Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year, Launching, New Word

January 7th - As I reflect on this date, I am surrounded with many thoughts, emotions, feelings, and just truly in awe.

This day - my beautiful older sister was born. It is the day that Sherri Sue Ashcraft entered our family. She is celebrating this day in the feet of the King of Kings! She is missed but I would never rob her of the joy of being with Jesus.

January 7, 2018 - Today we will have our first official service for Church Without Walls Delta. In church planting lingo this means we are officially our own church with a regular weekly public worship service. As I reflect on this I stand in amazement of how God has worked and continues to work. I look back on what I, in my flesh, thought this day would mean and how God has taken that and totally re-shaped, changed and accomplished HIS plan! In my mind, I had faces of those that would be leading in worship for this service, I had in place who the leadership would be, I had it figured out....BUT GOD!! Do you know that other than our family - NOT ONE of the people I envisioned will be a part. And...I am GREAT with that because God had a plan so much bigger, so much greater. He has and continues to build Church Without Walls Delta into the church that HE has called it to be. We aren't even supposed to be at this point yet - BUT GOD had a different plan and I am so humbled by it!!!

This journey, it hasn't been without hard. It hasn't been without discouragement. It hasn't been without second guessing. In fact, I still struggle with all of that. Yet, God in His infinite wisdom has paved the path. He has opened the flood gates and I await anxiously to see what He does next!

For the past 6 years I have asked God to give me a word for the year. A word that He wants me to focus on and incorporate into my life. Most years I LOVE the word He has given me and I readily embrace it. This time...well, we are 7 days into the year and I am finally accepting that yes this indeed the word He has for me - PERSEVERANCE. Perseverance is not a fun word - here is some of what comes up when you look it up:

* Not giving up - even when it is hard
*Persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success
*Perseverance is not one long race; it is many short races one right after the other

Sounds exciting right? Not so much... This church planting thing, it is hard. We have and will have more delays. It does feel like several small races back to back - we finish one and before we catch our breath the next one begins. Yet - the end result is SO worth it. When we see lives changed with the Gospel. When we see families broken being restored. When we see someone accept Jesus as their Savior. When we see a young child follow in baptism. When we see the truth sink into the heart. Then....the PERSEVERANCE is worth it and so much more!!!!

Church planting isn't the only area that God is calling me to persevere in. Working on my Masters in Special Education is HARD. Most days coming home from work and knowing I have a paper to write, an assignment to do, assigned reading - that is not easy. However, God has continued to line out this path and show me THIS is from Him!!! Raising a son with special needs who is ever closer to being an adult and trying to know what the best path for him is - this is NOT easy. There are days that I just want to stop and just let the chips fall where they may...but God is calling Joel and I to persevere in seeking a diagnosis, to seek the best possible future for our sweet boy!

So....this year, 2018, I will persevere in what He has called me to do. I will persevere in seeking to share the Gospel. I will persevere in seeking those who need encouragement and support. I will persevere in pursuing a career in Special Education. I will persevere in seeking future opportunities for my son. I will persevere in working alongside my husband in this church planting journey....

I will PERSEVERE....

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The "Not so" picture perfect family...

I have a lot of fun memories of growing up - family trips to see Grandparents, camping trips, 4-H fairs, games and more, however, that isn't all I remember from growing up. Many people would say I had the perfect family - and well, I did have it pretty darn good! Two amazing sisters, a mom and dad who loved each other and us well but....perfect it was not.

Not to share "dirty laundry" but to share reality - I struggled with my middle sister - she was the middle, I was the youngest and to say we clashed - that was an understatement. We fought A LOT and about EVERYTHING!!! I am not even kidding you...stupid stuff, big fights. In fact, I remember my Dad even went to meet with our pastor because seriously, he thought we hated each other. We didn't. We just didn't fully appreciate one another until later on in life - when she was out of the house and many miles separated us! Ha ha ha. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder - it's true! It seriously worked for me! When my sister went to college - I missed her LIKE CRAZY! The very same one who drove me NUTS, who rubbed me the wrong way, who was ALWAYS bossy, yep I missed her! I missed hanging with her. I missed her sticking up for me. I just missed her! Yet - we weren't perfect - like I said and am sad to admit - we fought more than not. However, we did love each other and we did learn to forgive each other.

The reason I share this - in today's day and age of social media, we see a lot of cute, adorable, fun family pictures (much like the one above). We think - wow, that family, they have it all together and maybe in some sense they do - but no family is perfect, no family is without conflict, no family is without strife, and regrets.

