Category Archives: Ministry and Education

It’s lonely out here…

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11


“In ministry, I have found that our own thoughts can be quite dangerous. We start second-guessing what we should have done, what should have been said, what could have been changed, or why we did one thing over another. The quiet times mulling over our thoughts can create sadness, discouragement, and sometimes even anger.”

This. From a fellow student of ministry in an ordination class I am taking. A class that for several weeks I have struggled to keep up with honestly. I’ll admit it. A class I am struggling not to fail.

This student had described exactly what I had been wrestling: loneliness, worry that I had goofed up, doubt. This need to have it all together. And, then the desperate want to just fall apart.

As pastors and shepherds, we are called to encourage. To guide. To lead others to know Jesus and His love in a way they have never known.

Yet, there are days I feel deeply discouraged and terrified that if I say the wrong thing I’ll guide and lead someone astray.

As His ambassadors of love, we are givers of grace, forgiveness, and apologies that we often have to swallow to give when we are the ones who have been hurt, because after all we are that “Christian pastor.” When what we want to do is scream at the abuser, lash out at the persecutor, or just plain scream at God for allowing the hurt at all.

We love even when it doesn’t make sense. And, most of the time it doesn’t make sense. Because it didn’t make sense for Jesus, either. And, we desperately want others to know this kind of love.

We follow His will despite doubt, fear, intimidation, and the flaming arrows of Satan.

And, on top of that we worry about every conversation. The devil beats us down about every flaw. He does one heck of a number on our heads. And, we often have very few we can talk to, because most look to us for the wisdom.

It’s lonely out here.

So, we offer the encouragement we so need ourselves.

For me…it’s twofold. Not only am I a shepherd. I also have the role as a counselor to children as my “day job.” I am looked to as their guide. The one to provide sound advice. Steer them in the right direction. Provide them with the “right” tools. Be an encourager. Sometimes even just safety, security, and even love.

But, I agonize over whether that guidance was right? What triggered that meltdown that I didn’t catch in time? Did I make a decision that may have caused hurt? Said something that triggered some emotional response?

Worried that one misstep could royally mess them all up.

It’s lonely out here.

But, the children still need guidance. Safety. Security. Love.

So, the encourager uses the words she needs to hear herself.

Can I offer a little advice? From a pastor? A counselor? A never-ending encourager?

If you have a champion in your life, throw that champion a floatie. Offer some words of encouragement for all those times they have saved you.

Because, it’s lonely out there. And, well…sometimes the encouragers need a little saving, too.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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Posted by on August 1, 2018 in Mercy, Ministry and Education


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More than a Dirty Sock

“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” Matthew 18:5


“And, the first Camp Hall of Fame Award goes to Pastor January!”

I had survived my first church camp experience. I was also exhausted, was losing patience, and really wanted to get on the bus and head back home. Clearly, I could not be entered into any Hall of Fame.

“Pastor January, come accept your Dirty Sock Award.”

Sure, gladly! I’ll be honored. But wait a minute…you were not joking. Um, this really is a dirty sock!

But, is that all? Is it more than just a dirty sock?

This dirty sock could represent all the other dirty socks I picked up this week. Socks that were scattered in the rooms and halls. Socks that were worn by 13 7 to 9 year old girls. The ones left in bathrooms. The ones left by pools. This sock could represent all the dirty undergarments I picked up. The many trips back and forth for forgotten items, missing flip-flops, missing towels. It could represent all the “Oh no, I lost my water bottles.” The “Pastor January, I left my sunscreens.” The lack of sleep. The cold showers. The chaos that is kids camp.

And, well…it could just represent a dirty sock.

One that I realized was so important to me, that I went back to pull it from the trash.

This sock actually represents more than the sleepless nights, unfollowed directions, or misplaced water bottles. Instead, it will represent love, patience, and the joy of being completely intentional with my time.

This dirty sock represents the time I got to spend loving on kids that were not my own. Some I had never met before this week. Some I may never see again. Many who had never been to camp. Many more who had never spent more than a night away from home. This sock represents the fifth time I had to sing “Silent Night,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” The few nights I had to wake up to rub the head and back of a homesick child. The bloody noses I doctored. The tears I wiped away. The laps that held many kids that were bigger than me.

