On being an adult at a middle school camp

We have this ongoing “When I was at summer camp” (said in a whiny voice) joke in our family.  It means whenever you come home from an event in which you were the only one who participated, nobody in the family wants to hear every single detail about what you did.

This has been an interesting summer because I went to Camp Calvin as an adult counselor & leader last week.  This week the oldest is at Lutheran Camp.  We’re covering the main areas of the Reformation with Calvin & Luther.  The husband went to Synod (annual meeting of our denomination) in early June which might as well be a camp for pastors.

Rather than share every single detail of Camp Calvin I’ve narrowed it down to 10 observations about being an adult at middle school camp.

1)  Getting middle schoolers to go to bed is just as difficult if not MORE challenging than putting babies and toddlers to bed.

2)  Middle school boys and girls are starting to like one another.  However it comes out in strange ways such as whacking one another on the head with pool noodles.

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3)  I swear my five year old grew an inch while I was away.  I keep looking at her and she seems much older.

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4)  I may be a marathon runner and triathlete but I cannot for the life of me run up a 2 mile trail on a mountain and run 2 miles back down.

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5)  I may be 38 years old but I can still go down a natural water slide.

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6)  Middle schoolers have no idea how old adults are.  Some thought I was right out of college (really!?), in my 20’s, in my young 30’s, and for a minute someone thought I was a camper!

7)  Sleeping on a camp bed in a lodge with eighteen middle school girls and sharing a bathroom can be exhausting for introverts.  Thankfully I’m an extrovert but I still had to get my space once in awhile.

8)  I friended all my new camp friends over 25 on Facebook and all my middle school campers on Instagram.

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9)  A camp diet that includes gooey cinnamon buns, peanut butter cups, and regular Mountain Dew is hard to break once returning home.  I should have eaten a salad for lunch but all I am craving right now is potato chips and chocolate.

10)  There is nothing as beautiful as 63 middle schoolers singing praise to the Lord and engaging in sweet fellowship.  Their rock hard faith in Jesus Christ is one that can inspire us.

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Week #3 of Summer–it was all about VBS!

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VBS week–what more can I say?  The above picture says it all.

At 2 PM this afternoon, it was just the janitor and I in the church building putting lost coats in the lost and found, recycling left behind coloring sheets, and moving chairs back into storage.  A church filled with life all week long.  Part of me is resting in the fact that “we made it.”  My schedule is freed up significantly until the fall.  Another part of me misses the church full of kids, seeing volunteers using their gifts in many capacities, and having a large project to work on.  Is it bizarre that I am OK with doing last minute paperwork and follow-up this weekend–that my VBS responsibilities are not quite over?  I guess it is a sign I am not burned out.  Or I am just plain crazy.

Directing VBS is a journey in and of itself.  My husband and I decided to direct when we were in our early 20’s at our previous church in Michigan.  I had no idea what it all entailed and I had not even helped with a VBS for several years. I remember looking through the curriculum and feeling completely overwhelmed.   It was an example of God using the ill equipped.  He provided us with my friend Rachel and her mom who basically did all the music and even some of the teaching.  We learned a great deal from them.  I do remember some of the children from that week and the volunteers who supported me every step of the way.  I directed in 2002, co-directed in 2010 and 2011 and then directed again last year.  Each year I feel like my heart becomes more humble, the little things don’t feel like big things anymore, and my passion increases.

VBS for me has always been a family affair.  My dad lead singing, both my parents and my older sister taught, my older sister directed in 2005 right before we moved to Oregon and I lead the games for her church–we were always involved.  Now I see this happening in my own family.

VBS brings in all kinds of kids–churched, unchurched, special needs children, those from difficult home lives, neighborhood kids, friends from our church we sometimes only see at VBS. grandchildren of members etc.  We have the awesome opportunity to spend a week with these kids in an upbeat and Christian setting where we can openly share our faith and speak the words of Scripture.  We can make it our priority to love these children and get to know them.  Sometimes I think that is the main purpose VBS serves–to show the community we truly care about children–ALL children.

I will not direct VBS forever (and I have made it known that someone will need to step up and fill my spot in a couple years), but I will always be involved in some capacity.  I am excited to see how God will continue us our family to care for children.