Let me tell you about this picture be honest, I kind of wish we hadn't taken it. Not because I don't LOVE my family...I do! However, appearances say wow - look at them! They went to the movie, everyone was happy and loved it. We DID go to the movie, we DID enjoy it but then....the "after" the movie happened. I am not going to share all the details - suffice it to say, over a very STUPID thing - three of us blew up. I say us - cause YEP I was a chief offender. Reality is - I can have a short fuse, especially when I have my mind made up how something is going to go (like a fun family night out) and it doesn't end up just the way I had it planned. This blow up maybe in terms of other times wasn't as big but it did involve yelling (me), slapping doors (me), losing cool (me)...don't get me wrong, there were other players as those who witnessed it can tell you but hey, I can only share about me and I can only change me....

Thankfully - what I just shared was NOT the end of our evening...although it was a chunk of it. Tempers settled, forgiveness was granted, laughter was the end of the evening and restoration was made. I say all this to family is without their flaws, we all have a bit of ugly and not pleasant. My family - we are still navigating through a bunch of that....finding how having adult children in the home works, adjusting to a mom who is not only working full-time but also going back to school and it exhausted, navigating this journey of church planting, and having a special needs teen in the house with major emotions and hormones... However - we DO have this going for us - we are grounded in the Word, we know how to forgive, we know how to restore the relationship, and most of all - this mom, she is learning that every day I have to tell my kids "I'm sorry" and guess what? We are even working on NOT saying "It's okay" because it is NOT okay, it may be reality but it is not okay - instead we are working on saying "I forgive you and I know you are human".

Colossians 3:12-13 tells us " Therefore God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also forgive one another."

I don't always put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience or acceptance...I am pretty sure God knew we wouldn't so he made sure to include FORGIVENESS. So - my family, we aren't perfect, we have some ugly, but we do do forgiveness and for that - I am thankful!

The reason I share this is not to pat myself on the back, believe me I am in NO WAY proud of how I acted last night or a gazillion other times I have lost it with my family. I share it because sometimes, I think we need to see other families as REAL and understand that we aren't the only ones with baggage and ugliness and conflict....or as a sweet friend of mine always said "we all have our own kind of crazy". It's true. My Dad was constantly telling us girls growing up - "It isn't how you act but how you react". I acted in crazy last night - but at the end, my reaction was "I'm sorry, I forgive you, and I love you"....My encouragement to you is this - be a family that knows how to forgive, how to say I am sorry, and give yourself the gift of starting out those things - compassion, kindness, humility, acceptance, gentleness, patience, acceptance...and forgive others and yourself...

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tyler's Story - the next chapter

In 2012, I wrote about Tyler's Story...this morning as I was reflecting on this amazing young man and where God has brought him, I thought it time to write about the next chapter in his life being as June is his birthday month. If you didn't read the first part of his story here  is the link to it Tyler's Story,

When I left off, Tyler was 11 and had been diagnosed with a pronounced learning disability, struggled with reading, being bullied and more...but that was not the end nor will this blog be the end because that is the beautiful thing about our Creator God - he is constantly writing our story!

Tyler will be 16 this month - how is that even possible? He is now reading at a second almost third grade level, he has mastered many math skills, finished his Freshman year of High School on the Honor Roll, took Ag Mechanics, talks about cars and engines like all the time, and still has a heart for animals!!!

After struggling with being bullied, not getting the services we felt he needed in school, and just needing to learn in a different way - we made the decision to home school him for his 7th and 8th grade years - it went AMAZING! He was able to do all his school work in the mornings due to one on one teaching, could learn through hands on and visual methods, and his confidence sky rocketed! I had no idea how it would go but God knew and it was the biggest blessing of our lives.

When we moved to Delta last summer, Tyler asked if he could go back to regular school. Scared and uncertain this Mom had to trust that an Almighty God loved my boy even more than I did and that He could care for and protect him even when I couldn't. So - Tyler went to High School and he did very well.

