I am a Giver – #Write31Days

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Several years ago, I attended a conference where I was invited to participate in a special workshop on writing.  When we arrived to our meeting room, there was a huge paper shopping bag… full of books.  So many books.  All the books.  As a lover of books, I was in my moment…. angels were singing, cherubim fluttered about me, and I was elated.

I remember my joy in receiving those magnificent books.  The only thing they asked of us in return was to to thank the various publishers that gifted them to us.  Gifted.  To us.  To me.  All of these beautiful paper pages, filled with theology… apologetic… devotions on our identity in Christ… living out ministry.  Praise God.

Three years ago, my friend Laura and I embarked on a new mission.  The Lord had placed a ministry on our hearts and we have been obediently following that call, ever since.  Our ministry simply put connects our local Women’s Ministry leaders to each other (to network, share, and encourage each other).  It also connects these ministry leaders to books, resources, and ministries that are relevant to Women’s Ministry in the church.

The greatest joy I have, at each of our quarterly meetings, is the moment I share with these women the gift bags of resources we have gathered for them.  I realize I am just the conveyor of the gift, as our ministry partners are the ones making the donations from their inventory.  However, to know that they are leaving our event with tools IN HAND to help with their ministry work… it literally brings me to tears.  I am humbled that the Lord uses us in such a way.

What I have learned is that I really, really enjoy giving.  I didn’t realize how much, until these last few years.  I love giving to people.  I love giving to ministries.  I would rather give 100 gifts than receive 1 for myself.  I would rather give 100 minutes of the floor, than take 10 minutes for myself.  If I have something that could help you, I’m happy to pass it on to you.  I am never happier than when I can give.

Today, if you are reading this, I would like to give you a gift.  Most of my readers know what they are getting into with my posts.  However, you may have popped by here because you followed the #Write31Days hashtag.  If you have gotten this far… let me just say that I want to give you a gift…

… a gift of love, beyond judgement and condemnation… but sincere, genuine love.

… a gift of forgiveness, because there is nothing to great that can’t be forgiven.

… a gift of hope, even in the darkest time and trials that overwhelm there is hope for something more.

I want to give you the gift of Jesus Christ.  I want you to know God, the way I do.  As someone who loved me so much, that He would send His son to atone for my sins.  Jesus, who allows me to walk free in His gift than be burdened by the chains of guilt and shame.  I have been washed clean, a new creation, a new opportunity to live a life of joy, peace, and love.

It is not a gift of perfection, because we are human.  It’s not a gift of permission to keep on going down the wrong paths, but an invitation to change direction and start a new.  An opportunity to start over again, when you fail.    This is a gift of HOPE that there is more to this life, a gift o PEACE that doesn’t allow the trials to get you down, and a gift of JOY to know that GOOD THINGS are to come.

I pray that you are open to receive it.

Try Something New – #Write31Days

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Do you know what I love about arts and crafts?  EVERYTHING!

  • There always seems to be something new to learn, whether a new technique or a totally new art form.
  • The internet has brought us teachers into our living rooms so that we can learn at the click of a button.
  • Learning a new art form always has an acceptable margin of error, and we expect it to take time to master.

Recently, I was introduced to a local store that was filled with all sorts of goodies.  Mass produced retails to custom pieces of art.  I was thrilled to find out in the back of the store was a studio where classes were held.  There was a beautiful display board up of a papercraft called “quilling” that caught my attention.

I was actually familiar with this folk art, but had never attempted it before.  At first I wasn’t sure about signing up, since the class was $40.   Let me clarify that my concern wasn’t that it was too much, but paying $40 for the class plus having to buy supplies on top of that wasn’t quite in my budget.  It just so happened that the store owner caught me admiring the sample piece and engaged me in conversation.  Turned out the $40 not only included the supplies for the class, but tools you could take home.  It even included enough materials to continue making projects at home on your own.

SOLD!  I signed up, spent a few hours in the quilling class, and I was HOOKED.

I love, love, love this craft!  It is good to try new things, you never know what new interests will grab your heart.  seashell

Family Christian, Giving Back

For almost two years now, I have been writing reviews for Family Christian.  It may be books, movies, music, etc… and I really enjoy it.  BUT, my most favorite thing to participate in are their giving back campaigns.  In a nutshell, when a giving back campaign is launched, the bloggers submit who they would want to give a gift to and why.  Then a few of us are selected.  This is my second time giving back.  The first time, I was able to bless Una Esperanza with Bibles to take with them on their last mission trip.

