Supporting Those Returning from a Missions Experience

From an email from Taylor University
Shared with Student Leaders and Team Members’ Parents, Taylor University, 2011

Student leaders and peers have a strategic role!

Proper re-entry is a crucial part of short-term missions – “even when it’s over, it’s not over”

Biblical model of re-entry care (from Neal Pirolo, The Re-Entry Team)
Acts 14:26-28; 15:35
1. They finished their assignment
2. They returned to their sending church (community)
3. They received the community’s hospitality
4. They reported all that God had done in and through them
5. They ministered again in their community

Road blocks that prevent healthy re-entry

• Busyness
• Difficult circumstances at home
• Numbness or not knowing what to do
• Disappointment
• Illness, exhaustion…

Returning students may
• Have little motivation for classes and/or other activities
• Experience restlessness – a desire to “get away” or return to the host country
• Not want the experience to be over, wishing it could continue, and desiring to re-live it
• Have feelings of sadness/grief or even depression after leaving a part of themselves on the field
• Go through reverse culture shock – disgust at materialism, self absorption, lack of gratitude in U.S.
• Experience a self-righteous/critical attitude toward home culture/people regarding waste, extravagance, apathy, superficiality…, or toward the host culture for its shortcomings
• Be confused about biblical stewardship based on the physical, spiritual, or social needs they encountered
• Question God’s sovereignty or other foundational issues for the same reasons
• Think that no one else cares about other cultures or the world’s needs
• Feel lonely or isolated – friends/family are busy or preoccupied
• Feel that no one will listen – friends/family not interested in hearing details
• Believe that no one understands their experience, even those willing to listen
• Experience an inability to communicate what they experienced and insights they gained
• Be confused about what God is doing within them or with their future plans
• Seek God’s will for their life with new intensity
• Feel that they have changed, but friends/family treat them the same
• Be excited about finding new ways to reach out and/or use newly discovered abilities
• Be assessing their gifts and passions
• Have regrets based on unmet expectations, their own conduct/shortcomings, or unresolved conflict
• Experience spiritual attack
• Have new excitement for spiritual disciplines – prayer, Bible reading, new worship styles…
• Be trying to gain a Kingdom perspective and/or accurate theology of suffering
• Be dealing with unresolved hurts and baggage they “discovered” under the stress of the trip
• Question their friendships and priorities
Etc. …

Goals for helping
1. Strive for them to feel heard, supported, and cared for
2. Assist them in dealing with unresolved issues that need to be addressed
3. Help them begin to integrate the experience into life for the long haul
4. Allow yourself to be impacted through the experience of helping (by-product of serving the person)
5. Remember that different students will need different types of help

Top 6 Ways to Help
1. Pray for them
2. Listen, really listen! On two levels
a. Public – Give them opportunities to share on the wing or floor (or in church)
b. Private – Seek them out individually and encourage the rest of wing/floor to do so also
3. Provide a safe environment for them to wrestle with issues without a timeframe expectation
4. Help them remain alert to the spiritual battle raging at all times (Eph. 6:12). We pray against attacks from the enemy on the field, but it’s just as important to pray against them once we come home because Satan would like nothing more than to minimize the impact of the experience
5. Assist them in maintaining spiritual disciplines, especially journaling/reflection. “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates)
6. Encourage them to make practical application to their lives. This prevents compartmentalization and helps them integrate the experience for long term. Keep it to just one or a few goals that are achievable

Questions not to Ask
Avoid yes/no, short answer, or very broad questions such as:

• How was your trip? (too broad)
• What did you do? (too broad)
• Did you have fun? (yes/no)
• Are you going back? (yes/no)
• Did you get along with your team? (yes/no)
• Did you like the culture? (yes/no)

