The Difference Orange Makes

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We got to church early that summer morning, though not quite as early as we wanted to. As usual. We parked and speed-walked through the parking lot, snapping at Annalyn to HURRY UP. As soon as we walked into the building, we all headed to Kids City – Mark to serve as security, me to lead the student volunteers in Praise Parkway, and Annalyn to bounce between the two of us.

At one point Mark sent Annalyn to me so he could take attendance of all the classrooms and tally the total number of kids attending first service. She didn’t want to. She wanted to stay with her dad.

As I tried to finish setting up the room and talk with my students, make a few last-minute changes to our slides and run a quick sound check, my sweet, strong-willed daughter was climbing on chairs, complaining about my instructions to be quiet and sit still, and begging to go find her dad. No amount of explanation or reasoning calmed her down – neither did threats or bribery, in case you’re wondering. Her whining escalated alarmingly fast into a full-blown meltdown.

The whole thing reached its peak when I picked her up – not an easy task for a pregnant mom to do with her tall and oh-so-angry five-year-old – and dragged her down the hall into the bathroom. Where her screams – and my own yelling – proceeded to echo off the cinderblock walls.

Awesome. I was HOPING everyone in the church could hear this absolute MESS of a situation.

Because it WAS a mess. My daughter was a disobedient, irrational, out-of-control mess. I was an angry, frustrated, short-tempered mess. After yelling, threatening and lecturing, after totally losing my cool and any control I still had left, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Immediately, I looked away, pretending not to see how ugly my own behavior was, and I marched my still-crying daughter out of the bathroom.

As we headed back toward the classrooms, we ran into my friend and the director of Kids City. I looked at her helplessly and admitted, “I don’t know what to do.” She offered to talk with Annalyn, and I said, “Have at it.”

My friend talked to my daughter – and miraculously, my baby girl finally calmed down. She even went to her classroom without much of a fuss, standing stubbornly at the door only until her teachers noticed her and shouted, “Come in, Annalyn! We’re playing a game! Do you want to play?”

Feeling heavy and exhausted – and extremely embarrassed – I walked back to Praise Parkway. As I was wiping tears of my own and preparing for second service, my friend Erich walked in the room.

“Hey, are you going to the baptism service after church?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I was going to, but this has been a terrible morning,” I said. “Probably not.”

“Oh. Well, okay. I was just going to tell you that Parker is being baptized . . . and he mentions you in his testimony.”

What?!

Parker is Erich’s son and one of my student volunteers, and I had no idea he was planning to be baptized that day. I certainly didn’t realize he would want to talk about me when he did it!

Even after sitting through church, I felt lousy. And that’s saying a lot, since worship and a sermon almost always makes me feel better, no matter what baggage I carry into service. But this morning had been one of the very worst in my parenting career, and I was just So. Very. Tired.

Still, I couldn’t very well let Parker down. We’d only been serving together in Kids City for about six months, but like all the kids I worked with, he was important to me. I wanted to be there for him, so I picked up Annalyn from her classroom and headed outside. (This baptism service was part of our summer picnic and held beside the playground of the elementary school we met in.)

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Parker was the first one to climb into the round tub of water, along with his parents. I was still chewing my [third] hot dog when our pastor began reading a statement Parker had written. He talked about how he loved Jesus and fully believed because of the influence and example of several people. Of course he listed his parents, small group leaders and family friends, but then he said my name.

He said my name.

Until that moment I had not thought I was doing anything special at all. Sure, I got to church a little bit early and hung out with the kids serving in Praise Parkway. We hooked up the speakers and fiddled with the cords connecting the laptop to the sound board. Sometimes they told me about their week, what was going on at school or at home. Sometimes we just joked about how many peppermints they could snitch from the snack table up front and whose turn it was to get drinks for the team.

But I never once imagined I was making any kind of eternal impact on those kids. I just thought I was filling a need, completing a task. If anything, I thought my service was making a difference for the younger kids who came into Praise Parkway to sing songs and hear a story. But the middle schoolers I worked beside? Sure, I was leading them, but I had no idea I was serving them, too.

