Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Out of the ashes...

One year ago today, I work up to the looming smell of ashes. It was a smell that would continue to fill the air for several months. It was a strong smell that effortlessly declared the power of the fire that had preceded it the day before. On Monday, January 3, 2011, I woke up in the midst of many unknowns. The previous morning, the church at which I have ministered for the last eight and a half years had caught on fire and burned down completely. It was unknown how we would move forward, what we were supposed to do, and how we would continue to minister on the corner of Claremont and Barker. However, what was unknown to us, was completely known to God.

The upcoming hours were spent trying figure out the logistics of continuing the ministries of the church. The upcoming days were spent addressing the loss of a building that housed so many memories of those who worshipped there in the past. The upcoming weeks were spent making arrangements for the building of a new worship center. And the upcoming months were spend watching the pieces of God's plan fall into place. And piece by piece, God has shown to His children what He can do with ashes.

There is a worship song that was written a few years ago by Chris Tomlin that says "Out of the ashes we rise." It is that very song that has played through my mind many mornings this past year as I have reflected on the progression of the new worship center. Today, the words that I am singing have changed slightly. Today, my heart sings, "Out of the ashes YOU rise." Out of the ashes that have been our stress, our worries, and our fears, God has shown and revealed Himself to us. He has show that from ashes, He can bring forth a Crown of Beauty. The new Worship Center is not a testimony of a great architect, building designer, or leadership team (all of which we have been overwhelmingly blessed with) but it is a testimony of God's power, God's strength, and God's provision.

 In a couple hours, a beautifully polished white steeple will take its place in the very spot that was covered with debris, ashes, and a deep sense of loss one year ago. It reminds me of the state of my heart when God redeemed my life and, by His gracious and merciful hand, raised my life from slavery to sin and the overwhelming stench of pride and judgment.

 My prayer this morning is that the beautiful white steeple, raised one year and one day after the fire, will be a reminder  of two things. First, that it would remind me of the low state from which God has brought me and the high price that was paid for my redemption. And second, that it would remind us all of how God has powerfully, miraculously, and graciously taken the pile of ashes on the corner of Claremont and Barker and provided a means by which He will choose to minister to the quiet community on the west side of Evansville.  Because God has truly risen out of those ashes.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Surviving The Special Times

Holidays present a unique set of challenges in the pastor’s home. While holidays mark special day of tradition and celebration in the family, it is also a time of special, cherished worship times within the church. For many pastor’s homes, this means the pastor’s spouse takes on additional “home and family” responsibilities while the pastor fulfills additional duties within the church. When both parents are pastors or the parent who usually carries the bulk of domestic responsibilities is the pastor, holidays can be a very unique juggling act. This is the challenging scenario we face at our house.

Last week, Wayne and I celebrated Easter with our immediate family, our church family, and our extended family. That meant that between 6:00am and 1:00pm the following items had to be completed (by me and/or Wayne): dress a three year old, two year old and five month old in color coordinated church Easter outfits and accessories, over see and preach the sunrise service, enjoy breakfast with our church family, give Easter baskets to our children, teach an adult Sunday school class, participate in the primary worship service, bake a broccoli cheese casserole, cook macaroni and cheese and lima beans, change the children into their casual Easter outfits, load all the food, filled plastic eggs, and goodie bags for the cousins in the car, and arrive safely and sanely at Wayne’s sisters house to begin our family Easter.

How can it all be possible?  Here are a few of the tricks I have learned over the years:

1. Over Organize. By being overly organized in advance, it gave me the freedom to trouble shoot when things went terribly wrong (as they often to with toddlers, media driven worship services, and me in a kitchen). The fact that the Easter baskets were sitting “presentation style” behind my bed meant that they simply had to be re-located to the cough between services. The fact that the kids clothes and accessories were all laid out, side by side, made it easy for the parent with free hands to dress any one or all of the kids. The fact that the dishes the food would be transported in were sitting on the counter with their coordinating lids or covers made getting the food off the stove and out the door a lot easier.

2. Pre-prepare. In the days before Easter, I filled my spare time with ironing, taking tags off of gifts and new items, and cleaning the house so the “work surface” on Easter day was clear of hazards or difficulties. This just allows for efficiency on the big day.

3. Communicate. Wayne and I often talk about “being on the same page.” When we both know the schedule and expectations of the day upfront, there is less confusion and hurt feelings in the midst of the chaos.

