New Head Deaconess

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Not sure if I mentioned this at any point, but I’ve been serving as Head Deaconess at our church for the last few years. I’d only been a Deaconess for a few months when I was elected (partly because there were a lot of interpersonal issues between deaconesses before I got there and partly because I was new and naive and had no idea what the position entailed. 

More background: I started off by immediately having a one on one time with each last so that I could get their take on the team, the problems, and the hopes of each person. It was invaluable!  

Following those responses, the first year I spent getting the basics down (starting on time, cutting the prayer request time out so we just did ‘popcorn prayer,’ making sure we had a devotion at every meeting, and getting the team to share a bit about each other for bonding. The following year I tightened up problems and started regulating things – standardizing memorials, seeing up a prayer chain email address (Target than a private person’s email), coordinating with Deacons (super easy since my husband is Head Deacon), and detailing how major events (like vision dinner) should proceed. This helped us clarify our jobs as a team. 

Finally, the last year I’ve spent having deaconesses write out their job descriptions and compiling then together into a Deaconess handbook. The last time this has been done was more than 20 years ago, and many things had changed since then. As we clarified or roles, we were able to pinpoint problems and confusions and hone our tasks.

At this point, I got burned out.  Since I’d been working hard coordinating the Deaconess team for a few years, I’ve become more adept at praying for them, and during one of my prayer times, I (thankfully) was told it was my time to leave one day while praying. Honestly, I’m extremely glad because I am not sure what else I can contribute other than maintaining the status quo. And since I’m a doer/fixer, that’s not my style. So I was upfront with my team – I told them I’d be leaving the deaconesses the next year and was looking for an assistant for this year so I could train them and they wouldn’t be as woefully unprepared as I was. It took six months before I got a taker – and that included taking a vote and putting two ladies in the spot, neither of whom felt called to the job. So I’m incredibly thankful for my new assistant/future head! 

Deciding to go on Mission

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About a month after my brother in law passed, we were faced with a decision about going on a mission trip to our sister church in the south of France. We’d been discussing it for a few months, but were too distracted with family circumstances to make a decision. But once we hit June, we had to make a decision. I was pretty sure we were called to go, but every time I went to pray, I just heard “let him make the decision.” So I just kept asking my husband, without pushing. Finally he said, “ugh. I don’t want to go, but I feel like we need to.” He later compared himself to Jonah – being called to go somewhere and do something he really didn’t want to do. Ultimately, he divided to be more like Ananias, who got a direction he didn’t like, but followed through anyway. With my husband’s approval we agreed and started the fundraising process!

Seeds Worship

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Ohmygosh, I’m so excited we got to go see Seeds Family Worship perform in person. I was checking out their FB page and noticed they had some events in CA, so I googled to see if any were nearby. Luckily, there was one about 2 hours from us. I asked my best friend if she wanted to join us, and she did, so the two of us and the two kids headed down and enjoyed singing and dancing along to my favorite Bible songs.

If you have never listened to Seeds, I highly recommend it – they put actual scripture to catchy music, which is great for encouragement, learning verses yourself or teaching them to your kids. My method is to buy one CD at a time and then not get the next one until I’ve memorized all the verses from the prior CD. LOVE LOVE LOVE this ministry.

Beth Moore Conference

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Beth MooreOn Saturday I got back from a real quick trip down to San Diego for a Beth Moore conference. This was the second Beth Moore conference I’d attended and somehow this one topped the first.

Our church bought tickets and reserved hotel rooms back in April, so I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. While many people like to choose their roommates, I often like to remain open and see where God places me – I’m always happy to meet new people and get placed in the random spots; so this time I had no idea who I was rooming with.

Whereas before we attempted to coordinate rides, this time was a kinda figure-it-out-yourself sort of thing. I was planning on sending a mass email asking for a ride/people to join me when my daughter got hit with the flu. Feeling like it might be likely that I might come down with it by the time Friday rolled around, I decided that if I was still well, I’d just drive down myself. This turned out to be a great decision! I had the 3 hour drive down and the 2 hour drive back completely to myself. I got to listen to the news, a trivia book on tape, music, and simple silence. It was fantastic.

I arrived about an hour before the conference started Friday night. I was the last one to check into the hotel. After figuring out where my wristband was, I headed over to the venue. Thankfully, I ran into some of the other ladies at the hotel who were leaving, so I knew where our group was sitting. Even better, as I was leaving my car in the parking structure, I heard someone call my name – it turned out it was one of my favorite friends from church – along with her mom and my other good church friend. Of all the people to happen into run into…

Beth Moore ConferenceWe made it inside and found our church group, but there weren’t enough seats together, so we moved towards the back. If you don’t know who Beth Moore is, she is a fantastic Bible teacher and writes great Bible studies that really dig into scripture (and usually involve a lot of homework). If you don’t know about her conferences, each one is unique. She prays about the specific location and what message that place is supposed to receive. So even though she tours for several months, the message at each location is different.

