Much Ado about Missions: Holidays and a Higher Purpose

I’m so excited you are joining our “Much Ado about Missions” series! If you missed our introductory post check it out here and browse through the previous few posts via links at the bottom. This week we turn our focus from missions within the home to missions in our community and beyond! I am so excited to share a few favorites that have grown into highly anticipated holiday traditions!

ImageWhy Holidays? There are so many wonderful options and resources for experiencing missions in your community every day of the year. Oftentimes our busy schedules overrule our good intentions, however, so making it a point to mix a little missions into your holiday traditions helps add accountability. It’s a habit I’m still in the process of practicing so please share your holiday ideas!!

1. City Mission Christmas:  This is a special one for our family for sure. After all, my husband and I were in the midst of helping with a Christmas party at a local soup kitchen when our phone rang and changed our world with an adoption match! One year later we volunteered to organize a Christmas morning breakfast at the city mission and bundled up our chubby little six month old adoption miracle boy to do his part in serving up smiles! This tradition is three years strong now and we are happily engaging our growing family in the fun!

Image2. Valentines Day Officer Outreach: Another favorite of our family is to bake up a storm to serve our officers and inmates at the local jail. We want our officers to know they are appreciated and prayed for and we want inmates to know they are remembered by a God whose grace is deep with forgiveness and unfailing love. (We do this a few other times a year as well. Possibilities are endless with red, white, and blue cupcakes or sugar cookies for Independence Day, green for St. Patrick’s, ect!)

Image3. Fireworks & Franks: The fourth of July is a great family day! Why not add a little family outreach time by setting up a tailgate party for others at the local fireworks hangout?! Hot dogs are crazy cheap and with a little coupon magic you can find them for almost free. Involve a few families or church friends to help or just pitch in some buns or little bags of chips. (Can’t you just picture your kids with a tray of food calling out, “Chips and dogs! Get your free chips and dogs! Jesus loves you! Have a hot dog!”) Many churches host outreach events to draw in the community, but this is one time your community is already gathered! Make the most of it and spread a little Jesus love…in a bun!

You can create your own holiday traditions to mix in a mission experience by making the most of your unique community connections. My husband is a chaplain so officer and inmate outreach made sense. Maybe you host an Easter egg hunt for your little girl’s ballet class or your son’s boy scout troop and share the Easter story. Maybe you work with your church to host a community Thanksgiving feast and your kids provide music or theatrical entertainment if that’s their passion. You don’t have to look far to bring a higher purpose to holiday and add a little ‘missional’ flavor to the fun!

ImageCatch our previous posts in the “Much Ado about Missions” series by checking in with Jen at Being Confident of This and Angie over at My Four Monkeys or just follow the links below!

1. 8 Resources for Teaching Missions – thanks to Jen!

2. Missional M&Ms – right here at Love Notes!

3. Teaching Missions with Crafts – thanks to Angie!

4. The Experience – thanks to Jen again!

Much Ado about Missions: The Missional M&Ms

Once upon a time I lived in the jungles of Papua New Guinea where lanterns lit our house and a wood stove warmed up rain water from the tin roof for bucket showers. Fast forward twelve years, add one husband and six kids and you get life as I know it here in my American home which lights up at the flip of a switch and heats its own water! Until last week, that is. Last week severe storms left our town without electricity and I was painfully reminded how easily an attitude of entitlement can slip in! We get comfortable, we get complacent, and when someone or something dares to interfere with our plan, we complain. I complained all the way to the hotel where we crowded our small tribe of children into a room and roughed it for the night. (By roughing it I mean sleeping in a King size bed, waking up to breakfast that I didn’t have to make, and taking the kids swimming before leaving a messy room behind for someone else to clean up…wait, what was I complaining about again?!)

Image I want my children to understand that life is about so much more than comfortable living, luxury items, and the coolest new gadgets and gizmos. They may not spend their childhood on the mission field, but I want them growing up with a missional mindset regardless. I want them engaged in God’s global movement and the spread of His gospel around the world. As our kids grow, we want to continually bring mission work from the furthest corners of the Earth home to our front door. There are so many ways to do so, but for this post I want to focus on the Missional M&M’s:  “Missionary of the Month” and “Missionary Mondays.”