This sock represents loving the hurting, soothing the broken, and calming the scared. Putting my own needs aside just to be there for a child.

A sock that represents lessons on patience, and Lord, how I needed it. Patience when things didn’t go as planned. Patience to wait on a child for the tenth time, even when we are late…again! Patience when the same child has spilled her juice…again! Patience when 13 tired little girls get cranky, whiny, and mean.

This dirty sock represents putting down the phone and simply “being” for a while. It represents unplugging all my electronics, silencing my cell phone, and plugging in to being a kid again. Letting kids splash you at the pool even though you know your hair may turn green. Enlisting yourself as a partner in a water race, even though you don’t have a bathing suit on, simply so a child isn’t left out. Or paddling twenty times in circles around a small fishing lake in a paddle boat covered in blue dye with a child who wants to steer while you do all the paddling. It’s getting sprayed in the butt with a water bottle, being drenched with a bucket of ice cold water, and being completely OK with it. Because you know it makes these kids happy.

Because you know it makes God happy. Because you know that this “being,” the love, the patience shown to a child represents Him. The one who loves these children as you do.

It represents being there. With no agenda. With no inhibitions. Without checking phone messages, emails, or texts.

This sock represents the desire despite the sleepless nights, the cold showers, or spider bites, to do it all over again.

To wipe tears. To band-aid blisters. To walk back to the pool for the tenth time to locate a small pair of dirty socks.

It represents what I want to bring home to my own kids. The gift of love, patience, and time.

Without an agenda. Without inhibitions. Without the constant chime of a cell phone.

Getting dirty in the front yard. Wiping more tears. Getting sprayed in the butt with a water bottle. Taking time to be there. Present with them. Engaged with them. Focused on them. Loving them. All while I patiently pick their dirty socks up off the floor.

Loving every minute of it. Of these children, this time, and this gift God has given me.

Knowing that this gift is more than just a dirty sock.


Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Loving Others, Ministry and Education


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In Another’s Eyes We Are Beautiful

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way. Song of Songs 4:7


Some days just start out bad, and yesterday just happened to be one of those days. Besides the fact that it was Monday, I was exhausted, I couldn’t do anything with my hair, and since it is summer, my kids can’t seem to get motivated to get out the door, making me late for work, AGAIN! I didn’t feel like putting much effort into anything else, so I reached for the first and easiest article to put on, a dress in my least favorite color-yellow! Bad hair day, cranky kids, even crankier Mommy, and yellow? Yep, today was going to be NO good!

But, then that same dress, in that color I hate became the subject of a random and unexpected compliment: “I just had to stop and tell you how fabulous you look in yellow!” What? You mean despite the fact that my hair is an unruly, curly mess? That I have under eye circles that would put a raccoon to shame, and I absolutely hate yellow? Someone still saw beyond all the other things I have criticized myself for this morning?

I was reminded of a Sunday School lesson I did several months ago. One that resulted in the portrait above, along with self-portraits of several very self-critical 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade boys and girls.

As I asked a group of 8 to 11 year olds how many had something about themselves that they didn’t like, I was amazed at how many hands were raised in response to the question. Nearly every hand shot up, along with a few comments about skinny knees, big noses, and crooked teeth.

“Do you realize all those things about yourself that you do no like, God loves? And, that he wants us to show how much we love Him, by loving how He has made us?”

And, so began a lesson on self-love for a group of 8 to 11 year olds. Which made me start wondering where exactly our distorted view of beauty and self-worth comes from. Why would a young child be so quick to raise their hand to point out their flaws, and not what makes them wonderful? And, why do we, the adults, do the same?

We can start placing blame on media. On fashion magazines that continue to glorify pin thin (and airbrushed, mind you!) models. We can blame this on the 50 plus years that Barbie has been around, had babies, grown older, and still managed to stay unrealistically skinny. We can blame it on a history that has scorned and ridiculed people who dared to look different, or be different.

Or, we can recognize the problem that lays before us and teach each other how to love once again.

How to love God. How to love ourselves. How to love each other. Despite our differences. Despite our flaws. Despite our size. Despite our cellulite. Despite our unruly hair, raccoon eyes, skinny knees, big nose, and crooked teeth.