This time, it is a little bit closer to home.

A few months ago my middle school aged daughter called me to pick her up from school early, she was feeling sick.  Bible study was just ending, and I headed straight to her school.  I was wearing a tshirt with a bible verse on it, and had thrown my wallet into my tote bag for the study.  Since the school needed my ID, I just grabbed the tote on my way in.  As I was waiting for my daughter to get to the office from the clinic, the school secretary read the verse on my shirt aloud.  The Dean’s assistant was standing next to her, and made a comment about it.  I responded that I had just come from our weekly bible study meeting.  To which they looked at each other, and the secretary said “Isn’t that nice.”

It was a tone I recognized all to well, the sound of voice we have when someone else is getting to do something we would enjoy but don’t have time for.  When Family Christian wanted to do a holiday giving back campaign, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I nominated these two women, who work tirelessly for our school.  I wanted to give them an opportunity to study together during their lunch break at the school.  I shared the story of the encounter and what I would give them.  And, I was selected to participate.

Family Christian sent me a $50 gift certificate to purchase items from their site.

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I selected Jen Wilken’s “Women of the Word”, some multi-colored bible study markers, and journals they could write notes in through their study.

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At our local dollar tree I was able to purchase some pretty paper, ribbon, and snowflakes to wrap the gifts in.  I wanted the gifts to look like something special, so they knew that extra effort was put into their gift.  (Usually, I am a gift bag kind of gal for gifts to teachers).

I stacked each package, putting the journal on the bottom since it was the longest.  The book landed in the middle and the markers on top.  It was perfect!  I wrapped a ribbon around the length of the package, and topped with the snowflake.  I used elmer’s school glue to ensure the snowflake would stay put.

On the day I delivered the packages to the middle school, I was surprised to be honest.  In the elementary school my youngest attends, I saw parents dropping off gifts to the office staff each morning leading toward the last day before break.  In the middle school office, there was nothing.  Ms. S, was at her desk as Christamsy as she could be.  Santa hat on her head, and a Christmas Light necklace adorned her school tshirt.  Yet, there were no gift bags from parents to be seen.  Apparently something happens when kids enter middle school and high school.  Less parents are giving teachers gifts, and even less (and in our case apparently none) were including the front office staff.

The Principal was standing near by, as I let her know I was dropping of a gift to her and Ms. Jones (the Dean’s assistant).  The look on her face, could not have been more shocked.   The Principal started showering her with accolades, acknowledging all that she did for the school.  All the while she was hustling her way around the counter to give me a hug.  As she approached there were tears in her eyes.  She was so grateful that someone appreciated her, that someone was acknowledging her, that she was remembered.  I don’t know much about Ms. S.  Is she married?  Does she have children?  Was she alone for Christmas?  What I do know is that I made her day, and I wouldn’t have done it without Family Christian giving me the nudge.

Ms. Jones was already out of the office for the day, but I left the gift for her. I received a card a few days later.

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The funny thing about all of this is that I thought Family Christian was allowing me an opportunity to give a gift that would encourage two women to study together when they can.  In reality the gift was more than that.  I was the one who received the greatest gift, because it opened my eyes to those who work tirelessly for our children… and often go unrecognized.

Whether it is Christmas, Teacher Appreciation Day, the end of the school year… or just a random Wednesday… take the opportunity to recognize the people in the schools working behind the scenes.  Especially so for our middle and high school support staff and administration.  Secretaries, Cafeteria Workers, Custodians/Janitors, etc are all people who are making an impact on the school your children attend.

A few days ago, my high school daughter shared that she wished the Cafeteria cashier a Merry Christmas… she replied:

“You are the first person to say that to me all week.”

This year is almost over, but the school year still has a few months ahead.  I challenge anyone who reads this (even if you kids do not attend school), what can you do in the coming months as a way to show appreciation to the people in your life that may be working behind the scenes… unnoticed, unrecognized?  People like:

The cleaning crew that comes in to the office after hours.

