God Bless America!

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During this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “God Bless America”. Or we need God to bless America again! Especially after the events of the last few weeks, the use of this phrase has escalated. Yet, I wonder, do we really know what we are asking for when we say, “God Bless America”?

After traveling the world, I have met folks with little more than a shanty to live in, the clothes on their backs (and, perhaps, one additional outfit) to wear, and a meager ration of food to eat for their daily sustenance. I have looked into the faces of people who’ve experienced real persecution, yet whose countenance continued to radiate with joy. And whose lips continued to express sincere thanks and gratitude. Even with so very little, these people considered their lives blessed! Blessed, I tell you!

As a result, the word ‘blessed’ has taken on an entirely different meaning in my life. At least as compared to the typical American connotation of the word. Personally, I rarely use the word ‘blessed’ anymore. It’s depth of meaning resonates deeply within me, and I can no longer use the word flippantly. It’s one that I use sparingly, cautiously, and carefully.

So, you may be asking, “Well, do you or don’t you want God to bless America?” Well, I guess it all depends.

Please understand, I’m thankful to live in this great country. I’m proud to be an American. Yet, I wonder if we, Americans, specifically American Christians, realize how flippantly we use the word ‘bless’. Like the word ‘love,’ I fear it has lost its depth of meaning, and original intent.

You see, to me God’s blessing has little to do with material possessions, problem-free living, getting what you want, or even America, for that matter. To me, God’s blessing begins when His children, those of us who identify as Christ-Followers, fall to our knees in humility, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.

If we sincerely want God’s blessing, then, Christ-Followers, it’s got to be all about Him! Period! Worshipping the Almighty God, not idolizing the almighty dollar, the flag, patriotism, or even our own preferences. It’s got to be about following his ways, not ours. It’s got to be about living a life of faith, not fear. And our worship must be about Him, and Him alone. Sadly, I wonder if we’ve created idols for which we are unaware. Remember: Good is the enemy of the BEST.

If we want God’s blessing, then, it’s got to be all about the One who breathed all of this into existence. The One who sent His one and only Son to earth to take on the sins of the world, to die on a cross, so that our sins would be forgiven. This must be our singular focus.

So, if this is what you mean when you say, “God Bless America,” then, I’m all in.

What about you, Christ-Followers, are you really ready to receive God’s blessing? It may come in ways you don’t expect. Be revealed in ways you may not clearly see at first. Most likely, it will bring His children to point of significant surrender in order to experience His blessing in it’s fullness.

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Wife (or Husband): Ministry Marriages

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This morning, I was  made aware of a headline about another prominent Christian leader who resigned due to an affair (Actually, both husband and wife had affairs). My heart aches for this couple, their extended family and their church family. Unfortunately, this seems to be occuring more and more. Or at least being made public. Which is both good and bad. Good because coming clean with God and others is best. Bad because who wants their ‘dirty laundry’ aired for all to see?

What causes a pastor, minister, or their spouse to have an affair? How is this prevented? How can we be proactive to invest in our marital relationship? How can we be more protective of our marriages? I don’t pretend  to have the answers. Yet, I continue to ask the questions.

Although I have never personally been in this situation, I have journeyed alongside of dear friends who were on either side of this scenario. And some things just don’t make sense, can’t be figured out, or easily explained. All I knew to do was to love them, to listen to them, and to pray for them (and their kids). It wasn’t pretty. It was messy. It wasn’t something that was easily forgiven or fully forgotten (by either party). It was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. And the casualties were many and varied.

Absolutely no one is immune to relational difficulties in marriage, not even pastors.  The reality is that ministry life can be a pressure-cooker of unrealistic expectations, never-ending demands and prioritizing work over marriage and family to ‘get the job done’. There’s a fine line between doing your job well and sacrificing your marriage on the altar of ministry. Sadly, many cross this line without even realizing it.

And I’m well aware that folks who work in professions across the spectrum experience these to some degree. Yet, unlike other professions and vocations, when one works in vocational ministry, a marital impropriety not only altars the marital relationship–oftentimes, dissolving the union–it brings about relational carnage with extended family, especially children; as well as causing disillusionment and mistrust within the congregation of which the pastor was shepherding; not to mention, potentially sidelining the pastor from ever working in vocational ministry again. Thus, leading to a plethora of other issues to navigate: financial, vocational, relational. And at the top of the list: spiritual.

Just last week, I was listening to a podcast where Donald Miller was sharing about how to avoid the “performance trap”.  He, specifically, related this to pastors and ministers. Addressing how they feel the pressure to perform, or to always ‘be on’. Never giving themselves permission to go unmasked.  Never having found a safe place to land. Never having developed relationships with safe, trusted friends outside of the ministry context with whom they can share their dark side in a healthy manner. Therefore, they seek out expressions and experiences which are unbiblical, unsafe, and unbecoming of the ordination vows for which they took.

Both the news of which I heard today and the podcast that I listened to last week, hit home with me. Why? Because both my husband and I are pastors. He is the Lead Pastor (full-time) of the church where I serve as an Associate Pastor (part-time). In addition, I also maintain a piano/voice studio of 20 students. And we share the responsibilities of homeschooling our two kids (ages 10 & 12).

As much as we adore our pastoral responsibilities and church family, we don’t allow the work of ministry (or other vocational endeavors) to come before investing in our marriage or nurturing our children. Of course, there are ‘busy seasons’, but it’s just that: a season, not constant. During these types of seasons, we are in on-going discussions. Giving one another the opportunity to express concerns and needs. Together formulating a plan how best to navigate our vocational responsibilities without sacrificing our marriage or family on the altar of ministry.

