Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

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In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

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First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.

Couples Valentines Day Party

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I love a good party, a time to fellowship with friends or family.  If you are looking for something special to do with your small group, bible study group, or even just your close group of friends (or relatives), consider hosting a small Valentines Party!

If you are on a budget this can seem like a daunting task, but I assure you that there are ways to make it happen even on small budget.    This year won’t be our first party, and what I have learned is to start small and build each year.  To begin this year’s planning process, I start with an inventory of what I already have.  Figure out what I need to buy, and finally I consider what things I would like to add to our inventory.

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Our first party consisted of chairs scattered about, a fun game, and desserts.  We started the party a bit later in the evening, allowing the couples to head out for a nice dinner and join us for dessert a little later.  This year, we’ve planned a full meal.  This meant I was going to need more table setting decor and less room decor.

In order to keep the decorations & supplies affordable I shop at:

  • The Dollar Tree
  • Target (in the $1-$3 bins)
  • Oriental Trading

Also, because I know we will have future parties, I like to shop after Valentines Day for upcoming year’s decor additions.

To keep my sanity in order, when it comes to the food:

  • Some items are homemade
  • Some items are store bought & altered
  • Some items are purchased from local bakeries and restaurants.

Another option is to find a local caterer who will handle all the food preparation for you, and it isn’t as expensive as you would think.  If you have a mom friend who loves to cook (and is great at it), you could hire her to do the catering too.  This can turn into a blessing for the both of you.

I don’t like to plan a party that makes me crazy, I like to plan a party I can enjoy from beginning to end.

This year, I also partnered with Family Christian in order to showcase some of their great Valentines Day related items.

I even scored a GREAT deal when I found a slightly banged up lighted sign from Christmas, which actually fit our party decor!

A Good Party Starts with a Great Invitation

Since our party is for couples, I was only sending 1 invitation for every 2 physical guests.  I decided that it made more sense to hand make an invitation versus order something printed online.

I printed the party invitation on white paper, in red ink.  At Target, I purchased a book of stickers, 1 package of square doilies, and a package of cards with matching envelopes.  I used a glue stick and stamps I already had on hand.  For just $3.00 in supplies, I was able to hand craft eight invitations.

A Good Party Captures Memories

At our first party, I built a “Kissing Booth” and put together a few photo props.  At one point in the evening we took several photos of each couple.  After the party, I took those photos and made photo strips out of them (like you would receive in a photo booth in a mall or theme park).  This year I, I decided to go with a theme more akin to a Valentines Dance.    I purchased props from The Dollar Tree, Target, and even made a large polaroid frame by hand.  Oriental Trading had inexpensive silver foil drapes and an awesome valentines border.  I paired this with strung felt hearts I had on hand from a previous party. 

A Good Party Is a Lot of Fun

Besides capturing memories with the photo booth, we also have a lot of fun by playing games.  A group favorite is the not so newly wed game, where we all answer questions about our spouses.  Dry erase boards and markers can be purchased at most Dollar Tree stores.   I found a great set of cards with questions at Home Goods.  This year I added in Couples Mad Libs (I loved playing these as a kid), which will be scattered about our dining table to use throughout the evening.  I’m also working on a Jenga Truth or Dare Game I found on Pinterest!  If you are going to have games, you must have prizes.  I drove to a nearby Family Christian store and picked up a few home decor items and a set of Mr. & Mrs. Coffee Mugs.  We also have a couples gift exchange!  I found the cute gift bags at the Dollar Tree. 

A Good Party Has Good Food

With the internet we have access to websites that can help us plan out a great menu.  This year I am planning a Pear and Asiago Salad, Chicken and Artichoke Pasta with Grilled Asparagus, Fresh Bread, and for dessert Red Velvet Cake.  In previous years, I have leaned toward desserts only which included cupcakes, cheesecake, chocolate covered pretzels, and even cake pops.  Websites like Pinterest make it a lot easier to not only find recipes, but also themed food ideas too.  You can even find a full planning page on how to throw your own party from start to finish.  I like to mix it up, coming up with an idea that is totally my own.

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Since this year we decided to have a sit down meal, instead of desserts or finger foods, table decor was added to our supplies this year.   Many components of the decor were diy projects that used inexpensive items like doilies, ribbons, and candles with holders from the dollar tree.  I did invest in a few nicer silk peony flowers, I wanted to ensure they would last through the years.  We added in faux flower petals, table scatter, and a cute runner from Target.  But, my absolute favorite are the milk bottles!  Not only are they cute and perfect for holding our Love Potion Punch, but when we dual purposed them as place cards!

I paired up decorative Valentines paper plates, which are more than enough for the salad with a heartier piece of china for the main dish.  Cute napkins, matching plastic ware for utensils, and disposable cups make for easy clean up.