The message over the course of the weekend was about the Greek word “symphoneo” meaning agree, accord, or harmonize. Beth pulled scripture from various locations utilizing the word agree, disagree or even harmonize and used them to make points varied and poignant about arguments, forgiveness, marriage, purposeful prayer, the lost coming home, etc. I think my favorite phrase was early on referring to Matthew 18:15; she said “it’s about winning relationships, not winning fights” (paraphrased of course).That’s a thought I will be rolling around again and again, especially when dealing with my husband and family members. The other thing that struck me was her comment on Matt 18:19-20. Basically, we need ‘to stop thinking we all need to be pianos banging on middle C. We are different instruments playing different notes. We need to harmonize and follow the conductor (God)’

IdentityBesides enjoying the awesome message, I was able to spend time with my friends, as well as get to know my roommate (my daughter’s friend’s mom) a bit better. It was a great time – 26 hours from the time I left home to the time I drove back in the driveway. I enjoyed the entire time and deeply appreciate the ability to relax, reconnect with friends, and rejoice in the Lord.

Conversations in my home

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Daughter: You’re silly.

Dad (my husband): You’re sillier.

Daughter: You the silliest.

Dad: You’re the Queen of the Silly People.

Daughter: Well, you’re the King of the Silly People.

Dad: I can’t be the King, you’re already the Queen.

Daughter: Well, you’re bigger and older than me, so you have to be the King.

Dad: Okay, you can be the Princess of the Silly People.

Daughter: I don’t want to be the Princess.

Dad: But the people need their Princess.

Daughter: No, they need Jesus.

—-

Our daughter is either going to grow up to be a missionary or something or totally rebel and be a hardcore atheist. Pray for her. I do.

Depression Sucks

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Ugh. Just ugh. I’ve been feeling so down lately. It’s been hard to get motivated to do much, even to blog (and just when I got my site back up and running). It’s especially frustrating because I honestly have nothing to be depressed about. Life is grand! …  I guess. What’s more, I’m not naturally a depressed person; I’m naturally cheerful, upbeat and optimistic.

I don’t want to answer emails. I don’t want to return phone calls (or pick up the phone at all). If fact, I’d rather just avoid all people completely if at all possible – even my friends (sorry friends). I don’t feel like getting the house cleaned or doing dishes or laundry, but I do those things because they need to get done. Work (stamping) is kinda enjoyable because I get to create something and I am bringing in money (which helps with our sinking fund and school loans), but it’s not fun like it usually is.

So what’s with me? Well, it’s probably my thyroid. I’ve been here before, when I hadn’t yet started my synthroid and I was dealing with brain fog, hair loss and inexplicable sadness. Now, after diet changes (fasting), extreme stress (hello Women’s tea!) and a few missed doses of Synthroid (grrr doctor’s office, call me back!), my body seems to be needing a break from everything, and that seems to be including my cheerful, upbeat outlook on life.

It’s an extremely odd feeling: almost like I’m a stranger looking in at myself telling me to “COME ON, CHEER UP!” After all, I am deeply familiar with people who are in much harder situations, I have so much to be thankful for, and everything in my life is honestly wonderful. But the depression won’t quit; it’s like a cough that just won’t go away – you may be on the upswing, but there’s that cough again, attacking and leaving you paralyzed at just the wrong moment. But you know that eventually, you will stop coughing because you can’t cough forever, right? Right?

I write this because my depression is not who I am, but it is something I experience. It’s not something I enjoy, but it is something I have learned from. For one, depression to me has become a physical state. It’s hard to mentally pull myself out of the physical gloom, but they are two separate things. There’s that little cheerleader inside of my going, “everything will be okay” that keeps me feeling fine, even when all I want to do is go back to bed in the morning.