It’s been a journey to get to this point. One that has required each of us to listen both to what is spoken and to what is unspoken. In marriage, we’ve discovered what one doesn’t say is much more important than the words that are voiced aloud. It’s also been a time in which we’ve learned to give and take. It’s not just about me, or my husband, or even our kids. We have learned to make decisions for what is best for our family unit, not merely an individual.

So much so, that during a particularly trying season in our lives, we resigned from a church position where the leadership expected my husband to work 60+ hours, in addition to being out four nights during the week with work responsibilities, meetings, etc. Quickly, we realized this pace wasn’t healthy for him, our marriage, or our children. Was it scary? You bet! Were we misunderstood? Yep! Did we care? Nope! Early on, we realized if we don’t fight for our marriage and make it a priority, no one else will. Not even the church we serve.

Years ago, one of my mentors shared with me that you train others how you will allow them to treat you. And it’s true. We realized it was necessary to have and maintain healthy boundaries, to invest in our marital relationship, and to prioritize the needs of our family. Do we always hit the mark? Absolutely not! Nothing is ever perfectly balanced. EVER! We don’t always get it right, but we are committed to never giving up!

So what have we done?

TAKE DAYS OFF
Perfect, we are not. But we make sure to take our days off. For us, those are Monday and Tuesday. In ministry, emergencies do arise. But thankfully, our church staff doesn’t call us unless it’s a true emergency. Likewise, we don’t call upon our staff on their days off unless it’s a true emergency, and their presence is absolutely required.

Mondays are our Sabbath. We rest. All of us, even our kids. No work, no homeschooling. As a rule, Tuesdays are for running around, doing errands, completing house/yard work, etc. By prioritizing and setting aside these two days, we are better prepared for the demands of ministry, the emergencies that do arise, as well as day-to-day responsibilities of home and family.

Although I have another job (music studio), I have made the decision to organize my work schedule to match my husband’s to where we have our days off together. This has prohibited financial gain and reduced the number of students I’m able to accept into my studio. But once again, my marriage and family are more important. In the midst of it all, we’ve learned to live below our means, maintain a creative budget, and to be frugal with our finances, especially with residing in a high cost-of-living area. This affords us the opportunity to work lower paying jobs because we are called to them. As a result, quite a bit of stress has been taken off of us.

FAMILY MEALS
Gathering around the table is just as much (if not more) about nurturing relationships as it is about nourishing appetites. Even though we have non-traditional work schedules, we make family meals a priority. The meals we eat together isn’t always dinner, but it’s at least one meal during the day. No matter how busy we are with work or kids’ activitivities (this is another discussion, but we keep these to a minimum), each day, we eat at least one meal together. This provides us the opportunity to check-in, communicate, and simply enjoy a nice meal with the people we love. Sometimes, we have to get really creative. Case in point: This past Christmas Eve, both of us were on pastoral duty at church. So, I made a crockpot of soup, and we enjoyed a Christmas Eve family dinner at the church in the conference room.

DATE EACH OTHER
After 16 years, we continue to date. Even when our kids were much younger, we made sure to have a weekly datenight. Since we have never lived near extended family, specifically grandparents, we’ve had to purposefully and specifically budget for babysitting, date nights. We’ve been blessed by having two college/seminary students live with us who gifted us a weekly date night for a few years. Best gift ever! And one that we never took for granted. We also got creative with date nights at home after the kids go to bed. This was much easier when they were younger, and their bedtime was 6:30/7PM.

You do not have to “keep up with the Joneses” when it comes to date nights. Get creative! Breaking the bank or busting the budget doesn’t have to happen when it comes to date nights. Can’t afford an expensive restaurant or dropping $50 at the movie theater? No worries. Cook a simple meal at home, then enjoy it on the deck or at the table with fine china. Then, watch a Redbox movie! (It’s only $1). This is totally what we do!  It’s still a date, but much less expensive.

Sometimes, we take a walk in our neighborhood sans kids! Can I just say there’s a newfound freedom since they can now be home alone for a small amount of time. Occasionally, we go out for a coffee. Or simply make coffee at home; then, sit around the fire pit talking, dreaming and connecting. A couple times a year, we do it up right, and go into the city to catch a show and enjoy a restaurant meal.  Mostly, though, it’s smack-dab in the middle of the ordinary and mundane that we purposefully connect with one another. 

HAVE NO SECRETS
Although I trust my husband implicitly, and he trusts me, we don’t keep secrets from one another. We may have surprises as in a special gift, or celebration. But we don’t keep secrets in our family. If our children tell us something, and ask that we not share it with the other parent, they know that we simply can’t do that. What you tell Momma, she will tell Daddy, and vice versa. Unless, of course, it’s a surprise.

In the age of technology, how is this practically applied? Well, we simply give each other access to everything. We share log-ins, passwords, everything. Rarely, do we feel the need to ever read one another’s texts or emails, but we know the other as complete access. We are open with one another. We are honest with one another. And having an intuitive spirit and being a confronter, if concerns ever do arise, they are nipped in the bud pretty quickly.

