A Tribute to Teachers

This is the time of year we all envy teachers. Can I get an amen?! Those lucky duck people packing up their cubicles to enjoy two months of summer vacation. As the academic year comes to a grinding halt and schools finish their end of the year assemblies, examinations and celebrations, we all feel that little green monster of envy rear it’s ugly head.

Ah, if only I had been a teacher…

Two months of vacation just as the weather is getting nice….

If only…

*Cue the eye roll as they come just near skipping out of the school doors*

Yep. Every summer I utter the exact same sentiment, especially as I pack my bags for summer camp with a bus load of junior high students. Oh dear, that joy is waiting just around the corner for me – if I survive a week of VBS with one hundred elementary students on a summer induced, popsicle licking, outdoor playing, high! Yay for being a Children’s Pastor!

If I set aside that envy for a few moments though I also feel remarkably grateful for teachers. Reflecting on my own school days there are several memorable teachers that I recall with a array of emotions.

In an elementary school, just before the bridge of the St. Genevieve River, there was a Mr. Gould who I recall with a chuckle because my dear friend Tammy nearly drove him around the bend during my Grade 6 year.

There was also a Mrs. Young who introduced me to the Brown Bear in Grade 2 – the same Brown Bear who is now the star of my son’s favorite Eric Carle book.

Later, in Junior High, there was a Mr. House who dragged us all through Grade 9 social studies all the while carrying a brief case who’s lock required a plastic knife to stay secured. We were merciless in our fun making of that dear man.

High school brought a host of teachers I also cherish. A Mr. Young who cried as he sang to our graduating class a song he had written just for us. That jolly man was a follower of Christ and, while I detested World Geography, I adored his love of laughter both in and out of the classroom.

Mrs. Powell was quiet and gentle but brilliant and brave as a teacher of the sciences, and the Vice Principal of our school. She endeavored to help us to enjoy learning, even if we did not quite share her love for the periodic table and the infamous pi.

Mr. Fudge the math teacher – my memory of him is this:

“Mr. Fudge, show me again how it works. I don’t understand.”

“Ashley, you got the right answer.”

“But Mr. Fudge, I don’t know why.”

“Ashley, but it’s right.”

And so on… until the bell would ring and I assume he only managed to get through half of the material he had intended to teach in that 50 minutes. He would get so exasperated with me in that class, and to this day I loath math of every kind. Yet he was from the Bay, knew my folks quite well, and always managed to encourage and speak poisitively to me every chance he got.

Mr. Tulk in Enterprise Ed challenged me academically with a sarcastic streak I would come to experience more fully in my university days under the tutelage of one we affectionately call Doc.

And speaking of university, there were a few colorful characters there as well. A Dr. Faught who resembled one Indiana Jones, a Dr. Masson who was the only professor to give me a C in my entire education, and a linguistics professor, who’s name I can’t recall, just simply that I loved every moment of every fascinating lecture.

Over a decade removed from my high school graduation, I do not recall Mr. Fudge’s math equations (ironically) or any of Mrs. Powell’s chemistry formulas. In retrospect, the greatest lessons they imparted could not be scribbled on a whiteboard in varying degrees of legibility. Rather those lessons were inscribed in my character and are written all over my deeds and words every day.

Face challenges and overcome them.  

Yes, in fact, you can do it. Don’t give up.

I believe in you.

Your future is as big as you can dream.

You matter. Your life counts.

Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that really counts. That’s the above and beyond kind of stuff that makes good teachers great teachers.  Those are the messages I pray some day down the road a passionate, gifted teacher will pour into my little son’s life. Those are the messages I endeavor to speak into every person of every age I have the privilege of encountering and walking with in a journey of faith. Our world needs that stuff loudly spoken and boldly lived.

My dear teacher friends, enjoy this summer vacation. Sit back often, simply relax and drink an ice cold lemonade; do all the things that late night correcting and stressing over falling behind students has prevented you from enjoying.   Refuel the tanks of your mind, your heart and your patience. Come September, they’ll flood the building and your senses, new bookbags just waiting to be broken in with heavy textbooks and pristine runners waiting to leave marks on a newly waxed school floor. But above and light years beyond that, their hearts, minds and futures will open to a new chapter and you will have the privilege of helping to inspire the stories that will be written on those blank pages. You. Yes, you.

So, take a lesson from your own notebook today….

Don’t give up.

You matter. Your life counts.

We believe in you.

You know that’s the good stuff– we got it from you.

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Why I Don’t Want to Change the World

At the completion of my high school education I was fairly certain that I would in fact change the world. Yes. Me. Little me in rural Newfoundland and from the tucked away Northern Peninsula, no less. I had a vision of what I thought God had intended me to do; I had my sights set internationally and I pictured big stages, cross cultural environments and fascinating stories that would awe and inspire others to also embark on their own world changing, life altering journeys.