In High School, the IEP meetings are a little more intense because suddenly you realize - our goal needs to shift from focusing solely on his educational needs to now also including thoughts and goals for what life is after High School - because 4 years goes by quick! I will not lie here - there were some pretty intense meetings this past year - BUT GOD. Remember, God is writing this young man's story...God brought into our lives - my life in particular - an amazing woman, a special education teacher at the charter school where I work - that was able to review, guide and direct me in some very specific areas of Tyler's IEP. Since she wasn't his teacher, it was easy for her and I to be open and honest. In addition to helping me with Tyler's needs, she was also the push I needed to pursue something that has already been in the back of my mind for several years - being a Special Education Teacher. Again, this is part of Tyler's story because without Tyler - I would not have been as passionate about helping not only these students, but also their families.  Tyler kindly refers to this amazing woman, Natalie, as his "lawyer". He is confident that should he find himself in a bind or in need of anything - she is the one to call! We are so thankful to her for being a vital part of our Tyler's story!

There are many types of special needs children - physical, mental, emotional disabilities to name a few. Yet, in our #lifewithTyler we have found that having a child who in many ways appears "normal" is unique and even difficult. Tyler is now 6 ft tall, looks like an average High School student, and in some ways acts like one, however that isn't all there is to him. He processes life on more of a 10 yr old level, expresses himself largely through touching things and people, still struggles to read much of what is around our daily life, etc. This becomes hard for him as well as us as parents because unless you are around Tyler or know his story and his disabilities - you don't get why he acts and behaves the way he does. This past year we had many times when he was in trouble or misunderstood because people simply don't know how to react to a 6 ft 15 yr old that acts like a 10 yr old - I get it, I have to daily remind myself and I KNOW him! Ha ha ha.

Even through these times though - God is faithful. He has given Tyler such a sweet spirit and kind heart! Tyler loves people and animals. He loves encouraging his friends, making all of us laugh, and serving alongside of us in ministry. He lets things role off of him fairly easily - occasionally there is an exception - and just goes on being the fun amazing guy he is! He works hard at school - most days coming home so exhausted that he crashes for 2 or more hours because when your brain is processing things at less than half the speed of the average teen - it is physically draining. Yet - he presses on and continues working through it!

This next school year, Tyler will be attending Vision Charter Academy where both Joel and I work. After a year at this school we fell in love with it and are so excited for Tyler! VCA focuses on an Individual Learning Plan for each and every student that is specifically designed with their interests, goals, learning style, etc in mind. The class sizes are small and we have the opportunity to pick which classes he takes at home and which he will take on campus! He will continue to receive the special education services he needs but also be able to take some general education courses with assignments being fitted to his learning style. I can't wait to see how this chapter of Tyler's life unfolds!

Tyler Bay - we are super proud of you! Happy Birthday month buddy!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

From Tragedy, to Hardship, to Change, to New Beginnings - 2016 a Year in Review

As I type this, scenes from this past year flash through my mind and I can't help and say "Wow, look what God did". Each year I have a word that I ask the Lord to give me - a word that would be my focus and my center point for the year. For 2016 - the words were primarily Missional and Flexibility. God did those and so much more in the life of our family.

January was brought in by celebrating the New Year with Joel's parents in Colorado and then we traveled home to Texas. We had enjoyed having Hannah home for the Christmas break and then...we had to take her back to Dallas Baptist University for her second semester. While in Dallas, we were able to spend some special time with my sister and her family as well as with my parents who were living in the area at the time...we would later come to cherish these special few days even more.

January 29th - after a short battle with cancer, my Mom went home to be with Jesus. This hit our family hard as it truly was unexpected and shook us all up. I am forever grateful that Mom was surrounded by both of us girls, my Dad, and her sisters as she left and was welcomed by her Savior. After any loss, everyone tends to tell you cherish the ones you love, savor every moment, etc. I can honestly say - I did not have any regrets in this regard with my Mom. I loved her, she knew it. She loved me, I knew it and felt it. My kids all cherished the time they had with her and they always will have special memories!

February brought my Mom's memorial service in Texas and then a return to what the "new normal" would be. It was painful, it was hard. She was missed and it was felt - yet, through it all the Lord was GOOD. He brought many to love on all of our family and we were blessed. Of course, the Broncos winning the Super Bowl was a DEFINITE bonus to the month for this Bronco loving girl!

March would bring more unexpected and unplanned hardship as we would come face to face with deep depression affecting our family. Our oldest daughter Hannah, struggled with the stress of college, homesickness, and the added grief of losing her Mimi. She was smart enough to realize that she needed some serious help and needed her family to lean on for a time. So, at spring break Joel picked her up from DBU, she withdrew from classes and moved home with us. I have always known other people who were affected by depression but it hadn't hit our own family. This was a painful time for all of us. A time of trying to understand and help her but as parents not enable her to the point where she didn't have to work to overcome her was a time of growth and a definite balancing act. If you or someone you know is facing this - I can say, it is real, it is hard but GOD...Only through Him can we overcome. Hannah has come so far - she has some to go BUT GOD...has been there and is there and is working in her each and every moment!

