Confessions, Husband, Jesus, Letters to My Kids, Ministry

The First Year

Dear Little One,

Today marks our 1 Year Anniversary of pastoral ministry at Monroe Free Methodist Church. Your Daddy was ordained last May, and appointed as Senior Pastor here in June. His first Sunday in the pulpit (and mine at the piano) was June 29th, 2014. It’s been a fast year, a hard year, a wonderful year. As I’ve told many who inquire how is it going? – this gig has a steep learning curve. There are so many lessons to be learned that can only be taught by experience, digging right in. I thought I’d share with you a few reflections from this first year.

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No one ever taught me when to order Easter lilies or Palm fronds. (Fact: I didn’t even know how to spell “fronds” until right this moment.) I thought I was getting ahead of the curve when I called florists about lilies a good six weeks before Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, none of them even knew what their stock or prices would be at that point. I ended up rolling the dice and shopping at Meijer a week before the holiday. I paid about half what the florists were quoting me. Little did I know when I was failing at ordering lilies, that’s about the time when I should have been ordering Palm fronds. Thankfully a local garden center supplied us with the palms at the last minute.

I even had to email our conference office to find out whether to drape the cross with purple or white before and after Easter Sunday. This kind of stuff you just don’t think about when it’s always been “someone else’s” responsibility. Thank you, “someone else” for always doing those behind-the-scenes things in church.

Like making coffee. I barely know how to brew a cup of coffee with my Keurig, let alone make a pot for the morning church crew using the ancient Bunn Pour-omatic. I learned quickly when there was no one else to do it. (Though perhaps no one drinking my coffee might be a sign of something…)


Those first few months, I took it upon myself to “do it all.” I unlocked all the doors at the church. I turned on all the lights. I set up the coffee table. I turned on the heat. I prepped the sound system and the projector. I shoveled the sidewalks. And since it was part of my “office manager” job description, I also cleaned the bathrooms, restocked paper products, took out the trash, vacuumed the floors, washed the windows, and dusted.

And I got very bitter, very fast. I was so hurried and frazzled that I never had time to prepare my heart for leading worship, let alone get my head on straight for directing my team during rehearsal. I was short-fused, and something needed to give.

Eventually I began to hear the wisdom of my patient husband: Ask for help. Others have a desire and a gift to serve. They’re just waiting to be asked. When I finally hit the end of my rope, I called and emailed five or six people that very day, asking if they would help me shoulder these Sunday morning tasks. Every one of them said yes. The following Sunday I felt a million times lighter.


As we came into ministry at MFMC, I was moving on from my years of youth ministry and stepping into a new leadership role as worship director. The Lord had been preparing me for this work during the past 15 years of participation with worship teams. I have served as a vocalist and keyboardist on many occasions, loving every minute of using my gifts and training for God’s glory. But leading the ministry? That was uncharted territory.

Never before had it been my responsibility to select the music for the worship sets every-single-week, create new slides for every-single-song (while learning how to work the open source software called OpenLP), or coordinate Scripture volunteers and sound techs and ushers. And that’s when it was just me and a keyboard.

Our congregation was so receptive to my very quiet and contemplative style of worship leading. They came eager to learn and soaking in the new space we were creating in our corporate worship. I am so thankful for the grace they’ve shown as I’ve hit wrong notes, missed transitions, sang wrong words, or let my ego get in the way.

Over the next six months, God began gifting me with team members. As new friends were starting to attend our services it seemed many of them were interested in serving on the worship team. I began holding auditions, allowing me to hear their voices or instruments, and giving us time to dialog about their experience and their call to serve. To this day I am being BLOWN AWAY by the team God is forming. A year ago when it was just me up there, I couldn’t dream big enough. But here I am with a crew of 8 vocalists, 2 cajon (box drum) players, a cellist, a trumpeter, a clarinetist, a bass guitarist, 2 keyboardists, an acoustic guitarist, and me on our micro-grand electric piano. (Thank you, Craigslist.) WOAH, right?!

I love keeping things fresh every week, rotating vocalists and instrumentalists. This gives the team a chance to serve with new people and gain a unity among us, while giving our congregation the opportunity to welcome newness and change. Some weeks are “big” with the drum, bass, guitar, piano, and four vocalists. Other weeks are more acoustic, with two vocalists and a guitar or piano. I love it! Our practices are something we all look forward to and I am beyond impressed with the way every one of them comes to rehearsals prepared and on time. (And by “on time” I mean I get there a half hour early, and half the time a few of them beat me to the church.) Praise be to God for His goodness in knitting together a team of lead worshipers.