But the real secret? That little cheerleader inside isn’t me. I on my own could never manage to be continually positive in the face of the physical heaviness depression causes day in and out (though I grant you, this spell has been blessedly short thus far).That cheerleader is the Spirit, speaking truth to my soul, encouraging me that I am not alone, that I do not need to fear. For each time I find myself ready to break down and cry, ready to give up or just go back to bed, I hear that quiet voice whispering (or sometimes shouting!):

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Phil 4:6-7

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, Psalm 46:1-2

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Phil 4:12-13

…And countless other verses. I am not alone, and therefore cannot be lonely. I can be sad, but there is always someone there to comfort me. No matter how lost, sad, anxious, or afraid I may feel, there is a ever present peace that reaches out to cover me. And while I generally prefer the rejoicing and thanksgiving, I will certainly take the comfort and peace when I feel lost. I certainly am grateful to be able to experience both aspects of God’s love in my life. And even though the darkness sometimes seems overwhelming, it is never pervasive – it never swallows or consumes me because there is something much brighter dwelling inside.

Funny enough, one of the drafts I have to work on is titled “Joy” – I think I need to save writting that post until I’m a little more, um, joyful.

Annual Women’s Tea

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Once again this year I was in charge of the food for the women’s tea, which always happens the day before Mother’s Day. Spoilers if you don’t want to read the whole post – we managed to get the food served, the food tasted good, I needed more help, and I am NEVER doing that again. For the long story, read on…

It all started off on the wrong foot when Easter landed late this year. I tried to start with planning and recruiting earlier than Easter, I really did. It just didn’t happen.

Then, there were people out of town. Or long time helpers who just needed a break this year. Or ladies who wanted to help but had emergencies. There were people who could help, but I simply ran out of time to call after so many nos and just needed to start working or nothing was going to get done.

Lunch!And that’s when it began.

(After planning the menu) I made the molded chocolates by myself. I figured out the shopping. I had a panic attack and called my MIL to take my daughter for a few days. I did the shopping (6 hours in one day). I made the special mayo, cucumber spread, chicken salad. I called for help. I got help with one of the desserts (PRAISE GOD!). I made the mini tarts (Lord, WHY did I choose this dessert?!?) which were not so pretty (but tasted good). I had three – THREE – helpers prepping with me the day before.

One of the broken trays BEFOREThen, the day of, I had 6 helpers (and one hostess who briefly stepped in to help until she needed to go host her table – yay!). I even called my MIL and asked her if she’d help when she brought my daughter home (she often helps my brother-in-law with his catering business). I really think that ten are needed. We ran around like crazy ladies for hours. The hot water needed to be boiled and poured into the dispensers (since the dispensers were slow). Praise God there was no sweet tea to make. We almost ran out of chicken salad. We nearly missed the lunch queue. We couldn’t sit because we needed to plate the desserts. Two dessert tiers fell apart on us. The desserts were late out. It was chaos and we were tired.

But more than that, there was a lack of grace in those attending that made the day really hard. There were not a lot of thank yous for my helpers. There were a lot of exasperated sighs followed by “the hot water isn’t ready yet?” There were frowns and arms crossed when we brought out desserts. There were ladies walking through the kitchen (an off-limit zone during the tea), who back-talked and rolled eyes when asked to walk around. It was a hard day for a whole lot of work.

themeIt was hard to see so many women who I know, many whom I love and many who are “church ladies” acting so – to be blunt – rude. I know that some were church visitors, but many weren’t. I know I snapped at someone once during the morning and felt awful. For me, the tea was a great reminder of how HUMAN church-goers really are. How flawed and self-centered/self-focused we all can get at times, no matter how wonderful or kind the person. It was a good moment for me for self-reflection. I myself recognize those times I fall short of my expectations for myself – fall flat on my face, in fact – and I try my best to improve my conduct the next time. The only thing I can do with those around me is to hope they do the same, and not to judge them for the same faults that I certainly possess.

However, the tea wiped me out. Four days and not enough help really affected my health and just about knocked me out since. Plus, it just didn’t seem fair to my daughter. So, regrettably, I won’t be able to lead the tea again. Besides, I’d rather be hosting a table, where I can invite my mother and grandmother, who are lost and could use the message.

In all this excitement, I did learn a valuable lesson (look! It’s an afternoon special!): Just because I am good at something doesn’t mean I need to do it – even if I am the best candidate for the job.*

*And I am in no way saying that I am the most qualified for doing food for the tea – I just happened to be the only person who would say yes.

Serve the City

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This Saturday was our church’s annual Serve the City day. Basically, it’s a chance for us to get out of the boundaries of our church and go do something to give back to the city we live in. I absolutely love this idea because I think churches often get too focused inward and on serving their own community (or teaching their community how to serve others without actually going out to do so). If fact, I find it so important, I canceled out monthly Deaconess meeting to clear way for the ladies to be able to make time for serving instead.