 1. Pick a missionary of the month. If you have a friend on the field or a family your church supports, start with them. If you need one to get started, check out the families featured here. Think about connecting with mission families involved in a ministry your family will relate to or who has children similar ages as yours. If you have dramatic kids or athletic kids, find a missionary family using street theater or sports programs to spread the gospel. These little details will make “The Missionary” seem a little less out of this world and more relatable.

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2. Kids LOVE food, so make the first Monday of the month “Missionary Monday” and cook up some traditional foods from the country your “Missionary of the Month” ministers in to serve for supper. Use conversation time around the table to introduce the details of that month’s missionary and spend time praying for them. 

 3. Have your kids find a new fact about that country or people group (history, traditions, ect) to share at the dinner table on each of the following “Missionary Mondays” for that month.  This involves them in the learning process and may ignite a passion for a particular people group or method of ministry! Again, make time to pray for them together before everyone scatters their separate ways.

 4. If you homeschool, incorporate that country or people group into history reports, research reports, or choose a book for reading class that relates to that culture. Check out these fabulous resources for more ideas whether you homeschool or not! (8 Resources for Teaching Missions)

 5. Kids also learn by doing. If possible, contact the missionaries in advance and learn what kinds of games or activities kids in that area enjoy. Spend time after supper on one of your “Missionary Mondays” to play that game as a family.

 6. In your communication also ask what the missionary family misses from their home country and plan a family shopping trip to put together a special package. Or if they have specific needs like a new pair of shoes for their son, have your kids do extra chores around the house to earn money and let them pick out the shoes and mail them. Missions with a side of service and generosity? Yes please! (Sidenote: Sometimes shipping costs to certain countries can double or triple the cost of what you are sending, so passing along the funds for that specific purpose is another option. Maybe the missionary could send home a picture of what they picked out with the money your kids gave!)

 7. Consider planning a family service project to benefit the ministry that month’s family is involved in too. If their village is trying to build a bridge, let your kids come up with a creative fundraiser to help. The more specific the need, the more connected your kids will be to the service project. Sometimes the best ways to engage their HEARTS is to engage their HANDS!

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The best version of the Missional M&M’s (“Missionary of the Month” and/or “Missionary Mondays”) is the one that works with your family schedule. I like focusing on one specific missionary and ministry at a time and also centering it around supper time since we’re all together around the table anyways. You may prefer to narrow your focus to two or three missionaries or ministries and cycle them through again three or four times a year. I am looking forward to finding new ministries that magnify the many ways God is being glorified in the spreading of His gospel around our world. I hope engaging my kids in the experience will teach them how BIG our God is and the importance of using the special gifts He gives each one of us to share His LOVE wherever we are! 

 How do you make missions a reality for your kids? 

 Have a favorite ministry you would like to highlight? Share with us by commenting below!!

 

Much Ado About Missions – Introduction

I am so excited to partner with two lovely ladies in this series as I navigate my first blog hop! Over the next few weeks we will be sharing a variety of ideas for engaging our families in God’s movement among the nations and connecting with His heart for worldwide missions. We may not be able to travel to the furthest corners of the globe and experience international missions firsthand, but with a little creativity and intentionality, we can bring those mission fields home through our front door. Passionate about local missions? That’s coming up too! Check out the introductory post and stay tuned for series updates!

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Being a Jesus Prayer

A few weeks ago my husband asked me to share my favorite passages on prayer. A few weeks ago we also entered an unexpected time of transition for our family (Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em: Confessions of a First Time Foster Mom) and for the church where my husband serves as Senior Pastor. We were still processing major decisions when a midnight call prompted an emergency flight to Florida where our niece faced an uphill fight for her life after a freak para-sailing accident. As I sit down for the first time now and review this nearly finished post on prayer from what seems like a lifetime ago, I’m blown away at God’s perfect timing. I never planned to face what we have the last few weeks, but reading back my own words I can see His unmistakable hand of preparation! How comforting it is to know we are cared for by One who is never taken by surprise and can speak a peace that surpasses all understanding into every situation we face. May we never take for granted the awesome privilege we have in connecting with the Creator of the Universe through prayer!

