Monday, September 1, 2014

"The 'Stache" is no more...

Chandler spent the summer months cultivating facial hair in the form of a mustache.


Facial hair is a bumper crop in our family, mostly among the men. David and the boys sprout whiskers like chia pets, and I don't even water them.

But alas, Chandler's school frowns upon fertile facial follicles, so with classes starting this week, he harvested his lip hair.

Mustachioed no more, he spent the day organizing himself for his final year of high school.


Though he mourned the reaping of his Fu Manchu, his mama was happy to have his baby face back in the house. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cutting Corners

School officially starts next week for me and Chandler. It starts in three weeks for Graham. And David doesn't start back up until the middle of October. In France, this time of year is called, "La Rentrée" or literally, "The Re-entry” –which makes me think of spaceships suffering enormous stress, violent shaking, and scorching flames upon re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. Yeah, that's pretty much what La Rentrée feels like to me.

As I begin work on my Master’s degree, I will also continue most of my regular (full-time) ministry responsibilities. She who prefers to fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants has just spent two days meticulously entering reading assignments, writing assignments, and test dates into her agenda, not to mention preaching schedules, conference preparations, and meetings with my language helper. Because I had to figure out where it all fit.

But it doesn’t all fit.

Photo

During orientation at George Fox, the Dean of the Seminary said, “It’s not a question of whether or not you will have to cut corners. It’s a question of where you will cut corners.”

I’m not really a corner-cutter.

I’m more of a get up early, stay up late, do-whatever-it-takes kind of person.

But you see, if I stick with that plan, the corners that get cut will be cut by default rather than by design. By default, my sleep (and ultimately my health) will get cut. By default, my marriage and friendships will get cut. By default, my relationship with God, my peace, and my joy will get cut. All the things that don’t have a time-slot in my handy-dandy digital agenda will get cut.

In his book, Choosing to Cheat, Andy Stanley makes the same observation that the Dean of my seminary made—that is, that life is so full we are all going to cheat someone or something. For those of us in ministry, it’s especially easy to cheat the wrong things. Because our work has eternal significance, we wrongly give it unregulated space and time in our lives. It’s not that the work isn’t important, it’s that we need to keep it in perspective. God doesn’t call us to neglect our own spiritual formation, our physical health, or the care of our families. Stanley points out that each of us are replaceable within our ministries, but irreplaceable to our families. That is to say, GEM can find another missionary to do my job, but I’m the only wife David has.

And so I need to cut corners by design.



For me, that means stepping away from one of my local ministry responsibilities, delegating some other responsibilities, and setting time limits for my coursework—because when I am reading and writing and studying I can lose all track of time. That means I will do the very best work that I can during the hours that I have scheduled for my classes, and when that time is up, I will simply stop. That might mean I get a B instead of an A.

 

But a B with a happy marriage, a health body, and a thriving soul is better than an A with a strained marriage, a flabby body, and a starving soul. No doubt about it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Launch

Change.

It's a part of life. And generally I welcome change. I'm usually up for a new adventure, eager to explore the unexplored. I know God's grace stretches out into my future, and I trust that he'll meet me in every transition. So I look to the next year with hopefulness. I choose an attitude of delightful anticipation. Yet I acknowledge that my joy is mingled with grief. Because honestly, I've only been home 24 hours, and I already miss Graham.

Oh, I rejoice in who he is and I'm excited for where God is leading him. He is exactly where he should be, doing as he ought. It is holy, right, and good for the boy to grow up and leave home. I want him to go. Still, I grieve him being gone.

It's the path of parenthood. We pour our lives into theirs, love them with all we've got, only to prepare them to take flight. We nudge them out of the nest, trusting that the elation we feel from seeing them soar will eclipse the pain of their depart.

And parents--we know that this is the deal going in. Our children don't belong to us, they are simply entrusted to us for a season. Which is why we must figure out how to give ourselves to them without finding our identities in them. It's a fine balance.

For many years, older parents would look longingly at my little boys and tell me, "Cherish this time, it passes quickly." Some days I would smile grimly, thinking, "Quickly? Today alone has felt like a week!" But other times I would heed their warning. On those days I'd let the boys dawdle at mud puddles, climb over dirt piles, and gaze in wonder at grasshoppers. We'd read an extra book at bedtime, splash in the bath until their tiny hands looked like prunes, and tolerate endless questions in the car. As they got older, we'd linger over dinner conversations long after we'd finished eating, quote our favorite lines from movies (ad nauseum), and spend more time in guitar and video game stores than we thought possible.

I didn't miss their childhoods, and I look forward to sharing their adulthoods. Because all that stuff--the lingering when a hug lasts longer than needed, the listening when the words make your ears feel tired, the watching of stunts, the running of races, the kissing of boo-boos--all that stuff is building relationships that will last long after the child becomes independent. That's what we hope, anyway.

So while I mourn the absence of Graham, I celebrate his launch into adulthood. I'm cheering him on, wishing him well, and faithfully praying for the days and weeks ahead. I'm entering the next phase of parenting, which I expect to be every bit as engaging as the first phase--with fewer messes. I will be learning a new role, making new mistakes, and trying to figure out how the cherish THIS time, as well.