Over the years, my husband has learned to trust my instincts. We have been in a coupe of churches where certain ladies were getting a bit to clingy and flirty with him. To be honest, he was a bit oblivious, but my radar zoned into it almost immediately. And he trusted my instincts. He trusts me, and I trust him. In the same token, there have been folks who gave me the heebie-jeebies and he listened to me, and never left me alone around these particular individuals. Don’t have secrets. Even if it’s awkward to share, or you are concerned about overreacting, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

And for the record: This no-secrets and open-access policy within our marriage goes hand in hand with ministry. However, because I work for my husband on his pastoral staff, there are things I simply don’t need to know about regarding people in the congregation, or don’t want to know for that matter. Although, we don’t keep secrets, as an associate pastor on his staff, I am on a need-to-know basis. If I need to know, he tells me. If I don’t, well, there ya go!

GO TO COUNSELING (OR A MARRIAGE RETREAT)
You don’t have to be at the point of no return before you make a counseling appointment. Pastors, worried that your congregation might see you in the waiting room? Good! If you see them you know they’re working on their marriage. If they see you, they know you’re investing in your marriage. Be proactive. Don’t wait until a minor problem has snowballed to seek help!

Over the years, my husband and I have attended a couple of Marriage Encounter Weekends, and are now part of the ministry team. Marriage Encounter is for every marriage. Regardless of whether you have been married for five years or fifty-five, you will benefit from attending one of these weekends. You will gain new insight, new communication tools, and find new levels of closeness as you and your spouse examine your relationship to each other, and to God. ClICK ON THIS LINK for more information about Marriage Encounter. 

SAFE PEOPLE
Having served in various roles in vocational ministry for the last twenty years, I totally understand that as a ministry family, you can’t share all your ‘junk’ with people in the congregation.  No matter how close you are. And for the record: I believe (and know) you can have good friends in the church. Some of you may have been told otherwise, but that’s HOGWASH!

Even still, you have to be smart about what and to whom you share. Therefore, it is imperative that you have friends, mentors, and safe people—known to both husband and wife— who are not in your congregation. In these relationships, you can ‘take off the mask,’ get real, and be yourself. Not having to ‘perform’, be the pastor (or pastor’s spouse), or have all the answers.

For the last several years, I have met monthly with a spiritual director who works with Soul Formation, an organization who is committed to the spiritual and emotional health of Christian leaders. My spiritual director,  listens to me, and, sometimes, sits in silence with me as we listen to God; prays for and with me, and seeks God on my behalf. Personally, I don’t think anyone in ministry leadership should go this road along. And I would highly recommend that all who serve in vocational ministry meet regularly with a spiritual director. Someone needs to pastor the pastor (and the pastor’s spouse).

GIVE ONE ANOTHER SPACE TO SHARE
Especially as a ministry couple, it is important to give your spouse space to express his/her needs and concerns. Even if, or especially when, you do not want to hear it. If either husband or wife is feeling as if the church is the ‘other woman/man’ in the relationship, something has got to change. That’s not how God ever intended for it to be.

I’m a confronter, so I’m quick to express my concerns. On the other hand, my husband is a stewer. Nevertheless, we have learned the importance of giving one another space to express our concerns, our hurts, our fears, our failures, our needs, our wants, and our dreams. And we are able to share how our work – specifically the work of vocational ministry – may be negatively impacting our marriage relationship.

In closing, please know, we know we don’t have it all together. Neither do we have it all figured out. These are simply a few things we implemented in the early years of our marriage, and continue to practice to this day. Ministry friends, your marriage is important. More important than a position, a job, or your image. Invest in it! Prioritize it!  Protect it! 

{April} Meals for a Month and Menu Planning 101


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Well, as y’all can see, I haven’t menu planned since January. Still, we’ve eaten; I’ve just been winging it! It helps that during the winter months, we eat a lot of soup. So, leftovers have been plentiful! However, it’s time to get back to planning out menus. My husband and I both work, as well we share in the responsibilities of home schooling our kiddos. Over the years, we’ve discovered that menu planning provides a bit of sanity in our lives. Plus, it allows the kids to help out with preparing meals.

On Facebook, a few friends asked me how I go about menu planning. Now, keep in mind, we all have different personalities and strengths.With my menu planning, my nerd flag is flying high! I keep a grocery list on the fridge. Whenever we run out of something, whoever notices it first is kindly asked to write it on the list. This helps me to keep track of what we need, specifically when I find an item on sale. (Rarely, do I pay full price for things. You can read more about that HERE.)

As well, there are so many things to take into consideration when you begin to menu plan: What is your food budget? Have you created a price list? Pantry/Freezer Inventory? What foods do you and your family enjoy  eating? Do you regularly have folks over to share a meal? And how will you menu plan?
There are so many ways: paper/pencil (calendar or notebook), digital (calendar, document, blog, etc.); by the week, every two weeks, by the month; rotate only a few family favorite meals, or include some new and different recipes .

Personally, I like to menu plan by the month. Even though I like lists, order and structure, when it comes to cooking, I like it to be a bit more spontaneous. So, I don’t dictate which day we make specific meals. Well,  unless it’s a Sunday, and we are having folks over after church. On those occasions, I always stick to the K.I.S.S Method (Keep It Simple Sister). Then, the choices for lunch are some sort of crockpot soup, Spaghetti and Meatballs or Jambalaya.

