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 sidetracked...it 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 all...as 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 year...you 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 growing...be 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 ministry...it 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!!! 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Marriage Maintenance

For those that have been with my blog awhile, you know that occasionally I post something about marriage. The reason for this is because having a Biblically based marriage is SO IMPORTANT!!! Not only do I long to have a strong Biblical marriage - I desire to come along and encourage and support others in their journey to do the same!

Joel and I will be married 21 years in July - can I just be blunt here and say...Having a strong, Biblical marriage takes WORK!!! It is HARD! It takes regular maintenance and SACRIFICE! It is SO worth it!!! Joel and I have to make a priority of our marriage - in a culture that teaches and screams "It's all about ME" we have to be intentional to say "NO! It's not!"

Second to our relationship with Jesus Christ - our marriage is our TOP PRIORITY! Yes, it comes before our children, it comes before our extended family, it comes before our ministry, and it comes before ourselves. It is THAT BIG OF A DEAL!

Now I say all this, but must also make sure you know - we don't get it right 100% of the time. In fact, we have fallen short many times but our heart and our intent is to keep our marriage at the forefront of it all!

Ephesians 5:33 sums it up well "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

So, how do we do this in a world that pulls us in opposite directions? Here are a few tips:

* PRAYER: We make a habit of regular prayer time together each night before going to sleep. To thank the Lord for the great things He has done, to ask for his guidance and direction, to just praise Him! Nothing will draw you and your spouse together better than entering the throne room together! 

*COMMUNICATION: Another regular habit - talking and communication about EVERYTHING! He needs to love me enough to communicate with me and I need to respect him enough to trust his input

* HAVE FUN: We love to have fun and we love even more to have fun together! Sometimes it's playing a board game, sometimes just singing along with the radio, sometimes it's just being silly and sometimes it is enjoying the company of others but we LOVE TO DO FUN!!! This has been a HUGE influence in our marriage! 

* DATES: A regular date night is a MUST for your marriage!!! We try to do something once a month - even it is a simple movie and dinner or a walk around the neighborhood...it's time together

* TIME AWAY ALONE TOGETHER: This is one of those areas that I have to be honest and say we have fallen short...time, money and life sometimes make this hard but I am seeing that it is so essential! We need to just get away from the mundane of life and be refreshed and restored! 

Again, all of these areas take effort, intention, and commitment to make them work - but the end result is a strong marriage that will be able to withstand when the storm winds blow!

I am super excited that in our effort to work on that last one - time away alone - we are going on a retreat for Ministers and their wives! I simply can't wait - just two more sleeps!!!