As I look back over this first year, I am amazed at the way our community has been changing and by the growth your Dad and I have experienced in our personal ministry areas. We love working together, complimenting each other’s abilities in a way only God could have ordained. He’s the big picture guy, I’m the detail planner. He preaches and teaches, while I coordinate and lead worship. We counsel couples togethers, we disciple individuals one-on-one. We meet together to plan the next few weeks or months of ministry. We have had to learn to take off the “husband and wife hats” and shift into “pastor and worship leader roles.” Together we set visions for teaching goals of our Sunday night series and take turns ironing out the details. He has mentored me into my Local Ministerial Candidacy and continually puts great trust in my leadership abilities, hardly ever questioning my plans or execution. I am so thankful for the way we work together and I am eager to continue in my track of ordination.


Child,

As you come into this world a bonafide Pastor’s (Pastors’) Kid, we are praying for you. May God grant you grace to follow Christ from a young age. May you learn to the love the Church. May you find your niche of service – even as a child – and thrive. May you experience the unique set of spiritual gifts God has ordained for your life. May you forgive your Mom and Dad when we make mistakes and tell us if you’re feeling left out or “second place” to church work. May you love our bedtime prayers and the liturgy of reading Scriptures together. May you ask questions and think critically and develop a worldview with Christ as your lens.

We can’t know how our ministry will change when you enter our lives. We believe our hearts will grow ten sizes, and we know our people are going to welcome you with arms wide open. We pray you will love growing up in the front row of church every Sunday, loving the Lectionary readings, and learning to sing the songs Monday through Saturday, and gleaning the Good News from your Daddy’s sermons.

Continuing in another year, by the Grace of God,

Your Mama

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Confessions, Infertility, Pregnancy

Hindsight is 20/20

Early Sunday morning I was exchanging texts with a good friend. She told me about a Scripture verse from her devotions which had brought me to mind. As I left the house to take my daily walk, I began meditating on this passage.

By means of their suffering, he rescues those who suffer. For he gets their attention through adversity.

Job 36:15 (NLT)

This truth resonated with me deeply, recounting the last five years of desert barrenness in which I had lived. Though it was often dark and difficult, though I struggled to hear from the Lord and found myself floundering in prayer, I knew – even then– that this suffering was a means for my Father to refine me.

I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10 (NLT)

I drew deeply into practices of spiritual discipline, seeking desperately for the Lord’s hand in my hardship. I longed for His nearness, His comfort, His wisdom. Those early mornings of silence and prayer, accompanied only by candlelight were the most sacred moments I’ve experienced. I’ve tried hard to replicate my dark encounters with Jesus, but they cannot be conjured.

And so I am thankful. To anyone who will listen, I boldly proclaim that I would not for a moment trade in these last five years. My infertility journey was a sacred set of steps nearer to the heart of my Lord. There was much suffering, long bouts of adversity, constant struggles to surrender – and I knew I couldn’t go on but by the Grace of God.

Hindsight reveals this goodness, this salvation through suffering. I begin to understand what James meant in the first chapter of his letter.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-3 (NIV)

I can’t claim to be “Mature and Complete;” I still lack much. But I am not the woman I was. God has used my trials to develop my perseverance, my faith, my understanding of Him, and my passion to follow no matter the cost.

 

And I am so thankful.


 

 

P.S.  A happy Baby Fuji update:

We discovered the gender of our little one! Click here to watch.

And I took my first “bump” photo:

Bump 11w4d

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Confessions, Letters to My Kids, Pregnancy

Celebration

Dear Child of Mine,

I haven’t been inspired to write anything profound, so I’m just going to start writing. Here’s my stream of consciousness.

I’m eleven weeks pregnant today – you’re 11 weeks old! My pregnancy app tells me you’re about the size of a fig and almost completely formed. Now it’s just time to grow, grow, grow.

I felt like a new woman the first half of this week – super productive, cleaning and organizing the house, rearranging furniture. Ya know…all those things I truly love to do. (My mom says things move around just about every time she visits!)

I finally want to eat a decent variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables. I still start my morning with a slice of peanut butter toast, but I can do scrambled eggs again and I’m loving fruit. I still need all the burgers. Meat is where it’s at. I totally overdid the fried foods yesterday, though, and MAN ALIVE did I pay for it. I went to bed with terrible reflux, downed a couple generic Tums, and went to sleep. Two hours later I ran to the bathroom and woke up my husband with the sounds of my violent vomiting. (Mom, you know what I’m talking about…) I think this was really just the food I consumed and not some freaky flu or a midnight bout of morning sickness, but I still felt a little off today.