April Joel and I were able to go on a MUCH needed minister and wives retreat in Arkansas. We had been planning to go since October 2015 and had asked my parents to come and stay with the kids. Graciously, my Dad agreed to still come and stay with the kids; however Satan would try to thwart that plan as well because just days before we were to leave, my Dad became ill and wasn't able to come right away as planned (he did come later). BUT GOD had a plan for even that because Hannah was home she was able to take care of the kids as was our adopted daughter who lived in Plainview - she came for a few days as well. Joel and I were able to rest, refresh, renew and pray for direction in our ministry and it was needed!!!! Also in April - Joel, Malachi, Tyler and I made a "Site Visit" to Delta Colorado in preparation to potentially move to Delta and begin a church there (more on that later).

May was crazy! We had the end of school activities and chaos and then as soon as school let out, we packed up and headed to Pagosa Springs for my Mom's Celebration of Life Service with our Colorado friends and family. Such a sweet time to celebrate and rejoice on her life and the memories we had with her. We are forever grateful for our Pagosa family who loved and continue to love on us well!

June brought new beginnings! After serving for three years at First Baptist Church Levelland as Children's Pastor - Joel resigned and became a Missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our placement - Delta Colorado. So after finishing up with VBS in Levelland, we packed up and Joel, Hannah, Tyler and I headed to Delta while Malachi and Kestra stayed behind to go to church camp with the youth from Levelland. Once again, Grandad helped out and was able to pick them up from camp for us!

July brought more adjustment and hardship. We began to adjust to life in our new community. Joel got a job at Wal-Mart in the stocking department. The kids and I enjoyed slow mornings, time at the local rec center and just exploring our new town. Once again we would be rocked by hardship. On July 17 Joel came home from work just not feeling well at all. He was feverish and weak. Chalking it up to fatigue and adjusting to a night job and harder duties neither one of us thought much of it. However Monday night he was still ill and missed work - by Tuesday morning, I and he, knew something major was wrong. I took him to the Urgent Care Clinic and eventually to the hospital ER where he was later admitted. He was dehydrated, had pneumonia, and had a significantly un-explainable low white blood cell count. As a friend who is also a head nurse at the hospital said...he was one sick man! After 3 days and 2 nights in the hospital on some heavy antibiotics Joel was released to come home. His blood count literally TRIPLED over night... BUT GOD! Bonus blessing was that my Dad had already planned a visit for this week and was able to come and be with the kids and I through it all. As a result of this illness, Joel could no longer physically handle his current position at Wal-Mart. After talking to the managers and because he found favor with them - he was moved to a Sales Associate position with higher pay and better hours...BUT GOD!

August would bring change. The kids would all begin school at Delta High School; which starting a new school is always an adjustment. For Tyler, it was his first time in High School and back in public school after being home schooled for 2 years. He did and continues to do very well with the change! Hannah also experienced change as she was hired at McDonald's. Toward the end of August, I would be hired at Vision Charter Academy as a paraprofessional for the Special Education Department. Such a huge blessing as I love education and special needs students!!!

September we would be able to just "settle". We were all into our new normal including having a fall softball season instead of spring season and was a much needed time to just "Be still and know that I am God".

October we were able to go to Silverton for a day and meet up with my Mom's two sisters and my Dad for lunch and exploring. My Dad then traveled back with us and enjoyed some quality time here! Kestra finished up her first softball season with Delta High School and did well! She learned and grew tremendously in her game - can't wait to see her Senior year!

November brought a time of more change and a time to reflect and be thankful. Although he enjoyed his job at Wal-Mart and God definitely used it to open ministry doors; the hours were hard in terms of family time and ministry work. We had began praying that God might open up a different position that would still be part time and enable Joel to have more time for ministry. Open up He did! Joel was hired as a part time IT Assistant at Vision Charter Academy where I work and was able to quit his position with Wal-Mart, leaving on good terms, and it was a pay increase to boot! At the same time, I was offered and accepted the opportunity to move from part-time to full-time and increased responsibility! We celebrated Thanksgiving here as a family with part of our church family joining us!

