January 24, 2017

Doing church with kids

I've talked a little bit about what Brett and I do in our ministry as part of the No Place Left Network in past posts. I mean, who would have thought I could talk about lice and church  in the same blogpost?! If we've ever doubted my use of a segue then we can stop now.  But yes, we've been leading small churches for a few years now, mostly because we've learned that, according to shocking statistics, about 60% of Americans will not step foot in a traditional church, but they ARE willing to meet with someone and talk about Jesus! We've found that by sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone and then being willing to be flexible, by meeting in homes, coffee shops and even park picnic tables, we've been able to see people baptized and sharing Him with their own friends and family, and involved in close accountability and fellowship. It has been a really mind bending ride and anytime I've thought, "We've got this! I've got it figured out!" Then we've learned something giant and new and equally mind-blowing. For me, the keyword was "flexible." If you know me at all, then you know that's not a Abigail descriptor at ALL.

And yet, when I think back over the last 4 years, we've seriously had "church" change its shape countless times. Now, don't get me wrong, surprisingly with every shift it still held to what is biblically defined as church ( as we see it defined for us in Acts and through Jesus' ministry), and sometimes it maybe wasn't as healthy as it should be, but we were always striving to follow the commands of Jesus: to Love God, love our neighbors and to follow the great commission.

And turns out there are a LOT of ways to do that!

One of the biggest ways that the Lord has taught me to be flexible and open to change has been through my children. In those four years our family has added another human and all three of our children have grown and changed and had different needs, so even if we had WANTED to keep things the same, life just kept changing them for us!

 So, how have we incorporated our children into our ministry?!? Good question!!! And people just keep on asking me about it! ( and P.S. I keep on asking other people about it too!!) I think for us Mom's its probably at the top of our list of priorities- as it should be!! We've done just about every possible thing to try to meet the needs of our children's spiritual health and that of our own personal ministry. You name it, we've probably tried it.  I listened to this awesome little video from our dear friends Chuck and Deb who have been discipling us for years and I think they hit on just about all of the ways we've incorporated our kids into church the last few years:

But for the sake of my own personal history keeping, I wanted to share what it looks like for us right now (it'll probably change next week! Ha!) :

We are currently doing church together in our home, rather than in other places or homes, 3 times a week. This has taken shape mostly because of the season of life we are in-with a baby and two smallish children. We have our church that meets on Wednesdays that we lead and then we have church on Thursdays that we are a part of-this one is where Brett and I learn a LOT from some of the most committed and incredible Laborers for Jesus we've ever met. Both of these churches have graciously allowed us to meet in our home since we put Justice to bed pretty early and we have lots of toys etc for any other children (often just our own). We also do church again on Sundays. This one we call "family church" because its usually just our family and anyone staying in our home at the time.

On Wednesdays church starts at 6:30pm, our older two kids participate in the first third^^^^of church. Prayer, worship and vision casting ( usually a 3 or 4 minute mini lesson about what church is all about.) I usually have to make a quick exit somewhere in that first part of church to put Justice down, which at this point thankfully doesn't take long. Then the older two kids head off to another room to watch a video for the second part of church. I then put the kids to bed once church is over and they usually are only late by about 30 minutes past their usual bedtime.

On Thursdays starts at 7pm our older two kids ( Justice goes to bed pretty much as church is starting so thankfully he's a minimal hassle) participate to some extend during the first part of church again and then they are expected to sit quietly or play quietly in the room until they're normal bed time. Because of the timing of this church ( it starts later than our wednesday church), it usually means they are expected to remain "quiet" and good for about 30-45 minutes. Ive found this is about their capacity ( at 6 and 4) and I really want to teach them the self control of being quiet and considerate and I also want them to at least hear some good teaching and what we are doing.****

On Sundays we have church completely focused on our children and it starts whenever we want! haha- in the past we've done "children's church as part of our wednesday church-but when the needs of the church as a whole changed, we shifted the priority and made it a part of our weekend. So on Sunday our teaching, our prayers, everything is at our kids level ( mostly aimed at the oldest, but trying hard to get the 4 year old involved too).

**** A few weeks ago I was sitting in our thursday church and I looked down to see Ransom had made a "nest" for himself smack dab in the middle of the room:

I almost started crying because memories came flooding back...In fact, one of my strongest memories from my early years-I was probably as young as 3 or 4, was laying on the living room floor, falling asleep to the sound of my parents and their best friends Steve and Billie talking about God. As the pastors of a church themselves, they were always talking about Jesus and the need for a revival, and even when I didn't understand a word of it, my own heart was soaking it all in. Those memories are some of the coziest, most important memories I have and I know they are part of the important foundation I have in my relationship with the Lord to this day. And there was my own son, soaking it all in having a very similar experience. Sure, what church looks like for us is always evolving to the needs of others, and the needs of our family, sometimes it involves crying and spankings and babies that refuse to sleep or your kid flashing their underwear for the whole church to see ( let's just say" "hypothetically") or any other incredibly UN-spirital thing, but I'm learning more and more that this life of reaching people for Jesus- ALL of us our messy and challenging and if my kids are the ones that teach me that it won't be perfect and that I'll need to shift and change and be flexible, than great!