It’s hard to blame me really. In Junior High we sang worship songs like “History Makers” and well-meaning youth leaders spoke words over my life like…

You’re going to do GREAT things.

You’re going to CHANGE THE WORLD. 

God has BIG PLANS for you.

And I wanted every one of them to become reality. If I’m honest, it was that very promise of God’s big plans that saved me from making a few monumentally disastrous choices during high school – thank the gracious Lord for that. Beyond that, however, it made me brave and unrelenting in my pursuit of God and greatness. I prayed big prayers.

Lord, wherever you want me to go, I’ll go.
Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.
Here I am, send me.

I was pretty holy, huh?

Fast forward to today. I’m fairly certain that junior-high-me would be gravely disappointed with 2017 me (although my hair is a slight improvement – thank heavens and the invention of the straightener). There are barely the faint remnants of that world changing, history maker in the milky mess of mothering and the tedious task of church scheduling. There have been days when, in waiting for the coffee to brew at the dawning of another daily grind, I have wondered silently where I so extravagantly missed the mark.

How did that ambitious, aim-for-the-extraordinary, girl get swallowed up in ordinary living “back home”? 

I’d like to say that the thoughts dissipate like the sugar that swirls in the steaming cup of joe but the truth is that those questions taunted me for several years. I wrestled with the tension of what I’d been told, what I’d pursued and the place the Lord saw fit to settle me. How in the world does one reconcile all of that?

It’s been a journey and a humbling one at that. A break-me-down-to-the-bare-bones and build-me-back-up journey where I have rediscovered the upside down and inside reality of the Kingdom of God, and what’s truly important.

Sometimes it infuriates me but today I am so saddened to see it wreak havoc on those around me. I see my own peers – in ministry and otherwise – still pursuing world changer status, devastatingly disappointed and discontent at the ordinary job God has given them in an ordinary place. They never seem to find joy or fulfillment. They are disillusioned, as I have been, by those grandiose ideas about the future, and afraid that they will be insignificant in the world, in history, to people and to God. And so we all fight and scratch for position, let envy and jealousy consume us, make choices out of our selfishness instead of God’s leading, all the while grumbling and whining like children denied candy at the local convenience store. All of it is robbing and stealing from us the good, the peace, the joy and the hope God longs to lavish on us as His children.

I know. I’ve heard myself say the words to our own teens and I wish I could take them back, those big-plans and great-things words spoken with the best of intentions. I’ve been part of perpetuating the problem myself in another generation. I wish instead I had said…

Be faithful. Be constant.

Serve humbly. Give generously.

Love so profoundly it alters the atmosphere.

Be present to the people who matter most.

Let your life and your body – literally everything about you – be an open vessel that God pours into and out of to the broken, hurting and oppressed right in front of you – whether their skin is midnight black or milky white, whether their pay check triples yours or makes you look like a millionaire, and whether the stain of poor choices lines their faces or poisons their hearts.

If you do that, you won’t change the world – at least it won’t seem that way. Because those things, those little, tiny, insignificant things happen when no one else is watching, when no one else is around. There aren’t big stages to highlight people who are unwaveringly faithful. There aren’t big awards for people who serve humbly. Most of the time, those are just ordinary people from ordinary places living ordinary, Kingdom of God lives here on earth.

In a world where teens, and even children, are just aching and literally dying to be known and valuable, when a person’s worth is so questioned, can we just stop with the over-inflated ideas about life purpose and the will of God!?! Can we stop pressuring them to be world changers when Jesus just invites them to follow Him and be like Him?

I haven’t lived thirty years yet, and I don’t know what my next ten, twenty or more will hold. I still dream and I still pray big prayers but I don’t want to change the world anymore. I want to be deeply faithful, truly excellent and overflowing with the unconditional love of God. Right here. Right now. In this place. In this season.

God will take care of the rest and I’m okay with that. I’ll leave the world changing to Him – and just maybe He’ll take me along for the ride. 

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Find Me on the Fringes

This is the final piece I wrote at the end of 2016 when I took an expected break from Spillin’ the Beans. I couldn’t quite finish writing this piece and simply could not share. The emotions of my season seemed far too fresh and raw to spill the beans on them. It’s been months now since that time and I have found freedom from the weight of the subject to share. There are days of wrestling that remain but I’m learning to work through them. And I would rather share out of my vulnerability for the sake of perhaps helping my sisters along in their own journeys of faith and mothering. So, please see my heart in this one. 


A unique and baffling thing happened to me when my son was born. I found myself in new and strange places that I had never really been before. Places like…

The maternity ward of the hospital – for far too long.
Family Resource Centre – truly my saving grace most days.
Rooms in my own house – spaces that were unneeded and unoccupied.

