From Dust... To Dust

No Comments »


      New parent anxiety is a real thing. Even in the hospital surrounded by medical professionals, I felt a deep compulsion to check on my newborn son to make sure he was still breathing. This didn't end when we brought him home, and though we taught ourselves to work through it, we still feel the need to ensure our baby is alive. We feel the need to protect him, to shield him, to do whatever it takes to ensure his survival. 
      So, when Ash Wednesday arrived on the calendar this year, it became even more counter cultural than it had in the past. I walked through the day reflecting on the fact that in a few short hours I would be marking my infant son with ashes and telling him he would day. "From dust you came, to dust you will return."
      My mortality has been wrestled with on more than one Ash Wednesday. It was confronted when I was dipped into the baptismal waters, and was again confronted as I took my ordination vows; my life is not my own. The awareness that I will die is ever before me, and while I hope and pray that it is many years off still, I also know that I would sacrifice my life in a second for those around me. 
       The mortality of my son, however, is a different matter. I had spent his first weeks of life in near paranoia at ensuring he stays alive, and here I am, marking him with an acknowledgement of his death. 
       There are many difficult things I have done as a pastor, but this may have been one of the hardest. We had prayed for this baby for years. I had carried him in my own body for 9 months. We held him in our arms, and had only held him for a few short weeks. But, he's going to die someday. 
      The weight of that is something I couldn't have anticipated, despite the obvious truth of it. It lead me to think and pray for my friends and acquaintances who know the awful and painful truth of their child dying. My dad had a son die just days after he was born, and there are countless others with that same excruciating experience. "From dust you came, to dust you shall return". 
      Still others were confronted with their child's mortality when words like cancer were uttered in sterile rooms. There are myriad diseases and birth defects which force someone to face after years of dreaming and praying, the reality of "from dust you came, to dust you shall return."
       But here we are, facing the Church calendar and this reality. That all is not well. That the world has been marred by sin and death, and that we too will die. That our friends and family, and yes, even our sweet babies will succumb to the inevitability of death. 
      It is counter-cultural in so many ways, because everything is about protecting our children, keeping them safe, shielding them from all the horrors of the world. But it seems the church is communicating something different... your child is not your own, and the call to discipleship extends to them too. The call to carry a cross, the call to follow Christ even unto death, extends to them too. Our responsibility, then, becomes less about protection, and more about preparation. Our call as parents then becomes less about hoarding special moments, and more about releasing our child to bring about good in the world. Our role then is not just to teach our children about the wonders of the world, but to teach them about sacrifice and love for others. 
       Ash Wednesday confronted me with a lot of things, but I also told my congregation that while somber, the service is tinged with hope, because the story doesn't end in ashes, the story ends with resurrection. Maybe that is the most powerful thing I embraced this year. I marked my child with a mark of death and grief, but not for the sake of death, rather for the sake of resurrection. 
 My prayer for my infant son, on Ash Wednesday and always, then, is that he would embrace death, that he might know resurrection. That though the world will constantly sell him lies about hording goods and moments, that the world will tell him security and safety are his goals, that though the world will say the problems are too big, that he will look at all the challenges, that he will look at all the sin and brokenness, and he will lay down his desires, his wants, his needs, and yes, even his life for the sake of others.  I pray that he will look death in the face, in all the places it has control, in all the ways it has robbed this world of joy, that he will look at the ashes of this world, that he will hold them in his hand and he will breathe resurrection life into them.  
        It is my prayer that I will learn to release him into all that God has called him to. That I will push against everything that tells me to do whatever it takes to protect and shield him, and that I will instead remind him "from dust you came, to dust you shall return", so that he might be all that God is calling him to be. 

Intergenerational Advent Candle Liturgy

1 Comment »

Advent Candle LiturgyWeek 1: He is Coming

Adult: Each year we light special candles to mark the beginning of a time called Advent. Do you know what advent means?

Child: (Responds whether they do or don’t)

Adult: It means that we are anticipating the arrival of something. For us, we are anticipating, waiting for, and hoping for the arrival of Jesus. A reminder of Jesus coming as a baby long ago, but hoping for Jesus to come again and make all things right. There are 4 weeks of Advent, leading up to Christmas, so we have 4 candles. What are the colors of the candles?