The teller at the bank who always serves you.

The grocery store cashier, the one you make a point of getting into his or her line because they do a good job.

The high school janitor.

The golf course grounds keepers.

The local police department or fire house.

School Crossing Guards, office security guards, the neighbor who always brings up your trash can, church secretaries, the mechanic who saved you a ton of money this year, etc.  If you are unsure who to recognize, pray that God will reveal the person to you.  Or, that He will provide the funds or means to recognize all of the people you desire to acknowledge.

Official Family Christian Blogger

#Write31Days – Post 13 – When the Church Says No

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I was reading the above article, on the website for The Gospel Coalition.  The gist of the article was that members of the body with artistic talents are often discouraged in using their gifts within the church.  It could be an art form that is not really understood, or that the church staff don’t know how to actually include it into the service of the church.  It isn’t always that they don’t want to, they just may not know how to.

But I would challenge that is discouragement isn’t just for those who have artistic gifts, but any gift or talent that isn’t being utilized.  I have been in churches that were welcoming of gifts and talents & would utilize them if the person was willing to commit.  I’ve also been in churches that will dismiss the gifts they don’t understand or can’t seem to figure out how that gift fits in to the vision of the church.

From an artistic standpoint, I can totally understand.  As a professionally trained actress, who also has ample back stage experience,  I have offered my gift to churches in the past.  Some embraced it with open arms, others dismissed it as something not relevant.  Dismissed so quickly that I never even had the opportunity to explain that expertise.  In 2005, I directed a Christmas musical for the church we were attending at the time.  It just so happened that at one showing there was a television producer in the audience.  He loved the show, and they came back and filmed it.  They ran it every few days, where they had an empty slot, all the way through Christmas Day.

That was an exciting day for me.  Yet, too often, when I share with a church or ministry that I have a theater background they instantly want to put me in charge of a children’s production.  That is NOT my specialty, it is not my gift.  They do not understand the impact that LIVE performance can have on a group of people.  Perhaps this is because too few churches have trained professionals, maybe they haven’t enough trust in the quality or commitment.  What saddens me is to be shot down before you even get a chance to try.  The Lord blessed me with a gift, specifically a talent, one that I want to use for HIS glory.   It is sad to see it get brushed aside because someone else doesn’t “get it”.

Being dismissed and discouraged is not only an issue with the arts, but can come about in many different forms.  I watched my husband’s spirit get completely squashed by a men’s ministry leader because he made an assumption about my husband without even getting to know him.  What most don’t know about my husband is that he has the ability to talk to anyone about God.  It’s really amazing.  I envy his boldness at times.  Every day he is out among the community, doing his job, and sharing the gospel where he can.  He has prayed with people, give them encouragement, and even his own Bible if they didn’t have one.

He can do this because God gifted him in that manner.  My husband also went through Evangelism Explosion training to learn how to present the gospel to every day people in a way that they would understand.  Bringing them through the steps from accepting Christ, to getting plugged into a church, and more.  When we were married and our family was growing, a huge burden was on my husband’s shoulders.  He became lukewarm, going through the motions.  One weekend he went with a men’s ministry to a conference, and my husband was ON FIRE.  He was ready to get back on the horse.

The leader of the ministry didn’t know my husband that well.  He assumed that my husband was caught up in emotions.  Since he didn’t take the time to really listen to my husband, to ask any questions about his experience… the man quickly extinguished that fire.  My husband said “I’m ready to serve.  Where can I plug in????”

The ministry leader patted him on the shoulder and said:  “No brother, where can we serve you.”   My husband wasn’t even given the chance to share who he was, or the gift that God has given him.  To this day, my husband has not stepped forward since.  He was rejected.  Instead, he has become my biggest supporter and advocate.    Instead, he has continued to share the gospel in his every day encounters.

One church damaged my husband, and he just hasn’t recovered.  Over the years, he has had ideas for ministries where he could serve people in our church or community.  However, that inspiration is fleeting.

I believe that we have to be very cautious as a church to NOT allow our vision for the church become tunnel vision.  We must be open to see how the different gifts and talents of the body can be used in that vision.  It is easy to see things our way, within our own understanding and abilities.  It is easy to see how things ought to go and progress, and make a list of what gifts and talents are needed to move that vision forward.  It isn’t always easy to see how the gifts of others can fit into that vision, or be molded into that vision.   If we see things too black and white, we miss the many gifts that fall in the middle.

