Monday, May 23, 2016

2015-2016 School year....the year of the OVERCOMERS

Seems like every year when May hits me "Where has this school year gone?" Weren't we JUST buying the school clothes, chatting excitedly about class schedules, making plans for road trips to sports? When did I blink and it disappear?

Why even wonder...because the end of the school year, marks one year closer to that time when I will look and realize "I am an empty nester." fact, Tyler - MY BABY - will start High School in the fall! Say WHAT?

As I look back at the school year of 2015-2016...all I can say is growth through pain. In so many ways, that is what has summed up this school year for our family. By far, it has been one of the most difficult school years for us...what started out as a year of exciting new adventures, turned into some serious pain filled moments, tears, disappointment, and wonder... It wasn't ALL hard...definitely sprinkled in were moments of joy - like making the JV softball team and being a starter, scoring a 1 on a UIL solo, and making progress in reading.

Let me just share with you some HARD things that have happened in our family...the reason is I want you to see that despite being a "ministry" family, life isn't all roses for us. Nope. Not a bit. We are a real family just like anyone else - the only thing that makes a difference - JESUS!

1.) Our oldest went to college in the fall. We were excited, she was excited, it was EXCITING! We loaded her up, we decorated the dorm room, we had some high hindsight, maybe TOO high. She struggled. She experienced some growth pains. She wanted to give in and give up. She pressed on through the first semester. It didn't look exciting any more. It wasn't exciting. It was HARD. Second semester would bring more pain, more hardship, and the need to step away and retreat for a time...It was HARD.

2.) Our second one started his Junior year with high hopes. Looking to begin a new sport. Getting a glimpse of the end.... He was excited. We were excited. It was EXCITING! He struggled. He faltered. He fell. The grades plummeted to an all time low. We lectured. We encouraged. We begged. We cried. it was HARD. Second semester would bring the chance to begin fresh with a brand new slate....It wasn't exciting. It wasn't glamorous. It looked bleak. The finish line was no longer in sight. It was HARD.

3.) My mom started off with some great medical reports in early fall. Looked like victory over cancer was on the horizon. She had some challenges, but surely they would be overcome. By wasn't great any more. It looked bleak. It wasn't looking very victorious. Second got HARD. It went downhill. It wasn't looking good any longer. It was painful. It hurt. It was HARD.

These are just the big highlights of the HARD of this school year. There were others...medical issues with Joel's Dad, ministry struggles, hardships with friends close to us.

HOWEVER....that is NOT THE END OF THE STORY. We chose not to remain in the HARD. We chose to look to the ONE WHO HAS OVERCOME THE HARD - JESUS, the NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES.

1.) Our oldest has overcome some serious amount of depression. She is getting stronger every single day. Yes - she still has some growth to go through but she is on the way! God has BIG plans for her and she is OVERCOMING through HIM!

2.) Our second one has learned the reality of choices have consequences. He is working toward recovering some grades and getting a brand new fresh start. He is OVERCOMING through HIM!

3.) My mom...she won the ULTIMATE VICTORY of healing...she's at the throne of the KING OF KINGS! It's still hard for me at times. It's still painful A LOT OF TIMES and BUT GREATER IS HE WHO IS IN ME!!! I am healing. I am growing, I am going to be VICTORIOUS and overcome through HIM!

Here's my point....Life IS HARD. It isn't all roses. It doesn't always work out the way WE want it to work out. It has times of PAIN, times of TEARS, times of  DISAPPOINTMENT....but we don't have to let that be the end of our story. That doesn't have to be what sums up our life! Through Christ...we can REJOICE and be called....

John 16:33 states:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Light Comes's time to speak out