Child: Purple and Pink and White

Adult: Why do you think they are purple and pink?

Child: answers

Adult: Purple is the color of royalty but also a color that represents us asking forgiveness. Pink is the week we celebrate joy, that while Jesus is still not here, we know he is coming soon and we have joy. What do you think the white candle represents?

Child: Answers

Adult: It represents Jesus! We light this candle for the first time on Christmas and then light it every Sunday throughout the whole year, to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. Today we are focusing on Jesus coming. That Jesus came into our world even though it was full of suffering. How do you think people feel to know that Jesus is with them, and they don’t have to go through hard times alone?

Child: Answers

Adult: I think it helps us feel hope and comfort to know that Jesus came into the world at Christmas and that Jesus is coming again. Let’s say a special prayer that those who are suffering in the world might have hope that Jesus came to bring light and love to them too. (Light candles)
Jesus, help us to have hope this week. As we light this candle, help us to remember people who are struggling in darkness still, and who need us to bring the light and love of Jesus with us. Help us to let them know that they do not need to be alone, but that Jesus loves them and is with them. Help us to remember that you are coming again to make all things right. Amen

Advent Candle Liturgy
Week 2: He is Lord

Adult: What sort of things do you do at your house to prepare for Christmas?

Child: Answers

Adult: We often spend a lot of time getting our houses ready for Christmas. Cleaning extra for guests, putting up special decorations, cooking delicious foods. In the midst of all those preparations, we sometimes forget to prepare our hearts and homes for Jesus. What might it look like to prepare for Jesus?

Child: Answers

Adult: It’s difficult when we are so busy to remember to make time for Jesus, but he is supposed to be the Lord of our life. We are reminded of that this week. John the Baptist preached about making straight paths for the LORD. We can do that in our lives too, by making time to learn more about Jesus, by caring and loving the people around us, by being kind and acting justly towards others. Sometimes this is really hard to do, because it means changing the way we live our lives. Are there things you think you can do to prepare your heart for Jesus?

Child: Answers

Adult: This week we are lighting the candle of peace and remembering that Jesus is LORD. Jesus can bring us peace even in the midst of our crazy lives, and can help us to share peace with those around us. What are ways you can share peace this week?

Child: Answers

Adult: Let’s say a special prayer that we’d remember to prepare our hearts for the peace of Jesus this week. (Light Candles)
God, as we light this candle of peace, help us to remember that our lives aren’t about clean houses, parties, and sparkly things. Help us to prepare our hearts for you, that we would know peace and share peace with the world around us. That we would reorder our lives in such a way, that you would be LORD over everything. Amen

Advent Candle Liturgy
Week 3: He is Light

Adult: Today we are going to light the pink candle. Do you remember what the pink candle represents?

Child: Answers

Adult: The pink candle represents joy! As the birth of Jesus gets closer, we have joy that it is coming soon, and this week we are remembering that Jesus is light. Lots of children are afraid of the dark. Are you afraid of the dark?

Child: Answers

Adult: The darkness often makes ordinary things seem scary, and sometimes life seems dark too. There are lots of scary, sad, and lonely things that happen in life. It can feel like we are living in darkness. You might have had scary, sad, and lonely things happen to you even. When it’s dark though, what helps us to see?

Child: Answers (hopefully with light!)

Adult: Yes! Light helps get rid of the darkness so we can see. John the Baptist told the people that while they had been living in darkness waiting for a light to come, that light had come, and his name was Jesus! Jesus came to shine light in dark places, so we can see and we no longer have to be afraid. How do you feel knowing that Jesus came to be the light?

Child: Answers

Adult: Todays candle is the candle of joy, and we have joy because our lives aren’t dark, but Jesus brought us light. We can go and share the light of Jesus with others too, that they might have joy as well. What are some ways we can do that this week?

Child: Answers

Adult: Let’s say a special prayer as we light the candle of joy, that God would help us to share the light with others this week. (light candle)
God, as we light this candle, help us to remember that you are the light, and to share that light with the world around us. Help us have strength and courage to shine bright wherever we go that others might not be afraid, or sad, or lonely, but that they can know that you are with them and you can bring them joy. Amen.