December has been a time to just breathe and reflect! With both Joel and I working at a school, we have enjoyed a full two weeks off with the kids for the first time EVER! My Dad flew in late the night of Dec. 18th and has been with us ever since - it has been a GREAT time with him. He will fly back to my sister's house in Louisiana tomorrow - we are going to miss having him around!!!

The take aways from this year - are many!

1.) Even in the sorrow, the tragedy, the unexpected, the hard - God is still moving and working! I have seen and felt Him in so many many ways! I miss my Mom each and every day and though maybe the tears aren't as frequent - the hole is still there - yet, God has been my comfort, he has blessed me with an amazing friend who is a little farther down this grief road than I am and she has been so special and sweet and insightful!

2.) Watching your child struggle with something as hard as HARD! A part of me wanted to shake her and say get over it; and a bigger part of me - wanted to shelter her and wrap her up and protect her and take away all the hardship and pain. BUT GOD...He has helped me grow in areas of compassion and tough love and He has brought her through in maturity, healing, and grace!

3.) Hardship and Change - they are part of all of our lives; you can't escape them BUT you can learn to overcome and adjust to them with Christ! As we have faced what both Joel and I have referred to as our hardest year in marriage yet; we have been so blessed to know that God has already gone before us and knows what is coming ahead and we can trust Him in that! Casting Crowns has always been one of my favorite bands - they sing a song called "Already There" that sums up this idea. God is ALREADY THERE...He knows the future, the unknown, the unexpected, the tragedy, the hard, and He is working it for HIS glory and HIS good!

4.) When the hard comes...your family can grow stronger. This has been HUGE for us as a family this year. Our kids have grown from being just siblings to truly being friends this year. They are each other's strength and encouragement and we have enjoyed so many many moments of family time the past few months - blesses this mom's heart!

As I begin to look ahead to 2017...I don't know what it will bring, I know there will be some hard moments -like sending Hannah off to Australia for 6 months to be a nanny at the end of January, I know there will be some moments of change - like my son graduating from High School in May and I know there could be tragedy and new beginnings BUT most of all....I know that GOD IS ALREADY THERE and I can rest in that!

My prayer for you is matter what curve balls life is tossing you, no matter what you think may or may not happen, no matter how hard your circumstances; there is a Savior, there is ONE who wants to carry you and hold you through it all and He is already there at the end of the journey!!!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Church Planting Wife - Journal Log: Six months in

It is hard to believe that it has been six months (well, it will be on Dec. 24) since we pulled into Delta, Colorado and began this journey of church planting. In some ways, we are overwhelmed by all that God has done and how He is moving and some ways, we find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what's next?

I wanted to share with you from the perspective of a church planters wife...which, is the same and yet different from that of Joel, the official "church planter". Of course, this journey - as have all our ministry journeys - is both of ours, and even our kids. As I look back over the past 6 months - I see moments of joy and success - I see moments of discouragement and disappointment - and I see many many moments of learning!

Let's begin with a brief run down of where we were, where we have been, and where we are.

June found us finishing up our time of ministry at FBC Levelland Texas with Vacation Bible School, completing the last of the packing, and preparing for Joel, Hannah, Tyler and I to head with the moving truck to Colorado while Kestra and Malachi went with the youth from Levelland to camp. It was a whirlwind to say the least! The goodbyes were hard, the unknown lurked before us, and the excitement and anticipation kept us moving forward! We arrived in Delta on June 24th and unloaded some mattresses and the basics for the night - the following day, we would unload the remainder of the truck into our home and the journey would begin!

July found Joel beginning as a night stocker at Wal-Mart, meeting my extended family in Silverton for the fourth of July, and officially getting settled into our new home. Also, in July we would begin forming some key relationships with our now sending church, Calvary Baptist Church here in Delta. Probably the biggest thing for July would be Joel coming down with pneumonia and unexplainable severely low blood cell counts that resulted in two nights in the hospital, a week off of work, and lots of prayer from so many everywhere! This was a definite low for us - a time where we had to sit back and wonder "God, what ARE you doing here?" Yet, through it all God WAS moving and working! As a result of his illness, Joel was able to go to the management at Wal-Mart and ask for a different position that was less physically straining, had better hours and would be better all the way around - he was granted a Sales Associate position in the Sporting Goods Department! Go God!!!