But beyond those new places that I was discovering with a little one in tow, perhaps the most frustrating of all was the fringes, the outside edge of every place. Like the back pew in church, or just outside the doors of the sanctuary. Standing in the back at a youth camp or listening to the preacher muffled behind a one way window. Shopping on the racks in the mall walkways instead of in the store. Just to name a few.

In the beginning months it was convenient and necessary. I had an almost spy-like ability to map out the escape route in any space. I could locate the bathroom, nursery, exit or empty space in every building, and I found myself gravitating to within ten feet of one or more of them. It was safe and unassuming. If Baby cried or fussed I quickly exited before any attention came my way.

There came a moment though when the fringes began to feel uncomfortable, frustrating and disappointing. Perhaps I became more accustomed to Baby’s needs, more comfortable meeting them, more aware of how normal all of this really was (surprise – most people understand babies cry and squirm and are not remarkably disturbed by it). And maybe I was just missing my old normal, my in-the-middle-of-everything, front-row-seat take on life. But I found myself on the edge one day, painfully aware of how foreign it felt and how much more I needed.

We had prepared to attend a ministry retreat after a particularly tiring week of mothering. I remember standing in my vanity mirror, sweating from the pressure of applying winged eye liner with a baby crying in the bassinet nearby, praying deeply, and with everything in me, “Lord, I just need to meet with you this week. I don’t know what I need but I desperately need you.

On the first night of that retreat, I found myself tucked away in a side room nursery rocking a baby on the floor before the speaker had even finished their introduction. I kept a brave face – I wasn’t the only momma in the room – but wow, my spirit was crushed. Defeatedly I prayed in the quiet, broken part of my heart, “Lord, if you have anything for me, you’re just going to have to find me out here…On the fringes. On the edges.

I’m an emotional creature – more than most perhaps – but I can rationally accept that not all spaces are designed for babies and I can roll with that, even if my stroller can’t. It’s the challenge of my life season to find a new normal, a momma normal – and maybe that means shopping online instead of in-store. But I’m fighting with all that’s in me against occupying fringe seats to the presence of God.

I can’t help but gather from the gospel accounts that mommas have been fighting the fringes for literally centuries. In Matthew’s gospel we catch up with Jesus who has been busy travelling and teaching, with his appointment with Calvary looming ever nearer. It so happened that along the way some parents brought their children to Jesus to bless them. No doubt they had heard of his miraculous wonders and wanted desperately themselves to be close and for their children to receive all the good and blessings Jesus could pour onto them. Those well-meaning disciples seem to do the unthinkable and scold the parents for bothering Jesus, beginning to push them aside. Jesus’ response is the familiar verse we’ve read tucked beautifully into baby books or on cascading wall displays of church nurseries.  Jesus rebukes his disciples with these words:

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (Matthew 19:14)

And then the Lord of all Creation beckons those squirmy, snotty, crying children and babies to come real close, close enough for the earthly mess of them to touch Him. Those precious children and their persistent parents escape the fringes, come away from the edges. There Jesus lays his hands – the only hands that have ever been fully God and fully man – upon them and blesses them.

My weary momma heart finds comfort and solace in that. He gets it. Really and truly, He gets it. He sees me and He invites me close. He beckons from the fringes to the closeness of His presence, with this little child in tow.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not on a “rights” kick and I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just mostly asking for grace. For me and for my son.

Forgive his squirming body and busy hands. Excuse his crying from time to time. Listen beyond my shushing sounds. Please look past his saucer like eyes soaking up every detail of you from his perch on my shoulder. I just need to be close to Jesus and I just need him to be there.

I want to encounter the absolute life altering presence of Jesus Christ and I want my son to encounter it too. I fiercely desire for him to have a living, breathing, active life in the Spirit that he has learned to crave by watching my life, inside and outside of our church walls. I have never longed for anything with more passion than I long for him to be there – in mind, body, soul and spirit – when the glory of the Lord shows up.

It burns so deeply in me that it pours out of my heart as salty tears of intercession for his life. But maybe, just maybe, you feel it for your own children and grandchildren. You have that same mix of love, desperation and desire for their precious God-breathed lives.

So please I’ll just ask this once. If you’ll have grace for me, I’ll push past the fringes and pull closer to where it counts with him.

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Stop and Smell the Roses

Stop and smell and roses. 

Yeah I’ve heard it too. Except the only rose in my purview these days is a dried up wilted one in a stained vase on my bedroom dresser. Hubby lovingly had gifted it to me on Mother’s Day when he presented me breakfast in bed. I was pleasantly surprised and truly did stop to breathe in its beautiful aroma and all the love with which it was given.  

But then the baby woke and as we always do, we lazily brought him into bed with us and that rose – romantic, siren red – blazed on the dresser in safe keeping from baby but close view. And I haven’t stopped to smell it since. Lets just chalk it up to life. 