With menu planning, I begin by taking an inventory of my kitchen pantry, fridge and freezer, as well as my overstock pantry and garage freezer. Having an overstock pantry and garage freezer allows me to take advantage of sales on items that we use regularly. In no way am I an ‘extreme shopper’ or ‘hoarder’. However, I do like to manage our food dollars wisely and stretch them as much as I can, in order to have a well-stocked pantry and freezer with healthy foods for a variety of reasons. Obviously, I like to feed my family nutrient-rich, real foods with the occasional treat and splurge thrown into the mix. But this also makes it possible for our family to regularly invite others into our home for a meal, to share our bounty with those in need in our community, and to have ingredients on hand to quickly put together a meal for folks in our church who are sick, expecting a baby, or who simply may need an evening when they don’t have to cook!

So where should one begin when starting out meal planning? Well, there are probably a million and one ways, but I complied a few of my ideas. Here ya go:

1. Begin by taking inventory of what you have on hand, so you know what you have to work with, what needs to be used up, and what items need to be purchased. By doing so, you will be throwing less food out, but also will be able to purchase those regularly used food items at their best prices, instead of at the last minute when they aren’t on sale.

2. Then, decide how you will create your menu plan. As I shared, I make up a monthly menu plan.Some folks do it by days of the week. Keeping in mind their personal schedule, as well as their family’s schedule.

3. Decide how you will categorize your menu plan. I like to compile my menu plan by categories.  The categories I use are: Soups/Stews, Meatless Meals, Poultry, Seafood, Beef/Pork, Freezer Meals (When I make certain soups and sauces,  I double/triple the batch to have some to stick in the freezer.) I also include a category for Vegetables, Side Dishes, and Salads, Breakfast, Baking and Snacks.

4. Use any and all available resources that are available to you. Some of the meals I make I know by the back of my hand. No recipe needed. But my kids or husband may need one. So, I still try to tag a recipe, or let them know which cookbook to find it. I also take advantage of Pinterest (Check out my boards HERE), AllRecipes  (I appreciate this site because there’s an area that allows you to put in the ingredients you have on hand, and it supplies you with a few recipes using those specific ingredients.), along with treasured recipes, which I keep in a notebook, and well-loved cookbooks that I have collected over the years. (Recently, a dear lady from our church passed away and her daughter gave me some of her cookbooks. These are gems and treasures to me!) There are so many other resources to choose from, use whatever you like and those which help you the most. 

5. Create you menu plan. From the pantry/freezer inventory that was created, you can easily see what items need to be purchased to round out the menu. For most of us, we have to weekly or bi-weekly purchase produce and dairy items. However, once you get into a groove of purchasing regularly used items at their lowest prices, you will begin to have pantry staples and even some freezer items on hand because you purchased them in bulk when on sale. This has made my menu planning so much easier.

You’ll notice on my menu plans, there are more meals than there’s month. I do this so we have variety and options. As well, since we are fans of leftovers, there’s usually at least one night each week where leftovers are on the menu. Another option is “CAN DINNERS”. A friend from church gave me this idea, which simply means, everyone CAN have whatever they CAN find and/or make. (And they are responsible for cleaning up any dishes and/or messes they make.) This appears on the menu at least once a week, too.

6. But mostly, please know that all of this is trial and error. What works for me may not work for you. Over the years, I have implemented various strategies before landing on one that really works for our family. In a few years, we might go with something else. Who know?! And some recipes may sound good when you read them, but once made aren’t what you hoped they’d be. Others ones, you and your family will greatly enjoy, and they become part of the regular rotation. As well, some months, you might purchase a new food item that everyone loves it. But the next month, you realize you wasted some money and have to throw the item out! It’s okay! Still, if I can suggest something: be bold to try new things! There are so many amazing food items, combinations and recipes to try.  Each month, I try to include a few new ones.

If you have young kids, one thing we did that I think was beneficial was to have our kids pick out one new vegetable and fruit to try each time we went grocery shopping. This expanded their food pallet, and they were more apt to try something new because they had selected the item. If I am making a new recipe, they have to eat what is served. Sometimes, they don’t like it. But more often than not, when I make it again (and again), their tastebuds get used to it, and it becomes a normal flavor and food item they recognize.

If you have other questions, I can’t promise that I have the answer, but I will try to help or point you in the direction where you might find the answer. Happy Menu Planning!

{April} Meals for a Month

Soups/Stews:
Slow-cooker Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili (CP), Creamy Tomato Soup,  Mama’s Pot of Beans (CP),  Chicken Noodle Soup, Zuppa Toscana

Meatless Meals:
Mujadara,  Sloppy Lentils (meatless Sloppy Joes), Chili Cheese LentilsPinto Beans & Cornbread (CP),  Shakshuka,

Poultry:
Hawaiian Chicken (CP), Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives*Chicken and Dumplings**,  Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Slow Cooker Sticky Drumsticks (CP), Uzbekistan Chicken Plov (This is an amazing dish! Try it! I use whole thighs, instead of cubes.)

