally unhealthy and loved me through it. I think they might even still like me. πŸ˜†

What did your day of Sabbath (rest) look like during the first year? What does it look like now?

Jo Saxton teaches that "Sabbath is not the absence of activity, it is the presence of peace." As a high-energy extrovert, the permission this grants is so freeing. Don't get me wrong, my mornings are incomplete if I don't make time to meditate, pray, study and journal, but my limit of introspective time is 3 hours.

With this said, my ideal day of sabbath rest is taking time to be outside (running, walking, collecting sticks with my daughter) and being in conversation with some of my favorite homo sapiens.  I also love going to antique stores or playing board games. These two things are oddly refreshing to me.

Unlike viewing Sabbath as something I honored one day a week (which I used to), I now view it as something that needs to be part of my daily routine. I take 20-minute power-naps 6 days a week and have a tight schedule that intentionally involves times of playing and resting. Unlike when I first started out in the church, my mindset is now to play and rest much harder than I work. And by doing so, my work is much more focused and fruitful. This mentality will also sustain me in my career/calling much better than my old one.

Did you ever have a moment when you wanted to “throw in the towel” (quit)? Sharing as much as you feel comfortable--what all occurred? 

Yes, there have been days that I felt I was in the wrong gig, or that my efforts were all in vain. These days come about when an idea was moving way too slow or an incompetent, emotionally unhealthy volunteer was getting way too much say in how the ministerial work was carried out.

What changed your mind and kept you in the game/ in line with your vocational calling?

My secret for success? I care way less about certain things now. Yep--some things that used to really ruffle my feathers (Ya know, parts of the whole political game of doing church in a small town?), don't even bother me anymore. Being mindful of our thoughts and feelings are forms of practicing healthy boundaries.  I am very picky now about what I do with my emotional and mental energy. It is truly all I have control of in my life, so I cherish it. I choose to focus my energy on the areas of the church to which I have been called and I don't let the others steal my joy. I just don't care anymore. πŸ˜‚

For those youngsters out there who are feeling a Divine Nudge to enter into full-time ministry, what advice would you offer them? 

Nurture those friends that love you as a 'you' and not as a 'minister'. Make time for these persons at least twice a month. (yep-no more, no lessπŸ˜‰) If you are married, give your spouse a break and don't always talk about church-work. You are a fun person, you really are, and your spouse deserves that version of you (and you do too).  Work will be there tomorrow, and there is nothing to be gained by ruminating over it while you fold bath rags. So for now, talk about the next episode of Sneaky Pete and eat ice cream together after your daughter is asleep.  Also, read these books on vocational calling. And above all else--make time each day to simply let God love you. #SpiritualDisciplines

Monday, April 23, 2018

Let's Get Established: Author Q & A Tips

Jacob, Jackson, and Lindsey share on their book, "The Universe is Indifferent".
Last fall, a few fellow Wipf and Stock authors invited me into a convo on enhancing their upcoming book signing event. Below were my two cents for Jackson Lashier, Jacob Goodson, and Lindsey Graber, who are some of the voices behind, "The Universe is Indifferent: Theology, Philosophy and Mad Men."  

Book signings are always way more enjoyable for the reader (and extroverted authors) when it is accompanied by a Q&A session. I hope you find this helpful and if you are seeking more marketing advice from an actual professional (#notMe), there's no one who will care more about you and the work to which you have been called than George Kao.  Seriously--the guy is so accessible, soulful and skilled. 

Part 1: Establish Yourself as a Local/Human  

Potential buyers love to support their own. Not only does it fill them with pride to have one of their neighbors doing great work, but they are also naturally more curious about said work because of a prior knowledge of you.

Mingle before and after the Q&A session to assist with this. Humanize yourself a bit. You are not just some Times New Roman name on a cover. You are a Cowley resident who is a: father, husband, daughter, and friend who also frequents Winfield’s hot-spot (College Hill Coffee). Kick-off the Q&A session by sharing your favorite CHC drink or where your favorite writing spots are around town.