Questions to Ask
Ask specific, open ended questions that begin with words such as “describe” “in what ways” “explain” or “who/what/how/why”
• What was the most meaningful thing about the trip? The hardest thing? The most fun/exciting thing?
• Describe three highlights of the trip.
• What are the most significant lessons God taught you? How did you learn them?
• What did God teach you about Himself? Yourself? Missions?
• How did your expectations match up with what happened? Was this good or bad and why?
• Explain the types of ministry your team did. How did you spend your free time?
• What did God enable you to do that you didn’t think you could do?
• What do you think was your greatest contribution to the project? To the team?
• Describe three of the people who had an impact on you and why.
• Explain how the host culture is different from ours.
• What did you learn from the host culture? What do you admire about the nationals?
• What is good about the host culture and/or U.S. culture that you can embrace?
• What is negative about the host culture and/or U.S. culture that you want to avoid?
• What did you learn from the host missionaries or Christian leaders?
• How would you describe your relationship with the Lord before and after the trip?
• If given another chance, would you change the way you conducted yourself on the trip? How?
• What has been the most difficult thing about returning home? Why?
• Who has disappointed you since you’ve been back? In what way(s)?
• What new values or priorities are you bringing home with you?
• What next steps will you take spiritually? In ministry? In lifestyle choices?
• In what ways do you sense spiritual attack as you return?
• What do you remember about the people or culture you left behind?
• What do you miss most from the trip and why? What are you glad to leave behind and why?
• How do you see God working around you or in you now that you have returned?
• Was there a difficult experience on the trip for which you are now thankful?
• What are you confused or frustrated about?
• In what ways do you think God wants your life to change?
• What did you learn about your gifts, strengths, weaknesses and passions? What are they?

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Adoption

ORPHANS

I read an article about a group of missionaries in a particular country. They intended to start an orphanage to adopt orphans from that country into Christian, American families. What they found in this country was corruption. The orphan “business” was big business and women were being coerced, bribed, and fooled into putting their children up for adoption. Children were literally being taken and sold then adopted by the American families who didn’t know their true history.

These missionaries decided to be an answer, not a part of the problem. Instead of taking children from their parents, they began to assist the mothers who were in the most desperate of situations. Young girls, rape victims, the poorest of the poor, & the most broken, hurting women who planned to place their child for adoption came to their program. The missionaries helped them. They supported the mothers, assisted them, trained them, and provided for them. When the article was written, only one child had been placed for adoption in their program. Only one. One parent chose to place their child. Only one.

What is better for the child? To be taken from their mother, or even to be selflessly given up by their mother, to be put with (wealthy) American, Christians? Maybe some would see it that way, but I don’t. Not at all. I believe supporting a family that loves and wants a child is a given in our Christian duty. Adopting those without a family is our calling. James 1:27 says, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. We all should be looking after orphans and widows. Unquestionably. In 1 Timothy 5, God gives clearer instructions on how to do that.  Read this, then read it again:

3 The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. 4 But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much.  5 But a woman who is a true widow, one who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. Night and day she asks God for help and spends much time in prayer. 8 But those who won’t care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied the faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.

But these further instructions are only about widows, “true widows”– not orphans. Is there such a thing as a true orphan or are some not-truly orphans?

I believe any child who has no parents to care for them fit the description of a true orphan. Children whose parents can’t care for them for health, financial, situational (imprisonment,etc), or other circumstances and children whose parents don’t want to care for them also fit this bill, but often only temporarily. We as Christians should care for them.

But what about the child whose parents want them desperately, but haven’t been able to provide for them? Should we take their children just because we can provide better? Maybe we can even parent better…should I take their child? I don’t believe so. I want to be a part of the answer, just as those missionaries were. I want to be one who helps, supports, loves, provides, and does whatever I can do so a parent can raise their child in a loving, safe home.

I’m not talking about abused kids, that’s a different post. My point is not about children in international orphanages whose parents have abandoned them for whatever reason, although at some point we need to wonder what would happen if Christians took the price we’d pay for international adoption and instead gave it to the parents in the form of a grant for their child’s provision. That’s not my point for this rant though. I’m not even talking about the moms or dads who selflessly give up a child so that it can have a better life in an adoptive family that God prepared for that child before time began. I speak blessings upon blessings on those parents and upon all adoptive families.

I’m talking about what we as Christians should do–who we should be and how we should think–when we see a child in a desperate situation. Is this child an orphan? Is this child a victim of abuse? Is this child wanted desperately by a parent who has no idea how to parent or how to provide?  Is that parent in over their heads in the problems of this world and can’t see a way out? My suggestion is this — Care for the child in the time of their distress and assist the parents in parenting.

We shouldn’t take kids from parents who would be great parents if poverty, homelessness, or other issues, even mental illness, were eradicated from their lives.  We should bring the answer. That answer is Jesus.  Pure and holy, only Jesus.  He is the answer and His heart is for them, not against them.  We need to bring spiritual help, salvation, discipleship, healing, counseling…followed by practical, logical, logistical assistance, training, employment, and encouragement.