Reading James 1 this morning and hit over the head, toes stepped on, light bulb pops on...
You see, for the past 3 years our family has dealt with a "trial" of sorts, or a thorn in our side. We, and I say we because it has been multiple members of our family attacked, have been the recipients of anonymous letters arriving on average every 2 months that have been down right mean, hateful, full of lies, hurtful. Although we haven't read them all, in fact many have just gone straight to file 13, we have read some and believe me they were not oozing with praise, encouragement or uplifting words...they were literally HATE mail.
Now, before you get all defensive and on the war path, STOP. I have BEEN down that fact the majority of the past 3 years in regards to these letters and the person that we are fairly certain sent them, I have been negative about, ready to tell them a piece of my mind, etc. I have heard every recommendation regarding how to handle them, as I have shared this with a select few, from reading them out loud in church, to posting them on Facebook, to not reading them and throwing them away, and more. I have had COUNTLESS conversations in my head with the author and let me tell you....they have never heard such a lecture!!!
However, my Proverbs 31 devotional this morning in my e-mail was from James, a different direction in James but there any way. I decided to just begin reading this book and was stopped in my tracks after the first 15 verses.
"Consider it a great JOY, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces ENDURANCE. But endurance MUST do its COMPLETE work, so that you may be mature and complete lacking nothing..A man who ENDURES trials is BLESSED, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."James 1:2, 12
"You are BLESSED when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in Heaven." Matthew 5:11
My attitude in this situation has been one of anger, frustration, hurt, and more. I can say that I have honestly tried to pray for the author, I have prayed to have an attitude of forgiveness for a person that I can't even really go to in person, and yet I have still struggled with this entire situation.
We have encountered a lot of hard times in ministry but this one has definitely been hard. It came to a head a few weeks ago when a card was mailed and addressed to one of my children. From the outside, it looked just like any other greeting card with the exception that a return address was suspiciously missing. Thankfully, I checked the mail that day instead of Tyler, he would have handed it straight to the person it was addressed any normal person would. Yet, I had a check in my spirit that something wasn't right....I opened it to see and I am SO thankful that the Spirit gave me that prompting. It doesn't matter how old your children are, your mama bear instinct is to protect them from hurtful words, etc. I read the letter and my child never has! It was after this letter that I knew SOMETHING had to be done, it had to be dealt with.
I had honestly thought that with the announcement of our resignation these letters would stop, it would just go away. It hasn't, they didn't. Today it hit me WHY...because I needed to re-examine MY attitude towards them...I needed to see them as a BLESSING, as a growth opportunity, as a way in which I can learn ENDURANCE! Don't get me wrong, I am not sure the letters will stop...or they may...that isn't the point. The point is that I PASS THE TEST that God has allowed to come my way!
So...why be open and share about this? Why a blog post?
1.) Our journey of faith, our lives, are to be used to encourage and spur one another on. I felt so alone in this situation until I began talking with other ministers and their wives about it and realized that THEY TOO have had it happen. So, if someone reading this is experiencing a similar situation...I want them to know they are NOT alone! They have someone who gets it, who understands.
2.) I want to be open and real and transparent in what the Lord is teaching me and showing me.
3.) It is time that the person responsible for these letters know that they are HELPING me in my journey of faith because I am learning more and more about how to deal with "ugly" people in life because of THANK YOU for teaching me to bless, to endure, and to let go.
4.) We are also called to confront and call out sin within the body of Christ. Although this HAS been a learning and growth opportunity for me...I believe that 3 years of public silence in regards to it is ENOUGH! It is time that we call it out. We are not called to judge but we ARE called to confront one another's sin. Due to the fact that this is an anonymous person, I can't go to them one on one or even with a small here it is. I can say I forgive you, I can say I love you, and I can ALSO say you are sinning and wrong and it needs to stop for the sake of the body of Christ.
5.) If you have a problem or concern with a fellow need to go to them one on one in LOVE and for the purpose of building them up and encouraging them...not to hurt them or destroy them or tear them down.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Our Church Planting Back Story....

Well, like I said in my last post - God is on the move and so are we. We are beginning the full on process of moving our family to Delta, Colorado. I also mentioned that I would share more of our journey to this place of joining with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Colorado Baptist Convention to begin a church plant.

In 2009 while in Bayfield, Co. we met some amazing friends - the Vaughn family. That in and of itself is a testimony to an answered prayer for a friend that I have actually blogged about before but it was a beautiful answer! Anyway - moving on....James Vaughn who is the father/father-in-law of our sweet friends works with NAMB and the Colorado Baptist Convention as a Church Plant Catalyst (basically he finds, trains and supports church planters). This was our first real introduction to the church planting process or idea. Prior to this, we had only briefly heard of church planting but never knew much about it.

As our friendship with the Vaughns grew, so did our desire to somehow be involved in church planting. We prayed for church planters. We became friends with a few couples that were planting churches. We read articles and updates from church planters. We were intrigued and inquisitive about it but never really thought it would be US that would church plant.