Part 2: Establish Yourself as Competent 

This (sharing a CV of sorts) can simply occur in the intro by the moderator, or through a question. In my experience, it feels most comfortable (to all involved) coming from a voice other than the author's.

Remain authentic and humble. A conceited attitude is a big turn-off for potential buyers. (Pardon me as I state the obvious for you today!πŸ˜‰) Authentic marketing happens naturally when one is promoting something that a) he/she was vocationally called to create and b) he/she truly believes in the benefit it will have on the life of the customer. If these things are in place, humility and authenticity come naturally during marketing-like conversations.

As of 2013, there were 1 million books published each year in America (half of those were self-published). So what puts your book on their wish-list this Holiday?

Part 3: Establish this Book as a Must-read 

Donald Miller teaches us to make sure that every moment of marketing passes the “caveman test.”  This teaches that since potential buyers are super-busy, any type of pitch we make (spoken/written) needs to be put in such a simplistic (not synonymous to dumbing-down) way that a caveman could understand it. This calls us to use simpler language. Once you have a potential buyer committed, then you can dive deeper with him/her. Keep this in mind as you answer questions from folks who have yet to read your book.

One challenge for this book will be selling it to the non-academic types. No worries, this can be/should be done!

One selling point for this crowd could be, “According to a CBS poll, MadMen was the 13th most watched show on Netflix. Don’t you hate being in a “show-hole”? Ugh--it stinks! It nearly feels like you broke up with someone (“someone” being those fictitious characters that have lived in your TV for two months). The Universe is Indifferent is a cure for the show-hole that finishing MadMen causes. It gives you a chance to remain in that 1960s advertising world. It gives you a sweet reunion with those intriguing characters that you love to hate.  It allows you to keep on exploring (while experts hold your hand) the many underlying themes of theology, philosophy, gender equality and so on. Why not make your binge-watching a little more prestigious? Why not see how this eye-opening read can equip you for our current political climate? Books are on sale now!”

Part 4: Establish Yourself as a Trustworthy Resource 

In our current political climate, people are seeking out trustworthy resources to help strengthen their views on hot-button issues. You can be this resource.

Share that you are willing (if you are) to come and share at any community organization, class, or book club. Share that this book is only a peek into your repertoire of skills/interests. Share other topics on which you enjoy speaking.

Share your email and social media handles if you have them. These should be verbally shared by you or the moderator, and also placed on a table-tent by the books so people can snap a picture of your contact info. Make contact info very visible, so when questions come to potential buyers two-days later, they can reach out to you. (While social media is important, Maria Forleo teaches that your best marketing tool is your website. Plug it!πŸ’ͺπŸ˜πŸ’»)

With social media and websites, authors are more available to readers than ever been before, and an author who is interested in being in conversation with her readers will naturally sell more books than those who don’t--especially if the writer is also a practitioner.

If you are a book lover or an author, what would you like to see happen at more author Q&A sessions? Please share these thoughts in the comment section! ❤✌πŸ’¬

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tweets if I Were Not a Minister

As one who serves in a small-town church, I often worry about sharing too transparently on social media.

Will my jesting tone come off in this tweet? (Probably not.)

Will I offend women with pixie cuts with this status? (6 of the 5 will take it the wrong way.)

Will people change churches if they see that I watch (ok--am obsessed with) #SNL?
(Yes, but it's probably those flaky fans who quit watching when Farley and Sandler got fired and still claim that was the "best cast ever". #ImTriggered) πŸ˜‚

Questions like these have forced my thumb over the delete button many of times, and while this is most likely for the best, I started a running list of these unfiltered tweets.

Once I hit 10, I thought, "What the heck, some folks might get a grin out of these."