Second week of summer

Week #2 of summer.  The unfortunate thing about this week was my seasonal allergies got so bad that I had a pulsing sinus headache that knocked me out most of Tuesday.  The fortunate thing was the kids are old enough that I could sleep while they played on their own. Especially because I took a Sudafed PM on accident instead of AM…so that pretty knocked me out all afternoon. The kids can work the TV (and they know only 1 hour in the morning), make their own snacks, get their bikes out of the shed, etc.  The husband works next door to our house so he could check in on them every hour and was home for a full hour during lunch. The oldest knows how to use the phone. It was a little anxiety ridden for me at first–“They’re unattended!”  Yet they are 8,6, and 4 now…it’s not like the days of laying on the couch sick letting toddlers run around and hoping nothing gets destroyed.

But that was only one day…one day of an overall pretty good week.

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It is the week before VBS and I am directing again this year.  What seems to be a daunting stressful job for many has become doable…and even fun…for myself.  It took many years of trial and error to get to this point.  While I know I won’t direct forever (I already warned my church this is not a permanent thing!) it has been a great volunteer position for me this year.  Lots of people stepped up.  Because my oldest is doing odd jobs to earn money for her mission trip to Philadelphia this month, she helped me sort volunteer t-shirts, name tags, and helped my friend set up decorations.

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After being sick on Tuesday, I was itching to get out of the house.  The weather was beautiful!  My head still was not quite right in the morning.  By 3 PM I decided to bite the bullet and take the kids biking.  I knew they would go slow and we could take breaks as needed.  It was our first bike ride together on a trail.  My youngest’s bike is not in the greatest condition and the training wheels don’t stay in place so that created a few falls…and stops.  But overall everyone had a great time.

ImageIt is difficult for me to bike with all three of them because I have a racing road bike.  I bike in clips (though I am still a rookie and learning how to do this).  I am too nervous about biking slowly behind them especially when they stop suddenly…not sure I could clip out that fast.  So I wear my 90’s style roller blades…and I still get a good workout too.

ImageBecause I was feeling so much better, I decided to play street hockey Wednesday night.  Some guys from our church started a Wednesday night hockey night in our church parking lot.  I don’t like to play volleyball or basketball–but I won’t turn down a game of hockey…even I have not played since junior high intramurals…and we’re talking over 20 years ago!

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I took the kids to the Public Works Day at the local park.  It is when the Public Works department comes with all their big trucks and educate the children about what they do.  There is also some bike safety education, games, face painting, and free lunch.  My kids went last year and loved it…so we had to go again.

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We have been trying to teach the children about other cultures.  One of the best ways to do that is with food.  The husband made a Korean barbecue and then we had the kids read a website about the country.  We quizzed them about what they learned.

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I am not sure what country we will do next.  Ethiopia?  Indonesia?  Greece?  The kids want to do Mexico, but I would rather do one that is going to be more of a challenge…and different.

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We ended the week by going to Eugene for part of the day.  My friend Linda who was in the youth group I lead back in Michigan was playing in an ultimate frisbee tournament there.  I visited her over Spring Break in May in LA where she currently lives.  This time she got to see the husband again and meet the kids.  We were able to watch her game and go out for pizza…this is a picture from when were in LA together.  I was a dork and left the camera memory card pack home in the PC yet again.

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Now on to VBS week–where our week will be pretty much be VBS and not much more!

Ten years ago…

I think it happens to me late May/early June every year.  I get a little sad.

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Ten years ago,  2004 we were loaded up a U Haul barely fitting everything in (we joked it was like playing Tetris) and left our home in Fruitport, Michigan.  I had a job as a youth director there from May of 2000 until June of 2004.  My husband and I lived in a house next door to the church from May 2001 until we left.  In some ways this move was harder than our move to Oregon in August of 2006. (We lived in Gary, Indiana from June of 2004 until June of 2005, Muskegon, Michigan the summer of 2005, and Grand Rapids, Michigan September 2005 until August of 2006.)

I felt like God was calling me into youth ministry when I was in my teens–“a kid in youth ministry myself.”  Although I went through some difficult years as a pastor’s kid that made me question actually working for a church, God blessed me that first year with an amazing group of kids I loved.  As I went through my first year of ministry, I kept feeling God’s peace.  I expected chaos and conflict, but I was blessed with the opposite.  I am not saying everything that first year or the next three were easy.  There were difficult times, heartbreaking moments, times I made mistakes, and days I questioned my calling.  There were times I was exhausted and felt inadequate.  Yet I cried almost every single night our last week in Fruitport and it was like mourning the death of a friend.

I did not talk it very much until later…it seems like it came out at all the wrong times…but I was not just mourning our church, but youth ministry in general.  I knew it was very unlikely I would do youth ministry as a job for a very long time…if ever…and I would do some new thing for work.  So I searched for that thing.