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“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Luke 6:12-16
I have always loved the image of Christ, the Son of God, retreating from ministry for times of intentional prayer. As a Pastor’s wife I often face the dilemma of discerning between the many good things pulling for my attention. I learned early on that I cannot be everything to everyone, and no matter how may needs I fill, there’s always a new one opening up. If the Son of God needed time away from His ministry to connect with His Father, this imperfect, impatient woman most certainly needs to prioritize intentional times of prayer!!
I believe it is no coincidence that this particular all-night prayer time preceded the choosing of the twelve disciples. The men Christ singled out directly impacted the ministry before Him and we have much to learn from His sincere seeking of His Father’s will above His own in making such a significant decision. I wonder how much of the night was spent in seeking God’s answer, and how much was spent in reconciling Himself to the answer He received. Did He question God’s pick of Peter, the short-fused fisherman? What about doubting Thomas? I wonder how He responded to God’s choice in Judas, the one who would betray him. Sometimes prayer is spent seeking God’s discernment in decisions, and sometimes it is reconciling our hearts to accept the answer He gives, especially when it may seem so very far from what we had hoped for.
My second favorite passage on prayer is a bit lengthier, but you can read the full section in Matthew 14:22-33. After miraculously feeding five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and fish, Christ withdraws to the mountainside for some solitude to seek His Father in prayer. If ever there was a night to just go to bed instead, I imagine this would have been it! Instead of turning to the television or a late night snack or just falling into bed after such an exhausting day, however, Christ refreshed Himself in prayer. What a powerful example!
Christ made prayer a priority, even on the busy days, and for good reason! First, God is the true restorer of our weary souls! Secondly, He knows what surprises await us. After spending time in prayer that night, Christ did not get the chance to head to bed before ministry called His name again. As if feeding five thousand people were not enough, this night would not end until He literally walked across the angry waves of stormy waters and spoke peace into the raging winds. The past few weeks we have faced monumental decisions. We have also survived exhausting days in the midst of those heavy decisions only to find ourselves surrounded by the storm. When God beckons our hearts to connect with Him in prayer, He always has a reason. He knows what your soul needs at the end of a draining day; He also know what your heart needs to hear today to handle what you may not see coming tomorrow.

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If He is whispering to your heart, heed His call! Yes, your bed may be calling your name, yes your schedule may be overloaded as is, but He knows when you’re about to face a situation that requires faith to step out of the boat and walk on water. Prayer is part of the way He readies us for those times. Don’t miss a chance to be strengthened before the storm!

Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em: Confessions from a First-Time Foster Mom

Whether we’re cruising the grocery store with three toddlers piled inside the cart and a Kindergartener hanging off each side or pushing multiple strollers down the sidewalk while the six and seven year old circle us on their scooters, we have a way of making an impression. Identifying ourselves as foster parents seems to open the floodgates for some pretty personal questions, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m still learning how to answer them well. The top question that still makes me squirm no matter how often I hear it is: “What happens when they go home?”

As a first-time foster mom my typical response was simply that we hadn’t crossed that bridge yet. It’s hard to explain the reality of parenting in a realm in which we often must become the love ‘em and leave ‘em type. We open our hearts and our homes knowing the day may come when we have to say goodbye. Any agency will tell you the goal of fostering is to love and care for the children while their parents work on creating a safe and healthy home for them to go back to. Goodbye is supposed to be the best-case outcome. When the parents aren’t in a position to make the choices or changes necessary to provide children with security and stability, however, adoption may become the best plan. That’s where foster families like us come into the picture. While some cases are more quickly processed through the courts and the children can begin settling in as forever members of the family, we still operate under the reality that until the judge’s papers are signed, sealed, and delivered, they’re not yours.

Telling that to your heart while you wait is not so simple. I’m grateful for the truths of God that remind me our efforts are not in vain, even if the time comes when we must cross that bridge I am so often questioned about.

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To be honest, deep-down I didn’t think we’d ever have to cross the bridge of saying goodbye. I guess I rather arrogantly assumed that adoption would end up being God’s plan for our four because it made so much sense to me. I want to see these siblings work through their histories hand-in-hand with a God whose powerful love can bring healing to their bodies, souls, and spirits. I want to wake up every morning and be the one to love them and care for them. I don’t want to think about goodbye, because I don’t want to miss a moment of investing in them right here and now. That bridge was for other foster parents to figure out. Not us. Not our family.

Not until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I felt that niggling-need to spend a special moment praying over our day together, so I gathered my somewhat confused kiddos and explained that we weren’t eating a second breakfast, we were just going to talk to God about whatever the day might bring. I asked God to protect the hearts of each one of us, to cover us with His peace, and to guide the day’s events according to His plan.