I get it though, that cliche. Its an invitation to pause and embrace our present reality; quit the rushing about and just enjoy the place where we find ourselves and the simple pleasures contained within. Yes, I agree. It does sound inviting and refreshing but yet tantalizingly out of reach as I balance this teething baby on my tired hips, while stirring the stuck on pasta and wondering how in the world this mess of madness is getting out the door in an hours time. So close and yet so far away. Maybe I’m just not meant for roses right now. 

Then I see hubby; he’s down there in the baby jail sipping coffee and he lets out an exaggerated puff of air. I can almost see his eyes roll as he says “Not the Peek-A-Boo book again”. Yet within the same breath he starts in for the tenth time this morning on this aptly named “bored” book and with all the enthusiasm he can muster recites the words he knows by heart, all the while stifling the urge to ring a proverbial fist at the friend who gifted this treasure of a book to our son. I laugh out loud at this man who reads theological textbooks for pure pleasure as he stops everything to nurture a love for reading in our son. 

Really you just have to take advantage of those moments when they come.

There is too much fleeting in the world of littles. 

One day they love bananas and the next day they are poison. One moment mommy is a hero and the next she is the worst person who ever lived in the history of mankind. Today he adores reading, books of every kind. His busy hands explore the texture of the pages and his eyes hungrily consume the images contained. Sometimes he can’t even wait for the words to be read; he excitedly skips ahead to see what is next. Everyday he wants to rehearse his favourites and every night new stories settle him to silent slumber. 

So yes, I laugh with hubby on the third round of Peek-A-Boo and God knows we love the works of Eric Carle but for heaven’s sake we know the bear is brown. But in case you haven’t figured it out yet, you never should laugh when it comes to littles. It’s guaranteed to come right back around to get you. That day it did. 

I was on the floor of little mans bedroom folding and sorting an overdue load of laundry. (You know what I mean, a basket of clean laundry that you keep pulling out of until it’s almost empty because you just can’t or don’t take the time to pack away.) Yeah that kind. I was surrounded by piles of little people clothing when his clumsy baby hands plopped Alligater Pie right down on the leaning tower of onesies I had skillfully made. And right there, mid fold with the chaos everywhere his silent invitation was booming in my recesses of my mommy heart. 

Stop and smell the roses. 

Or rather… 

Read me the story mommy, please.
My story. My favourite story. Right now. 

Honest to goodness, he can’t speak but it’s like he shouted or God did. The message got through and I did just what it asked. 

I stopped and, with all the enthusiasm I too could muster, read Alligator Pie, not once, not twice but three times. And then Goodnight Moon at the ripe hour of 9am. All the while he sat entranced from the safety of my crossed legs, us turning the pages together and him gazing with awestruck wonder between the pages and my eyes. 

It wasn’t until later that night I realized perhaps I was meant for roses after all. 

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Mommy Confessions – All The Possibilities

A warm summer breeze fluttered the curtain that evening providing much needed relief to this overheated momma and red-cheeked wonder. Nursing in the summer heat is a hot mess of it and, as he’s squirming for escape, it often feels like the little guy is running a marathon rather than filling his tummy. This day though, with that breeze, I couldn’t manage to peel my eyes from his precious little self as he miraculously and peacefully rested there.

The day had been normal, fluctuating between the “I-love-you-so-deeply” and “you’re-driving-me-bonkers” moments, and I was ready for bedtime and me-time. Yet there he was so perfect and peaceful. And I began to trace my finger along his delicate features and, as I often do, I began to pray for his little life, the eighty or ninety years of it he has ahead of him.

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His toes caught my eyes first, so tiny and a touch ticklish. I began to wonder… Where will your feet take you little one? What soil will they touch in this big world? I thought of my own feet stained with red African soil at only eighteen and wondering if my own mother had prayed for the soil mine would touch never dreaming it would be across the sea someday. Will they be lovely as you bring Good News, child? And I ask for trust and peace to release him to the places God must take him.

Then his legs… They are so shaky now as he is just learning to bear weight on them. It won’t be long and he will stand on them. I wonder… What will you stand for, child? Will you stand for Truth and faith, even at a cost? Will you stand for the broken, the outcast, and the hurting? Will you bear the weight of their need? And I ask for God’s power and the boldness that comes through the Sprit for him.

His fingers wiggle and I watch his hands unfold against the warmth of my skin. They are so tiny, just learning to touch and discover the world and it’s textures and tactile wonder. Oh child, I wonder what precious lives your tiny hands will touch with love and hope? Will your hands become dirty with the mess of living grace for others? Will you touch the heart of God and know His power? Will you hold on to those things which we teach you are of worth and substance? And I pray that these little hands will become the hands of Jesus in this broken world.