Advent Candle Liturgy
Week 4: She is Chosen

Adult: Have you ever been chosen for a special task? Maybe you were picked to be line leader at school, or for a special part in a play?

Child: Answers

Adult: How did you feel to be chosen for such a special task?

Child: Answers

Adult: Today we remember Mary who was chosen for a very important task, she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. It would have been a hard decision for her to be the mother of Jesus, it could have cost her all her friends. It would have cost her her reputation. It could have cost her her husband. It very well could have cost her her very life, and yet she said yes to being Jesus’ mother. Why do you think she’d say yes when she had so much to lose?

Child: Answers

Adult: Being chosen is very special and can sometimes be very scary too. God has chosen all of us for a special task as well, to share his love with the world. It took a lot of love for Mary to become the mother of Jesus, and it takes a lot of love for us to care for the world too. What are some ways we can love others this week?

Child: Answers

Adult: As we light the love candle this week, let’s say a special prayer that God would help us to love God and others well. (Light Candle)
          God, we know it took a lot of love for Mary to choose to have Jesus as her son. It takes a lot for us to follow you sometimes, so help us to love you that much too, that we would give up everything for you. Help us to love the other people around us as well, that they might see your love in us. Amen

Advent Candle Liturgy
Christ Candle

Pastor: Today we light the Christ candle. We remember that Christ is the light of the world, that Christ has come, and that he will come again. He has promised to come and make all things right. We carry a part of this light with us wherever we go, so this morning, as we leave this place, we will each light our own candle from the light of the Christ Candle, as a reminder to share that light with the world around us. To let our little lights shine in a dark world.
          This is our benediction this morning. To walk into the world with the light of Jesus, that we might declare boldly that Christ has come and will come again, and that we are to shine the light of Jesus to the world around us.

          (Light Christ Candle… then light small candles while singing a Christmas Carol)

The Danger in Nostalgia

No Comments »