Jesus saw the worst forms of poverty.  His goal was wholeness, healing, provision, and salvation. Restoration.  Reunification. Redemption.  Big words that are counter cultural today. Because you see, it’s trendy to adopt.  It makes you a hero…a rescuer.  You saved the day and the life of a child.  MANY TIMES IT’S TRUE–adoptive parents did just that. I have no criticism for adoptive parents, I applaud you and I know it is SO hard and SO wonderful.  But sometimes, in my opinion, it’s wrong to adopt. Instead, sometimes, we should assist the parents to raise their own children or the grandparents or the aunts or the uncles, or even the third cousins.

I don’t have the answers to the programs parents need to come alongside of them.  I don’t know what that looks like or how to do that.  I don’t know who pays for that or how we as Christians walk that out in real life, but that’s where my heart is today. Will I keep a child who has a family member willing and able to raise it?  No, I won’t.  I won’t fight that legal battle.  But, I will fight that spiritual battle on behalf of the child and the parent.  I will hit my knees in prayer for protection, provision, and peace in that family. That is how I will fight for her–on my knees!!

Think hard on this thought:  What if this verse is true for “orphans” as well as widows: “But those who won’t care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied the faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers” (1 Timothy 5:8)– who are we to deny desperate parents who want to care for their children the right to provide for and parent their child?  I won’t be a part of it.

(This was originally published on 12/17/2014 while we were fighting for family reunification of our foster daughter with her bio-family instead of fighting to adopt her as some thought we should.)  My opinion.  Strongly written today in the midst of the fight and criticized from the cheap seats for not adopting her. We are hurting desperately as we literally walk through this. Every one of us has her best interest in mind.  Keep your opinions to yourself if you don’t agree.  Take it to God.  Pray for all involved.

Post Mission Trip Re-Entry Stress

Definition, Symptoms, Coping Styles, & Tips
A. Definition
Re-entry stress is like culture stress (also called culture shock) in many ways – only in reverse. While culture stress is associated with a sense of disorientation brought on by a new and unfamiliar environment, re-entry stress is precipitated by returning to a setting you presume to be familiar, but which in reality is no longer the same.

It is the unexpected and often subtle nature of such change that can cause stress for you as you return from cross-cultural service. What was once familiar and comfortable no longer appears the same. Something definitely has changed – sometimes it is the environment but often times it is you.

Suddenly you find yourself out of phase with your own culture. Your reaction may come in the form of bewilderment, dismay, disillusionment and perhaps even irritation or anger. Somehow, “things are just not the way they used to be…”, “nobody seems to care….”, “nobody really understands…”.

There are several contributing factors to re-entry stress. One is that you are being caught by surprise – you do not anticipate change and consequently are unprepared to cope. Another factor is value conflict. Your values, once taken for granted and even highly cherished, now seem of lesser significance or of little importance at all. Your way of thinking, your manner and your responses to many situations have been changing. Often these changes are not apparent until you are back in your home culture.

B. Common symptoms and effects of re-entry stress
1. Disorientation – feeling out of place, not fitting in
2. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, or being lost in the crowd
3. Restlessness – a desire to “get away” from those who don’t seem to understand or care
4. Feeling that nobody understands your experience or that nobody cares
5. Feeling tired, listless
6. Critical attitude toward home country – its waste, extravagance, wrong way of doing things, etc.
7. Loss of identity – just “another cog in a big wheel”
8. Inability to communicate new ideas, concepts freely
9. Feeling of superiority – standing aloof from others because of your overseas experience
10.Feeling dissatisfaction
11.Defensiveness in responses
12.Retreat, withdrawal, lack of concern
13.Unnatural, uncomfortable responses to “ordinary” situations
14.Confusion over conflicting attitudes and responses
15.Rejection of overseas experiences or a desire to forget and not talk about them

COPING MECHANISMS
1. ISOLATE and be alienated
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• pulls away from being in a stressful situation by being alone or with like-minded people (e.g. former short-termers)
• continues to identify with the home culture for the most part, but has strong negative reactions to it
• may express a strong judgmental attitude towards the values and lifestyle of the home culture (church, family, friends, politics)
• may feel deep guilt over home culture’s materialism and affluence
• may tend to day dream a lot about the short-term experience, holding on to memories
• unaware of other alternatives to impact the home culture (church or campus group)
NEEDS – someone who has been through re-entry stress to help in understanding the transition process and exploring options