His arms, just learning to embrace and to reach for the things that catch his eye. The perfect little rolls of flesh growing stronger with each day as he changes and strengthens. And I wonder… Where will these arms reach and to whom? Who will you reach out to and embrace for the Kingdom? What helpmate will you lovingly embrace for a lifetime? Will you reach for the stars, and if so, which ones – the ones that shine brightest to your earthly eyes or the ones that God has designed just for you that mark a life of profound faith and obedience? And I pray, as I must, for my own arms, the ones that carry him, hold him, and lead him. Give me wisdom, Lord, and strength to train him to reach for God and His best.

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The time stands still and I’m honestly just lost in him and the infinite possibility of all he can be. His tummy – will he stomach injustice in the world or be an advocate for change? His lips – will they speak words of life? His eyes – will be see the beauty in the broken? Will he see the potential in himself and the hand of God working in his life? His heart – will it break for what breaks the heart of God?

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His ears – will they hear the voice of God leading and directing his path and future? His mind – will he grasp how wide and deep and great is the love of God?

And although he’s been dedicated to The Lord, I consecrate him again in the simplicity of this space, this quiet nursery, this tired rocking chair, his eyes fluttering to sleep nestled close to my heart. Even when the beautiful suit and the solemnity of the ceremony are a memory, God hears my quiet momma prayers and He’s holding my whole world, this tiny bundle, in His hands. Incredibly, while I can only dream and pray for his future, God knows his days and their details before the sun rises on them. I can trust Him for all of it and I’m learning that so desperately.

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So if you’re praying for your babies, growing and grown-up, if you’re looking down into their twinkling eyes of wonder or gazing up at their tired eyes weary with living, if you’re holding their hand to cross the street or finding them slipping through your fingers, can you just rest today in knowing God still hears your momma prayers? He knows their days and you’ll always find He’s never too far from wherever they are.

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Seven Ways to be The Best Camp Chaperone

It’s that time of year friends. Pull out your sleeping bag and that old suitcase. Rest up and pray for patience. We are going to camp. A glorious week of… late night tell alls, milk shake dates, soda pop chugging, minimal sleep, intense worship services, deep prayer and tough Bible teaching. It’s the kind of week where by the end you’re almost ready to pull your hair out… But some kids life gets totally shaken by the presence of God and set on a new course. Whether its three days with kids or a week with teens, it guarantees to be wearing, wild and wonderful. I love it.

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But I’ve learned in my years as a camper and as a counsellor that there’s a big difference between the chaperones who just show up and the ones who sacrificially serve the next generation for the glory of God. Those type of chaperones – by the power of the Holy Spirit – change lives. So what does it take? Here are the big seven I’ve narrowed in on.

  1. Pack snacks to share. It’s amazing how some kids will open up while you’re passing around a bag of Doritos and a pack of twizzlers. Those late night devotions and conversations are the places where you get to find out about what’s happening in a kids life and sometimes you get to speak life, hope and grace to desperate circumstances, crushed spirits and big dreams.
  2. Cheer loud. Seriously. During rec sessions or talent times, be your kids biggest fan. Cheer on your team. Clap. Shout. High five. Scream if you must. Be a positive, encouraging and fun voice that motivates kids to be involved and values their contribution to the team.                                             image
  3. Set the spiritual bar. These camps have incredible potential to impact the spiritual life of a child or young person for the rest of their lives. They are looking to their loved and respected leaders for the cue to plug in. They need to see you worship. They need to see you pray. They need to see you responding to God. They need to see you pray with students, including them. It’s how they learn to do the same. Don’t just hang out at the back as an observer. While you may feel “cool” back there, be in the middle of and a part of what God is doing. The vantage point up there, hand in hand with a kid, when God shows up is way better. Trust me.
  4. Go all in. Really. You’re going to be tired and there are going to be hard some moments – especially at three in the morning when you’ve already told them to quiet down a dozen times or that kid is crying again about missing home. But please don’t just take up space! Don’t just fill a Plan to Protect requirement. Be fully present. Put down the phone!!! Play the games. Worship. Talk to them. Swing on the swings and tell them about your embarrassing first date. Crush them at basketball and then let them tell you about the dreams God is birthing in their hearts. Listen to them. Be the godly big sister some young girl needs. Be a loving voice to the boy who’s family is breaking apart. Be Jesus for them.
  5. Don’t complain. About the late nights, the food, the camp director, the bed, the snoring of your roommate, the annoying kid that keeps following you. Don’t complain. Again, you set the bar for behaviour. If you choose to be negative, your kids will also be negative. If you look for all the awful parts, they will too.
  6. Check your pride at the door. These kids don’t need a chaperone who’s too cool. They need a down to earth, in the middle of stuff, not afraid to be silly, self sacrificing kind of chaperone. For less than a week put your own needs and pride aside so you can impact a life. image
  7. Remember yourself as a child or teenager. What were you insecure about? What were you excited by? Who had an impact on your camp life? Why? How would you have responded if these circumstances had happened to you? What did you need in a chaperone? It’s possible that if you felt that way as a teen or child, they might feel that way too. They aren’t adults and don’t process experiences the same as you or another adult may. Handle them with the same care you would have needed.