     There is nostalgia in egg salad for me. As a girl, my small church would have linger-longers on occasion, where we would, well, linger longer after the Sunday night church services over finger foods and lemonade. It was here that I developed a love for egg salad.
     I get the same sense of nostalgia for the church of my childhood, when I eat lemon sandwich cookies. My preschool Sunday school teacher would bring them each week as a snack, and even just the scent of them brings me back to those small plastic chairs.
      There are many things that trigger nostalgia for me (apparently many pertaining to food), frozen cokes from the Meijer gas station, the cool crisp air combined with high school football stadium lights, the smell of apple cider, reading "the Chronicles of Narnia", hearing Amy Grant or Michael W Smith on the radio, the smell of freshly milled grain, the feel of Lake Michigan sand under my feet, and the way it sounds after a heavy snowfall. These moments take me back to my childhood, to fond memories, and happy events.
     I have fond memories of God too. Memories of praying at altars in my church, of church camps with PR bands from the denominational college, and of revival speakers with passion. I remember testimony time on Sunday nights in my little church, and the stories that the old women would tell, and think how someday I wanted to be able to share those same type of stories.
         At times I would love to transport myself back there, to curl up in the safety and security that those times seemed to bring me. The smells of childhood Christmas and having all of my family together again, is a memory I would like to transport myself into. If I could wake up just one more time on a Saturday morning in my Little Foot pajamas and smell my moms biscuits and gravy, and have all my siblings at home, I would probably do it in a heartbeat,
           In recent days there has been a cultural push to "go back", and I understand why, but there is a danger in living in nostalgia. Nostalgia often remembers the warm feelings of our youth at the expense of the bigger picture, and it leads us to a discontentment for where we are now.
      My mom told me a story about how when she was a child there were nights where they had popcorn for dinner. This is a fond memory for her, a nostalgic memory, because having popcorn for dinner was a great treat. Looking back now she realizes that at the time, that was all her parents could afford to feed them. What is a nostalgic memory for her, would be (if my grandparents were still alive) a very stressful and heart wrenching memory for them. No one wants to only feed their children popcorn. Trying to go back to that nostalgic moment, while seemingly warm and cozy, misses the bigger picture of what is going on. A child can not live on popcorn alone, and parents that can only provide that feel desperate and scared.
        This weekend the movie "Loving" will be released. It is about when, just a short time ago, interracial marriage was legalized. A nostalgia for a past prior to this misses the reality that my marriage wouldn't be legal. A nostalgia for a past where prayer was a legal part of the school day, misses out on the children not allowed to be in school with children who looked different or believed different than them. A nostalgia for a past where we had a job, misses the bigger picture that while things might have been great for us, they weren't for everyone. A nostalgia for a past where we were raised by a stay at home mom, might miss the bigger picture that she had other dreams she wanted to fulfill, but wasn't empowered to do so.
       There is always a bigger picture in the midst of our nostalgic dreams, and if we aren't careful, we can get so caught up in those memories that our entire lives are consumed by them. In the midst of being consumed by our longing for a past that only existed for us, we are completely missing out on the present. If we are constantly trying to go back to how things used to be, we do a disservice to ourselves and the people around us in the present.
       We are missing out on creating new memories, on creating new movements of justice, on trying new foods, and visiting new places.
       If my nostalgia trapped me in the world of egg salad and lemon cookies, I never would have discovered how much I love to bake pies, or scones. I never would have learned how much I love lobster rolls and sushi. I would be missing out on the beauty of the now, the beauty of my every day moments. The smells, the sounds, the tastes, the sights, that are all around me.
       But our nostalgia is not limited to childhood food and memories, this desire for a nostalgic past is present in our spirituality as well.  In our churches, in our faith communities and denominations we can get so caught up in the nostalgic ways that the Holy Spirit has moved in the past, that we forget to see where the Holy Spirit is moving now. We become a bit like Lots wife, longing so much to look backwards, that if we aren't careful we will become a pillar of salt.
      My childhood is filled with tremendous memories of how God moved in my past, that's why I have such nostalgia when I think of my childhood church, and the people who were there. However, to try to go back to that, would rob my congregation of those same type of memories. It would rob them of movements of God that are happening now. Celebrating and recognizing the ways that God is at work now, as different as that may look from my childhood, does not diminish what God did in the past. However, being so consumed by the past that I can't see where God is working now, robs me and others of the kingdom of God in our midst.
        It is right and good to remember the ways God was faithful, what God has done, and the ways God has moved, but God is not in the past. God is the I AM, and is present now. If we are too busy looking backwards, we will miss the I AM in the now. We will miss the ways that God is speaking, that God is moving, that God is raising up and calling people. This might look very different than the cozy safe memories of childhood, but at some point we must grow up out of childhood in order to pass on the faith to those who come after us.
      Where is the I AM now? I sense that presence of God every time I receive the Eucharist, a moment of remembrance that doesn't push me into nostalgia, but a grace that is present with me in that moment, and then sends me out into the world in peace. I see the I AM when a 3 year old embraces my mother in law at church on a Sunday morning and calls her grandma, despite no blood relationship. The Holy Spirit is moving in the hard questions of my friends, who are finding a renewed sense of hope in faith. The I AM is at work when justice is done in the name of love.
       It is important to remember, but we must not allow our remembrances to become an idol to move to a nostalgic past, disregarding the larger picture. We must also remember that it is the present in which we live, and that we serve a God that is ever present with us. The past has it's place, but it's the present that is here. We must embrace it. We must celebrate it. We must be present, because this is the only time we have, and the I AM is here too, in our midst, bringing the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Are we present enough to see it?

Showing Up: The Power of Presence

No Comments »


