January 2014


IMG_3105It’s one of those words we blow up and bounce back and forth like a balloon game, without really getting it. Or maybe you get it perfectly and I’m the only one who wants to take out a pin and pop the thing, already.

Can I just say that if you are a human person, and you are breathing, you are in ministry.

If you are a butcher or a baker or a candlestick maker, you are in ministry.

Whether you are religious or not, paid or not, educated or not, if you are in the world interacting with other people, you are in ministry.

Now you might be a great minister or you might be a terrible minister, but you are a minister nonetheless.

That’s what I think, anyway.

It’s all about serving, you see. That’s what the word means. And in the best of all worlds, in the best of all communities, in the best of all families … that’s what we do.

I’ve been told that all kinds of things aren’t real ministry. That foster parenting, or plain old parenting, or the job you get paid to do from nine to five… I’ve been told these things are not real ministry. And I think what is really being said is that ministry must somehow be ordained, or elevated, or whatever.

So here you go, friends. I’m ordaining you. You are the ones who will make a difference in your worlds, today. Go forth and be sweet.

Today, as I minister in my space among my people – in my kitchen and in the barn and at the doctor’s office this afternoon – I am hoping to be conscious of the significance of it all. I’m trying to be, anyway. I’m trying to really see and really serve.

Even with myself (hello vanilla candles and long hot bath).

Let’s minister well today, shall we?

And when we don’t, we’ll remember grace.

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When we started fostering (for the second time after taking a break for a couple of years) we sat down and talked about it. As a family. At least I thought we did.

I really thought we’d decided to do this thing together. A family service kind of thing like the time we went to Mexico to build a school, where we were all participants in the success of it. I thought I was clear about the whole I-can’t-do-this-on-my-own and I-don’t-want-you-to-feel-neglected and I-really-want-this-to-be-something-in-which-we-share.

Turns out it wasn’t like that at all.

Turns out I’d spent too much time talking and not enough time listening, and the kids were feeling some things about it all that I hadn’t realized.

So we all talked again, and their dad and I talked and then we all talked some more. And this is what we came up with.

We are going to pay our boys to be good foster brothers.

Let me explain.

As a foster mom I get a cheque every month. Not a great big cheque, but a cheque all the same. It’s allocated out into care items for the child (food, clothing, etc.) but boiling it all down, you could say I get paid to take care of this child in my home, and I’ve decided to share. Each month the boys will get a portion of the cheque that I receive.

Here’s what I hope.

I hope the children will feel like they are part of the family team. I hope they will better understand how much I value their efforts. I hope they will feel a responsibility toward the successfulness of this fostering thing that maybe they didn’t feel before. I hope they will feel a sense of personal investment in what I believe is a ministry.

I also hope that by sharing the money I receive they will understand that the money is not the reason I am in the game.

This is new for us. We have rarely paid our boys to do anything. They do chores and such just because they are part of the family. We don’t do allowances. We don’t do checklists and treats. We’ve simply expected our kids to do the things they’ve been asked to do, and they have.

It’s an experiment, but I already feel like there is a better feeling about the home… a greater sense of mutual responsibility to contribute and a feeling of equality and partnership that perhaps wasn’t there before.

We’ll see how it goes.

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When I wrote that post I didn’t think it would amount to much. I wrote it fast and hot and a little mad, and I barely checked the spelling let alone the things I was saying. It amazes me, always, how these things work.

It amazes me, the conversation of sharing that begins when a door is cracked.

Thank you, each of you who commented and each of you who contacted me privately and wow, especially the men. I value your thoughts and prayers and stories, your hearts and your encouragements and your frustrations. Because it’s not a sexy or trendy thing to talk about.

Menopause.

There, I said it and I didn’t die.

But its taught me that I will. I suppose that’s been the sobering lesson in it all. These bright red-stained past few months are marking a transition. Midway or more. Nearer the end than the beginning, and all that.

The thing is though… I’m not dead, yet. I’m just where I am, right now, at this point in my story and there’s lots of story left. There are things I’m just beginning. Things I’m just now starting to understand and many many things I want to learn.

You are just where you are, right now, at your important part of your important story. And who knows, really, where you will go?

Can I encourage you the way you’ve encouraged me? Can I ask you to keep sharing and talking and listening? Even if it’s on the internet, but especially if it’s in your real world.

Do you wish sometimes we had stronger community traditions? Things built into our days together that are simply taken for granted times and ways of being with each other?

I wish we all took Sundays off and we all went to the same church and we all had coffee together every Tuesday afternoon. I wish we kissed each other’s cheeks when we met on the street and held hands with our friends and spent afternoons visiting while the children played in the street in front of our houses.

I wish we took trips to places poorer than ours and didn’t care so much about what things cost and gave more stuff away.

I wish we talked more.

I wish we shared more.

Because then maybe journeys like miscarriage or menopause or mental health wouldn’t be such lonely walks.

I don’t know. I’m still thinking it through. What do you think?