^^^^ We use the same "Three Thirds Process" in all three of our churches, we've found it helpful to make sure that all the elements of what Church should be are happening.  This totally delightful video made my some great students in the Philippines does a great job explaining it ( how awesome are they?!? Isn't it encouraging to see what the Lord is doing ALL OVER THE WORLD?) :

January 17, 2017

The parting song of Edythe Calhoun

Brett's grandmother passed away two weekends ago. When I tell people this, I try to quickly rush forward with the information that she was 103. I want people to know that we are celebrating her ( long!) life, and not mourning her passing. She is with Jesus and I know she is infinitely happier there with Him then being held captive by a body and mind that were past their time.

But as we remembered her this weekend at her memorial today and then as Brett prepares to travel to her funeral this week, I've been itching to get a few thoughts down on paper so I wouldn't forget, that my children wouldn't forget what a wonderful woman Edythe was for us.

The day before we left of her memorial Ransom had a piano lesson and on the way home he said he wanted to play a piece for Mimi. I was pretty distracted-we were hosting church that night, and I also needed to feed my kids and finish up packing, so I said something like, "That's nice honey, she would love that." And then I promptly forgot.
But the next day as we loaded up the car, I noticed Ransom's piano bag sitting by the door. I began to chastise him about not putting his things away, when he interrupted to say that he just wanted to make sure it got packed. Even though I had forgotten, he hadn't: he was very much ready to play a piece for Mimi. In fact, he play the very upbeat "Galloping Pony" at her memorial and it was probably my favorite part. My little son, sitting straight at the piano waiting for his queue and then playing with confidence his little piece...Edythe would have LOVED it, she had spent years teaching piano and playing herself. In fact, her piano is played almost daily at our house and I love that her music lives on in my kids and in our home.

I remember the first time I met her: The evening was already rife with nerves since I was attending a church fashion show ( right?) at the invite of my not-yet-boy-friend-but-definitely-special-friend's mother. I was so anxious to make a good impression and my first conversations with his mother and aunt were already being overanalyzed in my head as the fashion show portion of the night began. I remembered little of the fashion or the models as I thought about whether or not I had talked too much ( a common problem) or maybe I had been to enthusiastic? Did I seem genuine enough?... however all my self-absorbed thoughts came to an abrupt halt as the finale of the show came through the doors... it was Brett's little grandmother (a young 91 at the time) perched atop her walker as someone pushed her as though she were a princess on her sedan.  She was grinning from ear to ear and she positively glowed. I am not even kidding, light radiated from her. And as the years passed and I got to know her, I learned that the light was not her at all, it was most definitely Jesus.

Those first few years were a gift to me, she was still very healthy and mentally strong I got to sit and hear great stories from her childhood-I've always loved to hear stories from the past and she had some good ones!And I basked in her kind questions after my mother and my family. She would pray beautiful prayers and she would smile and smile and smile.

And as the years continued and dimentia set in, I was blessed by what was left of her. It was truly a testament of her heart that when her mind failed her,  that her Jesus didn't. She was still as kind and gracious as ever, even when she was confused and even fearful. Even if she did not remember exactly who I was, she knew who Jesus was. When I think about it now, I am reminded of the verse, "Out of the heart the mouth speaks" and I see how true this really is.

If you're lucky and you have parents who teach you "manners" than even when you're nasty on the inside, you can at least pretend or keep that to yourself on the outside. However, when the mind goes, whether with age, or disease, or even because of something else ( too much to drink? a lot of laughing gas at the dentist?)...your heart begins to speak for you, and I shudder to think what my heart would say if it wasn't for Jesus. It is at these times that it becomes too clear that we ALL have fallen short, no matter how good we try to be, how good we want to be, deep down we need help and Jesus was willing to be that Help for us.

Edythe was a beautiful testament to that, in her final days she was still exuding kindness to those around her. She was still exuding her Jesus who had died for her sins, who had risen from the dead so that she could have life. And now she lives with Him in heaven.

She truly lives!

As we said goodbye to her, I am challenged to give more of my heart to Jesus-there are always pieces to give-so that when all that is left of me is my heart, let it be Jesus. Thank you Mimi for reminding me of that this week. I look forward to seeing her again one day. I know she's singing her heart out in the heavenly choir even now.