So, without further adieu, here are 10 tweets that would have been tweeted (twitted?) if I were not a minister:

  • “Watching Peppa Pig confirms why they lost the war.” #ThingsMyHusbandSay
  • Some people are as pleasant to be around as bitting the inside of your cheek. #boundaries 
  • Sometimes in life, that which you thought was a Mr.Darcy, just turned out to be one hot jerk. #FirthFan4Life 
  • Canceling cable seems to be the new cross fit or vegan trend, “You gave up TV? Wow..." 😜 #OkWeGetIt
  • Rocking my daughter to sleep makes me feel like a club DJ at last call.There's one half-awake/over dramatic person left whose random song request are barely understandable, “one more song peese!? Tinkle ittle stAr? Back sheep,bahbah?Wane-wane? One more song peese!? Just one more?!”
  • First experience of trash talk from a reader on my blog right before I went in for my well-women’s exam. Things can only go up from here, right? 
  • I want to be like the assertive types that take crap from nobody and drink their coffee strong and black. But the truth is that my coffee is often sweeter than it should be, and my sincere joy comes off as passive, unaware and nieve. 
  • There's nothing funnier than your toddler using "I forgive you" in the wrong context. It reminds me of the #AnchorMan scene when Ron says to Veronica, "When In Rome". 

And another version of this Tweet--

  • There's nothing funnier than your toddler using "I forgive you" in the wrong context. I mean, I have never been forgiven so much, well except, you know--Jesus.

And lastly-- 

  • Today's one of those days that I'm so mad I could cuss on Twitter, but I'm too damn afraid to piss off any church members.

If you are like me and are too scared, filtered, or overly-analytical to share transparently on social media, may we be bold when it counts (like on actual issues of justice and mercy) and share the hilarious tweets that were never twitted (tweeted?) below!πŸ˜‹✌❤ 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mindy, Monty, and Ministry: What Comedians Teach Us on Leadership

While some watch sports or cooking shows, I am slightly (ok--very) obsessed with well-written comedies. So much so, that my friends threw me a shower that was themed Saturday Night Live. There was a “Mom Jeans” skit (written by the blogger, Leah Hartman) and more Chris Farley impersonations than one could imagine.

My utmost respect & admiration is given to comedic writers. Laughter is the sweet fruit of the highest form of happiness and these literary geniuses bare this in a simple sentence. Ha! Just like that, that stressful work memory is now silenced by the sound of one's own glee.

While it has been proven that laughter is healing on a holistic level, today I would like to explore another gift that comedians give us, and this the gift of wisdom in our ministerial leadership.

After the first 5 years of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels (its creator) left the show due to burnout. Want to be sustainable in your leadership? Tighten up those boundaries. 

This can mean different things. To me, it means that I do not talk about volunteer needs when I am off-the-clock unless the person brings it up to me first. I don’t want others to run away when they see me in the bread aisle for fear I might hound them for their time or talent. I also keep healthy boundaries by only speaking on issues that I am “over” (#busychurch) and delegating the rest to the right personnel. This naturally builds up the rest of our team and eliminates some potential miscommunications.  (I won't bore you with thoughts on rest, work, and play, but all I got to say is that Colossians 3:23 teaches us that in everything we do, do it as if we are doin' it for the Lord. So work hard, but play and rest like you are doin' it for the Lord! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‰) #ExegeticalHumor

Michaels returned 5 years later armed with stronger boundaries and for forty-plus years now, the show has been killin' it.

Tina Fey shares in her book Bossy Pants that the talent must outweigh the crazy (lack of emotional health) in the comedian in order for the show to be a success. 

A volunteer’s vices must not upstage her talents; if so this is a liability to your team and the reputation of your program. A high maintenance teammate can be a huge distraction from the ministry to which God is calling you. Plus, your other teammates will suffer if the majority of your attention is used on damage-control for this one person.

After the second or third apology to parents, you might need to take a page out of my boss's book and ask, “Is this simply a rough edge of this volunteer who is serving out of her gifts and has loads of potential?” or “Is this is a red flag that this teammate is either A) not emotionally/spiritually healthy at the moment to fulfill this role or B) not serving out of her gifts?” Either case calls for an honest conversation. The latter calls for a potential break from serving or some grace-filled redirection towards a different position.