You are given an incredible privilege this summer to impact young lives for eternity. Don’t waste it! Be the best camp chaperone you can be. Give it all you have. For God’s glory!

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A Pink Toolbox

At my bridal shower a few years back the wisest lady gave me the greatest gift – a toolbox. It seemed so out of place among the plethora of pretty dishcloths and dainty dinnerware. I remember the ladies who were gathered around to watch me unwrap those little blessings exclaim, “Ah! That’s perfect! Good idea! You’re gonna need that, my dear!” It was only a few weeks later in the midst of flattened boxes, while hanging picture frames and building a Walmart book shelf that I finally understood. The pink tools in that pink toolbox were everything I needed to make our house – okay, our really tiny one bedroom basement apartment – a home.

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When I started in children’s ministry, I was just as green as the day of my bridal shower but for entirely different reasons. It was not my first time serving children or the church but the first time that I was responsible for giving leadership and vision to children’s leaders and a ministry. I remember sitting to the massive wooden desk in my new office that first day thinking, “Oh dear… what do I do?” Since then it’s been four years and, while I don’t consider myself an expert or kidmin guru, I’ve learned a few things along the way that have helped me to grow as a leader to children, a process that is ongoing everyday.

One of the things I learned is that every leader needs a toolbox – maybe not a pink Craftsman one – but a storage of resources that inform, inspire and equip them for the challenges and opportunities they encounter.

Questions – I decided really early in my life that I would not be afraid to ask questions. Any time I’m unsure about anything, I ask. I’ve learned that there is always someone somewhere with an answer or a clue if I’m willing to ask. That first day in my office after an overwhelming moment of panic, I turned to the only tool I had at the time, a willingness to ask questions. I started to make phone calls; I popped across the office to my senior pastor; I chatted with my momma. I asked things like, “What curriculum is best and why? How do I recruit help? Do you send out ministry newsletters and what goes in them? Etc.” I gathered all the ideas from the dozens of questions I had asked and used them as building blocks for how to move forward.

My Peers – A lot of those questions of mine got directed to my peers in ministry. I found a copy of our denominational directory and our children’s ministry lead team on Facebook, and looked to the people who had already been doing this thing long before me. Our provincial director became a source of encouragement and guidance. A lead team member helped me narrow in on a curriculum that would work for our group. A university friend stocked me with ideas for games and outreach activities. And a newly found friend in ministry emailed me copies of their program schedule that helped me to shape our own for that first year. Whenever I face an opportunity or an obstacle now I never hesitate to look to those around me – new to the ministry or old hands.

Internet Resources I know the internet is full of junk a lot of the time – I get that – but it’s also an overflowing treasure trove of free ideas, inspiration and encouragement. I’ve been using it like it’s going out of style these days and tucking away all the goodies for a time when I might need them. A few of my favorite places to explore online are:

www.childrens-ministry-deals.com
Lots of stuff for purchase but I love the free resources!

www.ministry-to-children.com
I love the content I’ve gleaned from these guys!

www.pinterest.com
Everything and anything for all areas of the ministry!

www.childrensbulletins.com
Pay for a subscription to these worship bulletins for children.

The PastI’m not a proponent of living in the past but I’m a huge fan of learning from it! One of my greatest tools has been a willingness to learn from the past and experiment with old ideas for a new generation. I’ve gleaned inspiration from…

My own experiences and memories as a child growing up in children’s ministry (like ten foot banana splits, decorating with beach finds for a sea theme, puppet ministry). PS my mom was my children’s leader and she was – and still is – a genius in kidmin).

Retired and active kidmin volunteers in the church who share their experiences of serving in the ministry (Like my rediscovery of flannel graph. Even in a world of tablets and screen time I found that kids love the tangible stuff like seeing a story unfold on flannel and being a part of telling it together.

The Church Resource Room – Seriously. That place is a gold mine! It’s stocked with leftover supplies, games, curriculum, decor and more from previous seasons of ministry that with a little love and creativity can be reused and freshened up for a new crew of kids! Like when we pulled out the music DVDs in our old VBS kits for our weekly program or when we used the leftover knick knack craft supplies to build seek and find bottles. Go exploring! You never know what you’ll find!

My Mistakes My favourite character from one of my favourite television shows will often say this classic line, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” He tends to say it mid-disaster and I have to admit I’ve been there myself. In the middle of the sanctuary with 90+ kids, shaving cream and cheesies – I’ve made a huge mistake. Dance music, lights out and 90+ kids throwing glow sticks in the sanctuary – I’ve made a huge mistake. (Note how these things always happen in the sanctuary!!!) That super boring lesson that solicited yawns from the kids – I’ve made a huge mistake. I wasn’t in kids ministry very long before I started making mistakes… Okay, it started on the first night and I’ve been doing it ever since. The great thing is I’ve learned from them. I debrief at the end of each night and consider why an idea didn’t work and how I would do things differently another time. I never waste a good mistake!