Until the moment I watched Parker climb in the water, and he said my name.

That Sunday was one of the worst days of my parenting life – and one of the best days of my ministry life.

It was also the perfect illustration of parents and church working together for the good of the children.

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My church uses Orange curriculum for our children’s ministry, and its main strategy is to create a partnership between parents and the church to influence the hearts and lives and children. Orange refutes the idea that spiritual formation is the “job” of the church and encourages parents to be active in teaching their kids about God’s love.

On that Sunday morning last summer, the truth of Orange’s philosophy could not have been clearer to me. When I failed my own kiddo, my friend and her teachers were there to help out. And even though I didn’t realize it, I was making the same kind of difference in my friend’s son just by showing up every week and serving with him in Praise Parkway.

I’m incredibly grateful for our church family – both for the privilege of serving and leading, and for being served and led. And when it comes to my work in Kids City and my daughter’s experience of church, it’s strongly influenced by Orange. Which is why I’m super excited to attend the Orange Conference in Atlanta later this month!

[The chance to see the Sisterchicks doesn't hurt either, but that's a completely separate post!]

If you serve in children’s ministry at your church (or at home), I highly recommend the Orange Conference. It’s not too late to register, and it will be well worth your investment. For more information about Orange, visit the website here.

Disclosure: I have received a ticket to the Orange Conference, but all opinions here are my own. Photo sources here.

The Best Defense

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You know how they say the best defense is a good offense?

Of course, I’m not sure who “they” are. I was never much of an athlete. Truth be told, I was more of a trip-over-my-own-two-feet-during-the-game type of girl. (Oh, how I wish that wasn’t a real story!) Still, the advice seems to be common enough that both the sporty and not-so-sporty types can understand it.

It’s better to land the first punch. We’re safer if we hit them before they hit us. Right? I suppose this strategy works in a lot of circumstances. Boxing. Basketball. Facebooking.

Oh, wait. Maybe not that last one.

See, I’ve noticed that a lot of the icky comparison games so many of us find ourselves playing – that I find myself playing – are motivated by fear. We’re afraid others will hurt us, so we strike first. On those days we feel insecure or unhappy about our less-than-perfect lives, we lash out rather than waiting for someone to notice our humanness and point it out for the world to see.

We walk around, convinced we’re not enough. Not good enough, not smart enough or crafty enough, not organized enough or successful enough. And in an effort to hide those fears – and protect ourselves from the insults and injuries we’re certain are inevitable, we put up our defenses.

And those defenses look a whole lot like offenses.

Join me at (in)courage to read the rest of this post.

Weekend Links {the Lent version}

A Sense of the Resurrection

My friend Amanda (the author of Truth in the Tinsel, an Advent experience for families) has released a new ebook. This one is a Lent experience for families called A Sense of Resurrection, and it is fantastic.

While the Christmas book leads families through 25 days of craft projects – something that has, at least so far, proven to be a bit MUCH for me despite how much I love it and want to do it – A Sense of Resurrection is both less and more intense. It includes printables, Scriptures and specific conversation and starting points so you and your kids can get a sense of the resurrection. Parents and children will make memories as they use their five senses to discover the real story celebrated on Easter.

You guys, it’s really cool.

Annalyn and I have started doing a special activity every Thursday afternoon, just the two of us. We’ve made cupcakes and practiced tying shoes so far, but I believe we’ll do activities from this book for the next several weeks.

You can buy your copy of A Sense of the Resurrection here.

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And here are a couple more Lent links for you:

Finally, I wanted to let you know of a great Easter gift idea. What’s in the Bible has released the final DVD of the series: Hebrews to Revelation. To celebrate, Buck Denver and friends are offering 20% off orders over $75 (plus free shipping in the U.S.) with the code 20OFF.

That means if you wanted to buy the entire 13 video series, it would be just $135. Or go with the four videos that make up the New Testament for just $42.

[I know those prices might seem hefty for an Easter gift, but do what I did. Buy the whole bundle, then use it for holidays throughout the year. That's what I did a couple years ago - gave Annalyn videos for Easter, her birthday and Christmas. She loved it!]