4. Look For Creative Short Cuts. Since I know I needed to prepare food to take to my my in-law’s get together and I knew I would have NO TIME to do any cooking on Sunday morning, I had to be creative in my menu. I took brownies that I made the day before for a desert. I took my mom’s Greek Limas that are cooked in a sauce that only gets creamier and tastier when it is reheated so microwaving the next day was no problem. I took a casserole that I could prepare the night before and pop in the oven between services. And I took macaroni (a staple food item anywhere my kids eat). With the macaroni, I cooked the pasta the night before and drizzled a little olive oil on it. I made a cheese sauce and stored it separately. The day of, I put the pasta in warm water to separate it and microwaved the cheese sauce to pour over it and voila! It was done.

5. Involve the Kids. My kids are still quite young so it is almost always easier to do a task on my own rather than it is to allow them to “help.” However, I also realize that it is those special moments of hands on fun with mommy that makes something special so I always look for ways to keep them involved in the preparation for special occasions. For Easter this year, they colored cards for their cousins, filled goodie bags, and sprinkled marshmallow, chocolate chips, and nuts on the brownies. Them being able to participate in these few things made fact that the kitchen had to be “off limits” at other times less harsh and unfair… at least I hope so  J

6. Plan Extra Time For Mine. So much of my time is for everyone else so I always try to plan extra time for MINE… my husband, my kids, my relationship with God. Since we knew Easter day would be busy, I set aside special time on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to spend one on one time with the people most important in my life. We watched movies, died eggs, listened to music, read books, went on walks, had special chats, etc. And those were some of the most special moments for me this Easter.

So those are some of the ways I survive the hectic moments in our home… how about you? What are your secrets to success when it comes to thriving in demanding and overwhelming circumstances without getting distracted from the joys of life or ruining special moments?

Two out of three is not bad. Especially at 6:00am.

Josiah and his eggs from the Easter Egg Hunt at church.
Notice that the egg HAD to look like a ball to make it into his Easter basket.
He had a very high standard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Comfortable With Who I Am Not

Mrs. Kelli Ward  --   Rev. Kelli Ward  --   Pastor Kelli  --  Kelli  --  Mommy

 I have spent most of my life trying to figure out who I am. And yes, that has been a very interesting and important journey. However, I have realized that in my current season of life, I am no longer concerned with discovering who I am. However, I have had to face becoming comfortable with who I am not.

For instance, I do not have a good sense of humor.  I barely have ANY sense of humor. It used to bother me that my peers, friends, and colleagues  could tell jokes, play pranks, and kid around with each other when I could barely force a smile. I would do my best to act amused and seem engaged in the light hearted conversations and, for the most part, I still do. The change is in the fact that I no longer beat myself up for not being able to loosen up and have a good time. I have began to realize that I find enjoyment via other means... and that is ok!

This becomes interesting when I think about who I am not as a youth pastor. In my mind, there is a certain box that you need to fit in to make a good youth pastor. You have to play guitar. You have to enjoy listening to music and going to concerts. You have to like camping, bugs, and dirt. You have to be a dare devil and spontaneous and adventurous. Those are all things I am not. And the more I become comfortable with NOT being that type of youth pastor, the more effective I am at being the youth pastor God created me to be.

The same is true regarding motherhood. In my mind, once again, there is a certain box that you need to fit in to make a good mother. You have to enjoy gardening. You have to love playing pretend. You have to be organized and strategic in how you manage your home. You have to make crafts and weekly meal plans. Again, those are all things I am not. And the more I become comfortable with NOT being that type of mother, the more effective I am at being the mother God created me to be.

So how do I respond to all the things I am not? There are a few things I consider important. First, I try to balance my own skills. I invest in those areas I am strong without neglecting the areas in which I struggle.  I try to challenge myself from time to time to step outside my comfort box and be willing to do the things I struggle with for the benefit of the people around me. Second, I look for and pray for people who can bring balance to my struggles. I pray for and seek individual that are strong in my areas of weakness. This strengthens the ministries I am a part of and allows others to use and develop their strengths.  Lastly, I refuse to allow Satan to use the things that I am not to make me feel shame, insecurity, or guilt. It is healthy to embrace the nudging of the Holy Spirit to grow and develop in different areas of your life, but allowing Satan to use those same areas as a stronghold of fear and insecurity is never beneficial.

That being said, Karis, Josiah, and I are making a craft for my mom for Mother's Day (she knows it is coming) and I am currently working on a permission slip to take a crew of youth to a camping / concert weekend this summer. Will I thoroughly enjoy the craft and camping? Probably not. Will I enjoy being able to give a great opportunity to my children and the students in our church! DEFINITELY!