The Holy Spirit – None of the tools above or any others that you might have accumulated in your years of serving children even comes remotely close to the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole process. We really can’t do anything without Him! He is the true source of all inspiration and creativity. He can equip even the most unlikely to  do His work in the world. He has all the information we could ever need. I’ve said from the start of my ministry that children’s ministry is the field of ministry which most naturally lends itself to relying upon one’s personal strength and skill. It’s so easy to become so lost in perfecting the details, the flow, and the excitement of a program, missing the very reality that this is still ministry. We need the Holy Spirit to show up, to work in hearts, to lead our gathering, to transform lives by His power. We can’t do that – no matter how stacked our toolboxes. 

You won’t get it right every time in kids ministry. Sorry. You’ll face some days when you’re not sure how in the world to overcome an obstacle or fully embrace an opportunity. BUT with a toolbox stocked with these tools – and a few of your own – you’ll be just fine. I pinky promise.

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Mommy Confession: Burned Chicken

Multitask. Yes. I thought I was an expert. Then I had Buddy. Oh dear. My youth say it like this… #thestruggleisreal.

It was a Monday… it could have been any day really. And here I was… typing a blog, holding a nummy in Buddy’s mouth, and chicken cooking on the stove. It was going so well until I had to use the bathroom.

Why does it all fall apart when I sneak to the bathroom?

On the way I hear the computer beep and the blue screen of death appears, the nummy pops out and Buddy screams like it’s going out of style, and above the beeping and the screaming I hear the chicken boiling over on the stove and a faint tinge of burned chicken broth filling the air.

Why, Lord? Why?

Multitask? Yeah right. 

What’s with my need to do it all… at once? Always fighting to get ahead so I’m all the time squeezing it in at the same time when there’s really no time. And whether it’s the post-partum hair loss or not, I’m literally pulling my hair out. I’m there trying to do it all and heaven knows it’s just not happening.

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But then yesterday I had a moment. It was more than a moment actually. It was an hour. A full hour. It was almost noon and I was still wearing pajamas with a messy bun (a morning messy bun… not the cute kind you work an hour to perfect). I heard the dryer sound that a load of clothes was finished. I knew Hubby would be home soon looking for lunch. But Buddy was content after a feeding and changing. I was reading a book with him in his nursery and then I decided to read another and another. Then we sang and rocked and talked. With all the things I should have or could have been doing I decided to just be.

To be there.
To be present.
To be mom. 

And then that evening it happened again. There were so many things I could have been juggling but it was almost bath time and when I took off his little sleeper…

… the folds of his precious skin
… the curling of his little toes
… the peek-a-boo dimple in his cheek
… the gurgle behind his sneaky smile.

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I decided to just be.

To be there. 
To be present. 
To be mom. 

I grabbed his fuzzy blanket and we lay on the floor together, reading and laughing and talking some more. Hubby heard us from the other room, left what he was doing and got down there with us. There we were working for a smile and tickling a tiny tummy, and I’m thankful for the birds eye view my spirit had of that beautiful scene with the world just buzzing about and us just simply still. Just being.

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I know that every moment can’t be those moments. There’s an end to the clean undies. Everybody’s got to eat. Somebody’s got to work. I get that.

But if I’m learning anything from this new season of motherhood, it’s that it’s okay to just be sometimes. In fact, I need it. My family needs it.

And if you’re honest, you need it too. You need to leave the dishes in the sink. You need to leave the dust bunnies under the table. You need to leave the bed unmade. You need to embrace that moment… you know the one that catches you by surprise and paints a smile on your face and your heart.

Because in those moments who really cares about burnt chicken…

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Mommy Confessions: Booger Wars and Bedtime Stories

I laughed out loud the other day out of the absolute absurdity of it all. Here I was in an all out booger war with Buddy. It wasn’t a slingshot situation or anything (relax Mom…). His little nose was stuffed and he was so bothered by it I just had to do what you do. I tried to remove as much as I could to comfort him. But as expected the discomfort of being nearly naked with a tube sucking in his nose made Buddy go right into “the fits”. He began to cry and the more frantic he became the harder he sucked it all back in. He’s sucking and I’m sucking. Booger war. When I finally won (Go me!!!) and he settled back in my arms for a snuggle, I finally had a moment to think…

What have my days become?
How in the world did I get here?

I’ve thought these things a hundred times or more since my motherhood journey officially began just two very short months ago.

… Like when we walked out of the hospital with this tiny little life and it wasn’t just a theory anymore but the very, real deal…

… Like the first time Buddy number 2’d in the bath and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or both…

… Or like every sleepless hour in the middle of the night and then again at the rising of the sun…

When the hard days seem to outweigh the good ones.