I haven’t napped as much as this week. A few cat naps here and there, but not needing the two long naps a day has been refreshing. Plus, my body’s been rising at 6am again rather than 7 which feels more normal to me.

Hubby has been wonderful, going on 3 mile walks with me almost every morning. LOVE.

He also has not commented on my thickening midsection or the fact that I mostly look like I’ve gained ten pounds, not that I’m growing a baby. I’m sure it helps to remind himself that I’m carrying his child (yay!) but even I’m hoping that the gain will even out now that my stomach and tastes have equilibrated. A new normal. It is frightening, though, when my “big” pants are too tight already. I feel like most women go months into their pregnancy before having this problem. Trying to remember every story is unique…

One of my favorite gifts to give is the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. It’s been an incredible resource for my personal spiritual growth over the years. Kevin and I received this book as a gift from Dr. Brewer in 2007 as he was counseling us for marriage. I had set it aside a couple years ago, going through other Spiritual Formation books. But Monday I pulled it back out of the archives and started searching for what God had for me. I was quite surprised when I landed on the discipline of Celebration. I distinctly remember reading over those pages 8 years ago and thinking, “Who would need to practice celebrating? Who would struggle with that?

Enters from stage left: Melanie of 2015, newly pregnant and embarking on a totally unknown adventure.

And so, my week has been focused on practicing the discipline of celebration. For you are a tremendous gift, my Child. This week we got to hear your strong heartbeat at a doctor’s appointment. What a thrilling (and relieving) moment that was!

I will echo Mary’s Song from Luke 1:46-48

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.

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Confessions, Food, Letters to My Kids, Pregnancy

Dealing with Newness

Dear Child of Mine,

Your realness seems to have brought about may unexpected changes to my life. Yes, already. I am still finding it hard to believe this is for real, and perhaps I’ve become jaded by our years of disappointments. I’m trying to hard to be excited, but for now I’m just thankful for the swarms of people being excited on my behalf.

Have I mentioned you’re going to be so loved, Child? You are! You have been prayed over, anointed, and desired by so many for so long. All those years ago when we started trying to conceive, I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to be a mom. It was purely a personal desire, one which was untainted by the pangs of infertility or the uncertainty of adoption.

All these years later, my focus has shifted in ways I never could have orchestrated on my own volition. By the grace of God you have been brought into our lives, and by the grace of God I believe you are going to be used to further His Kingdom. I am more excited about the holy anointing I believe to be on your little life than I am about becoming a mother. I truly believe that Creator God has ordained your life for a purpose, for this moment in time. I am so honored to get to carry you and parent you. Your Daddy and I are going to love you ’til you’re blue in the face and you’re so embarrassed by our public displays of affection. But in the end, we know whose you are. The Lord God is forming your body and preparing you to do His work. I can’t wait to watch your story unfold.


In the meantime, here’s what’s been happening in my life since your little heart started beating.

1. I am exhausted. I nap once or twice a day, even when getting over 8 hours of sleep each night. Apparently being a host for the creation of a human being takes a lot out of woman.

2. I have terrible acid reflux. My lifelong intestinal issues have probably eased me into this stage, but man, the burning and the regurgitation and the burping and the bloating.

Speaking of which….

3. I sort of look a little pregnant, but I’m pretty sure that’s mostly bloating. I live a relatively healthy life with a well-balanced diet. I love my fruits and vegetables, and get a good number of proteins and carbs in; I enjoy sweets and fried foods but normally with self-control. This pregnancy has thrown all balance out the window. There may or may not have been a day when I ate a cheeseburger and chips for lunch, most of a full-sized bag of Cheetos as a snack, and then had a Big Mac and medium fries for dinner. I never would have eaten like that in a million years. I don’t know if it’s hormones or cravings or some mental game, but it is messing with me.

4. The morning sickness has been totally tolerable. Again, perhaps it’s the years of nausea that makes morning sickness reasonable for me, but I’ve only had a few days of holy cow not fun. My stomach feels a little off most of the time, but I’ve learned to ignore it. My new habit includes a slice of peanut butter toast (on white storebought bread, not ever my thing…) first thing in the morning, and grazing or small meals every couple hours. Thank you to every woman ever who has recommended that new eating structure. (My waist line does not thank you, however.)

5. I find myself easily out of breath. This is totally frustrating to someone who typically speed walks ahead of the group. I now find myself lagging behind, huffing and puffing. Oh, and leading worship takes all the wind out of me. *whew* Apparently all this has something to do with increased blood and oxygen production, which makes sense.

I am finding myself anxious for the next time I’ll get to see you or hear your heartbeat, just convincing my brain that you really do exist.

Psalm 139:13 (The Message)

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

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