A Good Party Doesn’t End

Predating our Valentines Day party, our good friends have a Christmas Party each year.  Truth is, we all enjoy spending time together but it gets hard with kids and life in general.  That was when the Valentines Party was born, we didn’t want the party to end.  At the end of the Christmas Party our hosts always sent us home with a great little favor bag.  We decided to do the same.  Our favor bags are little mini date night bags, something the couple can use at home to keep the romance going.

The gift bags and tags are from Target, as well as the candies and the tropical scented candles.  I ordered some mini bath salts from one of my favorite Bath and Body companies, Jordan Essentials.  As a fan of the show Shark Tank, I remembered the episode with the Kisstixx (two lip balms, one for him and one for her, that compliment each other).   From Home Goods, I added in the card game for couples, and finally added a CD of long songs from the local Family Christian store.

I must admit, most favor bags are not quite as generous.  When Family Christian was looking for a  way to promote their Valentines products, and I had already been working with them for book reviews, I jumped at the chance!  So, a big thanks to Family Christian for providing the prizes and CDs for the favor bags! 

I have a big heart for couples continue to build their relationships over time, we need to support strong and health marriages.   To give back to other couples, just as others have blessed us is a great thing. 

Official Family Christian Blogger

The Ministry of the Unnoticed (Oswald Chambers, “The Love of God”)

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Currently, I am in the midst of writing a college level course on Women’s Ministry.  As part of my research, I’ve been entrenched in statistics regarding women in the church.  What percentage of the church is made up of women?  What percentage of the church volunteers are women?  A result of that research is that I have also come across articles that address the fact that women are leaving the church.  It took me to pause for a moment, because if the statistics show that women are 55% of the church body… and this with women leaving… how much higher was that number in previous years, decades????

Scouring through these articles, I noticed a fairly common thread amongst the women who were interviewed about why the left the church… they didn’t feel valued in the church.  In other words, they didn’t feel they had a place in the church.  Or, a voice in the church.  Or, that they had anything of value to offer the church.

They felt unnoticed.  Not only when they were attending, but in their absence.  No one noticed they were gone.

I’ve been there, myself.  When we moved to our current city, we knew absolutely NO ONE.  A church came highly recommend to us, and we attended there for over a year.  Every Sunday, when we would enter the church… we were treated like it was our very first visit.  Over 52 Sunday’s would pass… and this bright haired red head was given directions to the children’s Sunday school rooms.  Even the Sunday school teachers didn’t seem to acknowledge us as familiar faces.    We attended faithfully, every Sunday.   The only break we took was the few weeks after our third child was born.  We attended the social events too.  We were present in the church, very present.  We tithed every week, faithfully.  Yet, we never felt at home.  We never felt like we belonged.  And, when we made the decision to leave and find a different church…. no one noticed we were gone.

There was no Pastor call, or card form the children’s ministry director… wondering where we had gone.  No one was concerned for our welfare, and they didn’t even notice when the tithing checks stopped coming in.  We were literally invisible to the people we worshiped with every Sunday.

This morning I was reading through Oswald Chamber’s book, “The Love of God”, and a title chapter jumped off the page at me:

The Ministry of the Unnoticed

Chambers writes:  “Our Lord called twelve disciples – but what about all those other disciples of His that were not specifically called?  The twelve were called for a special purpose, but there were hundreds who followed Jesus – sincere believers in Him – who were unnoticed.”

Oswald Chambers first wrote about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed” in 1936, this is not a new phenomena in the church… of feeling unnoticed.  Chambers not only recognized it in his writing in 1936, but pointed it out in the very scriptures written about the foundations of Christianity.  There were thousands of people, serving Christ, who were unnoticed.  They were not written about in the scriptures by name, but referred to as “the crowd” or “the many”.  People, who were fully devoted followers of Christ… just like you and me, and history would never know their names. Yet, they were just as important in the forward movement of the church as any named disciple or apostle.

Chambers points out that those who were named were exceptions, the first or the most extraordinary conversions.  And as extraordinary as they were, they were still exceptions… not the rule.  He points out that, “The majority of us are unnoticed and unnoticeable people”.  He cautions, in his writing, that if we take these exceptions and make them our standard, we are going to create a big problem, producing the spiritually proud… departing from the good news and building on religion.

In Matthew 5:3, Chambers points out, the scriptures read “Blessed are the poor in spirit”; clarifying that in this reference we are not talking about the economically poor… but those who are spiritually poor.  And in the history of time, poor people are fairly common.  They make up the largest percentage of many populations around the world.  Chambers suggests that it is in this poverty of spirit, that we are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, not on our good deeds… but in humble love, adoration, and faith.  The every day people, living lives for God… seemingly unnoticed people, who carry great amounts of influence.