Fast forward to about 3 and half years ago. God began to stir in MY heart that maybe, just maybe we should consider being church planters. At this time, we were in Borger serving in a very troubled situation, Joel and our Senior Pastor were the only two pastors left of seven on staff, our Senior Pastor was preparing to leave as well and yet Joel and I had no idea where or what we should do. Little did I know, that Joel had put out some feelers and had even filled out a church planting questionnaire with NAMB...he was turned down at that time. I would mention it in passing to Joel - okay, to be honest I would mention it out of frustration with our current situation - and he would just laugh it off. Then, God opened the door for our current church, we felt that this was where God was leading - and He was - so I didn't think much about it for another 2 and half years.

In October of this past year, my sweet friend Dani Vaughn, who had since moved to Delta from Bayfield, called and asked me to pray with her for a church home. She and her husband were struggling to find a church where they "fit" and so I did. A few weeks later, totally in jest (I should know God tends to do that with our conversations because that is how I went to Zim!) she said "Hey, you and Joel should just come start a church here!" I laughed it off. Delta was on the list for the need of a church plant but surely God wouldn't call US there - we were committed to Levelland at least until Kestra graduated from High School! Anyway - in passing, again, I mentioned it to Joel. He said "Let's just see what God does with it. I will call James and just see what we need to do."

That call has led us to where we are at now....we have undergone an extensive application, interview, approval process with both NAMB and the Colorado Baptist Convention. We are OFFICIALLY approved, have a start date (referred to them as a mobilization date) and beginning the process of preparing to move. I never would have dreamed that we would be church planters, I never would have dreamed that God would call us to serve in the same town where our closest friends lived, and I never would have dreamed that I would return to Colorado - when we left in 2011 I remember looking with tears in my eyes at Joel and saying "I don't think we will ever be coming back to live." Yet - our GREAT BIG GOD loves us, and I truly believe that when we lay it down and say we are willing to follow Him, serve Him, and go when He says go....He DOES give us the desires of our heart.

The road ahead, is uncertain. There are a lot of unknowns. Our family all has very mixed feelings about moving - excited and sad. We are 6 weeks away, have no house lined up, no jobs lined up, and several other details to tie up...yet, God is IN THIS and all 6 of us know that He will work it all out in His time.

So...what now? What can YOU do to be involved and join God where He is moving?

1.) Pray for us and our family as we continue the moving process. The goodbyes, the finishing ministry here, the packing, etc.

2.) Pray for jobs for Joel and I in Delta. We will both need to work part time and/or full time. Pray for jobs that are conducive to ministry life.

3.) Pray for a house that is affordable, large enough for our family, and large enough to host Bible Studies and church in to begin with.

4.) Be on the look out about how you can be involved through financial giving, supplies we will need for ministry, and even mission opportunities to come and serve in Delta.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

God is on the Move, on the Move today....

Did you know that our World is always in motion? Obviously if you have studied Earth Science at all you know that the Earth is continually rotating on its axis and revolving around the Sun...but that's not all I am talking about here. We live in a world that is constantly moving, changing, and growing. Nothing truly stays the same forever...

God is always on the move too! He is working, changing, growing, stretching, reaching this World for His Kingdom purposes! I love to watch the eyes of little ones as they look in wonder at a butterfly, or flower, or small animal, or even an airplane going across the sky! They get SO excited and so thrilled about the movement and the change...Oh if WE would only get that excited about what God is doing all around us, if we would look in awe and wonder, and be amazed that He is moving, He is working and He has invited us - His prized creation - to join Him in His work!!!

We believe that God is moving within North America and He is calling out believers to be involved! When we think of missions or God moving we are quick to think Africa, Asia, or even South America...but NORTH AMERICA??? No way! Yet, reality is that in North America alone there are 195 MILLION un-churched, unreached people. This makes North America the FOURTH largest unreached country in the world! WOW!
The problem? While our population is growing, our churches are declining at a rapid rate. On average 3500 churches close their doors each year in North America, while only approximately 1,500 are started each year. The need is HUGE! The call is upon us to reach out to this lost people group that could very well be in your own backyard.

The argument has been made that if there are existing churches, shouldn't THEY be reaching out more? The simple answer - YES! The realistic answer - even if every church were to be actively reaching out to their communities (and many are not) we would still not even be touching the surface of the need for outreach and evangelism in North America!