That may sound like an ultra-spiritual mommy moment, but the truth is it just made me worry! The whole morning I walked through our routines bracing myself for whatever was heading our way that God knew I would need extra help handling. When my husband came home at lunch and disclosed the unexpected details of a phone conversation with our caseworker, the possibility of goodbyes hit home and hit home hard.

I did two things.

First, I picked up the nearest toddler and held on for dear life. (There’s always at least one dancing around my ankles!) Second, I picked up my phone and called in a few reinforcement prayers from those I knew wouldn’t need the details. For the first time I felt the full weight of what it means to be a love em’ and leave ‘em parent, and it felt as ugly as it sounds.

I’m not sure this is a reality you can fully prepare for. When you have a little one who spoke her first words in your house, a special needs diva who learned her first attempts at communication through signing in your house, and two ‘big’ kids who are learning what childhood is supposed to be like for the first time in your house, you fall in love with them. When their wounds come out as weapons you choose to continue loving them. Trust me when I say there’s not a fool-proof way to prepare for the day your phone rings and suddenly the children you love are about to leave. It’s a hard, hard, hard reality.

I am still working through my perspective on yesterday. I have rewritten sections of this post several times in the past twenty-four hours, but putting my thoughts to paper has always been helpful. Today I can write with the comfort of three toddlers napping in their cribs under my own roof. I can write with my Kindergarteners here too. We are re-learning that there is very little certainty in the realm of foster parenting. In the same way our four were originally on their way to us, then not, then headed here again, then not…they may be headed away one moment and not the next.

For now they are here.

For now here is home.

So what do foster parents do when they have to say goodbye? How do they cope in a love ‘em and leave ‘em line of work? I still don’t know. I may never have to know, or I may have to live it and relive it time and time again.

What I do know is this:  Sometimes you don’t know what you can or can’t handle until the moment is standing on your doorstep and staring you in the face. Our moment came in the beautiful brown eyes of four small children who needed a refuge of safety and the reassurance that they mattered. Their predicament tugged at our heart-strings, but we quickly learned compassion will only take you so far.

As a foster mom, I need more than a big heart, I need a big God. I need a God who can create peace in the midst of chaos and confusion, a God who can prompt what my husband and I never would have known to plan, a God whose goodness can break through even the darkest of evils.

My God is all of that and more.

He is the God whose promises ring true regardless of how precarious it looks from our point of view. He is the God who carries us through today when tomorrow means goodbye, and carries us through tomorrow when goodbye becomes hello again. He is the grace that is sufficient. He is the strength made perfect in weakness. He is the security that soothes the fears of being a love ‘em and leave ‘em first-time-foster-mom.

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I woke up this morning with one certainty in mind: He is still God, and He is still good. If the day comes when this home ceases to be their home, or if we have to bear the weight of choosing who gets to stay and who has to go, He is still God. His work in their lives is not limited to my love and my house. He is bigger than that, but for as long as He keeps them with us, I want to stop worrying about what happens when the goodbyes come. If and when we face that bridge, I rest in the comfort that He will carry our family across.

Whatever your yesterday was, whatever your today is, and whatever your tomorrow may bring, I pray this post will remind you of the truth God so graciously spoke to my heart in my hour of need.

HE IS A BIG GOD!! His love is big. His peace is big. His grace is big.

May we rest in that reality and move forward in the confidence of our faith!

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My Plus-Size, Half-Marathon Success

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Let me start by saying this is NOT a weight loss success story. In fact it’s quite the opposite. At thirty years of age, with fifty-plus pounds to lose, my goal to finish a half-marathon was supposed to springboard me into the greatest weight loss story ever told. Despite logging 130+ miles on the treadmill during two hour blocks of training, however, I weighed in on race day exactly four pounds less than the day I started. Four pitiful pounds.

Success? More like epic fail.

I spent several days leading up to the race fighting that old familiar voice telling me to bow out gracefully while I could, to save myself the embarrassment of failing by choosing not to try. After all, what would the other marathoners think if someone twice their size lined up beside them? They’d probably assume I was lost and try to redirect me to the spectator’s stand. They’d probably look at me like I didn’t deserve to be there or laugh at me outright.

Have you heard that voice? Have you heard the whispers from your past tell you there are certain things you just aren’t allowed to do or be? It seems like we all struggle with insecurity in one form or another. We all have a voice we are trying to prove wrong.