Seafood:
Red Curry Poached Cod,  Butter-Basted Halibut Steaks with Capers, Cajun Shrimp Cesar Salads, Honey-Garlic Salmon, Salmon Burgers with Caper & Sun-dried Tomato Aioli, Grilled Shrimp** w/ Brown-Rice Cakes with Sautéed Fennel, Broccoli Rabe, and Ricotta

Beef/Pork:
 Crockpot Roast Beef w/ Vegetables* Homemade Chili-Cheese Hamburger Helper**, Spaghetti with Meatballs and Red Sauce**, Pasta Carbonara, Kale, Sausage, Lentil Skillet**, Homemade Lasagna**

Freezer Meals:
Turkey-Sausage Gumbo, Chili, Vegetable-Beef Soup

Vegetables,  Side Dishes & Salads:
Roasted Broccoli, Sautéed Broccolini, Carrots, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Green Beans**, Scalloped Potatoes, Sautéed Kale w/ Garlic, Corn**, Honey-Dill Carrots, Butternut Squash Risotto, Couscous Pilaf, English Peas**, Quinoa, Wild-Rice-and-Quinoa Pilaf With Pecans, Green Onions, and Dried Cranberries, Spinach Salad w/ Raspberry Vinaigrette, Tossed Green Salad w/ Balsamic Dressing, Middle Eastern Carrot & Feta Salad, Veggie Tray w/ Hummus, Baked Butternut Squash

Breakfast:
Pancakes, Smoothies**, Hot/Cold Cereal, Eggs/Bacon or Sausage, Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Baked Oatmeal, Homemade Muffins and Fruit, Sweet Potato Scones**, Toad-in-the-Hole, Slow-Cooker Steel Cut Oats (CP)

Baking:
Homemade Aussie BitesNo-Knead Bread, 30 Minute Rolls, Grasshopper Brownies, Pumpkin Bread, Zucchini Bread, Pear Cobbler**

Snacks:
Quinoa Bites, Veggies and Hummus,  Sliced Apples and Peanut Butter, Monkey Plate (fruit), Granola Bars, Cheese, Energy Bites (NaNa’s recipe), Smoothies, No-Bake Cookies

(CP)Crockpot Recipe
**Ingredients in kitchen freezer

The Secret Life of Pastor’s Wife (or Husband): Holy (h*ll) Week!

Picture Credit: Public Domain Pictures I’m sure some of you cringed at the title of this post. Even still, this is truth for many pastors and their families.  In addition to regular work and family schedules, the additional services and programs can quickly turn Holy Week into Holy (h*ll) Week!  Most pastors and their families dread church holidays because they are anything but celebratory or relaxed. If truth be told, they’re exhausting, and not just for the pastor-parents or spouses, but also for the pastor-kids.

A few years ago, our family found ourselves in this place. Passing one another like two ships in the night on the hamster wheel of ministry: going and going and going. Just like the Energizer Bunny, only not so much. We were tired! No, we were physically exhausted. We read our Bible and we prayed, but spiritually, we were dry. Actually, personally speaking, it was more like completely and utterly parched. We laughed when we read the verse, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That just wasn’t our reality as we navigated the journey of ministry. Still, we continued to keep at that pace.  Erroneously justifying it all by believing since it was “for Jesus,” then, it was okay.

But, one day, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “If this is what vocational ministry is all about, we don’t want any part of it! There has to be more to life, more to ministry than this. What’s this business about ‘missional living’? Heck, we don’t even see each other, much less our neighbors because we are never home! We are always at church! Something’s got to change.” And something did: We did! In fact, many things changed.

We realized Jesus never called pastors to sacrifice their marriages and/or families at the altar of ministry. And that boundaries weren’t  merely nice, they were necessary. No, actually,  imperative. Even if others didn’t respect them or understand them. We discovered we could love and serve our church and community with our whole hearts without burning out or ignoring our marriage and family. After all, what good is it to have a thriving ministry if our marriages and families are dying and going to hell in a hand basket?

Oh, yes, something changed! Our hearts changed. Our schedules changed. Our jobs changed. Our ministry philosophy changed. Our priorities changes. And while change can sometimes be a four-letter word, in this instance, it was a welcomed oasis in the desert that was our lives during that season.

Since then, we have been on a mission to simplify all areas of our lives, but especially the excessive busyness around holidays. Now, some may say the holiday schedule that pastoral families face just comes with the territory. Others may think our efforts to bring about change is futile. Still, simplifying is our goal. (Have you read the book Simple Church written by fellow La. Tech Alumni, Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer? If not, definitely one to pick up!)

It’s our desire to change the paradigm both within our nuclear family, but also within the church(es) that we serve. You see, we don’t believe that busyness = godliness. And we have vowed not to sacrifice our marriage or our family at the altar of church ministry. Ever. It’s our belief that effective, Kingdom-impacting ministry doesn’t have to result in complete and utter exhaustion for anyone: pastoral staff, lay people, or even the congregation.

Although we we are proactive to guard our family time and purposefully include ‘white space’ on our calendars, the nature of our jobs requires that we work church holidays. As pastors’ kids, our children know the days leading up to holidays can be all-consuming for the parental units, and not really family-friendly, if truth be told. Easter Brunch doesn’t happen around here. (Well, unless, they’re noshing on the free donuts in the foyer at church.) And Christmas Eve dinner is usually take-out in between services. But this year, instead of Chinese food, I actually cooked. Well, my crock pot did: Vegetable Beef Soup! Our holiday traditions may not be of the Normal Rockwell variety, but we still try to make them fun for our kids because they have not one, but two, pastors for parents!

Due to the nature of my job(s), I work several evenings a week either at church or in my music studio. As such, I’ve never attended a Maundy Thursday service. However, I just found out that my last three piano/voice students are unable to attend lessons today; so, after 6PM, I’m free! In texting back and forth with my husband, we have put together a Maundy Thursday service and dinner menu for our family this evening.