     As pastors we are often told that part of our role is embodying the presence of Jesus for others. Incarnational imagery is often invoked to inspire us to be Jesus to those we meet; just as God left the glory of heaven to put on humanity and dwell among us, we are to dwell among people as well, mourning with those who mourn, and being present with people during the greatest joys and greatest tragedies of their lives.
     Our very presence is supposed to illustrate the presence of God to people. Our presence is important. Just showing up and being there, is important. Whether that be in a hospital room or a coffee shop, our presence matters.
      As a woman in ministry, I've discovered there is another layer to the importance of showing up. When a clergywoman shows up something is said about God. The presence of God looks female with the challenges and joys that come along with that.
    While waiting in the dinner line at the reception for a wedding I had just officiated, a woman approached me. She was probably in her mid 60's and had the sweetest smile. Her hand rested gently on my arm as she said "My heart was full when I saw you officiating the wedding. When I was young, women could only do two things, be a teacher (which I was) or be a nurse. As those two little flower girls walked down the aisle towards you, all I could think was 'they will know they can do anything, because they are seeing a woman pastor. You did such a beautiful job, and I want to encourage you to keep doing what you are doing."
     My eyes welled up a bit as she spoke. It might be the sweetest compliment I have ever received after a wedding, but it also illustrated to me the importance of presence, something I often forget.
     I forget that when I get behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning, that just my presence communicates something to the little girls in the front row, with their children's bulletins on their laps.

It tells them that they are created in the image of God, and that they can share that image with others. It tells them that God calls and uses everyone for the kingdom. They will never have to be told that despite what they have seen, women can be pastors, preachers, teachers, and leaders, they will just know, because they've seen it week after week. 
     I forget that when I show up to a wedding, filled with people from various backgrounds and views, that my presence says something to them. That it tells them that God loves women too. That marriage isn't about some sort of patriarchal submission but that it's a beautiful partnership where two can lead together.  

    I forget that when I tell students in my classrooms that I am a pastor, that they hear something powerful. That within that small phrase, and that small act, they imagine something different than what many of them have seen. That they start to imagine a world for themselves that they've never thought of before. 
    I forget that when I stand behind the altar and break the bread and pour the wine, that many will see it in a new light because of my presence there. That they will see the broken and spilled out Jesus in a new way. That when I hold babies over the baptismal font, that the image becomes one of a mother bathing her child, and the image of sacrifice becomes something powerful when words of death and life are spoken within that context. 
    I forget that when I show up at theology conferences, or district assembly, that there are young women, older women, and children who are watching. That by standing up front, that by singing in the elder's choir, that by being there, people are learning something about God, and that they are learning something about women, and how God views women. 
    So when an older woman approaches me with tears in her eyes and tells me to "keep being faithful to God's call in your life" and she calls to mind all the little girls and women who saw something different because it was me who officiated the wedding, I listen, and I tear up myself, and I promise myself that I will remember.
    I will remember that what I do matters. Showing up matters. My presence matters. Every Sunday, every coffee meeting, every wedding, every hospital visit, every district meeting, every opportunity to serve the Eucharist, every time I preach, every time I sit with those who grieve, every time I baptize a baby or a new saint, every single time I show up... it matters. I hope I never forget. 

Not a Job: Redefining Life as a Spouse

No Comments »