With August, we found Joel beginning to build some very key relationships with the employees at Wal-Mart that would then lead to members of our new church plant! August was also when we made a presentation to Calvary Baptist Church in regards to being our sending church - that presentation would fall on the very Sunday that a single mom who had not been in church for awhile would decide to come to church - she would also become a key member of our church plant! Also in August - I, Ronnie, would be offered and accept a position at Vision Charter Academy here in Delta as a Special Education Paraprofessional - working with kids with special needs - couldn't be happier!!! The end of August would bring our three youngest beginning at Delta High School and Hannah beginning work at McDonald's. It would also ring in the beginning of softball season!!! We also would do our very first outreach project which was to provide school supplies to 35 elementary students in the community!

September found all six of us adjusting to our new "normal", building friendships and relationships, enjoying Kestra playing softball, and would also be the first "official" month of being North American Missionaries meaning that all paperwork was in and we had a sending church!!! Joel continued to build and develop relationships at Wal-Mart, I continued to adjust to going back to work, the kids acclimated to their new school and Hannah settled into working full-time! Another high point in September would be the official start of regular weekly meeting times for Church Without Walls - our church plant!!!

In October we enjoyed a week of Fall Break where we met with my mom's sisters in Silverton and my Dad came to visit for a few days! Kestra finished her softball season as a swing player between JV and Varsity! I enjoyed getting to know my co-workers and students even more resulting in the decision to pursue the possibility of an alternate teaching certificate - which I am still in the process of pursuing!

With November came several big changes. Joel was offered and accepted a part-time position with Vision Charter Academy as IT Assistant and resigned from Wal-Mart. He enjoyed the work and relationships at Wal-Mart but the hours were not conducive to ministry and made family time difficult. I was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to move from part-time with Vision to full-time bringing an increase financially and more responsibility! Hannah was able to finalize plans for going to Australia as an Au Pair/Nanny with a family and will leave January 31. In addition, our church plant did their second outreach project in providing meals to families in the area for Thanksgiving! We celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a mom and daughter from our church plant and just enjoyed the quietness of the day - which was a welcome time as it was our first without my Mom.

December finds us sitting back and reflecting on the first six months of this journey.

We have seen incredible highs: having a weekly meeting time just 2 months in when the average church plant doesn't do this for a year or more, a high attendance of 23 on one Sunday night service, the beginning of marriage mentoring meetings with a fantastic couple, the financial ability to provide Thanksgiving meals to four local families here in the area through the church plant, and more and more meaningful conversations being started with potential members of our church plant. We have seen our kids adjust and complete their first semester at a new school, our Tyler is reading more and more each week, and Hannah has overcome so much to find favor at McDonald's and even got a raise!

We have also experienced some lows or times of discouragement: families that we believed would be leaders with us in the church plant have backed out for various reasons, others have come only once and not come again, we have been working on building a team of 300 prayer and/or financial supporters and are only at approximately 40, we have had some meeting times where no one showed up, times where we desperately missed friends and the comfort of the "known" of traditional church ministry, times of sadness wishing we could share this experience with Mom/Mimi, etc.

For me personally - I have had to revisit and remind myself of the calling to this church planting journey multiple times. To be honest - it is hard. When you don't know from week to week who, if anyone will show up, when your home is also the church and so this often means cleaning on a Sunday afternoon rather than relaxing, when you don't have those friends you can call for a "night out", when you and your daughter have to plan for the child care and yet have limited resources and funds, adjusting to a different kind of church that most likely means noisy children in the middle of the floor while you meet, etc.

Yet - I wouldn't go back, I wouldn't change it, I LOVE IT!!! I love that the people that walk into my home each Sunday night are here because they WANT to be, not because it is expected, I love that they are hungry and are seeking and asking and growing, I love their GIVING hearts - when they give to others even when they don't have themselves! I love the sound of children in every part of my home because this means young families are being reached and ministered to. THIS is what makes the hard - so so worth it!!!

I have learned some important things these past six months:

1.) LOVE goes a long way! Simply by loving on people, they will come and hear and grow.

2.) FLEXIBILITY is a must! Plans change, what's normal isn't any more, the unexpected happens, and you have to learn to go with it...those little ones tromping through the middle of church - they are the source of energy and excitement!

3.) MISSIONAL MINDSET! Of course, as believers we are supposed to always live a life that reflects Christ but when you are in a community to start a church and people hear and know this - everything you do is a reflection of ministry! You begin to look at the cashier at the grocery store different and become intentional about reaching out to them, his name is Dennis by the way! That person at the gas station - could be the next person you need to share the Gospel with!

