The disappointment of unmet expectations – aka – the time I visited the Suwanee Diner.

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Orange Conference in Atlanta with some of our ministry team. We had a great time of refreshment, learning, and challenges. We also had a great time just having adventures together.

On the way home we decided to stop for dinner fairly soon after leaving the conference to let some of the traffic clear out. I looked up places to eat on my restaurant app on my phone and one that popped up was the Suwanee Diner. Everyone loved the idea of going to a diner. Images popped into our heads of a jukebox, fun booths, burgers and fries, and of course, we would have to top it all off with a float or milkshake, right? I imagined that a little old lady with a nametag that said “Bernice” would take our order while managing several other tables at the same time.

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The reviews were good and the menu on the website looked like we could all find something yummy for supper. So we put the address in the gps and off we went!

We pulled up to a rather non-descript building with a sign that said “Suwanee Diner”, so we knew we were in the right place.

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The door was propped open, but when we walked in it looked nothing like we were expecting. They were in the middle of a remodel as we could see lots of sheetrock that had recently been hung. We started to turn around when a little Indian man zipped out from the back and assured us that they were open for business. There were lots of tables, but no other customers in the restaurant. We were given a yellow menu with lots of type, but no pictures. There was a chalkboard on the wall that listed the specials as Beef Liver and mash potato (sic) and Curried Chicken and Rice. For dessert there was baklava. Instead of a jukebox, there was a flat screen computer playing 80s music on Pandora.

I asked to use the little girls room. They said I was welcome to use it, but the sink had not been installed yet, so I would have to come behind the counter to wash my hands.  We meandered down this dark hallway and the little man flipped on light switches as we wandered through the maze to the little girl’s room.  He told the truth – there was no sink installed so I made my way back to the area behind the counter to wash my hands.  There was no soap at the sink behind the counter. Kay saved the day with a hotel soap she had packed in her bag.

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Despite it all, we made the best of the circumstances and had a few laughs. The food was surprisingly tasty – although no one ordered the “specials”. The server was attentive – which wasn’t too difficult since we were the only customers the whole time we were there. That being said – I kinda doubt I would make a return trip to the Suwanee Diner.  I was really looking forward to a milkshake.  Sad day.

I started thinking about how that experience relates to church. In today’s world folks can check us out online before ever showing up to our campus. We put our best foot forward in our pictures and videos on our website. It is vital that we don’t disappoint our guests by giving them an experience that is different from their expectations based on what they see on our website.

Are our rooms well-staffed with friendly team members? Are they clean? Are they uncluttered? Do they meet the expectations of the guests?  Are our areas nicely decorated?  Does it smell fresh and clean?  Are we prepared for guests?

No one likes a bait and switch. It creates distrust. We need to be trustworthy in all we say and do. Because, like me, even though the visit ended up being okay, I won’t be going back.

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Prayer time!

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I will never forget the first time I witnessed a distinct and very clear answer to prayer. I had just finished my junior year of high school and had been chosen to attend Governor’s School that summer. Governor’s School was an 8 week long program for gifted and talented high school students and was known for being a very liberal environment and not super faith friendly. I had grown up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior as a child, but had never experienced any type of persecution for my faith. Growing up in rural North Carolina was a safe place to be a Christian and I had honestly never had to defend my faith. So, to say I was nervous about leaving home for the summer and heading into what could possibly be an antagonistic atmosphere for faith was an understatement. For the first time I prayed differently than I ever had before. I prayed very specifically. I asked God to please just give me ONE FRIEND at Governor’s School who shared my faith.

The day came to travel to the other end of the state for my summer experience. My mom was out of town, so my dad had to take me. He was in a time crunch to meet someone so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a McDonald’s. I was chattering on nervously when I realized that my dad was being really quiet. When I looked up I saw tears in his eyes. Now, I had only seen my dad cry two other times in my whole life, so this was a little upsetting. I was already nervous!! After lunch my dad dropped me off in my dorm room at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College. We had time for a quick hug and the next thing I knew he was gone and I was sitting on a bed that had yet to be made and a suitcase that had yet to be unpacked.