If you have ever had a chance to talk to someone who serves in missions, particularly in the third world countries, you can get a glimpse into what joy looks like despite poverty.  People, who in comparison to us, have nothing… yet they give everything they can.  They share the burdens of the community, with smiles on their face because they are full of love.  Kids who don’t have many belongings, running around kicking a soccer ball in their village.  It may be the only soccer ball they have in the entire village, but you don’t hear complaints… instead you hear laughter and see the smiles on their face as they pass the ball back and forth.

These are people who go unnoticed, just like many of us feel, but they do not wallow in it.  They are thankful and joyful for what God has given them.  They find joy in Him, in their community, and in the fact they woke up that morning.  We like to call those simple pleasures, but  think they are more like profound pleasures.  Finding joy in the everyday, TRUE JOY, is profound.

We encounter people like this stateside too.  It’s the woman in the projects who gives everything to make sure kids in her neighborhood have a full belly and a place to sleep, taking the prodigals into the safety of her home.  It is the homeless man, who has nothing but a cart full of what looks like trash, who sits on the corner sharing Jesus with those who pass by.  He has a smile on his face, that we can’t explain.   It is the mother who takes a house and  makes it into a home, welcoming in the neighborhood kids every day.  The husband who toils hard every day to provide for his families needs, but turns down the overtime because he’d rather be home with his family than own that new piece of technology.   It is the child who keeps a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in his locker, making sandwiches for the kids in his school that don’t have lunch (true story).

Every day people, doing every day things.  Unnoticed.

Or, so we think.

Jesus notices.  It doesn’t matter what man sees or doesn’t see.  We shouldn’t be doing anything for the approval of man.

I love how Oswald addresses this point, when he states:  “The true character of the loveliness that influences for God is always unconscious.  Conscious influence is always prideful and un-Christian.   When we begin to wonder whether we are of any use, we instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord.  …  If we begin to examine our outflow, we lose touch with the source.”

What Chambers is identifying here, is that when we become so focused on what we are doing “for God” we end up having more concern about our deeds.  We are paying more attention to the results.  We are focused on what we are doing.  Then our sin nature takes over because we want credit for it. We want to be noticed for our deeds, by others.  We want to be noticed that we are different, by others.  When we care more about what others are thinking about us, than God… we become prideful.

“Look at me!”, we shout.  “Look at this good thing I did for God!”

Dangerous grounds.

Don’t get me wrong, we are called to be different.  But, the only thing we are called to shout from the roof tops is the GOSPEL!  When we starting pointing out or making a spectacle of our good works, we are taking credit … not giving credit.  Every good deed should be done with the point of proclaiming Christ, of turning the gaze off of us toward God.

When we want accolades and adoration, when we want someone to praise us for being “godly women”, and when we need affirmation of man… we are doing these good deeds for the wrong reason.

Instead, if we are people who are changed by Christ… our “goodness” is just a part of who we are.  We don’t need to draw attention to it any more than the lilies of the field need to get your attention.  It is their fragrance that will cause you turn your head toward them.  They don’t work hard to create that fragrance, it’s just part of who they are.  They don’t fight against each other, so you pick one lily over another.  You catch the smell on the breeze, and your head turns the field… and what do you see?

Hundreds of lilies, waving the breeze.

Doing nothing out of the ordinary.

They were there yesterday, here today, and will be there tomorrow.  They are not shouting for you too look at them, they don’t need your affirmation.  They are just simply being the very thing God called them to be.  They don’t care that there are hundreds of lilies just like them, they don’t try to change their fragrance to stand out from the rest.  They are one part of many, and that is what makes the field so beautiful.

Once, I was in Europe, as we were traveling to our next destination…. something caught my attention.  As I looked out the window of the bus, I saw a sea of golden flowers.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  When I had a chance to get a closer view, I realized they were marigolds.  THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of marigolds.  You know, those yellow and orange flowers… that we consider “weeds” in some parts of the country, “cheap filler” for garden beds in other areas.  Something so simple, so ordinary and virtually unnoticed in my neck of the woods… was absolutely STUNNING.

I think that is how God sees his people, when He looks down upon His creation.  A sea of his children, moving about, creating a beautiful mosaic of every day love, care, compassion, and service.

And, that … is STUNNING.

If you are interested in reading more about “The Ministry of the Unnoticed”, you can find it the book “The Love of God” by Oswald Chambers.  There is another booklet by this name, so you’ll want to look for this cover:

theloveofGod

It contains reprints of several of his booklets, which were written in the 1930’s and are just as relevant to today.