Meanwhile, Chandler might find his mother a bit clingy. Because he's still here. For one more blessed year....

Friday, August 22, 2014

Seminary

As I sat in orientation for three days at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, I marveled at God's goodness. I have applied to graduate school four times in my life. I've been admitted to graduate school four times in my life. But for the FIRST time in my life, I have actually enrolled in graduate school.

We began each day in worship, and tears spilled out of my eyes because I could not contain my joy. My classes will not only change and challenge me personally, they will inform my ministry and equip me for the kingdom work before me. 


On Wednesday, each of our professors introduced themselves to us by sharing a bit about their personal interests and their research. Each one brings a wealth of wisdom and experience to the classroom, and each one appears to be sincerely passionate about the person of Jesus ad his love for our world.


But the thing that I most appreciated about the orientation was getting to meet the other students in my cohort. Though we live all over the world, these are the 24 people with whom I will share a virtual classroom. These are the ones with whom I will wrestle, explore, discover, and be deconstructed. These are the ones that will challenge me, encourage me, teach me, and inspire me. And here's the thing: they are some of the coolest people I have ever met. I've only begun to know them, but I can already tell that my seminary experience will be richer, sweeter, and deeper because of their companionship. 


I was chatting with a friend the morning before I left for my first day at George Fox, and I said to her, "I hope I make a friend." 

I think I did.

I might have made 24!


I am SO excited about my classes. This semester I have four: Old Testament 1, Missional Ecclesiology, Knowing Self/Knowing God, and an Internship. I have piles of books that I get to read and I can't hardly wait to crack the spines. I'm a little intimidated at the idea of writing reasearch papers--but I'm also strangely eager to write academically after writing professionally for so many years. All of this to say, friends, I'm living a dream.

And I am deeply grateful. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Evaluation

Here's a sticky issue for anyone in ministry: How do you measure success? The tempation is to elevate mission work to a super-spiritual plane and declare that it defies all possible human measurement systems. There is some truth to that. Tallying the number of baptisms in a church doesn't begin to communicate the joy of salvation, the power of redemption, or the force of transformation. But does that mean that we should not bother to evaluate our work?

On the organizational level, numbers from the field help to communicate the nature and value of our work to board members and financial donors. Within the field, numbers provide a framework for accountability. But we missionaries are often resistant to report numbers, because we know that a number says little about the miracle of a changed life. 

David and I are required to fill out a quarterly report on our ministry-related activities in an effort to quantify our efforts. Like many missionaries, we have struggled with this expectation, even if we understand its purpose. I confess that I have been among the pooh-poohers, the whiners, and the nay-sayers, groaning in agony each time I was instructed to fill out a report. I nodded along last week, as a colleague shared an amazing story about recently meeting a woman at a church in the States who had come to Christ 30 years prior because of a music cassette that he had produced in Germany, ending his tale with the words, "And they think we can measure God's work?"

A room full of missionaries laughed and cheered.

Just a few months ago I'd have been right there with them, questioning the vaidity of my mission's metric system. But in June I attended a conference on "Measuring Ministry Effectiveness," and that conference changed my tune. I not only learned significant ways and means for evaluating the nebulous work of ministry, I was convicted about my cynical attitude. Because, you see, metrics aren't meant to measure God's work. God's work is always perfect and beyond measure. No, metrics don't measure God's work, metrics measure MY work.

At the conference I attended I began to see how measurements shape and even drive the work of ministry. I heard the maxim "If we don't measure what matters, then what we measure becomes what matters" and I realized that it was true!

Oh, but the idea of being evaluated or measured rubs against the grain. It makes us feel like we're being critiqued or judged, and we just don't like it. But what if measurement is holy, right, and good? What if we are called to give an account of our work?

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), three stewards are given funds to invest for their manager. When the manager returns, he asks for an account (What? He wanted to measure their work?!?). Two of the stewards made a return on their investments, and they were commended. One did not earn any interest, and he was handed a pink slip. This isn't a parable out of Forbes Magazine, this is a Jesus Original. Jesus tells the story to remind us of the importance of measuring and being accountable for the results of our actions.

The truth is, if I am not evaluating my efforts, I am not maximizing my efforts. I could be wasting time and money by doing all sorts of fruitless activity in the name of Jesus, and not even know it. Of course, ministry work is dependent upon the work of God--apart from him we can do nothing. But I believe we are still called to give an account for what we do. We don't own the fruit of our labors, just as the stewards in the parable didn't own the interest that they earned on their master's money. No, the fruit and all it's glory goes to the King of kings. And yet, we must give the account. I want to be found faithful.

I have not only repented of my resistance to metrics, I think I am becoming a proponent of the value of measuring ministy impact.

So I wonder, for those of you who are currently serving in a ministry capacity, are you measuring your results? What tools and techniques do you use to measure? And would you create and utilize evaluative measures even if no one required you to report your results? Or do you feel resistance to the idea of measurement where ministry is concerned?