     Several days ago I was teaching in a high school classroom. A female student was bemoaning the fact that when she returned home in the afternoon, she would have to clean the house. I told her, "if it makes you feel better, I also have to clean the house."
     A boy chimed in "well, yeah, of course, that's because you are the mom." To which I said "I'm not a mom."
    His response, "well, wife, whatever, it's still your job to clean the house."
    I took a deep breath for a second with a follow up statement, "I need to rephrase what I said earlier. When I said that I had to clean the whole house I meant, my husband and I have to clean the house. We are equals. It's neither my job or his job to clean the house, it's both of our responsibility because we both live there. We both cook, we both clean, we both are responsible, because we both live there. We are partners."
    The boy shook his head and rolled his eyes a bit, but the girl, her eyes got big and a smile broke out as she said "that sounds like an amazing relationship."
     It seems a bit odd to me that in 2016 I am having this conversation with high school students. This idea that women and men are equals, that our roles are not defined by some sort of biological mandate. That my husband and I can co-lead in our home, and co-care for our home is noteworthy seems strange, because to us that is life, and it just makes sense.
    This idea of co-responsibility was pronounced after hearing a pastor's spouse reference that being a pastor's wife is "the best job in the world".
    I asked my husband in the car later, "Is being my husband a job for you? Do you see being a pastor's husband as a job?" He laughed with a hearty no, to my great relief.
     Because the language of job sounds like a chore (this is also why I often refer to the work I do at church as a vocation, because it is something other than a job for me in many ways), like something one must do out of obligation, versus out of love, care, and respect. I don't want to be someone's job, least of all my husbands, I want to be his wife.
     While I am not a fan of doing dishes or laundry, and neither is my husband, I don't want those to be seen as jobs either, as much as I want them to be seen as things we do to make our lives better, to support one another, and to love one another. To be good stewards of our belongings, we take care of them. I am not always great at this and often bemoan the fact that I have to restart the washing machine, again, because I forgot the clothes while attending to the 50 other tasks on my to do list. It is a goal I strive for.
      There are issues with the language of a spouse as a job outside of these initial issues as well.
      First, there is still this prevailing issue in the church that when you hire a pastor, you get the spouse free! The old joke about asking at pastoral interviews "does your wife play piano?" still rings true in many places. This places an extreme burden on a pastor's spouse, to do just as much as his spouse does, but to get little to no recognition for it. There have been multiple articles and blog posts written (mostly by pastor's wives, I have yet to find a pastor's husband one, though I am sure they exist) about the alienation and frustrations they feel by this phenomenon. My own husband has referenced his own frustrations at times, at feeling like he in a sense has to punch a time clock, when he has been expected to show up at every single church event, and even more so, when things he says on social media are judged as being a reflection on me, without considering that he and I probably discussed the topic before it even made it to social media!
      The language of job also lends itself into complementarianism. I have heard women time and time again talk about the job of being a wife and a mother, but I haven't heard the same rhetoric used by men (the exception being that I hear men speak about "babysitting" their own children, and I don't hear moms say that.) "The most important job I have is being a mom." Is a common phrase I've heard from women of all ages. I 100% get what they are saying, raising children is an incredibly important task, but sometimes I fear the language of job supersedes the language of relationship. Where the relationship between men and women are concerned, it lends itself to saying that it is the woman's job to take care of the children, to be a good wife, to take care of the home, while the husband has a job outside of the home, to provide for the family. This really diminishes both women and men. While seeking to elevate being a wife and mother, it makes it seem the same as punching a clock each day. It does the exact opposite of what it is trying to achieve, while also placing men and women in distinct gender roles.
      I prefer to say it this way, being a wife is the most important relationship (after God) I have right now, and if I have children, they will be the second most important relationship. A relationship goes 2 ways, it must be fostered, cared for, and nurtured. There is no time clock to punch, there is no day off, because relationships are different than jobs.
     When we have relationships with friends, our expectations are that there is give and take, that we are equals, that we are there for one another, that we care for one another, etc. We would never think to call being a friend a "job", despite friendship being a less important relationship in our life than what we have with our spouse. Our expectations with our spouse should be the same, that there is give and take, that we are equals, that we are there for one another, that we care for one another, even MORE so than we do with our friends.
     It might seem minuscule or unimportant, but I realized that day in a high school classroom how closely those who come behind us are watching us. They are watching and defining their value, they are defining what relationships will look like for them, and I hope that in this small way, we will learn to think less of our family as a job, and more as... well... a family.

Back to School Block Party

No Comments »

(This is long past overdue, but I wanted to be sure to have tons of pictures of this event. I've also been incredibly busy. Such is the life of a bi-vocational pastor! Thank you all for reading! For your patience, for your prayers, for your love. I promise to be back to blogging more regularly from now on!) 
       I lost count of how many 12 hour days I put in the 2 weeks preceding our block party event. It was the biggest event I have ever attempted in my entire professional career. I'm not a big event person, and so I tend to opt for intimate settings where deep discussion has room to cultivate, but I made an exception, because I so deeply care for the kids in my neighborhood (and city), and I know the difficulties of paying for school supplies, plus I do like a good party.
        The idea of a back to school block party was formed, in order to just really celebrate with our neighbors, to get school supplies into the hands of students, and say thank you to any teachers who might attend.
        Our goal was to see 150 people walk through the door, just to know they are loved and that we are here in the neighborhood. Filling 150 grab bags was no small feat, and I am so grateful I had tons of help to do it. We wanted to ensure that every kid that walked through the door had at the minimum, basic school supplies to start school.
     We were overwhelmed by the generosity of others as we were able to fill all 150 bags with a pencil case (including pencils, erasers, pens, etc.), a folder, and a notebook, as well as some candy and other treats. 