This discount is only good through TODAY (Sunday, March 9), so if you love hilarious puppets singing catchy songs and teaching the Bible in a way that’s both comprehensive and easy to understand . . . take advantage of it now!

[And now I have those catchy songs in my head. Do you know what's in the Bible? ... I don't think your hair is pliable. ... What's that have to doooooo with the Bible?]

This post includes affiliate links. Tulip photo by Kıvanç Niş.

The Right Fit

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I was contacted by a recruiter about a job opportunity a couple weeks ago. It was so random – and a little confusing, since the salary was tempting enough to make me forget for just a minute how much I love my current job and how important it is for my job to fit both my gifts and my personality. As I sent the “thanks, but no thanks” email, I remembered this post that was originally published at (in)courage. And since I seem to STILL be incapable of writing anything new these days, I thought I’d share it again!

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The second I got engaged, I immediately turned into one of Those Girls. You know, the ones who carry around a stack of bridal magazines and can only talk about things like centerpieces, bows made of tulle and the merits of roses versus daisies. It wasn’t long before I had picked out the exact same wedding dress in every magazine, dog-earing pages and circling designers as if I wasn’t going to be shopping at David’s Bridal.

When it came time for the big day – the big shopping day, that is – my mom, cousins and friends all headed out with me. I flipped through the dresses on the racks and pulled out The One.

Well, I thought it was the one. But it turned out that the gorgeous wide-necked, cap-sleeved tight bodice with the simple full skirt looked terrible on my narrow shoulders. I mean, it just looked awful. I could prove it to you, because my mom lovingly snapped a picture when I tried it on. But honestly, it still makes me a little sad.

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When I was in college, I was involved in a campus ministry and as soon as I was eligible (read: a wise sophomore), I applied for a position on the leadership team. I wasn’t sure which area of ministry would be the best fit for me, but I sure didn’t think it would be the Tech Team.

Making promotional videos? Designing a website? Running the sound equipment? Boring! Who wants to do that? Not me. I just knew that when the campus pastor looked at the list of open positions and compared it to the list of interested students, my name was merely the last one unmatched and, therefore, the logical fit for the stupid tech team.

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Several years later my husband and I joined 10 of our closest friends in planting a new church. We decided to start our church with in-home meetings about the different areas of ministry our church would be founded on, and each couple was assigned an area to lead. My husband and I were assigned to the Fellowship Ministry.

Fellowship. As in, potlucks and picnics. Again, I was disappointed because clearly this wasn’t the best place for me to serve God. Obviously I could be doing so much more than planning chili cook-offs!

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Flash forward a few years, and I’m watching the Tinker Bell movie with my 4-year-old daughter. Half paying attention, I don’t catch the entire plot of the movie on the first watch. But after a few more viewings (because if watching it once was good, watching it 10 times is way better!), I realize that little fairy and her friends are handing out some truth along with the pixie dust.

The gist of the story is that Tinker Bell is disappointed to learn that she is a tinker fairy, a fairy who fixes and builds things. Even though everyone can see that she’s gifted at tinkering, she wants desperately to do something more exciting, more fun with her life. At one point she says, “Look. You all do things that are beautiful and magical and . . . and important. But me . . . there’s gotta be more to my life than just pots and kettles. All I’m asking you is that you give me a chance.”

It takes her a while to figure out what’s clear to everyone else, but you know the movie must have a happy ending. Eventually, Tinker Bell realizes that she really is a tinker. It’s how she was created, and it’s when she’s tinkering that she’s truly in her element.

I’m no cartoon character, but I feel a little bit like Tinker Bell. From wedding dresses to ministry, I’ve fought who I am my entire life. And just like in this children’s movie, that refusal to accept myself has caused hurt and frustration and wasted a lot of time. I’ve had to learn, over and over, that when I stop arguing – with my mother at the bridal shop, with ministry leaders, with employers, with God – about who I am, it usually turns out that God has put me in the exact right spot. The exact right spot for me, the unique person He created – narrow shoulders and all.