Monday, August 11, 2014

GEM Annual Conference

We just got home from Willingen, Germany, where we attended our GEM annual Conference. It was a time of learning, refreshment, and best of all, great fellowship with our colleagues working throughout Europe. We heard stories about the work of God, we were encouraged in our journey, and we were challenged to take greater risks for the Kingdom.

Our dear friend and ministry partner, Raphaël Anzenberger, was invited by GEM to teach a few of the general sessions and one breakout session. Here we are pictured with Raphaël and his wife Karen (next to me in the photo) and Henry Deneen, the President of GEM, and his wife Celia (next to David in the photo).


Meanwhile, our boys were at a hotel down the road, enjoying a youth conference for GEM Kids. See if you can find Chandler (hint: he's sporting a mustache) and Graham (hint: he's hugging his beloved). 

 

We hit the ground running upon our arrival home, as I am getting ready to head to the States for Orientation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary (the program is on-line, but there are some on-site requirments spaced throughout the year), Chandler gears up start his final year of Lycée (High School in France), and Graham prepares to transition back to the States to start college. David will be accompanying Graham to help with his transition. 

Please pray for us in the coming months as we will be often separated by geography though united in spirit! Pray for God to continue to stregthen us for the work ahead. We are excited about the many ministry opportunities that are open before us, delighted to have the privilege to work by HIS strength and for HIS glory here in France.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tying Shoes

Thirteen years ago I was in a state of panic!

It was the summer before Graham would start his academic career, and his school had sent out a list entitled "Kindergarted Readiness" that outlined the essential developmental benchmarks for students entering kindergarten. Graham could do almost everything on the list--he could count to 100 (or more!), he could recognize all the letters in the alphabet, he could write his own name, he could remember and execute three-part instructions.

But he could not tie his shoes.

And shoe-tying was on the list. I just knew that I had somehow failed as a parent because my five-year old could not tie his shoes. I was fairly sure that it was not due to a lack of manual dexterity, he could make Lego models that were meant for 10-12 year olds. I was fairly sure that is was not due to a lack of intelligence, because at 5, Graham not only recognized the letters of the alphabet, he could read simple chapter books. And darn if it was wasn't due to lack of instruction! I had been trying to teach him to tie his own shoes for six months. The boy just wasn't interested.

Graham and Kayla, the delightful young woman that he is courting.
He was happy for me to tie his shoes. He let the eager-to-mother-anyone little girls in his preschool class tie his shoes. Actually, I think even his younger brother would tie his shoes.

But there on the official "Kindergarten Readiness" list was the dreaded and lacking criteria: Tie Shoes.

And so I worried, and redoubled my efforts. I probably bribed, and threatened, and belittled, and chided. But when the first day of school arrived, Graham still could not tie his shoes. So I did what any over-achieving mother on the verge of facing failure would do. I gave up and bought slip-ons, secretly fearing that my son would one day graduate from high school still not knowing how to tie his shoes.

Graham and Kayla sipping cider in Warsaw
Fast forward thirteen years.

Yesterday, as Graham completed the very last of his on-line High School courses,  I was in town trying to buy him some shoes. He only wears one style: Converse Laceless Slip-ons. To tell you the truth, I can't remember him ever owning a pair of shoes that he had to tie. And in that moment I realized two things:

  1. It is possible that my son is graduating from High School not knowing how to tie his shoes.
  2. I don't care!
You see, something that I feared when he was five may have actually come true, only for me to realize that it was a stupid fear in the first place. So many wise mentors told me not to sweat the small stuff, but the problem was, as a young mom, I had a hard time figuring out what the "small stuff" was.

So I panicked about things like whether the chosen shirt went with the chosen pants, or how many brussels sprouts each child consumed, or whether we had purchased exactly the right folders on the school supply list. I fretted when he went on a field trip to the roller rink because my son had never been on skates before. I wondered how to know if he no longer needed swiming lessons. I felt devasted when he was reprimanded for wearing BLACK-soled shoes on gym days! What kind of a delinquent mother was I? And I just KNEW that a lunch box left at school over the weekend would be mold-covered and contaminated beyond repair by Monday.

But now, as I look back over the school years, now I get it. Tying shoes--and ALL that other stuff--is small stuff. So are standardized test scores, hair length, clothing labels, clean rooms, bed times, adolescent facial hair, and food preferences.

Being sweet.
On the other hand, my scruffy long-haired boy who hates shoelaces has the big stuff just right.

He starts each day in God's Word--not because we require it, but because he chooses it. He is compassionate and kind and eager to serve anyone who has need. He can play a guitar so beautifully it brings tears to my eyes. He's the kind of guy who gets 100% on his English final, and never announces it. He honors his parents, he challenges weak thinking, and he works diligently, no matter the task.

So to all you mothers out there stressing over school supply lists, developmental benchmarks, and swimming lessons, I declare to you this happy news: They don't matter. Be free. Enjoy your summer.

And just to be on the safe side, don't buy black-soled shoes.

Note the laceless Converse.
 
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