Grief – Resurrection – Mission: Life as Mom in Grad School

27 03 2017

It is my Spring Break – alas, I have a bit of energy to blast a blog post.

I just read an article from the Presbyterian Outlook magazine regarding the first words Jesus spoke to his grieving  disciples in the first moments they meet him after resurrection. The author emphasized Jesus’ first words to be words of peace and then encouragement to send them back into action with the good news that he is alive, has conquered death, and is God incarnate (God/human) whose mission is to point people back to a genuine life of loving God and loving one another. Having just come out of a very emotionally and physically intense seminary quarter of study this past Tuesday (I was granted an extension on a final paper) and getting ready to start back into studies on Wednesday my soul somehow resonates at a perhaps lesser level in experiencing this cycle of working hard, falling into grief, surprise at resurrection, peace and then having to get myself back on task. Actually I feel this almost every quarter.

It doesn’t seem to be a very healthy cycle, but I’m almost certain it is normal for most graduate school students to have a similar experience we have ten weeks on the quarter system to open ourselves up to a fire hose of information with a requirement to filter what we can to produce deep theological and even new and surprising work. At the start, this doesn’t seem too daunting, but by the end it feels like one of those survivor type reality shows where you’re exhausted trying to get to the end and yet working as a team to hold one another up to accomplish the task together. We all have some type of obstacles trying to take us out through the quarter – finances, family, friendships, negative interactions with professors or struggles to complete the workload, work outside of school, health concerns, and more.

My obstacles this past Winter quarter have been a combination of timing of events:

  • Working through the beginnings of a major transition with our church that began the same week as winter quarter and added hours and emotional strain on church members and myself;
  • My husband’s structural engineering workload going overtime because the weather is getting warmer and people can build;
  • Deadlines or major events occurring at the same time for our daughter’s activities – normally it isn’t an issue to take them to a band/orchestra rehearsal, or an every other week girl scout troop meeting, or a sports practice. The difficulty was that all the concerts, cookie sales, basketball games, softball startup events, gearing up for martial arts testing and things requiring extra effort happened throughout the same three weekend/two week stretch of time – including my school finals week(s).
  • Also, ADHD – predominantly inattentive, is something I’m still learning to identify how my life is affected by this and trying out new strategies of which are and some are not effective and from there working to create new habits. However, it is not an easy feat to re-work forty years of very ingrained coping mechanisms to help my habits become a bit more healthy not only for myself, but my family, those I work with and serve, and those with whom I study.

All of this throws me into a frenzy at the end of each quarter and a type of exhausted grief and panic wondering if I will pass, am I worthy of continuing on for a Master of Divinity, and am I an imposter just thinking I can do this? Then by grace and with encouragement of God, professors, co-workers, family, and others I get the work done and anxiously await my grades and sleep – or stare at a wall – a lot. My grades come through and I pass – sometimes with ‘As’ sometimes with a C – but in my mind, a pass is a pass. I am overwhelmed with relief and peace. A few days later I begin receiving emails from Spring quarter professors with a list of books to quickly acquire and assignments to begin working on and have completed for the first day of class. Break and vacation are flexible terms in the life of a graduate student – we are quickly back on mission an ready to start the cycle all over again. Somehow we make it through. I am a part-time student (approx. 8 credits/quarter towards 120 credits total), in my third year, and still have two or three years of this mission left to go — Wheeeee!


I’m a Seminarian! (Long-ish Overdue Post)

19 02 2015

I’m a seminarian and life is super crazy and chaotic because of it – but I’m loving it. I’m studying for a Masters in Divinity at Seattle Pacific Seminary (at Seattle Pacific University) because it is a requirement for ordination both within the PC-USA and ELCA (my heart is currently tied to both denominations). Generally, the program takes 4 years of full-time study. I’ve begun at 2/3rds time with 8 credits which feels like a lot more than full time. It will possibly take me 6-8 years to complete, hopefully earlier rather than later, we’ll see where God leads me.

In June my ministry position at Lake City Presbyterian was reduced to half-time (salary and time), I was re-offered the position which is focused on children’s, youth and family ministry as well as LCPC Social Media and other bits of Christian Education. So I”m working half-time, mom and wife full-time and seminarian 2/3rds time. Woot!

In the middle of my second quarter of my first year. Studying is a complete firehose of information – LOTS of reading, pondering, writing, and praying but I”m loving it. SPS has three core lines and a Practicum required for every student (even 2 yrs – Master of Theology students). The cores are: Theological Interpretation of Scripture, Theology and Ethics of Triune God, and Global Christian History. I am “only” taking two of the lines this year and will take the third (GCH) next year. Each core line involves three quarters of classes. Scripture was general interpretation introduction last quarter, Old Testament this quarter, and New Testament next quarter. Theology and Ethics was God and the Environment (Creation) last quarter, Jesus – Christology and Discipleship this quarter, and a focus on the Holy Spirit next quarter.