The dress I ended up wearing at my wedding? It was gorgeous. And flattering, too, as my mother reminds me. The year I spent on the Tech Team in college? It prepared me for this little hobby called blogging. And leading our church plant’s Fellowship Ministry? It taught me about community and friendship and the real meaning of fellowship and, oh yeah, gave me loads of inspiration for my e-book about planning parties.

God doesn’t waste. He doesn’t waste talent or time or opportunities or experiences. And He knows what your right fit is. So if you find yourself in places that seem uncomfortable, like they just don’t fit or maybe like they’re just not good enough, fun enough, fancy enough or exciting enough? Just sit back, take a deep breath and think about Tinker Bell. Or wedding dresses. Or website design, circa 1998.

He’s got you where you are for a reason. He made you the way you are for a reason. And the way He weaves together His followers and their gifts, their lives and His mission is beautiful – and way better than pixie dust!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working,
but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
(1 Corinthians 12: 4-6)

Have you ever been disappointed with one of your gifts or abilities? How is God using those gifts and abilities now?

{Photo by Jeremy Bronson}

Leaps of Faith

Few people understood the complicated feelings I had about having a baby after delivering a premature baby the first time around as well as my friend JessieLeigh, who also delivered a little girl more than 16 weeks early. Please welcome her as she shares a bit of what she has learned about parenting, preemies and leaps of faith.

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Giving birth at less than twenty-four weeks pregnant was arguably the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Do you know what was almost as scary, though?

Deciding to go ahead and have another baby after having given birth at less than twenty-four weeks gestation.

When our second child arrived so terrifyingly early, I remember, vividly, thinking to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll probably only have two children, then.” I wasn’t sure if our tiny preemie would even survive, but, if she did, I couldn’t fathom risking another pregnancy. And, frankly, when all the tests came back inconclusive and they labeled the birth “prematurity/unknown causes,” I felt even more lost. If you don’t know what caused it, it’s very hard to keep it from happening again.

Three years went by and that baby girl born so early grew and thrived. There were challenges, of course, but we felt so very lucky and blessed to have two little ones happily playing side-by-side.

And then we learned there was to be a third little one.

I call my pregnancy with our youngest our “leap of faith.” We were thrilled to be expecting another sweet baby. We loved the idea of welcoming another little life into our family. We knew we could handle less-than-ideal birth circumstances–if a hundred-night NICU stay doesn’t put things in perspective, I’m not sure what would.

But all of that didn’t mean we weren’t scared.

It was terrifying to enter into those “twenties” weeks of the pregnancy. I counted my blessings and held my breath as we crept past the twenty-four week mark. I had to trust that, no matter how the pregnancy played out, it would be okay. I had to believe that it was all part of a greater plan and that, as long as I did my part in staying healthy and taking proper precautions, we could, indeed, have a happy ending.

Just past the thirty-seventh week, we welcomed another baby girl into our lives. Our leap of faith had been more than worth it–she is pure joy, even at four years old, now.

I’d like to say that was the only leap of faith we’ve been asked to make in this journey of parenting…but that would be untrue.

  • When we let go of little hands and let them toddle off, it’s a leap of faith.
  • When we leave them for the first time with a sitter or a daycare or a teacher or even Grandma, it’s a leap of faith.
  • When we try to ignore all the charts and lists and “should be doings” and just watch our little ones grow, it’s a leap of faith.
  • When we let go and watch them head off to play with other children who might turn into great friends or might end up hurting their feelings, it’s a leap of faith.
  • Every time we kiss our kids and wave them off on the bus, it’s a leap of faith. Living in the next town over from Sandy Hook taught me that one…

The truth is…this parenting gig? It’s a never-ending series of leaps of faith. Some are huge. Some seem minor. But all along the way, we’re asked to put our own worries and fears aside and to let these little people grow and blossom.

Sometimes it feels safer to cling to the edge, safe from the fall.

But, eventually we all learn…it is in the leaping that we experience the full beauty.

A mother of three, including a 24-week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.