As leaders we need to be careful with the gifts and offers of service from others.  We need to not just immediately dismiss a person because at first we can’t see how their gift fits the vision.  We need to not dismiss a person as a capable kingdom worker without taking the time to get to know them.  We may be throwing away the most amazing gifts… and affecting people in ways we never realize.

This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, accepting any and everything.  We can be judicious and gracious at the same time.

  •  Thank the person for offering their gift or talent to the church/ministry.
  • Ask them questions about their experience or training.
  • Get an idea of how they think their gift or talent could fit within the vision of the church, or help the ministry/community.
  • Take some time to really think about the conversation, pray about it.  Is there room for this ministry idea?  If not, is there an existing ministry that we can plug this person into that fulfills their desire to serve with their gift.
  • Follow up with the person, and be honest.  If you are not sure how it fits the vision, talk to them about it.  They may see something you don’t.  If now isn’t the right time, agree to revisit it in 3 – 6 months.  If you require more information, ask for it and take the time to review it.
  • If this is a brand new member of the church, and you are uncertain of commitment, have them go through the new members class and plug into a small group.  Let them know you want to get to know them better, and let them get acquainted with the church first.  Then you can talk ministry work.

 

Unused Gifts

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1 Corinthians 12:4-11

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

It was about 11 years ago, when a man went with his church to a Promise Keepers conference.  The truth was that this man had grown up in the church, he had gone through discipleship training, and at one time had a spirit that was thirsty for the Lord.  He had read his bible cover to cover, many times.  He had wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures.  Life, however, would distract him.  His fervor for service would diminish.  He toiled and labored to provide for his family, so much so that it was hard to give up that one day during the week that he didn’t have to get up for work.  Most days, he would… the family would head over to church and he and his wife would discuss the message on the way home.

He was too tired at the end of a long shift to sit through family devotions, or read the scriptures with his wife.  He trusted her with the spiritual leadership of his children, the managing of the home, etc.  This trip to Promise Keepers was just what he needed to open his eyes.  The message directed at the men convicted his heart, he recognized that he had become a lukewarm Christian.  An ember began to burn that called him to service in his church.  He was renewed in spirit.

On the bus ride home, the Pastor asked some questions of the men from the church.  The man stood up and announced “I was a lukewarm Christian, I was wrong, I don’t want to do it anymore… where can I serve????”

A few men shouted, “AMEN!”… there were some high fives as he moved toward the Pastor.  The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “No brother, how can we serve you?”

The Pastor’s intentions were good, but because he didn’t take the time to get to know the man and what he had to offer, he dismissed the man’s offer.  The man was crushed, he wanted to serve, use his talents, but he was denied.  He returned to his seat, but the high fives on the return trip suddenly felt empty. 

When he returned home, it would take him several days before he could even bring himself to share what happened with his wife.  She could see how hurt he was.  He had a lot to offer, but he wasn’t going to be given the chance.  He wanted to serve, but he was turned down.  In the days following the trip, and the weeks even further out, not a Pastor or Elder would reach out to him.    They were not even going to follow up on their offer to serve him!  Time passed, and the ember went out. 

It’s been 11 years, and to this date … the man has never offered his gifts again.  The church missed out on an amazing opportunity, and frankly so did the man. 

I understand how he feels.  There have been plenty of times in my life where I felt like I was being over looked for the gifts and talents I had to offer.   In some cases, I was overlooked completely for a task that I was more than qualified for.  In other cases, I was given something totally outside my of my gifts because it was just naturally assumed I would be good at is… simply because I am a woman.  When a person is overlooked or rejected enough times, they will stop offering.  If you only offer them the tasks that you assume they are good at (without ever talking to them about it), resentment and frustration can build.

This happens in the church quite a bit, the man’s story is not unique.  God has given us all gifts to be used for His glory, but that’s the key… we need to use them.  We want to use them in the church, but if the church isn’t willing to recognize them or utilize them, one of two things will happen:

  1.  We stop offering our gifts.
  2. We take our gifts elsewhere.

I took an informal poll of some ministry leaders, the question was:  Do you have your volunteers (or church) take a spiritual gifts test, regularly?