Additionally every first year is required to participate in a Practicum class for a year – most other programs define this as field work and reflection and it is a bit different and time consuming at SPS, but I really like it. Practicum involves four components: A typed weekly reflection connecting our studies with life outside of school (ministry, family, work, etc); Meeting with an assigned mentor three times each quarter; Meeting weekly for an hour with a class meeting small group facilitated by a student who is a few years into the program, and a 30 hour project of our choice connecting our current studies with our life/ministry.

I love my practicum mentor – I was connected with a woman Presbyterian pastor of a church in Seattle who ironically was mentored by the pastor I work with at LCPC when she was a seminarian!

This quarter we had the option of choosing to read a book and use it in our reflections each week. Crazy to choose more reading, but I did and I’m glad. If you are a ministry leader of any kind (professional, volunteer, church, non-church, lay leader, etc) check out “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” by Ruth Haley Barton. The author uses the life of Moses to focus on the ups and downs of ministry and the difficulty yet necessity of caring for your own soul while caring for other’s souls.

I am learning a lot and gaining new fresh perspectives and tools for studying scripture and thinking about God that are definitely applicable to my ministry now and practical pieces I can share with others in my congregation and life in general.

Two things I’ve realized this quarter:

* Sometimes I can be creative to finish my reading, sometimes I can’t. Not a single book from any of my classes are on Kindle this quarter – ALL of them were last quarter and I was extremely spoiled by the ability to switch my iPhone/iPad to the Voice Over accessibility feature (thank you Aaron Willett for turning me on to this tip!!) and it turned my texts into audio books for my 45-60 minute drives between home and school – or even while I’m in the shower or doing dishes (TMI?). Also with the Kindle app I could highlight and then copy/paste portions of the book into a document to be able to form my thoughts for papers or insert quotes. Not an option when all of your books are hard copy! I’m thankful for the YouVersion Bible App though – helps me listen through all the scripture reading necessary for my OT class (especially the Looooooong chunks we are asked to ‘skim’).

* Seminary requires a different kind of writing and thinking than coordinating childrens/youth ministry. So much of my time in ministry has been spent working to make theological information more concise and to the point to engage volunteers, teachers, children and teens, etc. I still have a hard time wanting to share too much and a tendency to provide too much information. In seminary, professors ask for “the deeper main points” of a theologian’s writings or two to three paragraphs on observations in scripture. It is a definitely a learning process, when my papers are returned I’m asked to give more information and expound upon my thoughts/observations. So my challenge now is to train/allow my brain to go the other direction for grad school while keeping it moderately condensed in my ministry.

All this said, I love my professors, I love my cohort and classmates, and my family is surviving with me (that’s another blog post in itself!) and it is all crazy hard, but I love it.

Ok, now that I’ve finally updated my blog, time to carry on and work on some more reading and writing!

Inspired by “Ministry Matters™ | Helping people transition to another church”

5 08 2014

I’ve come across an excellent post describing how one can help a person in transition when they need to leave the church. Ministry Matters™ | Helping people transition to another church. It discusses how to address a congregational community member when they leave for life changes like college, marriage, new jobs, etc.

What I hoped it would but doesn’t address, is those who are simply looking for something different in worship service or a different type of worshiping community – locally. This is where I often  have continuous conversations with parents and teens in children and youth ministry in a smaller church.

In our church a few things might cause people to want to try  something else (at the same time, these might draw people in!):

  • We don’t have the exciting thrills of the mega-churches around us in the Seattle area when it comes to children, youth, or adults.
  • Our children’s and youth minsitry various from 1 to 20 children/teens on any given Sunday.
  • We have women in leadership – the pastor and myself (whom the church has chosen to call in to these positions).
  • Much of the staff and much of the congregation is (not officially) affirming to LGBTQ parishioners and families – our pastor will perform same sex marriages.
  • We are trying to figure out the best use of our large, beautiful building that we can’t afford to keep to ourselves.
  • Staff salaries have been cut recently including hours of availalbility which affects programs and plans.
  • For now church polity requires that in order to be an elder or deacon you must be an official ‘member’ of the church – and some people are not keen on membership to anything really hindering some excellent folks from holding various leadership roles in the church.
  • We have and use an organ (among other instruments) and sing songs from hymnals (among other types of music)

These and other concerns are reasons I’m continually having conversations beginning with “We are trying out some other churches…” . In a smaller church you really notice when someone or some family is missing for any number of weekends. Other parishioners get nervous and constantly ask “Where are they? do you know if they are coming back? What can you/we do different to bring them back?” . I sometimes know the answer to the first question and usually have nothing for the other two.