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It’s not like having the flu or a cold, where you know you will get better but chances are you’ll get sick again, too.

It’s not like when I cut my hair short the last time and I said to my friends this will be it because I’m passed that age and I’ll never have long hair again. Or the time I graduated school and said no more to the books and the learning. Or the time I carried Colton in my belly, thinking he would be the last baby.

It’s not even like the horrible monthly period, or in my case the random whenever-it-felt-like-showing-up-exclamation-point arriving with gifts of discomfort and promise at the same time, even though there is in both a draining away of life blood and possibility.

It’s not a thing I hear talked about much except in jokes of course, the way we joke about women’s things. I’m supposed to be grumpy and fragile and tearful and moody, I think, along with hot flashes and sleeplessness and the rest.

But no one said I’d be sad.

And feel so crappy and bleed and bleed and bleed, and I’m sorry if it’s not the thing to talk about but its The Thing right now and I’m too worn with it to filter or flower it much.

I don’t know what it is or has been like for you because of the no talking about it thing, but this is the way it is for me. I can sum it up in three words.

Blah, blah, blah.

Because I have grown my hair long again, and I’ve picked up new books and learned new things, and I had another baby after Colton.

But this thing that’s happening now, it’s really the end.

And endings can be a bit troublesome, so there.

If I sound whiney, I don’t intend to be. I mostly smile and I mostly feel like smiling, and I mostly love and appreciate and treasure and value all the moments in all the days and I mostly have fun or at least find meaning. And I know I’m blessed and my life is beautiful and Jesus loves me. I know all that and I mean I KNOW all that. I really do.

But my body is doing a normal ageing thing right now and it comes with words like autumn of your life and upper age brackets and silver in my hair, and it’s making me just a little bit crazy with the implications.

I’m sputtering a bit. This is Little Girl me drinking from the garden hose, I’m almost drowning in a rush of water and only able to take a little in, breathless gulps, most of it washing over my face and wetting my hair and dampening my clothes.

This is my love, these words and ideas and the falling of them on me and I’m lapping them up as fast as I can. Snapping at the water-words as they fly through the air, and the game of catching the drops before they fall wasted on the sidewalk or the dandelions.

This is my study. This is me listening to new (old) things and processing new (old) things and making new (old) things come alive. This is my new wine in old wineskins, and I get that I might burst at the seams unless I can soften and expand and grow to hold it all.

New wine aged from ancient holy words, burning in me hot and mellow and thrilling at once.

This is me learning about sacramental living and holy ghost hosting and I’m shaking the water from my eyes as I drink as fast as I can.

This is my kitchen and my stove and my table … made beautiful in the new light of sacramentality.

Amen.

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I am a student for a while as I work through Preston Yancey‘s Sacramental Baking e-course, and it’s all coming back to me. The student thing, the learning thing, the reading and thinking and listening and oh my, I’m loving every minute of it.

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We’ve been nomads at church.

For the most part we’ve avoided the this-is-our-pew (or in our case, our-set-of-interlocking-church-chairs) and we’ve roamed the building. Sometimes choosing the east corner, sometimes the west, and on occasion, even sitting in the middle. We lean toward the outer flanks though, and of late we’ve been choosing the same row on a fairly regular basis.

It’s the back row on the far side of the building, which might sound like we are there in order to disengage or to secretly be able to Facebook on our iPhones during the sermon or that we are fringe members who need to be brought back into the fold. Or something.

But really, we just kind of like it there.

The boys started it. They sat there with their friends a few times, but the friends moved away or quit coming or sat elsewhere until soon it was just my sons and we sat with them one day.

And we liked it.

It offered a good view of the pulpit and the screen – a better view than on the other side of the building – and it provided easy access with minimal disruption for a boy who seems to need to visit the bathroom at least once during the Sunday morning service. But really, I’m fond of this spot for other reasons.

It just so happens that many of the families with young children sit in the rows ahead of ours, and can I just say church has never been so entertaining. We have a great view of all these sweet things and their many antics, and the wiggling and whispering and colouring and even the fussing, it’s just wonderful. The babies waking and smiling back at us from their perches on their daddies’ shoulders, and the toddlers sharing fishy crackers with us, and the moms’ treks back and forth to the nursery with all that baby luggage in tow.

And we get to see the stuff the moms and dads miss. The little pokes between siblings, and the picking up and eating of food from off the floor, and the nose-picking, and the faces made back at my husband who is making faces at them.

It’s all very sweet.

Then I look across the aisle to my left and there they are. The white-haired faithful, in wheelchairs and bearing walkers or canes, sitting through the standing-up-hymns and occasionally nodding off during the sermon. Most still coupled but some on their own now. It’s obvious that age has made hard work out of the simplest of things and yet they come.

And way across the room in the other corner I see my friend with her family and I smile as we begin a new hymn and she raises her arm – Statue of Liberty like, I think  – and it fits her story. The liberation she has experienced and the freedom in which she chooses to live each day, and I applaud her heaven-raised arms.