2. IMITATE and be re-socialized
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• “Goes native” in USA culture by reverting immediately back to conventional norms
• resumes life as if nothing happened
• unable to translate the impact of short-term experience to the rest of life
• may have a very high need for acceptance by the home culture
• may be afraid of the repercussions of being different or standing on one’s convictions
NEEDS – to be with compassionate mission-minded people who can assist in sorting out the short-term experience

3. INTEGRATE and be proactive
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• accepts the reality of transitions between two cultures
• relates back with the home culture in a way that does not compromise or negate new values or lessons learned from short-term experience
• recognizes that changes have occurred through the short-term experience
• continues to learn lifestyle incorporating the old and new
NEEDS: seeks support from like-minded people

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH RE-ENTRY STRESS
Prepare for re-entry stress before you leave home by expecting it! You will never be completely at home again after your time of service because part of your heart will remain with the people you serve. This is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

Tips for dealing with re-entry stress.
1. Expect it and realize that it is normal! Give yourself time to work through it. Be patient with yourself and others as you go through this process.
2. Keep your sense of humor and remember to laugh!
3. Remind yourself to be THANKFUL for the opportunity God gave you and the things you experienced and learned.
4. Realize the difference between readjusting totally to “the way things were” and incorporating new values based on all that you experienced.
5. Develop community with people who have been overseas with whom you can discuss (and if they are Christians, pray for) the transition you are experiencing AND the needs of the world. Encourage each other in thinking globally!
6. Seek out friendships with people from the region where you served – international students,refugees, businessmen, etc. Make the nations part of your life at home!
7. Be prepared for the people who ask “How was your trip?” but really don’t want to hear more than a superficial “It was great!” response. Recognize that not everyone will be interested in all the details that you think they should care about. Pray through ways that you can share who God is and His heart for the nations even in your short answers. And seek out the people who want to listen to more details too!
8. Take initiative to figure out how to serve your local church and community. Analyze their ministries, your gifts, and then seek out opportunities (or help create opportunities) that integrate what you have learned overseas with the priorities of your church.
9. Recognize that your friends and family may be under a great deal of stress themselves. Be prepared to counsel, comfort, pray for and bless them, as much as to receive their counsel and care.
10. Remember that God is calling you to Himself here, just as He did there. Seek Him and make the most of every opportunity you are given here, just as you sought to do there.

Personal Debriefing Questions
Here are some questions to help you as you process all that you experienced and all that God did during your time on the field. These questions can be used individually as you journal and reflect or you can get together with a friend or small group and talk through these together.
Spend some time praising God for His faithfulness in both the challenging and exciting times and praying for those who are still there.

1. Write down as many thoughts as possible about the trip. Include pre-trip preparation and training, concerns and fears before you went, and observations and feelings about your experience on the field.

2. Pick 3 items from number 1 that were key to your experience. Describe them in more detail and tell why they were key experiences, thoughts, or feelings.

3. Write down 5 things you really liked about the culture.

4. Write down 5 things you really did not like about the culture.

5. Answer the following questions:
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about my life in the USA?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about my walk with Him?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about His heart for the world?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about the work in the place I served?

6. How have you changed in . . .
• your attitudes about other cultures?
• your attitudes about the USA?
• your attitudes about yourself?
• your understanding of God?
• your plans for the future?

7. List 3 ways that you can communicate these changes to your family and friends who did not serve with you.

8. In light of this mission experience, what are some ways that you want to change?
(Ex: I want to be less time conscious and more people conscious.)

9. List 3 ways you can begin to make these changes.

10. How do you plan to continue your involvement with the work in the place you served? Write an action plan to carry out these ideas.

11. Write short thank you notes to . . .
• your field supervisor(s)
• your home church/whoever supported you with finances and
• your family

12. List 2 things that you would do again or keep as part of the project.

13. List 2 things that you would change about the experience and tell why.

14. Write down 2 things you would recommend that other people do to prepare to serve in the area in which you served.

15. Write down an outline for 2 or 3 stories and learn to tell each story in 2-3 minutes. You might want to practice with someone to make sure the story is interesting and brief.
For ideas about how to tell your story, see “How to Tell Your Story” – on thetask.org.

Questions 16 – 20 deal with issues of re-entry stress (also called reverse culture shock).
16. From your overseas experience, do you feel you will have tendency to be critical of your home church when you return to the USA? If so, why? How can you work through these feelings in a godly way?