To be honest, I decided several years ago that people are going to make their choices, we can do the best we can to involve them in the life of the church and then it is up to them and God’s holy spirit to figure out the rest. My brain will get tired trying to keep track, but it isn’t up to me to decide whether they will stay or go. It is up to me not to let my heart be jealous and angry at people for making their own choices.  We all have seasons in our lives where we need to try something a little different or experience something for ourselves to see to even know if where we are at is what we want and need. I’m of the opinion that we pray for folks and give our blessing to let them wander and try new things and let them know should they choose to come back and stay we are here and have a place for them. I will be sad if it is a person or family that has been a “pillar” of sorts in the congregation community, but it isn’t fair to make people feel guilty or hold them back from something God is calling them to do for themselves and their families.

I have the same opinion when it comes to working with volunteers. Sometimes volunteers want to try something else and they feel stuck in having made a commitment to a particular ministry. I love my volunteers and generally it is few and far between with children and youth ministry – but again we need to let the Spirit lead. If they have gifts and talents and interests they want to try somewhere else for a period of time or they simply are having some tough times in life  – release them, give them permission, and trust that God will work within the ‘gap’ seemingly left in your ministry. We have to trust that God isn’t just working in the life of that one person, but yours as well.

We are called to be people of the spirit – the one Jesus’ sent to work in and through and with us. That means it is important having the tough conversations and giving permission and blessing to allow God’s spirit to work in all people – even if it stings our heart a bit.

Walking Holy ground at Vacation Bible School

9 08 2012

Somedays I feel like I’m not very good at coordinating (usually when I’m tired/depressed), and of course i am not perfect and VERY aware. Then volunteers bring their friends in to help with large events (adults/teens), and kids who were brought as someone’s friend last year bring friends along this year. And there are the kids who have been participants for the past few years who come back as volunteers and are incredible in children’s ministry. This warms my heart and reminds me it isn’t about me – they are being accepted and growing closer to God through the invitation of one another. And even if we aren’t a huge church with 100+ kids, one new life changed will affect so many more than I can on my own. The Spirit is truly working in this place. I am walking on Holy ground, in awe and honored to participate!

Like they say..”Communication is Key”

29 02 2012
My work in ministry is essentially a ministry of communication. I’m realizing this as I finish up a meeting with our youth ministry intern. It is nothing new… I definitely know I need to be a better communicator on so many levels. It is a matter of making the time, having a plan, getting the right tools in line, honing and acquiring skills. Simple, right? Why is it SO hard sometimes?

In case you wonder, communication with my intern went perfectly well this morning. It was our conversations regarding various transition scenarios that spurred this thought. We have to be intentional in communicating our hopes, dreams, needs, and expectations with teen students, parents, volunteers,committees, church staff and each other. This is no small feat at times. How do we effectively communicate to all these groups in a positive and engaging manner? Also do all this in a timely manner? 

I don’t have the answer except a realization that I need to remember to bring my communication struggles to the cross. I need to lay down my worries, frustration, and crunched time schedule and give them to God. I need to trust God with my time and words – asking for help, guidance, and the right words in the right time (or”write time” as the case may be). I get so very paralyzed by perfection and pride… I need to let go and let God work through the potential messy jumble of my thoughts. 

Oh the Places We Go

1 10 2010

You know how when you’re young and you have dreams of what your future will be like and then all that changes (well maybe for some it doesn’t, that’s OK). I try to remember my dreams … I know I wanted to be an astronaut, a country singer (don’t make fun!), and then finally a doctor. Now there were a few folks in my home church, Camano Lutheran, who were encouraging me to pursue being a pastor or a ministry leader of some sort. I stayed active as a youth involved in volunteer leadership opportunities but never thought of it as a profession really.

