Project 365: Day 42

At the Academy, we spend hours in silence. When you shut off the noise, you can actually listen. It is such a gift.

My day in pictures:

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In limited ways, I still access the rest of the world, read emails and the like. I have been limiting this to maybe 5 minutes a day. While here I received an email from a colleague in youth ministry asking for my advice about a difficult situation. I have been in her situation so I could empathize. What a gift I have been given by having days set aside to pray about it and wait for God’s answer.

Project 365: Day 18

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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I love that we live in a diverse community and that my children have friends of a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. We have so much to learn from each other. Diversity is a beautiful thing, including gender.

Today I had more than one conversation about becoming a woman in ministry. My friend Jake sent me this article about the backlash to a UMC ordained elder who happens to be female: this article: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4617205/. Then, when I was at a birthday party today, a male pastor from another denomination was a little surprised when I mentioned that I was on the track to ordination at my church. My thoughts were later rounded out by listening to a Sheryl Sandberg TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html)

It’s fascinating (frightening, disappointing, shocking? I’m not sure on the right word) to consider that women religious leaders face so much more than a glass ceiling even today. I wonder in how many professions that it not only is challenging for female leadership, but even has people claim it’s biblically wrong for woman to lead. By pursuing ordination as a deacon, the ministers of service, love and justice, I may be stepping into a fight that’s bigger than I can now comprehend.

I wonder if MLK, Jr. would mind if I amended his quote to read “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and sisterhood.” It’s worth fighting for justice – something I especially realize when I consider my daughter’s future.

Where have you learned to value diversity? When have you had to stand against injustice?

Project 365: Day 17

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The Perkins School of Youth Ministry 2014 has come to a close. Had an amazing week of teaching youth ministry Foundations along with 3 inspiring colleagues – crazy to realize that our teaching team had over 140 years of combined youth ministry experience!

Loved my week of teaching, learning, reconnecting and growing. It was both rejuvenating to be around “my people” and a little exhausting to not have my sleep and quiet time. Today began with quiet time and journaling at home. Caught my breath. Now I am ready for what’s next.

If you look closely in the above picture, you’ll see a prayer labyrinth ornament. This was a thank you gift for teaching at PSYM. My faith journey has included a lot of special moments marked by prayer labyrinths in some way – at Grace, Trinity, National Youth Workers Convention, First Arlington, Texas Youth Academy and now PSYM to name a few. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something through this symbolic gift?

Have you journeyed through a prayer labyrinth? What did you learn from the experience?

3 Important Reasons to Smile Today

I just watched this interesting TED Talk about the superpower of smiling, and I thought you’d enjoy it too:


(If the video doesn’t work, click here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_gutman_the_hidden_power_of_smiling.html)
Here are the three most important things I took away from the video:

1. The span of your smile determines the span of your life.  Research backs up the fact that people who smile more often live longer, healthier lives.  Smilers have less stress and more positive feedback.  I, for one, want to live a long, healthy life and would like to spend that time smiling, how about you?  Just think, if you can impress this idea on young people and change their behavior, you can actually make them live longer.

2. Smile + Frown = Smile.  Smiles are contagious.  If you see someone who is smiling, it is difficult to not smile back.  What a great ministry tool it is to know that you possess the power to make sad people feel better just by giving them a smile!  In the youth ministry world, this power is valuable for encouraging teens who are feeling down on themselves…and at some point that may be all teens.  How can you use this power today?

3. Smiles bring more pleasure than up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.  Want to feel good without high caloric intake?  Smile.  You feel better, the pleasure part of your brain is activated, life is good.  I still like chocolate a good bit, but it’s nice to know that I can smile thinking about chocolate without eating it all and still feel good.

That’s all today – 3 valuable reasons to smile.  I hope this post makes you live longer, happier and healthier.

Blessings,

Erin

I love you, Lord…But I AM MAD AT YOU!

This is an article I wrote for The YouthWorker Movement, thought I’d put it here on my personal blog, too:

 

Are we failing the students in our youth ministry by teaching them to be too polite to God?

I recently visited a different mainline church’s youth group program.  During the lesson time, the youth pastor asked the opening question, “What are different ways we can pray?”  The room contained a wide range of students from goofy 6th grade boys to mature 12th grade girls, so the maturity of answers varied a little, but the gist was: Prayers in church, silent prayer, singing praises, spending time in nature, prayer with movement, liturgical dance, writing down your prayer, reading the Bible, saying grace at dinner…and so on.

While listening, it occurred to me, all of the prayers we tend to teach and model to youth are very polite, reserved even.  And maybe even a little fake.

When I’m honest, there are times in life when I don’t feel polite at all.  When tragedy strikes and it’s on the news – innocent children murdered while at school, civilian hostages being shot and killed in a Kenyan shopping mall – the emotions I feel are shock, horror, sadness, grief, anger.  When I lost my job, I felt wounded, betrayed, stunned, hurt.  I’ve silently grieved the loss of unborn children lost through miscarriage.  These emotions boiling inside of me are neither polite nor reserved.

Learning to cope with strong, often changing emotions is one of the biggest challenges a teen can face.  If I reflect on my adolescent years, emotions I felt then were similar to the ones I feel now, more intense even.  I clearly recall specific times of anger, pain, grief, doubt, disbelief, betrayal, abandonment and more ugliness.  As a teen, I did not know much beyond my own personal experience and emotions.  What is different for me now is I have a faith mature enough to recognize that, no matter the circumstance, God is still good and God is still in control.  Teens don’t all know that yet.  Is there a way to help them deal with pain and anger and other strong emotions by teaching it is okay to feel these emotions, even to pray toward God with them?