4.) JOY IN THE JOURNEY! You have to find the joy - even in the hard! The joy that you are on the ground level experiencing something NEW. The joy found when those you reached out to are now coming to you asking how to reach out to others. The joy found when no one shows up to church and you get to spend time in prayer instead.

5.) PERSEVERANCE because it is worth it! Yes - there are times that I have wanted to give up, throw in the towel and go back to that known paycheck, those guaranteed volunteers and leaders BUT when you see even just ONE person begin to grow in Christ and "get it" or you see that one person who wouldn't come to a traditional church come to your church - then you KNOW it is worth it to keep on even when it's hard!!!

So - as we look at where we have been, where I have been, where I have grown and been stretched; the most logical thing is to look ahead to where we are going!

For me personally, I am looking at being stretched in the area of evangelism! I have been reading "The Un-churched Next Door" by Thom Rainer and it has me being challenged BIG! In the next several months, I am praying and seeking opportunities to meet and invite and invest in those around me!

For the church plant, we are looking for double the growth - bringing our regular attendance to 20, we are looking for a regular meeting place outside of our home, we are looking for other leaders to join us in ministry, we continue to look for our team of 300, we are looking forward to Joel officially preaching sermons.

I believe God has BIG things in store over the next 6 months for myself personally and for Church Without Walls! I eagerly anticipate all that He will do!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My "Tribe"

I have seen them and I am sure you have too - the posts or blogs about a woman having her "tribe" - the group of friends that she shares life with and who are there in a pinch if needed, go out for a regular girls night, etc. 

Being honest here, I have always been a tad jealous of these posts because honestly I didn't feel like I had a tribe around me. For the better part of our 21 years of marriage, we have moved and transitioned. This makes in depth meaningful relationships H.A.R.D. Yes - I have had women that I have done a ladies night out with - usually as part of women's ministry- and I have had some that are my choir parent buddies, or my Bible Study buddies, or sports parent buddies, etc. Sprinkled in through the years there have been one or two friends that really are meaningful and in depth but never a group...

Recently, as I was struggling through a friendship that has shifted and changed for numerous reasons, I found myself literally crying out to the Lord asking why I didn't have a "tribe" of my own. Where were these friends that were supposed to be there through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life? What was wrong with me that I didn't have this? I know - a tad on the overreacting side but bare with me because I want you understand where I was with this. 

So, in my prayer/crying fest to the Lord mourning the loss of this particular friendship - He clearly reminded me of something that I was not seeing. I DO have a tribe! Many years ago, before Joel and I were married and when I was still in college - God blessed me with four friends with whom I have a close and tight relationship with. You see these gals - we TRULY have walked life together...let me share with you a few of the things that we have walked through together - 

*Dating and Marriage
*Pregnancy Struggles and births of children
*Depression for either ourselves or those close to us
*Loss of a parent, loss of a sibling, and loss of a spouse
*A parent with Alzheimers
*Bankruptcy and recovery from it
*Pain and success in ministry situations
*Broken friendships (other than this group)
*Struggles with our kids
*Second marriage and all that brings

You see, these four - they make up my "tribe"! When I have something exciting to share - they are my go to group, when sorrow or devastation hit they are my go to group, when I am hurting or lost they are my go to group - they are my TRIBE! While I was looking for something different - they have been there all along - we live in four different states, have kids in varying stages of life, but yet we are still as close as though we were all still sitting in one of our dorm rooms or apartments and talking in person. 

I share this with you because maybe you are looking for a tribe. Maybe, like me you think that surely this tribe needs to look like the posts or blogs you read. However, MAYBE like me you have a tribe - it just looks a little different than someone else's. 

It is my firm belief, that we were created for relationships and in person relationships that are deep and meaningful. It is still a prayer of mine that God will open up the door for a local group of friends with whom I can do life with, have fun with, be couple friends with, and be real with - yet, I know with all my being that God blessed me with the best tribe of friends who are so willing to walk through the good the bad and the ugly! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Christian Parents Guide to IEP or Special Education Meetings...

If you have been around my blog long or know us at all, you know that I have a heart for kids with Special Needs and their parents. Having both a son and niece with special needs these kiddos and their families are close to my heart and I LOVE being able to encourage them, support them and help them in any way I can.