Even went to college to be a doctor, calculus and chemistry classes killed that dream right away. Through that painful realization in college that I’d officially be weeded out of the pre-med track I trudged on and learned other important things about my self. I learned I wanted to be a doctor because I care about people and because my parents both held roles as registered nurses and fire fighters so naturally I needed to practice medicine as well. I remember being really scared to call home and tell my mom that I needed to drop the classes because I was failing them, I was surprised that there was no tone of disappointment in her voice (I still remember it practically 15 years later). That gave me enough confidence to face my Chemistry professor and tell him I needed to drop the class. The really cool thing about him (Dr. Waldow if I remember correctly) is he not only was OK with me dropping the class but he asked me what I was passionate about, what did I think was next. Concurrently I pursued a double major in Religion and was discovering I had an interest in studying the Bible and other religions – the history, interpretations, etc. So maybe somehow I’d be a pastor or something, but I’m female and that would be really hard. He told me he thought that was a great idea and to go with the dream if I sensed a call. I had several soul-searching conversations with close friends, and with Doug whom I had just started dating in our sophomore year. Doug kept saying what ever I decided he would support me, and that if we were still together and I wanted to go to seminary he would follow me there. I transferred to a Bible college (Trinity Lutheran College in Everett) and graduated with a B.A. in Youth & Family ministry.
Well, fast-forward 14 years later and I’m not an ordained pastor but I’m a church minister — I struggle with describing my role because it involves coordinatin not only children’s ministry, Sunday School, youth ministry, but family ministry, nursery ministry, and supporting adult education with resources and finding leaders. There are a few other hats under all of that. Who knew that I was going to be doing such a thing in ministry? Who knew that I’d also be balancing life as a wife and a mother. For some reason I never dreamed about being married, probably because of my parents divorcing when I was younger. But I always prayed, looking out my window at the night sky, that I would come upon someone who would really love me and be true to me and stick around. So far at 10 years of marriage plus 4 years dating, and two kiddos later, I think Doug and I are doing well. Not to say there haven’t been any trials, but we’ve only grown stronger working through the tough times together. God knew and God knows.
This week I’ve made yet another trek on my own to the Lifeserve ministry conference. Last year I ventured off to Colorado and this year we’re in Columbus, Ohio. To be honest with you, last year I saw the description come through a few emails and basically ignored them. Then I read through the full details one day and thought, wow – that is exactly the type of conference I’ve been praying to come my way. Something that helps me put all my ministry areas in perspective and concentrate on equipping and empowering volunteer leaders. I still pushed it aside though because nobody else I knew had ever heard of such a thing. Shortly after, I participated in a free online ministry training called The Nines. Someone in this video conference said ” you need to take care of yourself, seek out leaders/colleagues in your area of ministry. If that means attending a conference that isn’t popular among your colleagues but interests you – then be a leader and go learn!”. It seemed that pastor was speaking right to me, God speaking right to me. I knew what I had to do, that day I typed up a proposal of the costs (researched registration, hotel, airfare, etc) and sent an email off to a few folks to see what they thought. Everyone, to my surprise, said go for it. So I did. 
That first LifeServe Conference was seriously scary because it was the first time I went to something out of state where I knew absolutely NOBODY. I don’t know how many people know this about me but I don’t even go to movies on my own (I did once for therapy homework – then I had children and lost that opportunity!) I only recently in the past few years started going and sitting in a coffee shop or a restaurant on my own with my laptop to do work. I guess when I went to Trinity Lutheran College I went there knowing no one, BUT I had been to the campus for other events and I knew several people who’d attended or spoke highly of the school. Lifeserve nobody had ever heard of and didn’t seem interested in going along with me. It ended up being a somewhat interested experience (transportation-wise) but overall it was exactly what I needed for support and encouragement in my ministry. And the reason nobody had heard of it is because that was the first ever LifeServe conference.
So I’m back again this year and it is going pretty well. I’ll save what I’m learning in another blog post. There are some things I’m more confident about … forcing myself to search for people on Twitter who are at the conference and tweeting using the #Lifeserve tag and I met a guy…yeah I know that sounds bad, but it isn’t THAT kind of meeting a guy. Someone else who holds the same position in a similar sized congregation in Indiana, it is his first LS conference and we’re in similar workshops/affinity group. So I was so bold as to invite him to join me for dinner last night b/c neither of us knew anyone else and he was amazed to find someone with a ministry position like his. It was fun to chat shop and turns out he is married as well, so chatting about how we balance family and ministry (if at all sometimes). We added to our group today for dinner (I found someone else from WA State- wahoo!! – last year I was the only one). It has been fun to have conversations with others to debrief the workshops we’re taking and how we can apply what we’re learning to our lives and ministry. My workshops track today has caused me to do some deeper thinking about my role and passions and call. Still much to figure out but it was exciting to discover some things about my personal leadership style and what God may be calling me to… because he created me that way. Don’t worry LCPC’ers it doesn’t involve leaving the church (I don’t think). 
There’s a little bit about the places I’ve gone that I never imagined possible, fears I’ve overcome, people who’ve encouraged me along the way, how God has provided when I’ve trusted and had faith that Gd will provide.
Where have you gone in your life journey? What fears have you overcome? Who has encouraged you in your life.
Peace. ~L

Associate & Family Ministry at NW Ministry Conference

19 03 2010

I am participating for a second year in the NW Ministry Conference at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA. A wonderful 15 minute drive from home to get there (and then an hour to get home on a weekday!). Today was the first day for me participating in two pre-conference intensive workshops which means they were two hours long for some extra diving into particular topics.