Spending a "wonderful weekend" camping with students in the spring of 2004.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where Life Intersects With Living

Spring has sprung here in Evansville and that means the excitement and thrill of youth ministry pours like the rain that has been falling outside - constantly. From conferences and camps to fundraisers and concerts, spring marks the beginning of the busiest months of the youth ministry calendar for Forest Hills Wesleyan Youth… And I am already experiencing the fatigue of abundant ministry and time lost with my family. In fact, in the past three weeks, Wayne (my handsome husband) and I have only crossed tracks to trade off the children as we bounce from ministry to ministry. This rapid pace has caused me to remember my priorities and the boundaries I have set for my marriage, children, home, and ministry. Some of those are:

1. I do my best to limit “big events” to one weekend of the month. Obviously, this is difficult to do when I do not set all of the dates in my calendar. Some events are scheduled. Other events are “locked in.” But when it comes to events that have the potential to consume my weekend and I have control of scheduling, I do my best to spread them out so they don’t all happen at once.

2. I do my best to protect my day off. One day of the week, I take off and spend some much needed time with my kiddos. We snuggle, watch movies, go to the zoo, play at the park, and make mud pies. You get the idea. Oddly enough, I don’t necessarily have to protect this time from “ministry” stuff, but I do have to protect this time for household chores. This means being intentional about keeping the house cleaned on a regular basis so it does not get out of control and require hours of my energy and attention to get it back to par. My kids deserve some mommy time too!

3. I do my best to spend time with my husband on a daily basis. Because Wayne works a traditional 9-5 job and is the part time volunteer assistant pastor, this can be very difficult. Our schedules often conflict and we rarely get to work on “projects” together. When you add both of our ministries to the fact that we have three children that also deserve time together as a family, it does not leave much time for “date nights.” SO we try to set aside chunks of consistent time when we connect.

These are a few of the boundaries I have tried to place in my life. However, I often fail miserably at upholding them. Especially in the months of April, May, June, and July. So this post is to serve two purposes:

To remind myself of what my priorities are and
To ask you… WHAT  BOUNDARIES DO YOU HOLD TO in order to appropriate your time wisely and keep your personal relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse, and your relationships with your children healthy and happy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Karis and her Mini "Moby"

Here is a picture of Karis wearing her "Mini Moby" or (as I like to call it) the piece of fabric formerly known as my winter scarf. Read my last post to find out how my Moby Wrap has become an important tool to me as a mother in ministry.

Familiar is Comfortable

I took a group of high school students to Frequency (a high school youth conference) at Indiana Wesleyan University last weekend. Because Baby Maria and I are still inseparable, she came along. I am used to taking babies to major youth events. Karis went to SetApart (a Wesleyan Youth Convention in Florida) when she was four months old. Josiah went to an Xtreme Winter Conference in Gatlinburg when he was five weeks old. And Maria is getting her opportunities to travel with the youth as well.

Needless to say, there are numerous “mommy” challenges when traveling with a baby (maneuvering a stroller through dense crowds, nursing while traveling on a bus with 25 teenagers, etc). With Baby Maria, I have found an easy fix for a lot of the baby difficulties… it is called a Moby Wrap! A Moby Wrap is basically a VERY long piece of fabric that you wrap around your body and then place baby in so you can “wear” your baby. It is great. It eliminated the need for a stroller in crowded places. It gives you two free hands when you are trying to set up for events or services. It allows me to hold my walking toddlers hands when we are in parking lots. I love my Moby. I love my Moby a lot.

However, when I wear Maria in the Moby Wrap, it does look like I have a large growth on my belly that has grown legs. My teenagers are used to this. They see me wearing the Moby all the time. But walking through the hallways and events at Frequency, I realized that not everyone is used to this. The results were some questioning looks and “eureka” moments when someone realized what was on me.

I say all that to reflect on something that I have realized about myself over the years. I am comfortable with that is familiar to me. For instance, the youth are comfortable with Maria, Karis, and Josiah (my three adorable children) running all over the youth room and climbing all over them because that is the way things are in our youth room. But my kids being a part of my ministry was not something everyone was instantly comfortable with. There was a time of transition and learning that took place before the youth (and adults) I work with became comfortable with me as both the youth pastor and the mommy (much less the nursing mommy). And the same is true for me. I had to learn to be comfortable with myself in those combined roles. But with time, consistency, and the grace of God, we are all one big happy family! AND there are lots of teenagers to change diapers on the road trips!

There are other MAJOR areas that took time for me to become comfortable with regarding ministry, motherhood, and marriage… but the clock is ticking and my to do list is haunting me… so I will save some of that for another day! I will however, try to figure out how to post a pic of a Moby Wrap. Wish me luck J