It is because of this growing need that the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has made it a top priority to equip leaders to plant NEW and MISSIONAL churches all across America! They work closely with existing churches to research and explore the need for churches in every community and then from there, recruit and equip church planters that will in many cases relocate and begin building a church in a lost community.

For the past several years, Joel and I have been actively interested in and praying about our part in church planting. We did not know what that would be - would it be to partner with a new church plant? Would it be to be involved as a Sending Church? Would it be to go and plant a church? This past fall God answered us - we were invited to join the effort of reaching the lost in North America by being church planters with the North American Mission Board.

Our family will be relocating to the community of Delta, Colorado in July of this year. This was a hard decision, a decision that was bathed in MUCH prayer and much discussion. Our kids are settled here in Levelland, they have friends, have put some roots. Joel and I are settled here - we are in ministries that we LOVE dearly, have seen grow and develop - we have loved it! Yet - our policy has always been to pray over every opportunity with an open mind and heart...God has FLUNG this door open! In future blog posts I will be sharing with you our complete journey up to this point but for now - we are excited, nervous, saddened, joyful, expectant, and so many other emotions all at once!

God is on the move! We are determining to join Him in the work He has called us to do!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mom Moments...having Courage to let them Fail

A few weeks ago, Joel and I were able to go on a retreat designed for Ministers and their spouses. So many times, those of us in ministry give, and give, and give that we don't take time to pause, be refilled and refreshed! So, when the opportunity was presented to us - I JUMPED on it! I told Joel "We need this!!!" Little did I know all that would transpire from the time we committed to go and the actual retreat earlier this month! It was CRAZY and God's timing was perfect, as always. However, there was something I needed to learn, hear, absorb going to this retreat that I really didn't even realize...

With four teens in the house, there is always something going on in their lives. Of course there are activities and sports but that isn't really what I am referring to. I am referring to struggles, challenges, obstacles they are faced with. Shortly before leaving on this retreat I realized that my oldest three were all dealing with some pretty big stuff - now, not to leave my Tyler out, but his is a separate issue because he of his special needs. Anyway, these were things that as mom everything in you says "You gotta fix it for them, you have to come up with the solutions, the way out". Some of the things - yes I had solutions and answers for....God had a different plan.

The first night we were gone, we stayed in a hotel in Oklahoma City just for an added day away. Over dinner that night, I began sharing with Joel all that I saw the kids dealing with, how it was stressing me out, the concerns I had, the solutions I had, etc. Meanwhile, he just listened and perhaps looked at me with the deer in the headlights look that said "You have ALL of that whirling through your mind and we are on this get away for US???" Yep...I know, I am a mom and my kids are almost always on my mind...oops!

Fast forward to arrival at the retreat the next day and of course, I am STILL stuck on this idea of solving all my kids struggles, challenges and problems. In fact, every morning I would just sit there and tell God what I was going to say to this kid or that kid about their particular problem...did you see that? I tried to "TELL" God...

Then, it happened one of the last days we were there - we were given an opportunity to just talk openly with our spouse about some issues that needed to be addressed about us as individuals, as a couple, etc. Leading up to this time, I  had lamented to the other moms/wives there about my specific situations with my kids and they all seemed to give me the same advice from their situations - they had to give it over to the Lord in prayer. Well, duh of course!!! Hadn't I DONE that? I TOLD the Lord...

Without going to deep or specific about what Joel and I shared - I can confidently say this...I was convicted that I  needed to let go and have LESS control of my kids and Joel was convicted that he needed to have MORE of an active role in talking to our kids about their situations. Added to this - Joel was on to something that in reality God's still small voice had been showing me for some time...It is OKAY to let your kids fail. In fact we have to let them fail. SAY WHAT??? This goes against every urge in this mom mind, against what the world says to do for your kids, etc but it was a truth that God was speaking all along to me...I was just too busy TELLING Him what I was going to do.

It was then and there that it hit me...letting my kids fail takes COURAGE! Yes, I needed to have enough COURAGE to ALLOW MY KIDS TO FAIL. Enough courage to allow them to stubble, fall, and find their way back up through Jesus and Him alone!!! I can't, nor should I try, to be their savior, their crutch, their "go to". Moms - hear me when I say this - it is NOT easy, not one bit easy! In fact, I am still working on this and taking this step of courage is HARD but it is so so worth the end reward which is children who are young adults that are SOLID in their walk with the Lord and have learned through their own failures, struggles, and challenges to stand on Christ the Solid Rock! Ultimately, I want my children to be adults who change the world for the Kingdom and Glory of God and I KNOW that from my own experiences, my own failures, my own struggles that this will only happen when I have no where else to look but up to my Savior Jesus Christ.