17. From your overseas experience, do you have feelings of superiority over those who stayed behind (who you may be tempted to view as “less spiritual”)? If so, why do you believe that going overseas is superior to staying in the USA to minister? How do you plan to work through these feelings in a godly way?

18. From your overseas experience, do you feel angry at Americans for . . .
• wastefulness
• apathy toward other cultures
• driving “too fast”
• not being truly interested in God’s heart for the nations
• other (please explain)

19. Who can give you godly and wise advice about working through your feelings?

20. How do you plan to work through these feelings in a godly way to strengthen your relationship with God, your family and friends, and your ministry

Continue reading

It wasn’t her fault

Recently, I heard a story about a girl that I’ve loved for years.  This girl in her short teenage life has experienced a history of pain that tops just about anyone I’ve ever met.  She’s precious, she’s beautiful, and she is a handful.  I do believe she is strong, and wise; she is amazing and she is a liar.  I adore her, but I rarely ever see her and hardly ever speak to her.  She crosses my path here and there and I try to reach her.  I try to show her God’s love and to infuse her heart with beauty that breaks through the hard walls she has built around her heart.  She breaks mine.  Her potential is so great…if she survives this life she has been served.

The current story goes that she was being sexually harrassed at school and, this time, she did something about it.  She turned them in and the school agreed, assuming administration watched the video tapes of the boys groping and pressing themselves against this girl.  The boys were punished, suspended.  The horror of the story continues that students, her peers, have started a petition siding with the boys, stating it was her fault, she deserved it, she’s a liar, and she asked for it, that’s just the way she is.  I read some of their facebook posts against her and nearly chewed off my fingers to not type out a mama-bear, grace-less response.

She is precious.  She is hypersexual.  She is a liar.  But she doesn’t deserve to be sexually harrassed.  She doesn’t deserve to be tormented at school.  She doesn’t deserve to be the topic of petitions against her.  She deserves to climb into the lap of the God who loves her, who wipes away the tears that she’s too tough to cry, to hear that voice that once and for all declares, “You are mine! I will fight for you, I will protect you! I will love you!!”  She deserves to know that she is precious in the eyes of our living Savior!  She deserves a friend, a circle of them who turn their back on the world who is inciting the crowd against her and who fall on their knees and their faces on her behalf.

If you have read this far, I assume you are a friend of mine.  I assume you know my heart.  I don’t care if you know this girl.  I don’t care if you know her story.  I don’t care if I know her story, or if she’s lying this time, or if even you would side against her.  I don’t care, because I care so much about her that all of that doesn’t matter.  Would you take a moment, or more, and join with me as we circle the wagons and pray for this child?  Get on your knees and pray your heart out.  For this child is His!!  He will not forsake her and He will not abandon her.  Lord God, move on her behalf!!

Many years ago, I started researching mentoring.  I felt it would be a great addition to our Women’s Ministry here at New Life and hoped to implement a program where we could match up the “older women” with the younger women following the Titus 2 example.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

I drew up the program and the paperwork and presented the idea at a Women’s Conference.  Almost immediately, there were eight wise “older” women who were interested in the program, but to my surprise, only two of them wanted to be mentors and the rest wanted to be mentored.  In my heart, I knew I had identified a need, but I didn’t know how to meet the need, because I was one of those that wanted a mentor.  Looking back on it now, and recognizing my immaturity in ministry then, I should have joined the eight of us together to learn how to become mentors, but I didn’t.  I connected a few women with the two women who said they would be mentors, but then decided to let the program fizzle.  I didn’t know how to prepare older women to mentor the younger women, I just hoped they’d know how, and I definitely didn’t know how to mentor the older women that I hoped to learn from.

Years have gone by, and I’ve learned a lot about Women’s Ministry.  I have mentored and been mentored as the ladies as New Life have learned how to minister to women together, but we have not tackled starting a formal mentoring program.  I’ve learned that a formal mentoring program may not be the best approach to meeting the needs of women who need a mentor and I agree, it isn’t what we need here.  What we need here is connection, it’s sisterhood.  My hope is that women become Soul Sisters who learn from each other as they study the word, pray, go through their daily lives, and serve God together.  There is a Biblical element of that sisterhood that is the older woman partnering with the younger woman to offer life skills coaching such as how to cook a turkey, get a child to sleep through the night, or organize a mudroom, Biblical training for spiritual growth and endurance through hard times,  and active listening during times of crisis or concerns.   We need each other and younger women need the “spiritual mothers” they can turn to with questions, with prayer needs, and with tears on days when life isn’t easy.