       Another goal of ours was to bless any teacher that came through the door with a thank you gift. Whatever we got that could go in a bin for teachers, we would put together. The outpouring of love from others enabled us to fill 30 bins with kleenex, dry erase markers, hand sanitizer, post it notes, pens, pencils, rulers, motivational stickers, a stocked pencil case to give to a student in need, AND a gift card to get coffee. These were beautifully put together by a high school volunteer.

  During the night we had 3 Chinese teachers (they teach Chinese language and culture in our school system) wander in. They told me they were just walking by and had only been in the country for 2 weeks. Two of them had never been to the United States before. I gave them their gifts, and they kept saying "oh no! We can't accept this! What did we do to deserve this?" We just smiled and told them that we wanted to say thank you, and help them in their new classrooms this year. They were overjoyed and I was so blessed to meet them. 

      But this story is more than just a story about a successful event (how do we define success anyway), it's really a story about the faithfulness of God and what can happen when God's people come together. You see that guy overseeing the cooler filling? He pastors at another church on our district, and he and another pastor from their church, brought a bunch of volunteers to help us with this event. It wasn't a competition, it was just God's people helping each other out to do great things. Not only that, their church, Duneland Community Church, did a beverage drive for us which enabled us to have so many awesome drinks at our event. The kingdom of God looks like churches coming together to love others. 

     We also had live rap music by amazing artist Da Mac, who drove here from Missouri to bless us with his talent and gifts. The audience was overjoyed, the oldest to the youngest were dancing, and we saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God through rap music in a 70 year old sanctuary. It was beautiful. 
    We made new friends and partners in Faith, who has a non-profit called Purple Diamonds Inc, and Moe, who owns and operates her own barber shop. They prayed over our event, and partnered with us, passing out flyers, donating supplies and time, and giving free hair cuts to nearly every student that came through the doors. Sometimes the kingdom of God looks like haircuts near the platform in a sanctuary, and strangers becoming friends.

     Our church hosts Al-Anon a couple nights a week, and our ladies were at the door to greet all of our attendees. They were our greatest cheerleaders of the night, telling everyone about our church, and talking about hope and healing with our neighbors. Sometimes the kingdom of God looks like neighbors helping neighbors. 
     We put a big bounce house in the back of our sanctuary and it was a hit! Kids would walk in with faces lit up, and the laughter and shouts resounded through the building. Sometimes the kingdom of God shows up in the noise of children. 

     That night the kingdom of God looked like chaos and laughter, like yard games and hot dogs, like hair cuts and bounce houses. It sounded like rap music and laughter, squeals and conversation. It sounded like a beautiful cacophony of neighbors coming together, of the Church coming together to be the Church, in perfectly imperfect and messy ways. God showed up, and the biggest way God showed up was through the people of God. 
      Through people who gave money, who gave time, who sent box upon box of school supplies, who prayed, who volunteered. God showed up through all of you, and our lives, and the lives of our neighborhood will forever be touched because God showed up through people like you! 
      The kingdom of God is alive in Hammond, we are just grateful we got to see a glimpse of it on a hot summer night this August. We are excited to see where the kingdom of God will be glimpsed next. 

Trouble with Toilets



  If you read nothing else in this blog, read the bold paragraph at the end on how sanitation is an issue globally, and how YOU can keep the generosity going, by helping those in need!