There are SO many great options to choose from, today we were asked to choose two out of eighteen options. The two workshops I chose were:

1. How to Flourish in Your Role as an Associate/Specialty Pastor with Rev. Ken B. Dyck

2. Awakening Spiritual Parenting in Today’s Families with Dr. Michelle Anthony

In the midst of the second workshop I realize an overarching theme to day that perhaps God’s Spirit was whispering to me…. Count on and trust that God will honor me, my family, my ministry, the people I interact with even if I mess up or simply have no idea where to go or what to do next. As long as I keep coming back to God trusting that he created me (us) for good, despite any unknowns or murkiness in life.

The unknown refers to the fact that next week my new boss, our new pastor at LCPC, begins her ministry (on Thursday). I’ve met her briefly a few times but really don’t know what God has in mind bringing her on board at the church. I definitely have my hopes (trying to put expectations in terms of hopes) of what can be possible at LCPC with a new permanent pastor. I’m excited to see what vision she will cast and where she wants to lead the church, I’m anxious to partner with her (and the other staff and congregation folk) where God wants to lead us.

That is the reason I chose the Associate/Specialty Pastor workshop – because it was about how to be supportive and partner with your senior pastor. I appreciate that Ken Dyck addressed the group saying that although the workshop title was worded with associate/specialty ‘pastor’ that anyone with a ‘director or coordinator’-ish title was welcome to the class. In this class we were encouraged to be ‘Helpmate’ to our lead pastor, to mesh our vision for our area of expertise with their vision for the congregation as a whole and a lot of other ways to support the pastor. Also learned how to honor the fact that each associate may individually have our own personal ‘calls’ in ministry and to know that we may not always get to work on that call in our current ministry, it may still be something we are being groomed for a future ministry opportunity. Until then we can try to work out our passions in our ministry if it is in line with the pastor’s vision or find ways to volunteer outside of our ministry until God is ready to have us use it fully elsewhere. Until that time we need to trust God with our passions and let him hang on to them for when the time is right.

The second workshop I chose first because family ministry is one of my greater ministry passions and second, because I’ve heard Dr. Michelle Anthony speak before and she has a lot of wise words on spiritual parenting. Essentially, Spiritual Parenting is not a method… it is putting God first in all the decisions we make as parents. It is putting up a cry for help in those moments when:
– you want to scream at your children for something they’ve done
– they ask you an ethical question and you’re not certain how to answer but need to
– you’re not a biblical or faith expert and your child wants to know what you believe about God, Jesus, etc.
And then in those moments you take the leap, regardless of your angst or messy faith, and be real with them.

There are places in my ministry that I know maybe not the ‘deepest’ secrets or hurts in a family but I know some of the hurts and pains that a parent shares about a child or that a child shares about a parent or family member. This is the murkiness I typed about a few paragraphs ago. I know in my heart that children’s and youth ministry is not just about the children and youth but the parents, grandparents, and all other adults invested in their lives. It is also about the adults in our congregation who may have a grandchild, niece or nephew who may never set foot in our church but the adult sets foot in that child’s life.  I want to be able to be supportive to these adults as they walk through sometimes murky journeys with children and youth. I don’t want to solve the problems, just be a resource and a support – especially in the spiritual arena. Not that I have all the answers now, but listening to the experiences and ideas of Dr. Anthony (who is a family ministry pastor and a mother of two) were very encouraging and support to me in my ministry (and as a parent).

The comments/ideas that struck me the most from the family ministry workshop were:
– We need to help parents learn to parent the soul, not just behaviors and the mind.
– Parents need permission to let their children into their messy faith journey. Even if it is vulnerable. That’s how children will learn to be OK with a messy faith journey.
– Rather than flood the current generation of children and youth with all the the things they shouldn’t be and shouldn’t do, what if we help them see who they are as children of God and teach them to trust in God and follow Christ in those moments when they have to make a choice.
Make sense?

Two more days to go.. tomorrow will be packed with much more information, I’m certain.

Also bonuses to the day – meeting up with Doug’s cousin Amanda who is also in children’s ministry in the family ministry conference, and meeting a fellow tweeter in real life… recognized his name when we were in the Associate pastor workshop. Nice to meet people IRL – as much as I have an addiction to online life. 🙂

Peace, ~L

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