So maybe it’s time to start listening to a different voice.

On April 28, 2013, with my plus-size self still staring back at me in the rearview mirror, I listened to a different voice. I parked in the far lot and made my way to the race headquarters. I passed the crowds waiting to fill the stands. I passed the brightly-vested volunteer base. I passed the friends and family tent where people of all shapes and sizes gathered in support of their loved ones.

With a deep breath and an eager heart I stepped off the sidelines and took my place at the starting line. The gun sounded, the pre-race jitters settled, and my feet started moving one in front of the other.

Finish. Finish. Finish. The rhythm of the chant matched the rising of my chest. Breathe in. Breathe out.  Finish. Finish. Finish. I could hear it echo with every pounding of my foot against the pavement. Finish. Finish. Finish. It was the singular focus driving each step forward.

Finish.

I will never forget the whistles and encouraging words of onlookers cheering me on. I will never forget hearing my name announced on the loud speaker to signal my approach inside the stadium. I will never forget that first glimpse of the finish line or the look of pride on my husband’s face when he finally found me and wrapped me in a huge hug despite my soaking wet gear. (Did I forget to mention it rained for the entire race? How unfair was that?!)

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My plus-size, half-marathon experience didn’t reshape my body, but it did reshape my sense of self. I discovered I had the courage to show up despite the disappointment of failing in my expected weight loss. I had the courage to start not knowing if or when I would finish. I had the courage to put myself out there and plug away at 13.1 miles of potential failure one rain-soaked step at a time.

I LOVE that I finished. I LOVE that I beat my personal best time by averaging three seconds under my fastest single-mile pace not just for one or two of those thirteen miles, but every…single…one. I’m still working to lose the rest of my fifty pounds, but I treasure this memory of my first big race. It was one of the most outstanding experiences of my life, and had I listened to the voice urging me to bow out gracefully and save myself from potential failure, I never would have known the success of simply choosing to start let alone the sweet, sweet victory of making it all the way to the finish. My plus-size half-marathon taught me that it is better to face the possibility of failing to finish than to never finish because you failed to even show up at the start line.

Today I proudly sport the popular “13.1” sticker on the back of our family mini-van. It’s my constant reminder that I have side-lined my plus-size self for too long. Today is a day to live, whatever the scale may say.

 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it…” Psalm 118:24

Top 5 “Toddler-Approved” Tips for Preventing Pre-Meal Meltdowns

Those last minutes of mealtime prep can be stressful enough without your toddlers morphing into tiny, hungry monsters. So what’s a mama (or daddy!) to do? Here’s five of our favorite toddler-approved tips for preventing those pre-meal meltdowns. We hope they help make mealtime in your home a little less frantic and a lot more fun!

Image1. Buy time by buckling them in:  Once our toddlers smell that supper’s on the way, we’ve already reached the point of no return. Being buckled into their highchair sends the message that food is on the way and keeps panic at bay for a little bit longer!

2. Just say YES to toys at the table: Obviously hungry bellies don’t last long undistracted, so start a small stash of special “table toys” that only come out once the kids are buckled in. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!! A recent big hit for us was a pair of cheap goggles as pictured with my son. (This is also a perfect time pull out those noisy toys the grandparents insist on giving them!)

3. Footloose and fancy-free: Kids love to see the silly sides of Mom and Dad, so if supper keeps you tied to the stove, turn your spatula into a microphone and put on a pre-dinner show. Throw in a few dance moves for the added bonus of burning calories before you eat them!

4. Supper with a side of school: Since the kids have food on the brain, find a few board books about mealtime. Have your older ones help the little ones learn the names of food pictured in the book or read it to them. Plus if they get too hungry they can just chew on the corners while they wait. Who knows, maybe the cardboard appetizer will help make those green things you keep putting on their plate a little more appealing!!

5. When all else fails: Try a “real” appetizer and offer something simple like two or three pieces of plain Chex cereal. You can repeat it a few times as needed and still not spoil their supper.

 

HOW DO YOU KEEP THE HUNGRY MONSTERS AT BAY IN YOUR HOUSE?!

Fellow blogger and friend (stultsmamaof4) suggests making snack-time an afternoon priority. That way when the smells of supper start wafting through the house, their little bellies aren’t quite as demanding!

With three toddlers we’re always looking for fresh ideas! Pass on your favorite tips and tricks by posting a quick comment below!