The birth πŸ˜‰ of the Mindy Project by Mindy Kaling taught us that when it is heart-work, you don't just survive the hard work, you thrive in it.

Kaling based her show the Mindy Project on her Mom who was an OBGYN. Her show got picked up by FOX on the same day that her mom passed from pancreatic cancer. To say Kaling is close with her mom is the understatement of the century. She considered her a soul-mate. While the grief was insurmountable, Kaling honored her mom's legacy in doing what she was made to do and created an amAzing sitcom.

When you serve in the nonprofit world, it is a necessity (sometimes) that tasks end up on your plate that are not inline with your gifts/passions/job description. I get it, I really do. However, I would be wary of these tasks taking up too much your time, because they will slowly diminish your grit. Doing heart-work (the tasks that our hearts fiercely beat to do) is how we thrive in the moments of ministry that are gut-wrenchingly hard. Like yeast building up bread, time given to heart-work builds up our resiliency over time.

The Dana Carvey Show taught us that no matter how talented a team is, timing is everything for an idea and to make sure that your vision is the same as your supervisor's. 

In 1996, after leaving SNL, Carvey joined comedic greats like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Heather Morgan in starting his own variety show. Despite all of the talent, this show failed due to its crummy time-slot (It was shoved next to Home Improvement. I mean, come on?!) and the big dogs at ABC trying to squeeze Carvey into a different comedic box than he was feelin'. Seriously--there are so many illustrations on teamwork and innovation in their documentary. You have to watch it, friend.

Think long and hard about the timing of your next big idea. Is it being set up for success by its "time slot"? What does this season of life look like for your parents? Your volunteers? Also, communicate this idea to your supervisor clearly and get him/her on board before moving forward (or else, you will get fired after only 7 episodes).πŸ˜†

The Monty Python taught us that other teammates are sometimes needed to carry another teammate along. 

Many don't know this, but the best actor in the bunch (their words, not mine), Graham Chapman, was an alcoholic. In fact, he was late and often clueless of his lines while shooting The Holy Grail. Throughout this time, the other Pythons patiently loved him through it and helped him reach his potential as an actor. They believed in him and their love paid off as Chapman went on to star as the lead in their next flick The Life of Brian and totally crushed it.

Sometimes, in order to be a healthy team, we have to fling another's arm around our neck and lovingly carry her towards the best version of herself (personally and professionally). Can I get an amen?!  (I feel a sermon coming, I'd better move on to the final lesson.)

Miranda Hart teaches us that vocational callings evolve and that our talents can be used to offer healing to others along the way. 

Where do I begin? I have so much love for this chummy (actress/comedy writer/ author/director/producer/mental health advocate) comedian's work. I first "met" the fabulous Miranda Hart on her sitcom Miranda on Hulu when I was on maternity leave. Watching it was like taking shots of oxytocin--instantaneous joy and warmth. Her work was such a cathartic release for me during this nervous season, that for the next 3 years while my husband worked nights, I would fall asleep to her show. Yep, I have watched Miranda episodes over 800 times--impressed?πŸ˜‹

Arabelle Weir hit the nail on the head when she said that, "Miranda is the sort of performer whose funniness is timeless. Every tiny thing she does is amusing. She'd have been a great "turn" in 16th century England or 1930s vaudeville. She can't not be funny: everything about her – her expressions, her mannerisms, her pauses, even her silences – are funny. It is an unlearnable and rare quality."

Ok, I will stop bragging about Miranda Hart. (But, here's the link to her show, just in case you want to check it out.πŸ˜‰)

Bottom line--the underlying value of her work is to offer joy and comfort to others. This is shown implicitly through every word she (very methodically) speaks or writes and explicitly in her work with Comic Relief and other causes for mental health.

While serving in full-time ministry comes with its challenges, (That's a whole other comical post.) we get the privilege of joining people in life's most sacred moments. In these times, may we follow Hart's lead and be fully present, and then explosively share comfort or joy.

I am curious to know who your favorite comedians are, please share 'em in the comment section!