All those moments when I’ve felt way over my head in this brand new responsibility of caring for this young child. It’s such a far cry from the passing of my days just a few months ago.

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I know it’s not far (I get that – but some days feel rreeeaaalllyyy long) but thinking back to it, I felt much more accomplished in those days, both in my career and in my home. I worked hard and efficiently, and felt that I had plenty to show for it. A freezer full of frozen meals. Empty laundry baskets. Weeks of curriculum completed. Sermons tucked away. Major events planned. A well organized day planner filled with meaningful and significant tasks. I celebrated my successes and the seemingly solid grip I had on my life.

And now… I celebrate booger victories, meals without tears, smiles earned, and a full cup of coffee that miraculously managed to be consumed hot. The littlest little things that happen inside the walls of our home. It’s nothing really.

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But I’m reminded that while most evenings when I survey my day and say with defeat, “I did nothing today,” nothing could in fact be farther from the truth.

… I fed my little boy and kept him clean…
… I snuggled him close when he was frightened…
… I kissed his cheeks and ears and nose and toes…
… I tickled his tummy and sang him a lullaby…
… I played with him and told him a story about Jesus…
… I prayed with him and we read a book together…
… I danced with him and said I love you a million and one times…

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… I spent quiet time with God in prayer and His Word…
… I kissed his daddy real good
… I told that incredible husband and father that I loved him…
… I cared for our home and family needs albeit much less than perfectly…

All that action, all that living, all that being… You can’t tell me it’s nothing. I take it back.

Because somewhere between booger wars and bedtime stories is this magnificent mess we call motherhood – a profound gift and awesome responsibility where deep love meets action in the most tangible way this side of heaven.

And if I’m sure of anything, it’s that the everything of motherhood is certainly never nothing.

 

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Mommy Confessions: Breath Prayers

I’m so very grateful He’s the God of the big and the little – and I’m not talking about my waist size pre and post baby’s arrival. I’m talking about the prayers I’m firing out between changing diapers and pulling out my hair at 3am, and the ones that have me crying salty tears into a hot cup of coffee.

You see, there are days when at that ungodly hour I’m just barely hanging on to my very own sense of sanity – and, if I’m honest, to the baby that’s slowly drooping in my arms as my eyelids do the same to the soft sound of a lullaby and the steady rocking of this chair. I’m just sending out these little breath prayers

Help me, Lord.

I’m so tired God, please help him sleep.

I just can’t do this, Lord.

Are you still there?

Protect his little heart, Father.

Help him to grow to love you.

The list goes on with little more to them than that.

Just a breath prayer – the amount of words that slip through the mind with a single breath.

And I’m wondering all the while if God above is catching them while He’s keeping this whole spinning world in motion. Because, truthfully, that’s all the mind, all the space, all the thought I have to offer some days. I’m sitting more, stopping more, to feed, to rock, to hold. And yet with all the giving in those stopping moments, my mind is full and empty simultaneously and I’m not sure if much more can live there beyond the breath prayers that seem to form and fall out with the tired sighs.

Then there are the days of the big prayers – when the big stuff that’s brewing under the surface – the stuff I’ve forgotten or buried or haven’t had the space to process –  comes bubbling to the top. Worries and fears about his future and my present, questions about my purpose and value, hopes and dreams for his little life, and uncertainties about the new shape of my heart, home and relationships.

I say oh so many words to Him, hundreds of words, trying to articulate the jumble of thoughts and emotions, swirling inside my heart, my mind, every part of me.

But they all end…

Please God understand more about me than I understand about myself.
Make sense of the mess I’m feeling inside.

I know that from my journey to healthy discipleship and following Christ requires more than that. I confess I’ve thought often that I haven’t given Him enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not enough. There are many days I scold myself that I know better and I must be better than the barely “breath” prayers or the overwhelmingly big messy prayers that comprise the bulk of my spiritual practice these sleep deprived early days of mommy-hood. I want more for me, more for the Lord and more for my son who will learn what it means to love and serve Christ by watching my example.

And then my own momma’s words, the spoken word of the Spirit, the words of a been-there-before friend remind me…

Have grace for yourself – God has grace for you.

God hears your prayers – the breath prayers – and the big prayers – the ones whispered in private, too messy to share with anyone else.

You’ll get through this.

He’s as close as He’s ever been.

So I breathe a sigh of relief. I brew another cup of joe – decaf this time. I pick up the cooing little bundle from the swing. I sing a little about the sunshine. I whisper, “I love you”. And while I mean it all for this beautiful baby boy I’ve been entrusted with, He whispers it back in the deep and quiet place in me…

You never know, dear how much I love you.

And I wonder if God the Father sings us lullabies…or if I need an extra hour of sleep tonight.

Either way, I think I’ll make it.

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