When we left in 2004 and the years that followed, I quickly tried to fill that hole of missing youth ministry with something else.  I thought I would go into early childhood education. After a brief stint of working in a day care, I felt like a door was closing.  I thought about becoming a veterinary technician because I love animals.  After a couple classes, it just wasn’t me.  I had to move on.  When a friend of mine asked me a couple weeks ago, “If you could do anything for a job, what would you want you to do?”  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t have an answer right now.  In some ways not much has changed in ten years.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve had some good jobs.  Jobs I love.  I love my news writing job.  I love interviewing people.  I love writing.  My world has opened as I see God working in places like inner city Seattle, rural Minnesota and the suburbs in between.  I do enjoy child care.  It has worked absolutely perfect with our schedule, the kids are sweet, I can stay home with my own kids, and I think I need a house with more chaos than serene.  There are always kids here, art projects on the table, toys in the backyard, and laughter–I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I have done youth ministry as a volunteer for many years.  I do enjoy it.  I love the kids as much as I loved my Fruitport kids.  But it’s different.  And it was an adjustment to be on staff versus a volunteer.  For one youth ministry is a small compartment of my life and I cannot give it the attention to the degree I wish I could.  I have very little time to read youth ministry books, go to conferences, meet with other youth leaders, visit schools, go to sports games, and take kids out for ice cream.  Those are some of the things I enjoyed  in Fruitport and I can’t do those things here because of my demands as a stay-at-home mom, my kid’s schedules, child care, writing, and other responsibilities.

When the kids are in school all day and a few years has passed–I have a feeling our lives will be different.  I may be doing “that new thing”  even though I have no clue right now what it is.  Maybe it’s paid youth ministry.  Maybe it isn’t  Maybe it’s not much different than what I am doing now.  Maybe it’s something I never dreamed of doing.

But whatever it is, I am grateful for the four years of youth ministry I had.  And I am grateful for the ten years of doing odd jobs, writing, child care and being a stay-at-home mom.  I don’t know tomorrow will bring, but I can know God has a plan for me.

How to be an even better pastor’s wife

 

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I have read quite a few articles in the past year about how churches can better treat their pastor wives.  I am going to turn it around and share with you how pastor wives can better treat their church.  I know,  I might take some flack for that one.  The truth is if we wallow in self pity about how hard ministry is, how we are Sunday morning single moms, and how we can’t be friends with anyone in the church–we can’t serve effectively.  We will sink.  Sometimes we have to look outside of the walls of our church and look deeper within ourselves.

1)  Just because you tackle it alone Sunday mornings, please don’t think of yourself as a single mom.  I know how it is.  Baths, showers, finding clothes, socks, shoes, breaking up sibling rivalry–there have been times I have showed up to Sunday School emotionally exhausted.  But we have a husband again when we return home again after church.  Before thinking of yourself as a single mom, remember the single moms who are going at it alone every single day…not just Sunday mornings.

2)  Don’t always expect people to pursue a friendship with you.  Sometimes you need to make the first move.  Have people over for pizza.  Invite ladies to a movie.  Meet at a park with your kids.  Friendships sometimes takes some patience and some effort.  Yes you will have seasons of loneliness, but some of your dearest friends can be sitting in the pew next to you.  You might just need to work at it.

3)  Venting might not always be the right way to handle your frustration.  Ministry is tough and working with people can be messy.  If you are struggling, where are you sharing your frustrations?  Are you seeking the Lord?  Is it burdening your husband too much to talk about it?  Do you have a trusted friend?  Do you know of a good counselor.  While the Internet has its place, I have honestly found prayer, counseling, and sharing things with my husband and/or one dear friend the most helpful.

4)  Remember the impression you are making on new pastor wives.  Soon after my husband graduated seminary and we were officially a pastor’s family, I attended a pastor’s spouse conference.  I was surrounded by some newbies, but also some seasoned PWs.  One thing I learned very quickly was there was lots of frustration, depression, and strong anger towards the church.  Had I not grown up as a PK and knew somewhat was I was getting into, I might have been anxious about my new role.  New PWs needs lot of encouragement.  Be careful what you say around them and the impression you are leaving on them.  Watch this especially at conferences, facebook groups, forums and other churches etc.

5)  Don’t be afraid to listen to other sermons or attend a Bible Study outside of your church. Don’t feel guilty about it.  Except for two short years, my pastor has always been my dad, my supervisor, or my husband.  Yes, there are some things about that situation that are absolutely wonderful.  But I do enjoy listening to other pastors and once in awhile attending a different church.