We had two projects going that morning: beach clean up and serving at the local rescue mission.  My husband, daughter and I headed to the beach to meet everyone (last year we met at the church, but this year we knew what we were doing, so we drove straight there). We met up with our friends, grabbed a donut (sadly not me, *sniff*), and headed out on the beach to pick up some trash … all 11 of us. Yes, 11. Of 350+ who attend our church.

fake nose!So we had a great time. We let our four year old find shells instead this year (she was horribly bored doing trash for 2 hours last year). We found some treasures: butane lighters, toothbrushes, socks, a creepy doll, a medical boot, a fake nose, and a dead seal. Yay! Then we headed back to the cars, drove to a local restaurant, and enjoyed lunch and fellowship together before getting home before 1pm.

After chatting with the leader, we did find out there were a few people signed up to go over to the mission, but not many. I am extremely saddened by the number of people (especially those in leadership positions) who felt they had better things to do this morning. I myself did NOT want to go. I was exhausted from the tea last week, I have a ton of work orders, and I just need a break. But this is important!

As we walked on the beach, we ran into another group cleaning up the beach. They were chatting and having a great time! It was a fundraiser and contest, and all sorts of people showed up. I’m sure some of them were religious, but the event was clearly secular, and was infinitely more successful. How incredibly sad that we, who pride ourselves on being loving and caring, sometimes care more about ourselves than those around us – even to the point of ignoring a serve day that comes once a year. My heart just hurts at how hypocritical we (myself included – we’ve done serve day for years and this is only my second time!) behave.

However, times like this do make me grateful that I put my trust not in people, church, or religion, but in an all powerful creator. After all, the lack of people for a serving event is no different than my hypocritical behavior in other areas – I am far from perfect and am so glad I have someone to follow who IS perfect in every way.

Pollyanna

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Last night my family sat down to watch a movie. I’ve been on a Disney kick lately, but not the animated movie – the old live action ones. For the most part, they are safe, cheesy and fun to watch. I don’t remember them, my husband has never seen them, and my daughter will tolerate them, which is awesome because it means we don’t need to sit through another Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

So this week the movie choice was Pollyanna. My mom used to love this movie, so I watched it fairly often as a kid, though, to be honest, it kinda bored me, so I watched it less often than my mom wanted to. I remembered very very little from the movie. All I basically remembered was that Pollyanna came to live with her Aunt and slowly made the town a happy place to live. Color me SHOCKED when I found the movie to be heavily influenced by religion – something that was so over my head as a kid who never went to church. The discussion of religion kept coming and coming,

I was sitting half paying attention to the movie when Pollyanna casually mentioned that her (now deceased) parents were missionaries (me: wait, did they die on the mission field! TELL ME MORE!). At one point, Aunt Polly is sitting with the Reverend and hands him suggestions of verses to include in the next Sunday’s sermon. It’s pretty clear that the suggestion isn’t really a suggestion (Wait, is she just helping or is he forced to do that because of the money she gives?).

Aunt Polly Harrington: He said you only have the congregation for one short hour a week. And there are six long days of mischief for them before you get them again.

Reverend Ford: Ah! I see your point. Strike hard on Sunday the excessiveness of God’s wrath and hope they carry it with them a few days into the week!

 Later, the town tries to rally to raise money for the orphanage began by Aunt Polly’s father, but Aunt Polly pledges to take care of the problem – though only the bare minimum, not what really needs to be fixed. (That doesn’t seem like real charity to me.)  People talk about hating Sunday and it being the worst day of the week because of the sour taste the sermon leaves in their mouths. The Sunday sermon is awful: full of damnation and sin – and the viewers have to watch all of it (where’s the salvation, grace and forgiveness?). Later, the town rallys together and asks for the support of the church and the revered declares that he must remain neutral. (Is that really the church’s job – to not take a stand?) Pollyanna finds the reverend practicing his sermon “DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!” in a field and tells him about her father, who decided to concentrate on the “happy texts”

Reverend: The happy texts?
Pollyanna: Yes. Like, um, ‘Shout for joy,’ or, ‘Be glad in the Lord.’ You know, like that… There are eight hundred happy texts, did you know that?
Reverend: No, I didn’t know that.
Pollyanna: And do you know, my father said that if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it.