Lamb (Pesah): No lamb in the house, but I’d already defrosted chicken legs. So, baked chicken, it is!
Bitter Herbs (Maror): Covered! Thanks to the big ole bag of mixed power greens in the fridge.
Unleavened bread (Matzah): Well, in a pinch, saltines crackers are gonna have to suffice.
Wine: Instead of grape juice, the kids will have Martinelli’s Apple-Cranberry. That’d be a good substitute, don’t ‘cha think?
Haroset (Charoseth): Now, this sounded complicated at first, but I discovered it’s simply apples and cinnamon with raisins tossed in. Got it! Tonight, it just might be cinnamon-flavored applesauce and raisins. :-)

This evening, we want our kids to know–now more than ever–as much as we both adore our vocational roles as pastors and the church we serve, we are their parents first. And they are our priority. Along with an improvised Passover Meal, we are creating a Maundy Thursday service. With a simple internet search, I found a few service templates to pick and choose from, in order to create our own family service. Two elements that we are including are Communion and foot washing. Our kids are familiar with Communion, but foot washing will be something new for them. Jesus instituted this ordinance for His disciples, to illustrate His willingness to unconditionally serve and love us. In washing our children’s feet, I hope they realize our love for them, but more importantly, the depth of Christ’s love for them.

Easter Sunday is just around the corner. For our family, the buzz of the alarm will go off early in the wee hours of the morning to begin a day of work and service.  But this evening, we are going to slow down, simplify and savor the moment. And as parents, we are going to serve our kids and share with them The Story that changed our lives, the gift that was freely given, and the grace that continues to flow over us even though we don’t deserve it. To us, training those two up is of more importance than having a church filled to the brim on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday, for that matter. Sometimes, we have to take a step back ourselves, ya know, to regain perspective of what matters most.

So, to my ministry friends, I know this week has been full and, quite possibly, frantic for you and your families. It is my prayer that you, too, can slow down, simplify, and savor the reality of this week. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Wife (or Husband) #2: Pastors’ Kids (PKs)


bronze-children-statues
When I began dreaming and brainstorming about “The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Wife (or Husband)” series, my intention was to honestly and lovingly portray the realities of ministry life–the good, the bad, and (sometimes) the ugly.  What I desired most was for my friends in ministry to be encouraged. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt, someone saw them, heard them, loved them, and was praying for them. That was it.

In fact, the first post was written after having conversation after conversation (online and in-person) with pastors’ spouses who were barely treading water. Ready to give up, throw in the towel and be done with ministry. A few, even, wanted to be done with their marriages. This was not okay with me. And it shouldn’t be okay with the Christian church either.

And it definitely wasn’t my intent (or ambition) to go global. Although I thought I was writing to a confined audience,  I guess I sort of ‘struck a nerve’.  Up until the first installment of this series, I could probably count on one hand who read my blog. But this series has been viewed by people all over the world. I don’t share that to boast. I share it because this is obviously a topic that needs to be addressed. Somewhat of an ‘elephant in the room’, I dare say. So, I am either a little brave or a whole lotta crazy, but I say, “Pull up a chair, and let’s talk!” How about it?

The second installment of “The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Wife (or Husband)” is about Pastors’ Kids (PKs). After I posted a ‘teaser’ on my Facebook page, I was overwhelmed with responses, private messages and even face-to-face conversations with pastors, pastors’ spouses, and even fully grown pastors’ kids (PKs)! These folks thanked me for opening up this ‘can of worms,’ and encouraged me to write about this topic. I wasn’t surprise to hear from these folks; I knew they were out there. Many of whom desire to share their stories and experiences, even what worked and didn’t work while either raising or growing up a pastors’ kid (PK). (Some will be anonymous contributions, of course.)

However, there were a few conversations that did surprise me (in a good way). Over the last few weeks, I have been contacted by church members and Christ-followers from various parts of the county, even right here in my little neck of the woods, who desire to better understand the “Fishbowl Life”. Not to have ammunition against the pastor’s family, although that’s always a concern. (Just being honest here, folks!) No, they truly desire to better understand this life, so they might discover ways in which they can lovingly come alongside the pastoral family in order to offer support and encouragement. From our conversations, it was evident they want to see their pastoral family thrive, not merely survive while living the “Fishbowl Life”.

So, after giving it some thought, I have realized this topic, Pastors’ Kids(PKs), is one that needs to be addressed more fully than a simple, solitary blog post. Therefore, over the next year, each of the following points, which are listed below, will be a topic for an individual blog post (or more, depending upon who would like to contribute). Some will be written by me. Others will be written by pastoral spouses (husbands and wives). But I am most looking forward to the ones which will be written by adult pastors’ kids. Folks who  faced the realities of Fishbowl Life and lived to tell about it! Some of their stories will be heart-warming. Others will be real, raw and to the point. But it’s my belief that we need to hear them all.

The following is a list of topics that will be addressed in this series. Of course,  we might add a few topics here and there as it seems appropriate and necessary. If you would like to be considered as a contributor for this series, specifically this installment, please contact me HERE. Thanks! 


1.Family Boundaries:  The importance of giving your family your best, not your leftovers. No doubt, when one (or both) parents serve in vocational positions of ministry, the reality is that the work schedule is untraditional with various evening commitments and emergency situations. Even still, there can be a rhythm to the ever-changing rhyme of the work of ministry. 