Any parent of a special needs child who is of school age and in the public school system will tell you that one of the hardest times is that of the school IEP or Individual Education Plan meeting. The basis of these meetings is for your child's educators, therapists, service providers, and you as parent to come together and discuss the needs of your child, where they are at in their academic and social progress, where they are lacking and what supports and helps can be put in place to help them.

For a parent, these meetings can bring feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed, intimidated, frustration, anger and even defensiveness. At times, you feel as though it is you vs a room full of professionals who "think" they know your child better than you but yet you know your child the best. All you have to do is google IEP meetings and images to come up with a WHOLE HOST of memes about angry parents headed to IEP meetings, derogatory remarks about teachers etc, and more. While in some ways, these can be true...I want to propose that they don't have to be true, there can be a different approach and especially as a Christian have an excellent opportunity to yes be a strong advocate for your child BUT to also be salt and light to their educational team!

In the past 11 years of working with various schools and attending countless IEP meetings, Here are some guidelines that we have discovered for Christian parents in their approach of these meetings....

1.) Prayer. Perhaps this should be the assumed approach but it took me several years before I would regularly bathe my child's IEP meetings in prayer before the throne and even longer before I would regularly reach out to my close team of prayer warriors and ask them to join me in praying over the upcoming meetings. Yet, when this became my habit - I noticed BIG changes in the overall atmosphere of our meetings and most of all in MY attitude approaching them. I pray over my child of course but also for the teachers and service providers and that I would represent Christ well in these meetings! It is also a great reminder to me that the ONE who created my child loves him so much more than me and will go before us!

2.) Open-Mindedness. I had to learn to have an open mind going into the meetings and to not automatically assume that the school is against me or my child.  It is important to not go into these meetings automatically on the defensive but to go in with the idea that you CAN work together WITH the school for your child.

3.) Gentleness. To piggy back on the previous guideline - go into each meeting with a gentle and calm spirit. Approach the team with an attitude that assumes the best not the worst of those working with your child.

4.) Firm Advocate rather than a Defensive Advocate. It has taken time but I have learned that I CAN be a firm and strong advocate for my child without being defensive, abrasive, rude or out of control. I can advocate for my child and his needs with an attitude that brings glory and honor to Christ and is a witness to those around me. Go into your child's IEP with the idea that God has placed you in THIS meeting to be His ambassador and witness. With this in mind, speak truth YES but in love. State what your child needs but in love!

5.) Should you have to change direction - do so with grace. We have found ourselves in a position where we realized that the school simply wasn't going to work with us or our son to meet his needs and for the sake of what was best for our child we had to withdraw him from that educational setting. I wish that I could say that we handled this with 100% grace and love but that wasn't the case. We withdrew him and chose to homeschool him for a time but I was angry and put out to say the least. at a follow-up meeting I did approach it with grace though and it was so much better. Again, I had to remind myself to represent Christ hard as that may be.

6.) Relationship is key. Regardless the situation, as believers we need to remember that the relationship is the key. We need to maintain the relationship even in the midst of advocating for our child. Remember that there really are times that teachers and administrators hands are tied due to resources, laws, etc. This is where we found ourselves when we withdrew our son but to maintain the relationship, we thanked the staff for their efforts and time while still taking the actions that were best for our child.

7.) Even if the previous meeting went south...follow these guidelines every time. In our humanness, sometimes we just mess up or the meeting just takes a bad turn. DO NOT take the baggage from one meeting into the next one - start again with prayer, a fresh mindset, a good attitude. You will get no where if you are carrying a grudge and in most cases, it just gets worse!

8.) If needed - take a friend or another advocate. Many times we really are too emotionally involved to approach an IEP with an open mind or calmness. We need to recognize this and if our spouse is able take them, if not find a friend or advocate that will be the voice of reason, help keep you calm and collected, and still advocate for your child!

To summarize,  as a Christian parent yes you have a responsibility to advocate for your child but you also have a responsibility to represent Christ well in these meetings and to be the hands and feet of Him! You CAN do both. Above all PRAY over your child, their teachers, the meetings, the services, service providers, etc!

Footnote: You may notice that throughout this post I don't use the term "fight for my child" or "do battle on his behalf" but rather advocate. The reason for this is simple - fight or battle automatically put me in a defensive mindset and make me go into the meeting with an us vs them mentality and that is just not correct. I honestly believe that the majority of teachers and administrators DO want to see students excel and succeed, they just have much more to consider than just my child and like I mentioned earlier they are restricted at times.