What if we taught that it was okay to be real, to even yell at God?  

Here is how I introduced the concept recently:  In this clip from the classic movie, The Apostle (1997) you can see an entirely different model of prayer, one I know that my United Methodist senior highers had never seen before.  In case you haven’t seen the movie (it’s really good), what you need to know is the main character, Sonny, is a preacher that is a complicated, imperfect character.  He just lost the church he started and his marriage is falling apart.

(Follow this link if the above clip doesn’t play for you: http://youtu.be/q5v5DOEF45E)

I showed this movie clip to my senior high Bible study last week, followed by questions on how they have seen people pray.  Well, no one had even imagined yelling at God before.  In church we tend to focus on the pretty parts of the Bible, but if you take a close look, there is a lot in Scripture about struggle, anger, pain, grief, jealousy and more.  We followed the clip with a Bible lesson on the wide range of emotions found in the book of Psalms, having the youth read to themselves.   Youth reflected on their week, read Psalms from the list in the lesson that spoke to them, prayed and then wrote their own psalm prayer.  (Here is the complete handout I used: How to Use the Bible to Improve Your Prayer Life, adapted from to “Holy Things for Youth Ministry“ by Brian Hardesty-Crouch.)

Maybe United Methodists in general are never going to feel comfortable with actually yelling at God, especially in front of others, but maybe we should.  What I learned through this Bible study is that there are deep emotions going on in the youths’ lives, even on an ordinary Wednesday school night.  We fail our students if we don’t teach them that it is okay to be honest with God.  Sometimes honesty is a painful thing, yes?  By giving a method to pray about their emotions, by giving permission to be honest and to deal with hard things head on, healing and growth begin.  By teaching how the Bible can give practical help in times of struggle, students learn to turn to God’s Word for guidance.   The youth and I also learned that they are creative and can make parts of the Bible their own story.  My prayer for you is that you can model honesty with God, even when the truth hurts.

Blessings,

Erin

Questions:

What other creative ways have you or your church taught about prayer?  About dealing with emotion?

Is there someone you know whose life would be changed if they knew it was okay to yell at God, to release their anger and hurt?

99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the “Holymess” of Matrimony – a Book Review

99 thoughts coverLike most life lessons, sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. But what if there was a way to learn things without all of the pain?

My husband says there are two types of people in the world – “stove-touchers” and “not-stove-touchers”. If you have a hot stove and tell someone not to touch it, some people will listen, others have to touch the stove themselves. There is wisdom in listening to good advice before you get burned.

What about you?  Are you more of a stove-toucher in life or not?  Either way you learn life lessons…but why would you want to learn things the hard way when it comes to your marriage and ministry?

Jake and Melissa Kircher’s new book, “99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the ‘Holymess’ of Matrimony,” is full of sound advice for youth workers who are trying to achieve balance between church work and married life.  The book covers five areas: Marriage Basics, Balancing Marriage and Ministry, Finances, The Church Versus Your Family, and The Darker Side of the Church.

I realize after reading the section on “The Darker Side of the Church,” that I was a “stove toucher” myself when it came to surviving my own youth ministry struggles.  When you leave a youth ministry position, it’s easy to get in a trap of “if only’s,” ruminating on things that have gone badly.  As Jake and Melissa point out, this leads to hurt and bitterness more than healing and forgiveness. I learned this the hard way as I spent way too much time trying to figure out how I could have done things differently to make other people happy.  Sometimes in ministry, we can get overwhelmed with the pressure to meet the stated and unstated expectations of others.  It’s heartbreaking.  If I had heard Jake and Melissa’s advice earlier to “expect to fail,” and advice on how to handle that pressure, I imagine I could have avoided a lot of pain.

I have to confess, I picked up this book with an unintended arrogance.  My husband and I have been married for over 15 years and have been involved in youth ministry the entire time.  I started the book thinking there wasn’t much new I could learn, but I was pleasantly surprised with not only Jake and Melissa’s candor and openness, but also their sound advice.  We forget the valuable marriage life lessons learned along the way, this book does a good job of articulating important points to consider about work-life balance and the idiosyncrasies specific to church work.  Whether it’s advice basic marriage happiness or finances or whatever you need most, it’s comforting to know you are not alone in your struggles.

Good advice doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be valuable.  For example, Jake and Melissa advise youth workers to have a day completely off from work each week plus a “flex day” for getting errands done.  The concept of a day of rest is not new, yet how many youth workers neglect Sabbath?  When you keep telling yourself you’ll take a day off later, or keep putting off time with your spouse because you have just “one more thing” to do for work, it doesn’t take long until find yourself exhausted and on the road to burnout.  Neglect taking days off and you suffer, your spiritual life suffers, your marriage and your ministry suffers, too.

It’s as painful an experience as touching a stove when you find yourself at a point of spiritual dryness or hurt in youth ministry.  While it is reassuring to know that you are not alone and you can survive these experiences, wouldn’t it be easier to avoid some of the pain by following sound advice in the first place?  Your marriage and family life should take precedence over your work life – read this book for advice and practical on how to make your own family and spiritual life a priority.

Who should read this book: If you are newly married, thinking about marriage, or if you just never really given any thought to how ministry effects your marriage, I would say this book should be required reading for you.  But even if feel like you have your act together, there are elements in this book that are healthy reminders about how to find work and life balance.   To the happily married, read it for a brush up, then pass the book on to your favorite newlyweds.