So, starting this Monday, at New Life, the Women’s Ministry will host a Women’s Connection: Mentoring Workshop.  This will not be a program, there will be no sign up sheets or procedure for matching up “older women” with younger ones.  It’s simply learning together with other women about mentoring.  This workshop is for those looking to find a mentor and for those who are interesting in mentoring.

Are you a mom who wishes you had one of those Titus 2 older women in your life?  Do you sometimes wish you could pour out your heart to someone who cared, but wouldn’t hold your hurts against you, or your husband, like your mother might?  Do you wish someone could help you figure out how to balance grace and mercy with training and punishment as you mother your children?  Are you looking for someone who has been through the things you are going through and who can help you hang onto hope that you will get through to the other side of this, too?  Do you have questions about where God is and what He’s trying to teach you?  Then, this mentoring workshop is for you.

Are you a woman who wishes you knew then what you know now?  Do you see younger moms, single women, or young married gals and wish you could whisper life-changing nuggets of advice and encouragement into their lives?  Were you able to pick up the phone and call your mom, your aunt, or your grandma, when you needed advice about marriage, mothering, friendship, cooking, cleaning, or even gardening and could offer that wisdom to a generation that doesn’t have that cross-generational connectivity with their own family members?  Do you have a little extra time now that you could give to a woman who desperately needs someone to listen and to speak into her life?  Has God given you insight into how He works and who He is that you could pass on in little pieces to strengthen the faith of another woman?  Do you want to be this older, wiser woman, someday?  If so, this mentoring workshop is for you.

It doesn’t have to be a long term, formal commitment.  Let me share this story about a mentoring opportunity God once gave me:

One day, I broke a tooth and couldn’t tolerate the pain of it anymore.  I called the dentist and they worked in an emergency appointment right after their lunch hour.  I arrived at the office, to find the waiting room empty.  I took a seat and looked through a magazine while I waited.  Within a few minutes, a woman and her young toddler arrived.  They checked in and she came and sat down next to me~ not one chair away, not on the other side of the end table to my left ~ but directly next to me, in an empty waiting room.  I was alerted, something was up.  I greeted her briefly and she said something about her little guy driving her to her breaking point.  I could see desperation in her face and immediately sensed that Jesus was the answer she needed.  I froze like a deer in the headlights.  I think I said something about her little guy being precious and gaga-ed over the cutie who was now throwing magazines on the ground.  I looked back at my magazine, turned the page aimlessly, and prayed for wisdom for a moment too long.  Just as I turned back to her to speak something that I hoped the Holy Spirit would say through me, my name was called and I grabbed my stuff and headed back to be tortured by the dentist (you know what I mean).  The whole time I was in the dentist chair, I begged God to let me have another chance with her, to let me see her again, but I didn’t.  I missed the opportunity to speak life giving, life changing words in her life.  I missed the chance to mentor her in that moment.

Imagine that I am looking at you face to face, deep into your eyes right now as I state this:  If you would know what to say in that situation, this mentoring workshop is for you.  We need your wisdom.  But if you’re more like I was, uncertain what to say when caught off guard, not sure how to share your faith with a woman in a check-out line, on a playground bench, or at school function, then this mentoring workshop is for also you.  We’ll discuss “mentoring in the moment” like my opportunity at the dentist and “mentoring for the long haul” which is a long term commitment to partner with one woman.  It’s so much more than a formal program.  Come and learn about mentoring in this four session workshop.  Monday nights, January 23rd through February 6th at 6:30PM and Saturday morning, February 11th from 9:00-Noon.  Childcare is provided.

Please purchase the book “Transforming Together: Authentic Spiritual Mentoring” by Ele Parrott for this class.

We will also be looking at the workbook entitled “Influence:  Living and Sharing a Life of Wisdom” by Pam Gillaspie and Jan Silvious available at  http://store.precept.org/p-1529-influence-brliving-and-sharing-a-life-of-wisdom.aspx  (but it isn’t required for this class, but may be a good resource for you).  If you cannot attend our workshop on mentoring, Precept Ministries is offering an online, self-paced class on mentoring based on this workbook by signing up at   http://deepandwide.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=c31834e7c1fe9e4a202328dde&id=0b29c29fe6