While leaving that thought hanging in the air, and after commenting casually, “no one owns a church,” she hands Reverend Ford a letter from Aunt Polly with suggestions for the Sunday sermon. Reverend Ford looks after Pollyanna as she leaves, starts to read the letter and falls to his knees, crying, “what have I done?” His sermon the next Sunday is full of love, joy and the “happy texts,” which he has spent the rest of the week counting. Spurned on by a change of leadership, the entire town starts to feel joy which eventually affects even sour Aunt Polly. If only church today had that kind of power – to reach out into the community, bring joy – reaching into the darkness and pulling people out of their isolation. While the gospel does have that power, it feels like too many churches themselves isolate and never bother to go out of their own doors to serve the community around them.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that my mom actually liked the movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us believe that church and region really is like that – often angry, condemning, and guilt-ridden. How redeeming then for the movie to turn not just the town around, but the church – the guiding light? The reverend realizing he’s been preaching fear and guilt, and, when confronted by a child, realizes that church (and more importantly) God and Jesus, isn’t about that – Love, joy and happiness is infinitely more important. If only people (like my mom) could realize that  churches like that are not just for the happy-ending-movies, but that that kind of freedom and happiness can be found just around the corner if you can find the right church home.

Shy

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Today as I was working, I was listening to Pandora. I’ve been hesitant to do so because I had all the music I love already in my collection, but 1) I figured it’d be a good way to find some new music, and 2) when I got my new laptop, I lost all the music I had changed over from cds, and I seem to be missing a huge portion of my cd collection, sadly (all my Broadway music; so sad). Anyway, I’ve been listening to a Broadway station and remembering just how much I love Broadway music (and how much I love belting it out), when this wonderful song came on from Once Upon a Mattress:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5ZuDclXcJg

I’ve always been SHY
I confess that I’m SHY
Can’t you guess that this confident air
Is a mask that I wear ’cause I’m shy
And you can be sure 
Way down deep I’m demure
Though some people I know may deny it
At bottom I’m quiet and pure
I’m aware that it’s wrong to be meek as I am
My chances may pass me by
I pretend to be strong, but as weak as I am
All I can do is try
God knows I try
Though I’m frightened and shy
And despite the impression I give
I confess that I’m living a lie
Because I’m actually terribly timid
And horribly shy

Now this song suits me to a T (okay, except the looking for a man part). People who know me – many who know me quite well, in fact – think I am outgoing and social, but the truth is that I am absolutely terrified to talk to people. It’s all an act. I am a huge introvert. Yes, I met my husband doing theater. Yes, I can memorize lines, stand in front of people, deliver a speech or sing a song – but I get nervous picking up the phone when I don’t know *exactly* why the person on the other end is calling. I stress about parties and social events, rehearse what I need to say to the doctor or dentist (only in my head), and generally feel unsettled around other people. I am comfortable in my own little world, in my home, by myself, reading a book, writing or making something. It has taken me YEARS to work myself up to coming out of my shell to become comfortable enough with who I am (socially awkward) to just be myself around people and to talk first, introduce myself, or fill uncomfortable silence.

I started singing in choir when I was in 3rd grade. Getting on stage terrified me – but it was that or violin, and I liked singing much more. WHen I got to Jr High, I realized I loved singing, and didn’t want to stop, so I continued with choir, still having near panic attacks before each concert. By then I realized it was a fear, and decided I needed to overcome it. I have no idea what made me decide that, but when I decide something is a challenge, I am generally too stubborn (stupid?) to back down, so I just kept going. I continued choir in high school, and if you were a good choir student (and I was a good student for everything else, so why wouldn’t I do well in choir?), you’d do solos; so I tried out for solos. And I sang them – shaking each time. The next step were musicals – three in high school, though just in the chorus. On to college, where I did plays and took leads, singing complete songs alone and memorizing pages of dialogue. (This is when I met my husband.) People can’t understand why I felt comfortable acting, but the truth is that acting is marvelous! It’s the only time in life that everything is scripted; for 2 hours you know exactly what you are supposed to say and – even better – what the person you are speaking to is going to respond. Once you gain confidence in your role, and the role of your costars, you can play to the audience, engage them, and draw them in. I took those lessons with me when presenting papers at conferences for my English classes, and was much less nervous than expected.

Yet despite all this training, I still almost never feel 100% at ease. And even when I do, my body gives me away. I have a central nervous tremor, which causes my hands to shake. So even if I do feel completely at ease, I can give the impression of being completely panicked. I think this is a gift – to help establish my real character, which is that of an introvert.

As I’ve become more active in my community and outspoken in church and in other social situations, I feel like a different person. I didn’t change who I was. I simply became comfortable with ME. I’ve realized that God made me who I am, and that specific person – awkward, nervous, introverted, but also someone who loves theater, music and sharing stories – that person that I am is specifically designed like no other. I am designed to be myself, to be the best me that I can be, and when I go out to do what God has called me to do – which is to share the love of Christ and the Gospel – then there is no reason to hide or change who I am. I need to introduce myself first and share stories about me because I am terribly timid, horribly shy – and there are others out there just like me who need to hear the good news from someone like me.