6)  If you are getting fired up, take a step back.  Some of my most difficult times in ministry as a youth director and pastor’s wife are when I get upset about what I am not getting, what others are not doing for me, and how everything seems to be against me.  This is a terrible way to serve especially if you constantly feel like a victim.  Think about out what you need.  More volunteers?  More money?  Better space?  More time?  Maybe a break?  If you ask for what you need in a diplomatic way, you’d be surprised how people respond.  If your need is not met, maybe it is time to take a step back.

7)  You aren’t the glue that holds the church together.  Many of the comings and goings of church members are totally out of your control.  It’s hard to see people go.  It’s even harder to not take it personally when there was some kind of conflict that involved your husband, or worse yet…you.  Make amends, apologize, forgive…do what you need to do.  And know that people will ALWAYS leave and knowing you can’t really control it is the first step.

8)  When your husband takes a vacation, take a vacation from church projects too.  I would recommend attending a different church that Sunday too.

9)  Know you aren’t much different from other women.  Sometimes we think we have it so hard because we’re pastor wives.  Don’t forget about military wives, doctor’s wives, or small business owner’s wives.  And your husband is not the only one who works on Sundays.

10)  Most people don’t mean to offend you.  Sometimes they just don’t know better.  The older generation might have a different view of the pastor wife and her role versus the younger generation.  It also may vary culture to culture.  While comments or criticism hurts, take it with a grain of salt.

11)  Remember the joys and write them down.  Unfortunately so many pastor wives discussions are problems.  Think of the joys and keep “a joy journal.”  Maybe it’s something simple like a smiling baby in the nursery or a choir singing at Easter or the chance to pray with someone in need.

12)  Parsonages are not all bad.  Everyone regardless of what home they live in deals with repairs and updating.  Sometimes pastor families have the advantage of someone else taking care of the problem for you.  Every church handles their parsonage a little bit different…some better than others.  Don’t forget to show love to your Buildings and Grounds people–make them cookies at Christmas.

13)  Maybe the problem is deeper.  Are you dealing with anxiety or depression?  Marital issues?  Maybe your struggles in the ministry is a symptom and not the underlining cause.  Counseling can help tremendously with that.  Maybe you don’t know why certain things trigger anger or depression–maybe you can figure out why.

What it all comes down to is we have to have humble hearts if we are going to wade through the trenches of ministry.

Cool Middle Schoolers

Tonight we kicked off the middle school youth group I co-lead.  We went to a local park to play Capture the Flag.  A middle schooler randomly hanging out in the park was watching us.  Some of my middle schoolers asked him if he wanted to play with us, someone else asked him how old he was and where he went to school, someone else invited him to our youth group and asked him if he wanted to have snacks with us, and then asked him if he went to church and believed in Jesus.  He hung out with us almost the whole night.

We can learn a lot about evangelism from watching our young people.  

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Seven years…

Today is a significant day.  It will not be marked with a celebration or moment of silence.  Just remembering.

On this day in 2006 we were on our way to Oregon leaving the majority of our family members and close friends behind in Michigan.  This week marks seven years of living here.  I have not lived in the same house or church for more than seven years.  Ever.

The moving truck that took all our belonging from seminary housing in Michigan to Oregon.

The moving truck that took all our belonging from seminary housing in Michigan to Oregon.

I lived in Wappingers Fall, NY as an infant, toddler, and preschooler.  I lived in Lafayette Indiana throughout most of my childhood.  We moved to Grand Rapids when I was beginning seventh grade actually on this day as well (August 16, 1989).

I did live in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1989 through May of 2000.  During that span of time I lived in two different houses and several dorm rooms plus attended three different churches so there was not as much consistency during that time period.

First Family Picture in Oregon.  Our oldest was one year at the time and is now turning eight.

First Family Picture in Oregon. Our oldest was one year at the time and is now turning eight.

I truly believe God was preparing me for our Oregon move at a young age.  Even in junior high I envisioned living in a different part of the country as an adult.

I love being rooted here.  We have a church community and school community.  I have friends I have made through a moms group.  I have brought my children to this house from the hospital.  Our middle bedroom was a nursery where each child slept as a baby.  They learned to crawl through the family room and took their first steps. And then eventually ride their bikes in the parking lot without training wheels.  I think I was craving “roots” for a long time.

I also truly believe one of the reasons God called me personally to Oregon was to heal.  I have matured, found new passions (like hiking & the outdoors!), discovered healthy and effective ways to handle my anxiety, and transitioned from a church staff member to a pastor wife and youth ministry volunteer.

Three of my kids at Nye Beach, one of my favorite places in Oregon.

Three of my kids at Nye Beach, one of my favorite places in Oregon.

It has been a blessed seven years!