God Bless, ~Shelly

Spinning Plates

Today, I tried to explain to my husband how complicated it is for me to meet all the roles that I am expected to be.  Wife, Mother, Maid, Cook, Biggest Fan, and to keep up with my full-time job as Director of Women and Children’s Ministries.  I explained to him that I feel like I am spinning plates.  Overall, I can keep the main plates spinning. I am a good wife, I’m a good mom, and, overall, I’m effective in my ministry position.  I can keep some plates spinning.  But, it feels like if we were to look at my life in smaller, sub-sections of plates, I am failing at this task.  I can spin the laundry plate, but only if I slow up on the grocery shopping plate, I can keep the “biggest fan” plate going round by cheering my kid on at their next game, but only if hand over my “cook” plate to whomever is working the concession stand.  Even at work, I can spin the plates to keep the work going, but when it comes to important details and giving time to specific, hurting individuals, I am dropping plates.  I am epically and totally failing at spinning plates!

Look at this video of chinese plate spinners: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4-SHBgCQ2U&feature=related

I think so often women’s ministry wrongly comes down to spinning plates and teaching other women to do the same.  Let me explain.

Think performance.  Think about all of the things we do as women to impress others.  Even beyond that, not even considering what the others are thinking, think about the things we do to impress ourselves, to make us feel like we’re good enough, or doing enough, to define ourselves as a success. 

In my job, as Director of Women’s Ministries, I could become a professional plate spinner.  I could be the woman that has it all together, spinning the roles of wife, mom, Pastor, friend, daughter, etc. effortlessly.  I could make it look easy, like I have found the secret to life.  I could paint this dream picture where all is beautiful, and lovely, and peaceful.  I could become the woman who pretends to have it all together.  More than that, I could be the one telling other women to follow me in this pretense.  To measure our walk with God by the way we spin plates.  We could become this circus act and I could become the choreographer teaching moms to “get it all together” so it looks good on the outside.

I am here today to shout–FORGET ABOUT THE OUTSIDE!!  Drop a couple of plates.  Nap when the baby naps, let the dishes sit while you play a game with your kids, let your husband iron his own shirt, and don’t care if a spontaneous guest sees a bit of your mess.  I truly do want it all together.  I want every little thing in it’s place and every little detail covered.  I want the perfect picture, not to impress you or other people, but to impress me to meet my own standards and to impress God, to show Him I’m working hard enough. But in His beauty and His grace, He says, “You need your failures and your weaknesses.  Embrace them, because I love you that way.”  It doesn’t impress Him when I spin plates, or when I teach a group of women to perform.  I think He’s more impressed when we let others into the ugly places, let them see the ugly cry of our hearts, and to care through the ugliness of life~to truly love.

I don’t ever want to encourage a woman to spin a plate or to go through life feeling like they can’t keep up with all of the demands.  I want us to lay our everything before our great Big, God and say, “Use me for Your glory!”   We have to cover the details, we have to maintain our many roles in life, but it’s so much more than spinning plates.  It’s a beautiful, messy journey of faith.  I am so blessed.

Create Beauty Everyday

My goal for 2012 is to create something of beauty everyday. 

Our Heavenly Father first revealed himself in this world as the Creator.  He is the one who created the heavens and the earth and He delighted in His creations.  We were created in the image of God.  In His likeness, with intricacies and attributes that reflect the heart of Who He Is.  As we tune into God and who He designed us to be, He unlocks and instills gifts and passions within us to be used for His glory. 

Consider this verse:   Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4.   I used to think that as we delighted in God and grew closer to Him, He was pleased to hand over to us whatsoever we requested, whatever it was that our little hearts desired.   This “Santa Claus” in the sky, genie in a bottle, view of God was distorted.  He does delight to give us good things and the Word teaches us that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), but it’s not that our wish is His command.  It’s better than that.

As we delight in God, and grow closer to Him through the study of His word, worship, prayer, obedience, and service, we grow to know Him better.  As we know Him better, we learn His character.  We cannot fully grasp the depth of who He is, or how intense each of His character traits are represented as the essence of who He is, but we can stand in awe of each little element of God we do get a glimpse of. 

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

I want to take four main points from this passage today.