2. Get REAL! Realistic expectations versus unrealistic expectations for PKs: Due to one or both of their parents’ pastoral roles, PKs may be in a highly visible place. Yet, they are not the “Christian poster child” for proper and pristine behavior for all kids within the church. This momma won’t allow that sort of pressure to be placed upon my kids! :-) 

3. Church Wounds. We all got ’em: How to navigate them and heal, express hurt and anger in healthy ways and move forward in freedom without losing one’s faith. As well, discussing when it might be time for counseling or other professional support. 

3. Friendships. We all need ’em: Teaching our kids that all relationships require taking a risk, especially those within the church (Hey, it’s true!) So, we’ll discuss the importance of developing genuine friendships inside of the church, but also the importance of encouraging PKs to maintain relationships with friends outside of the church.

4. Not Yo Momma’s (or Daddy’s) Church: Dispelling the myth that kids are the ‘church of the future’. Instead, helping them to embrace the reality that they are the church RIGHT NOW, and letting them know their value, worth, and importance within the Body of Christ. 

5. Developing a Servant’s Heart: Demonstrating and instructing our kids in the ways of servanthood and stewardship. Not because they are PKs and are ‘supposed to’. Rather, because they are part of the Body of Christ and are truly delighted to do so. Helping PKs  learn the importance of stewarding their time, talents and resources from a young age, so that when they become adults, it’s a natural part of their expression as Christ-followers.

6. Personal Mission: Pastor-Parents, it’s your responsibility and privilege to help your kids discover, develop and deploy their unique personal mission within the Body of Christ and in their daily lives into every area and relationship. Helping them to realize the church isn’t merely somewhere we go on Sundays, it is WHO we are everyday. And ministry is a way of life, 24/7.

7. Real and Raw Faith. It’s Caught more than taught: Pastors and Pastors’ Spouses: Our kids need to see us living lives of authenticity and integrity before God and others. They need to see a real-life faith journey, up close and personal. One where the spiritual disciplines are embraced and practiced. Where we model a life of prayer and study of the Word, inviting our kids to join us. Creating opportunities to engage in conversations where no topic is off-limits, and all questions are welcomed.  To be sure, it’s gonna be messy, and that’s okay. Our kids need to see us work through struggles and successes. Admitting when we’ve messed up. Asking for forgiveness. And lavishing grace upon ourselves and others.

{January} Meals for a Month

mealsforamonth

New year, new menu plan. Not forgetting to mention that I almost completely fell off the menu planning wagon during the month of December. December is always a super-full month, and we had quite a bit going on between work, music performances and fun family and friends events! Nevertheless, it’s time to get going again. For me, menu planning really does help me get dinner on the table, especially those evenings that I work. Not to mention, having a plan truly does save our family a lot of money when it comes to food.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was planning this menu, I almost forgot that I’d be out of town for a quasi-work trip. Let me clarify: It’s only a quasi-work trip because although I will most definitely be working (thanks to my mobile office: satchel full o’ files and my handy dandy laptop.), in reality, I am merely tagging along so I can hear my super-awesome husband speak at a conference! And y’all know when you go out of town, there’s all sorts of lists to make and things to plan and prepare….and food to use up! Because if you don’t you come back to…..A GIFT!

I know you know what I’m talking about. At one time or another, you all have received the gift of which I speak. You know it: the stinky fridge gift. It’s that funky, nasty, moldy, gross food that you forgot to use up before you hit the road. Uh-huh! Ain’t nobody got time for that mess. In order to make sure I didn’t come home to that nice little stinky surprise, over the last few days, I declared it to be an eat-whatever-is-in-the-fridge-night for most every meal. Therefore, we have been eating some interesting combinations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And ya know, some weren’t all that bad. But others? Well, bless my poor family’s hearts! And I mean that in the most sincere way possible, not in the Sassy Southern way! Remember, I’m southern, I know all about the real meaning of that particular phrase!

Seriously, my family has been ever so gracious to eat whatever I put in front of them. So much so that there is practically nothing, nada, zilch left in the innards of the refrigerator. You think I jest, but if you were to look into my fridge, you wouldn’t see much. In fact, other than the goodies that I purchased for a shower I am hosting after church tomorrow, about all you would find is a few eggs, a bag of carrots, two or three apples, a grapefruit, a container of plain yogurt and half a carton of almond milk. Oh, and condiments, lots and lots of condiments.

Basically, it’s empty! I mean it’s one thing when your kids say, “There’s nothing to eat!” But when you find yourself saying that, it’s not good! And we all know what that means! It means I am going to have to make a serious grocery run when I get home!  Yea?!?!?! Costco will be seeing my face! The Shopping Queen, I am not, so I will have to make sure I select non-peak hours for that little adventure!  I mean, my family has to eat, so I will be brave and take on the Food Zoo for their sakes.

Although my fridge may be bare, both my pantry and freezer are full. Therefore, the January’s menu primarily consists of items contained therein! So that’s sort of makes me wonder: How long could we go without a trip to the grocery store? Hmm…maybe I should find out! Nah, the kids need their fruits and veggies. Actually, we all do. My tribe goes through a serious amount of produce each month. So, I won’t get away with not shopping for too long after we return home.

Anyhoo, here’s what we might be eating the month of January! I say might because even though the planner-me is thrilled by this plan (both the creation and execution), the rebel-me deviates from the plan quite often! I find it’s rather freeing to kick the plan to the curb. And, well, since my Word of the Year for 2015 is FREE, I might as well continue to go with that theme, eh!? :-)

You’ll notice that some of the recipes are mine, but most are recipes that I found online and include ingredients that I have on-hand in my pantry and freezer! Some, we eat and enjoy all the time. Others, we have never tried before, and may not try again depending upon how they turn out. Let me know if you try any of these and what you think.