I like the way the Message puts Proverbs 22:6 - Point your kids in the right direction, when they are old, they won't be lost.
You see, it doesn't say carry them in the right direction, it doesn't say shove them in the right direction, and it certainly never says that they won't stumble, fall or even get says point them in the right direction ( to Christ) and when they are old (not right now, in the childhood or teen years) they won't be lost. I have to claim this promise...that IF I have pointed them, got them started, in the right path - it will not be in vain!

I hear you now saying "Yes, but my kids are the most important thing to me" "I just don't want to see them hurt or struggle like I did" "I only want what is best for them".... I hear you because I have said all those and more! Yet...what if the only way they can learn is through falling so that they can fall to Jesus? What if through the struggle, God is going to prepare them and make them strong for an incredible assignment later on in life? What if what is best - is letting them learn from their mistakes? What if what they are going through is used for the purpose of allowing them to reach someone else that may go through the same situation later in life? Why would we take that from them?

Dear Mom - can you, along with me, decide that it is okay to have courage enough to allow our kids to fail, to stumble, or even fall? Can we decide that sometimes the wounds we get in life are there for God's glory to be made known to all the world? Let's lay this burden of solving our kids problems down at the cross. Let's trust the One who created them and called them to be able to sustain them through every challenge, every struggle, every fall.

Hear my heart and know that what your child is facing is BIG and it hurts, and it isn't fun...I have one struggling to find themselves after battling depression, a couple who have struggled in relationships to make right choices, one struggling to pass school, one struggling to know where God is calling them, one that struggles just to know how the world works...and more. Yet - God's repeated, resounding call to me is this...

"Have courage to let them fail. Cast your worry and care for them upon me. Bring it to me and let me, their Creator, Sustainer, Life Giver, pour into their life. Rest at my feet weary Momma. Trust me with these children that I gave to you - I won't fail them, I won't fail you. Just bring them before Me in prayer and let Me do My work in their life for my good...I won't let them get lost."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life in the Fish Bowl - Part 2

My previous post was about the HARD times, the ones that cause pain, are difficult and trying...HOWEVER, there is SOOO much more to life in ministry than that and the blessings that come from living a life of vocational ministry are NUMEROUS!

Let's get started!!!! Here are 6 of the HIGHS of being in ministry!

1.) Seeing God move in BIG ways: I can't tell you how many times we have literally witnessed the hand of God move in ways that are 100% GOD!!! We have seen financial needs met both in the ministries where we have served and in our personal lives. We have seen healing come when Doctors said there was no cure. We have seen restoration of relationships that were thought to be hopeless. We have seen the Gospel taken to people groups where it was never once welcomed! We have witnessed the healing of our own son from a disease that would have been devastating!

2.) Friendships and Relationships with so many different people from many different walks of life: From single mothers who are lost, lonely and hurting; to professional athletes; to missionaries all around the world; to politicians; to millionaires and more...our paths have crossed with some of the most amazing and yet also some of the most ordinary people. We have had the opportunity to see their hearts, to listen to their passion for the Lord.

3.) Seeing seeds of change planted and at times harvested: We have had the opportunity to plant seeds of not only the Gospel but also life time commitment to ministry planted in lives of many. To work with youth for several years and then to see them graduate and enter the mission field, vocational ministry, or become a spouse of one in ministry is simply AMAZING! In addition we have seen young people take the Gospel into schools, their homes, their families and experience change!!!

4.) Various Cultural Experiences: Due to both moving and the opportunity to be on multiple mission trips - our entire family has had the privilege of living in and experiencing a vast number of cultures. From the mountains of Colorado, to the plains of Texas, to the hill country of Tennessee and Arkansas, to the bush of Zimbabwe, to the country of Romania, and across the border to Mexico we have experienced and learned so much about various people groups, regions and life!

5.) Flexibility: Our family has been able to embrace flexibility and change. Although not always without struggle, we have learned that change is GOOD and that it is okay to think outside the box and be adventurous.

6.) Freedom in time with family: We are blessed to have Joel in a profession where he is able to attend almost all of our kids school and sporting events! He is able to go to parties, games, field trips, competitions and more!