For we are God’s masterpiece. Ephesians 2:10

The truth about our image does not lie in the pages of fashion magazines or swimsuit catalogs. It doesn’t reveal itself in the Barbie aisle at Toys R Us.

It reveals itself in the Word of the One who created us. Who created us as His masterpieces.

“Now, write three things you like about yourself. Your classmates will then do the same with each portrait.”

Recognizing the good. Not the bad. Celebrating our strengths. Not our weaknesses. Building each other up in love. Not tearing down with self-hatred, and self-loathing.

“Ms. January. Someone wrote pretty and cute. I am not those things!”

“Sure you are, honey. Because, God made you that way. And someone else sees you in this way, too. In another’s eyes, you are pretty, cute, and beautiful!”

Just like I was yesterday morning in a Starbucks parking lot. Just as I am every morning in the eyes of God.

Just like you are.

A beautiful and wonderful masterpiece!



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Ditching Our Best Laid Plans

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6

I am a planner. I plan weekly menus and grocery trips. I plan vacations and day trips months in advance. I prefer to know about parties well in advance. I like to plan for the future, and don’t like surprises. That being said, I am not the most spontaneous of people. Wreck my plan, and it can often get ugly. Wreck my plan, and I can potentially come undone.

As someone who has at one point been a teacher in training, and who has also taught children in our church for the past seven years, I know how important it is to have a good, solid, organized lesson plan. I also know what can occur in the classroom without one. In most cases, it does not pay to be spontaneous with a classroom full of children.

However, as He often does, God is once again teaching me that sometimes it does pay to be a bit spontaneous, less rigid, and more flexible. Sometimes we really must ditch our best laid plans in order for God to work according to His plans.

Each time I teach a class or speak in front of a group of people, I always write down and outline what I plan to share or what I plan to demonstrate to colleagues or students. But, sometimes, I fail. I don’t end up using my well thought out and organized script, and on those occasions when things are conveyed as per my neatly bulleted outline, I never quite seem to get the right message across. The message is lost, not heard, or misunderstood. Somewhere in all those bullets and neat headings I fail to really communicate what it is I want people to hear.

Why is this? Why are my best laid plans not always…well, the best?

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13

Why are my best laid plans wrecked? Perhaps it is because they were my plans, written from my understanding, written for my purpose, my will, instead of the will and purpose of God. Perhaps the message I wanted to communicate, was not the message God meant to be heard at all.

Take this past Sunday, for instance. I had planned another Sunday School lesson for my third through fifth grade class. I had written out every detail. How we would start, where my introduction was headed, what activity I had planned as a group, and how we would close. I had crossed all my t’s, dotted all my i’s, added all my headings, and had each piece of the lesson in organized bullets. I had well-organized, best laid plans.

The only part of this lesson that went to plan was the opening, and even that was quickly transformed by the mere mention of the word “extinguish.”

I had to do the one thing I hate-be spontaneous, and I had to do this by going off-script, by letting God be a part of my plans.

“What is impossible for people is possible for God.” Luke 18:27

I hate surprises, and I believed the ability to trash my plans was just not in me, but nothing is impossible when we choose to rely on God and not our own “organized” thoughts. God pushed me to ditch my plans this Sunday to show me just how awesome a lesson can be if  I relinquished the control I wanted to have of the children and my time, and left the teaching moments up to God. The children in my classroom engaged each other in a lively, open, and honest discussion on darkness in our world. For some of their questions on life, death, tragedy, and tattoos, I did not have all the answers. But in fully relying on God to reveal His truth, and not mine, I was able to supply the answers that He wanted these children to hear.

God’s lesson on being spontaneous may have thrown a wrench in my original plan, but it opened up the desire to be more spontaneous often, to go off-script more, to allow children to teach me once in a while, and to fully rely on God to supply the words needed in every circumstance. To ditch my best laid plans, and to stick to His glorious plan!

Lord, Help me to not get so caught up in the planning and preparation of my weekly message that I forget to rely on you and allow you to work through me. Help me to be reminded that the message I am delivering is the one You want me to share, and not within my own control. Show me how to be more spontaneous in other areas of my life as well. Amen.

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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Ministry and Education


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