Soups/Stews
:
Clam Chowder, Creamy Tomato Soup,  Mama’s Pot of Beans*,  Chicken Noodle Soup (substitute turkey)

Meatless Meals:
Mujadara,  Penne with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic & White Beans

Poultry:
Moroccan Chicken Thighs w/ Lemon & Olives*Chicken and Dumplings (substituting turkey),  Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Slow Cooker Sticky Drumsticks*

Seafood:
Red Curry Poached Cod, Roast Cod w/ Garlic Butter,  Butter-Basted Halibut Steaks with Capers, Crawfish Étouffée, Cajun Shrimp Caesar Salads

Beef/Pork:
Crockpot Pork Tenderloin*, Crockpot Roast Beef w/ Vegetables* Homemade Chili-Cheese Hamburger Helper, Swedish Meatballs, Spaghetti with Meatballs and Red Sauce*, Grilled Steaks, Pasta Carbonara, Kale, Sausage, Lentil Skillet

Freezer Meals:
Turkey-Sausage Gumbo, Taco Soup, Caribbean Dump Chicken Meals

Vegetables,  Side Dishes & Salads:
Roasted Broccoli, Green Beans, Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Roasted Brussels Sprout, Green Beans, Baked Potatoes, Sautéed Kale w/ Garlic, Corn, Honey-Dill Carrots, Parmesan Roasted Butternut Squash, Couscous Pilaf, English Peas, Quinoa, Various Salads, Brown Rice, Veggie Tray w/ Hummus

Breakfast:
Pancakes, Smoothies, Hot/Cold Cereal, Eggs/Bacon or Sausage, Fruit with Cottage Cheese, Baked Oatmeal, Homemade Muffins and Fruit, Sweet Potato Scones, Biscuits and Gravy, Toad in the Hole,  Shakshuka, Breakfast Bread and Fruit, Toad-in-the-Hole, Slow-Cooker Steel Cut Oats* (use homemade pear butter)

Baking:
No-Knead Bread, 30 Minute Rolls, Maple-Bacon Sugar Cookies, Pumpkin Bread, Banana Bread/Muffins, Zucchini Bread

Snacks:
Quinoa Bites, Veggies and Hummus,  Sliced Apples and Peanut Butter, Monkey Plate (fruit), Granola Bars, Cheese, Energy Bites (NaNa’s recipe), Smoothies, No-Bake Cookies

*Crockpot Recipe

[Word of the Year 2015] FREE

For several years now, I’ve selected a Word of the Year. Last year, my word was STILL.  However, in reality and in practice, 2014 was more like a stand-firm-and-don’t-give-up-or-give-in sort of year. In some ways, I suppose that is a variation of the meaning of  the word ‘still’. Nevertheless, it was not the connotation or  the interpretation that I had expected or anticipated at the beginning of 2014.

Up until yesterday, I hadn’t really given much thought to a Word of the Year for 2015. That is until my friend, Sarah Bessey, posed a question on her Facebook page. Then, I took a few moments to ponder what it might be. As I recalled the events and experiences of 2014 and began to identify the areas where I would like to see growth, development and transformation in 2015, one specific word kept appearing before my mind’s eye.

What was the word? Well, it was…

metal-chain-link

The word free has a variety of meanings. Here are the ones that stood out to me:

-not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

-release from captivity, confinement, or slavery.

-not controlled by obligation or the will of another: felt free to go.

-not bound, confined, or detained by force.

-not obstructed, restricted, or impeded.

-not taken up with commitments or obligations.

-to make free; set at liberty; release from bondage, imprisonment, or restraint.
to release, as from restrictions.

For me, there is so much, personally and professionally, that is wrapped up in this one word: free from fear; free to be my authentic and unique self; free to move forward in my pastoral calling; free to dream big dreams; free to make mistakes; free from perfection and control; free from other people’s opinions, unrealistic expectations, etc., etc.

So, my friends, 2015 will be a year in which I embrace freedom in all areas of my life. I am excited to see where this leads me in the coming year, what I will learn and discover about myself and how God will use all of this to transform my life and to fulfill his purposes.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more about what I’m learning and discovering about my 2015 Word of the Year: FREE. Already, I’ve found a few songs that relate to this word and theme (links provided, take a listen): (Come and Fill My Heart by Avalon, Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave, Free to Be Me by Francesca Battistelli, Break Every Chain by Kim Walker, Where the Spirit of the Lord Is (acoustic version) by Chris Tomlin, and Freedom Reigns by Jesus Culture.

As well, I’ve been reflecting upon various passages in the Bible along with specific verses, which I hope to memorize over the course of the next year.

It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us FREE. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
(Galatians 5:1)

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be FREE.
But do not use your FREEDOM to indulge the flesh;
rather, serve one another humbly in love.

(Galatians 5:13)

So if the Son sets you FREE, you will be FREE indeed.
(John 8:36)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is FREEDOM.

(2 Corinthians 3:17)

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you FREE.
(John 8:32)

Live as FREE people,
but do not use your FREEDOM as a cover-up for evil;
live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone,
love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

(1 Peter 2:16-17)

What about you? Do you choose a Word of the Year? If so, please share in the comment section or provide a link to your blog.
Happy New Year!