I was surprised by the few who answered, YES.

If we look back to the story I shared (which is true, by the way)…. it could have gone a lot different.

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, that’s great! Call me this week and we’ll talk about where you could serve.”

or

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, we’d be happy to have you serving with us.  Stop by my office this week, I’ll have spiritual gifts test waiting for you.  Fill it out, and let’s set a date to have lunch.”

or

The Pastor put his hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling… and said “Brother, that is so exciting.  Do you know where you’d like to serve?”

In all three examples, it would have given the man the opportunity to meet with the Pastor, to share his background and experience, and provided the groundwork for identifying his spiritual gifts in order to determine the best place for him to serve within the church.  It acknowledged him, without rejecting him.  It created a plan of action that was immediate.

This is something that we must be careful of, with the members of our church.  We can’t make assumptions about what they are good at, or their knowledge, the time they have available, or what we think their gifts are.  We also can’t ignore the fact that every person in the church has a gift.  We need to make the effort to get to know the people, find out what their gifts are, and plug them into the places they can use them.

Our gifts are more than the choir, parking team, nursery, greeter, and info desk volunteers.

Women by nature are not all gifted for VBS and Sunday School, because they are women.

Men are not by nature all gifted for landscaping and construction, because they are men.

I wonder, when we talk about women leaving the church, as well as the younger generations, how much of it comes from a lack of not feeling utilized by the church?  If you don’t feel wanted or needed, why stay?

What if…….

  • all new members classes included a spiritual gifts test?
  • fall small groups started off with group leaders handing out spiritual gifts tests?
  • instead of saying to the whole church we need these few volunteer spots filled… we looked at their tests and placed everyone … somewhere.

I think we know that realistically, not everyone will turn in their test.  Nor, can we expect that everyone is going to be available to volunteer.  People do have jobs, kids, and even other volunteer commitments.  However, by starting the process of identifying their gift we can engage their minds.  They will begin thinking about if, when, and how they could be used in the church.  We can guide them toward ministries that are seeking volunteers, or even come up with something for people to do in their gift range while they wait for something to become available.

If we engage people’s gifts into the service of the church, on a regular basis, they become invested & connected members of the body.  They will feel wanted, valued, connected, important, and feel they have a purpose for being in this body of believers.

An unopened gift can never be fully appreciated.

“Savor” the moments, right where you are.

It’s been a while since I had my hands on a good devotion book.  I’ve been spending more time digging into the word directly, school work with Christian Leaders Institute, and writing a curriculum on women’s ministry.  Most of the devotion books I have on my bookshelf require a little more effort than what limited time I have for supplemental reading.

Family Christian gave me the opportunity take review Shauna Niequist’s devotion book, Savor.  When I first opened the pages, I  was happy to see that these were devotions that were short and really got right into the heart of the message.  What I didn’t realize was how poignant they were going to be as I went through them.

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Like two days ago, as I was sitting on bench waiting.  My sixteen year old was taking her driver’s test, life was changing.  Shaunti’s words about embracing the here and the now, were so needed.  My youngest reached over and pressed down the right side of the book so I could snap a picture.  So aware of what I was doing, but suddenly part of it.  I closed the book and grabbed that little hand, holding on for a bit longer.

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Today, I read about being present with God in the demonstration of his power through his Word.  I find such joy in reading and studying scripture and bible history.  I find joy in teaching it to others, which is exactly what God has asked of us to do in the Great Commission.  It was an affirmation to the things God has been maneuvering in my life for quite some time, as I start seeing them fall into place today.

And, if a devotion book isn’t good enough on it’s own… I let you in on a little secret.   Scattered amongst the pages are savory recipes that fit the seasons; from summer salads to sweet fondues.    Each devotion page has a few questions on the bottom that serves as reminders of who we are, what God created us to be, and those who God has put into your life to help you get along in your journey.

This is a great devotion book, for you own use… but is also beautiful and would make a lovely gift for a friend or someone in your church body who is in need of a little pick me up.

The book Savor was provided to me by Family Christian for the purpose of reviewing on this blog.  The opinions, however, are entirely my own and without bias.