 There are certain things you can't learn about ministry from a textbook, things that must be experienced to understand. For example, the unspoken ministry law that things will not break on a normal Monday, on a week where nothing is scheduled and you have hours of uninterrupted time to call a plumber/electrician/roofer/contractor/etc. to solve the problem. Things WILL break when you have a church full of people, kids arriving for vacation bible school in just a few hours, and a big event on the schedule in just over a week. These are things they do not teach you when preparing for the ministry.
     It was a Tuesday afternoon when the missions team that was staying with us from Tulsa informed me the toilets weren't flushing in the women's restroom. I went to investigate the problem and discovered that none of the toilets were flushing. I then asked the men if the toilet in the men's room was flushing, it was not. The time was 4:30. with VBS scheduled to start at 6pm.
     The plumber showed up a half hour before 6, which meant we were paying overtime for what we hoped would be a small problem (like I said, in ministry problems don't conveniently arise, you must pay overtime). I was asked a bunch of questions I had no idea how to answer. The main part of our building is 77 years old, I have no idea where the pipes go, or what a clean out valve even is (I learned). Thus, instead of any easy fix, we scheduled for a camera to be run through all the pipes the next day.
     I got to see into the literal bowels of the church. Which was a bit intriguing (and at times a bit gross). I learned there used to be another toilet in the church under our back stairwell. I learned AGAIN that doing things the cheapest way might pay off for a short time, but costs a lot more money in the long run.
      The problem was bigger than we thought. The wrong type of pipe, installed incorrectly, and then where the clean out valve was, was covered in cement (which defeats the whole purpose of a clean out valve). It was going to take some time and money to fix it.... money and time we didn't have.
     The missions team didn't complain once about the hundredth time they had to run over to our house to use the restroom, the VBS kids ran home if they needed to go, so the week went amazingly better than it could have, but we had our huge block party on the schedule and needed our toilets.
      This is where the story gets good, so if you skimmed over the actual toilet issues, stop skimming and read this part. We asked people to pray for our toilets. It's a bit silly, because with all the issues in the world, this seems so silly, but our toilets enable us to do ministry here in ways you don't think of, until you don't have them. We asked that God would provide in profound ways, and that the pipe could be fixed before our block party.
      The total cost was $2,943. That is a lot for anyone, but especially for our little church plant.
       I said to the plumber at one point "I hate that we are spending money on this, when we could be spending money on helping people." He looked at me and said "You can't help people if you don't have toilets. The money you are spending on this IS helping people."
      I was convicted as I thought of the times people have rushed in just to use our toilets. When homeless people have come in for a cup of coffee and to use the restroom. The countless kids and adults on Sunday mornings who use the facilities. The Al-Anon ladies on Tuesday nights and Friday mornings who drive from neighboring towns. Not to mention, I use those restrooms regularly, and I am able to have office hours and hold meetings with people because I have restrooms. The plumber was right, this was important.
      On the recommendation of a friend, we put together a GoFundMe page. To raise $2500. We could handle any expenses over that, it might put our account at zero.... again... but at least the problem would be solved. In just over week, we exceeded the $2500!!! We raised $2943!!!
      God's people were mobilized, some gave a little, some gave a lot. Some were Nazarenes, many were not. They gave to help us continue our work here. God is good! God's people are good! We are grateful!
      Not only were we able to raise the funds, but the work took less time than anticipated, and we did not need to rent port-a-potties for our event.
      We have learned a lot from this experience. The first being, make sure to do things right the first time, because it benefits people for a long time to do so. More importantly, we learned again that God is faithful, and that God uses God's people to do great things. We learned that when churches aren't in competition with each other, when God's people aren't bickering and arguing, but work together on something, great things happen. It was this working together, that enable us to keep doing our ministry. That enable us to have toilets for the homeless at times, that enable me to have office hours, that enable us to host huge back to school events.
       We are humbled and stunned by the faithfulness of God, and we are challenged to never take seemingly small things for granted again. Things like the ministry of toilets, or the giving of a $10 gift. These small acts, even these small things done in great love, have potential to change the world for good.
  •    Having access to sanitation is a huge issue worldwide. Yesterday was world portable sanitation day, to raise awareness for access to portable sanitation. This is especially important for our homeless brothers and sisters, but for others world wide. Learn more here!  
  • Also 2.5 billion people worldwide don't have access to proper sanitation. There are MANY articles and organizations that talk about this here's the stats from WHO 
  •  If you are looking for a way to help, or you wanted to help with our toilet issue but were unable, I encourage you to look into World Vision's program WASH, as they seek to provide sustainable clean water and sanitation to those in need around the world! For more info or to give check out
As my plumber said "having toilets enables ministry to happen." I'll take it further, sometimes toilets are a ministry in themselves. You don't notice it until you don't have it. I've seen God mobilize God's people in our church, let's keep that going, and change the world!!