We know that many of these things can be and are experienced outside of vocational ministry and for that we are so very thankful because these are HUGE! The purpose of this series of blog posts really was to just let you all see what is sometimes missed when you are merely looking "into" the Fish Bowl rather than "swimming inside it". So many things can't be truly seen from just observing those in ministry and we wanted to share them with you!

Overall - life in this Fish Bowl called ministry is AMAZING simply because we KNOW that this is where God has called us, we are walking in obedience to Him and we can't wait to see what awaits us! Anytime you are doing what God has given you a passion for, a desire for, a love for...then the HARD is able to be endured because the BLESSING is BIGGER!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Life in the Bowl - Part 1

I don't often - okay so almost never - write about life in the ministry on this blog. There are several reasons for that but those are beside the point. The past month or so I have been contemplating about whether or not I should blog more about the ins and outs of ministry and then today it hit me...this blog is about the Arrington Family Journey through my eyes and well....ministry IS a part of our family's journey and in fact a BIG part of it! 

This is going to be a 2 part series about life in the ministry aka life in the fish bowl, our highs and our lows. Things that have helped and things that have hurt, and most of with the majority of my posts - I hope to encourage you whether you are in ministry, know someone in ministry, or just want to know more about life in ministry. 

Before I begin - let me be very clear, if you are or have been in a congregation or ministry where we have served, these experiences are NOT directed at any one person, meant to point fingers, or even a "woest me" telling...they are simply a part of our journey as a family, a part of the journey that God has and is bringing us on so that we can draw closer to Him, advance His Kingdom and encourage others to do the same along the way. Some of them, I can tell you we are over and past, some we are still experiencing and learning and growing from, and some of them simply are celebrating moments where we have seen God bless BIG! 

I personally always like to end a series on a positive...that being said, I am going to start with 5 of the hardest moments in our 21 years of ministry...I will share the pain, the growth, and the healing. This will be the Part 1....Part 2 will be the highs, the blessings, the fun part!!! 

1.) On the move: When I share with people where we have lived, how many times we have moved, the various churches/ministries we have served the reactions vary. Some see it as a life of adventure and fun, others see it as an injustice to our children in not allowing them to settle and have roots, most aren't sure how to react. 

Here's the truth - life moving frequently is all of the above in many ways and yet none of the above. Without going into a lot of detail about why we have moved at various times - let me just say that the reasons have varied from budgets, to being asked to leave, to knowing God was calling in a new direction, to even disobedience to God's will. Regardless the reason - moving at any time is hard on a family - moving a lot is even harder on a family. All of us have struggled with different moves for different reasons - all of us have struggled with making friends, putting down roots and feeling settled. We have only actually purchased a home once...the rest of the time have been rentals....that makes feeling settled HARD! For me, as a woman, wife and mom more difficult than the actual moving itself is the assumption that is made by church members, family members, friends, etc that we are simply "running" when the times get tough. The assumption that is made that we don't really WANT to stay put or settled...these could not be further from the truth! I have prayed and cried out to God on numerous occasions to please allow us to stay in one place and put down roots, to develop deep and lasting friendships...however, my prayer is also "Lord not my will but yours" 

2.) Children on display 100% of the time/as are my parenting skills: For me, this has been the hardest to deal with and the most painful! It has taken me the better part of the past 18 years to learn that we cannot be a perfect parents 100% of the time and my children are not going to be or act perfect 100% of the time. We have 4 kids with four different personalities - they have had their ups and they have had their downs. They have made a LOT of good decisions and they have made some poor decisions. They have behaved correctly and well, they have behaved incorrectly! We have made right choices, we have made wrong choices, we have handled discipline right and wrong, we have acted correctly and incorrectly. Guess what - all of the above applies to EVERY parent! 

What has been the hardest is the lack of grace from those within the church, those who have or are raising kids and make mistakes and yet - are relentless in not allowing us or our children to make mistakes and grow from them without casting judgement or condemnation. This is real folks - you may be reading this and thinking that I am simply overreacting about this and that it really can't be that bad. I can tell you it is and then some! We were even given an ultimatum at a church - "straighten out our kids" in 30 days or else! Our kids have also felt this pressure - and because of MY handling it incorrectly the majority of the time - they felt additional pressure from me to behave and perform in an unrealistic way. 