  1. God’s love for us is one of the good and perfect gifts that comes from above.  It is for everyone.
  2. This love surpasses knowledge, but the understanding of that love is what is developed in us as we draw closer to Him.  As we grow in a love for God, for His Word, and His people, we grow in an understanding of how much He loves us.  As we gain insight of that love more and more, as we see how immeasurable that love is, we gain a revelation of Who God is.  When we realize on a new and deeper level, “He loves me,” and then the next day, or month, or year, we understand it even more,  our hearts melt and rest in that love with peace, and beauty, and awe.  We are confident in who we are and who God created us to be.
  3. We can be filled with the measure of all fullness of God.  I don’t know what that means.  I do not know how to measure the fullness of God with human measurements.  I do not know what portion of Him we get to be filled with, but what I know is that the more and more I understand that God loves me, the more and more I want to be like Him.  Not in a prideful, powerful, lightning bolt at my command type of feeling, but the deepest heart desire to please Him.  Beyond just pleasing Him, I want to be Him here and now to the people around  me.  I want to be His hands comforting and strengthening those that need to feel His touch, I want to be His voice speaking His words to those that need to hear Him, I want to be His provision to those that need what He wants to give them, I want to be His mercy, His wisdom, His beauty.  My heart’s desire is no longer wrapped up in pleasing me, but in being His hands and feet, His servant, in all that I am.
  4. His power within us can do more than we ask or imagine.  His power is at work within us. Think about this, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you”  Romans 8:11.  The power that spoke to a dead and buried Jesus Christ and said, “Arise,” is within us.  The same power that spoke “Let there be light” to a dark and empty space is at work within us.  We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).  “All things.”  “Immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”  “Living in you.”  “According to His power at work within us.”  Understand, His power is at work within you helping you, beyond helping you, it’s empowering you, equipping you, enabling you, to be everything that God needs you to be.  Even more than that, it is placing within you longings. 

When you know God loves you, you know who God created you to be, and you know His power is at work within you, you begin to find within yourself longings, desires of your heart, that line up with God’s Word, that stir within you.  They call out to you.  They pull you or push you to do the things you only once dreamed of doing.  You take the risk, step out in faith, and move.  Some people feel called to go on that mission trip to Africa, go into full-time ministry, to sell all they have and give to the poor, to write that book, or more.  We fear it, all of the “Big Faith” stuff, that we equate with fully surrendering to the calling and the power of God in your life.  But let me stop you right here and explain what I want you to know more than anything from this blog today.  Think of it this way, God created North America.  He created it a beautiful continent with mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, forests and deserts, plains and prairies.  God created the birds, fish, and other animals, and provided them with the food they needed to sustain their lives.  God created the big–the oceans and the mountains, and God created the small–the ants, blades of grass, and specks of sand.  He fashioned into place every detail, every little thing and every big thing to make this land on which we live.  What if it is the same with our longings?

What if that longing in your heart to dance is just as “Big Faith” importance as the missionary in Africa?  What if your desire to homeschool your children in actually God’s desire for them?  What if your heart’s desire to sing is not about leading worship on a big stage, but more about giving Him praise on a day-to-day basis?  What if God calls you be to be a nurse, or a teacher, a banker, or a lawyer, a farmer, a mother, or a store clerk?  Are those lesser callings than Pastor or missionary?  What if the longing isn’t big, like a career or a ministry?  What if it’s little, like “I want to sit with my mom and drink a cup of coffee” or “I want to spend an afternoon at the museum with my son” or “I want to plant a garden”?  My statement today is if you know God loves you, if you rest in the confidence that you want to please Him because He loves you, if you know you were created for a purpose, if you know God’s power is at work within you, listen to that longing.  Find that longing within you and let it stir.  Let it grow, and pull, and call, and push you.  Let it move you.  Whether it is little or it is big in our wrongful measurement of “faith stuff”, accept it.  Love it.  Go for it.

My heart’s desire right now is to create beauty everyday.  I don’t know what that will be, but it lines up with who God is, He is Creator, He creates beauty, and I believe He has placed this longing in my heart.  I’m going to go forward with it believing I am doing His will.  He will empower me to do more than I can ask or imagine as He moves in my life.   I am excited to see where God takes me.  I expect this to be a year of crafting, and sewing, cleaning and writing, encouraging and studying, playing and planting ~ a year of beauty and smiles, of flowers and family, photography and decorating, fashion and fun. Creating something of beauty everyday is my personal goal for 2012.  May God bless it and use it for His glory.

Find your inner longing.  Believe it is there for a purpose.  It may not be big in definition of what we think God wants His followers to do, but I’m telling you today, be faithful in what you define as little things because it may be that still small longing will lead to something more than you can ask or imagine.   God bless you.  Find your longing and do something with it!  Now, go!!  Love ya!