It’s a good view from where we sit, this far back corner of the room. We’ll enjoy it for a while but I’m sure we will move on eventually. Our boys will leave or one day someone will sit there first and we’ll try out a new spot with new neighbours and new faces at which to smile and the view will be just fine.

You will enjoy this inspiring story by my friend and today’s guest-poster, Christa Sterken. Christa writes vulnerable words about a time in her life when she was blessed by the intentional kindnesses of people around her. You can find more of her words on her blog.

This post is part of the Walking Alive series on the blog this year. Remember? …we’re talking about going out and doing stuff.

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We hear about “Random Acts of Kindness” in magazines, every holiday we see it on TV news as the obligatory feel good stories. There are even books devoted to teaching us how to live giving surprising gifts to strangers.

This is indeed a beautiful thing; sometimes I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do this myself. Homeless and hungry hold tight to a reserved corner of my heart, the piece that knew how close we were to being there ourselves.

It had been a rough 4 years financially, and emotionally. Those years started with crazy risks to follow a dream and punishing events that left us with fear. The kind of fear where you wonder how you’ll pay the electric bill and clothe your children and keep the creditors from calling all hours of the day.

Our 4th house in 4 years. Not ideal for a family, and when my husband’s company offered to move us back to the town we had moved from a year before, offered was a very generous word. There wasn’t a choice. We left our pretty new house and moved into a rented duplex from a couple at our old church.

If you had asked, we would have said we were grateful. Indeed, we believed that we were. Mostly. Until the fear and longing and anger and helplessness crept back in. We felt God’s presence was something just out of grasp. WE didn’t say that out loud, not even to each other, but we deeply were shaken.

Six months after this generous move, Monday morning arrived. 9 am, my husband answered his work phone for the first conference call of the day. Except it wasn’t. It was his last. They let him go. It has a catchy acronym, RIF. Reduction in Force. We were officially RIFFED.

No savings, no notice, no home of our own, no control.

Right where God wanted us. 

Crazy things started to happen. God things, played out through the hands and hearts of his people. No Random Acts here…Intentional, Relational Kindness, and if blew our minds.

I should tell you now that we were a proud couple, raised to take no help nor handouts. That was our role. We liked to give secret gifts, generous gifts. Let me say this – receiving takes a startling shift in attitude. We felt guilty, as though people who were “in need” deserved this, not us! Truth is, people who saw our struggle knew that we were “in need” and stepped in.

We learned quickly to swallow our pride and be transformed with humble gratitude. Let me share some of those amazing things:

  • The girls’ piano teacher, not wanting them to lose music, insisted they keep coming for free
  • A stranger from church left us a gift card for the grocery store
  • Our church brought us a box of preparations for a Thanksgiving feast
  • Another mystery family from church sent us $300
  • Church paid me $100 extra for my job “for Christmas”
  • My husband’s work paid him for a week of unused vacation time, not the norm
  • A friend gave us a $325 gift card
  • Our landlords and friends, let us pay no rent for a month while my husband did light maintenance in exchange
  • We visited family and my dad let my husband work for a crazy wage for a week
  • A speeding ticket I had received a month prior sent me a partial reimbursement
  • More gift cards from friends
  • A couponing friend filled our counters with special finds and groceries she shared
  • A friend from a catering business brought a box of the finest meats and sides
  • My parents paid for my prescription pain medicines so I wouldn’t go without
  • There was unexplained, never figured out money in checking account
  • Our kids were happy, and healthy, and unaffected
  • Even with no insurance, we didn’t need medical care for the three months without work

And, our daughters youth group…they pooled their money and went to buy us groceries and toilet paper and things they thought we’d need. They managed to get a key to our place, while were gone snuck in, and when we got home our table was full.

Oh yes, God got our attention. It is more blessed to give than receive the Proverb tells us, but oh…when we receive God’s providence it is awe-inspiring.

These examples are just a few I could share with you. Even in our doubt, when our faith was half the size of a mustard seed, friends intentionally stepped in and believed for us. Then, they acted.

Catch that? So often we are inclined to feel badly for someone in need, we pray for a friend who is suffering. And for every time we feel that loving intent, how many more times do we let the thoughts go without action?

Yes, I keep often my eye out to help strangers. Even more, God taught us to keep our eye out also for those we know. Who we intimately understand their needs, things they’d never ask for.

We have a gift, an opportunity to partner with the one who sees all. Who will provide not answers but perhaps, the spark of an idea to provide a piece. The tiny part it was designed for us to play.

Proverbs 3:27 Whenever you are able, do good to people who need help

This year, let us go crazy with intentionality. Giving generously wherever we see the need. It doesn’t have to be money or gift cards. Our time and availability is the greatest gift perhaps that God allows us to bestow. This year can be different…

Christa Sterken is on a journey of discovering who she was made to be. A recovering perfectionist, she delights in family, home, photography and other artistic pursuits. Fascinated by everyday moments, seeking God’s hand in the ordinary. Visit her at www.christasterken.com

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