3.) 2 for the price of 1 mentality: With very few exceptions, Joel has always been the paid one on staff, the one that was ultimately hired - yet for whatever reason, there has been at times a mentality that I am expected to work and minister with Joel in the same areas in which he was hired. Many times it has been assumed that I will teach a children's Sunday School class, work in the nursery, teach children's church, lead women's ministry, deliver meals, sing in the choir, etc. Here's the truth - God HAS called me to serve alongside my husband in SOME areas but not necessarily in ALL areas! In addition, my primary place of service is to my family - therefore I need to be mindful that I am serving them first; a lesson that I have not always practiced very well. When a ministry or church calls a staff member - it needs to be noted that unless they are compensating a spouse - there shouldn't be an expectation on the spouse. 

4.) Everyone is your "boss" and therefore feels the need to "evaluate": Imagine this if you will, you get a new job, you were hired by a group of 5 to 8 people, it was made clear what the evaluation process would be and who your direct supervisor would be. Then, within the first 3 months you begin having multiple people come to you, or to others who then come to you and let you know how you should do your job, or the way it has always been done, or what they saw at another business, etc. By the time you reach your first have heard from over 30 people their input into your job and how well you are or aren't doing it...Not only that, they are also letting your spouse know their thoughts on your performance. 

This is reality in many churches for many ministers and yes, has even happened to us. Here's the truth - we aren't perfect, we will make mistakes, we are constantly learning and gracious, patient and always feel free to ask if you are unsure. When you have multiple influences trying to dictate how you do your job, some of which have no direct knowledge into your specific area of is overwhelming, tiring, draining, and more.

5.) Anonymous letters: Perhaps of all the things that have been  hard - these are the most painful and hard to deal with in a loving and compassionate way. They are NEVER uplifting and encouraging, they are ALWAYS judgmental, harsh, and untrue. They are cutting and outrageous. Many people have said just don't open them, don't read them, etc. Of course this is an option, but here's the reality - regardless if you read them or not - you KNOW you got them and that alone hurts and cuts to the core. If you do read them, which we have at times, they are painful, they will infuriate you and break you. It is my belief and conviction that these need to be addressed head on from the leadership of the ministry - it is simply too big of a stronghold of the enemy to be ignored and if left unaddressed -they will limit the work of ministry! 

Okay - now that I have shared with you some of the hardest/most painful parts of this life in the fish bowl, I want to be sure and share with you the GOOD that God has brought through these painful times, the growth that has come, the healing that has happened because as was the case with Joseph, what others have intended for harm, God has used for good! 

A.) We literally have friends from ALL over the world as a result of the ministry doors that God has opened to us, the moves we made, the people we have encountered. Our kids have had a vast number of experiences due to the various parts of the country we have lived. They have also learned to adapt and make friends quickly. We are closer as a family as a result of having moved! 

B.) I have personally learned to not expect too much of myself or my kids. To extend grace to them and myself in my parenting. I have learned to be open and honest and let people know that we don't have it all together - this in turn, has opened up even more opportunities for ministry! 

C.) The art of knowing when to say 'No" - this has been a hard lesson but one worth learning! I have learned to trust the Lord to show ME where He is calling me to serve in each of the different ministries that we have served in and to be obedient to HIM and not man's expectations.

D.) The ability to love all people from various walks of life. Our family has crossed paths with some pretty difficult people; God has/is teaching us all to learn to love others in spite of their imperfections. We have learned to look at criticism objectively - search for those things that may be truth, learn from them, and release the rest to the Lord. He has healed us from some pretty deep wounds that we left unattended and were beginning to fester into bitterness and has opened doors to help others in the same situations.

E.) Boldness to confront and speak truth when necessary. It has taken awhile but both Joel and I have learned that Biblical confrontation done in love is healthy and necessary in church life. When sin is evident - it needs to be called out head on in love and in accordance to Scripture. 

My hope is that you have read this blog as it is intended - as a real, honest, open look into our lives and the journey of our family. Not for the purpose of making you feel bad for us or to wallow in how hard life in ministry is but for the purpose of sharing with you how God has and continues to work in and through our lives. In addition - if you are in ministry, may you be encouraged that God works all things together for good; if you know or are close to someone in ministry maybe this will give you some insight into their lives and hopefully encourage you to love on them and encourage them.

Part 2 will be about the highs that we have had in ministry!!! Look for it later this week!!!