I was in a suite with 11 other girls. Everyone else had their families with them helping them settle in, making their beds, hanging curtains, laughing and joking. And I just sat. For some reason, my roommate didn’t show, so not only was I lonely, I was also alone. I could hear other girls meeting their roommates and getting to know one another. I just sat there and prayed. Lord, remember that prayer that I’ve been praying for the past few weeks? Now would be a great time to answer!!

It was time to walk across campus for the family orientation and one of the girls across the hall saw me sitting on my bed looking forlorn. She asked if I’d like to walk over to the orientation with her family. Her name was Karen and she didn’t know it but she was my new best friend.

As we walked across the bridge, somehow our conversation turned to faith and I found out that this was the like-minded friend and my answer to prayer. I found out that she had prayed the same prayer. What a good, good Father to answer the prayer of these two young teenage girls within hours of arriving on campus.

I could easily stop there and say – isn’t it awesome how God answered my prayer? But, in true God fashion, He went above and beyond – it turned out that 10 of the 12 girls in our suite were believers and another girl came to faith before leaving that summer. We were able to pray together, study the Bible together, and since we were all there for vocal performance, sing worship songs together with beautiful harmonies. It was an amazing experience and forever shaped how I felt about prayer.

Throughout the years I have had many, many more answers to prayer, but nothing would keep me on my knees more than news of my son and his fiance finding out they were expecting mono-mono twins.

After getting over the initial embarrassment of “Andrew, I taught you better than that”, I realized this journey would be a very tenuous one and would need to be saturated in prayer.

You see, mono-mono twins are very rare (only 1% of twin pregnancies) and also very dangerous (50% don’t make it to viability) and 95% are born prematurely and spend time in the NICU.

I have this horrible need to research things, which can be a very disconcerting way to be. The more I researched the more nervous I became and the more I realized how serious this was. The more I realized how vital prayer would be.

Since we are HUGE NC State fans, I went to Cracker Barrel and bought two pairs of NC State booties and placed them on my desk at work. They were my constant reminder to pray for my little grandbabies.

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Mary Kate was very good about giving us information to pray about. She was very inclusive in telling us what was going on at each appointment. We rejoiced when we found out the girls were not conjoined (which is a risk with mono-mono twins). We prayed harder when we found out that one of the twins had a hole in her heart. We prayed every time the nurses came in to monitor the twins while Mary Kate was in the hospital (starting at 26 weeks). Her mom and I joined hands and prayed our hearts out when Mary Kate was whisked away for an emergency C-section on November 11. The next 24 hours was spent in constant prayer that these two little precious treasures would be ok. Every step of the way was bathed in prayer – from Amelia’s heart surgery, to every test that was performed, to bringing them home after 98 days in NICU.

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God so graciously answered all of our prayers beyond what we could ever imagine. We are blessed beyond measure. Every prayer strengthened my faith and encouraged me to pray even bolder prayers.

Today I find myself in constant dialogue with God. I pray and ask for God to show me specifically how to handle a certain situation. I pray and ask God to show me who to ask to join our children’s team or who to ask to step into leadership. I pray and ask for ideas to reach children and families and help them grow in their faith. I pray for my family – that God would continue to lead and guide us to glorify Him. I wear a bracelet every day to remind me to pray for the safety of my Marine and the other military members and their families.

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I think about how excited I am to get an unexpected phone call from one of my boys, or, in Joel’s case, an unexpected conversation over dinner. If I get that excited about conversations with my children, I know God loves to hear from me, His child, as well.

Do you see specific answers to prayer? If not, I urge you to start keeping track of your prayers and the answers. Sometimes the answer may not be what you expect, but I promise it is what you need. Answered prayer is faith building. Don’t sell yourself short on this wonderful opportunity to experience God.

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Adventures in Parenting

Several years ago I participated in a group project that had the participants write down their three favorite memories. We then split up into groups of three and shared the memories with the smaller group. After sharing your memories, the other two people would tell you what their perception of you was based on your memories. I can’t remember exactly what the memories were that I wrote down at that time, but I vividly remember what one of the participants told me. He said, “I can tell you are very adventurous”. To be honest, I had never really thought about it before, but after he made that comment I realized that I really did love adventure.

Over the years I have had some great adventures and as a result, I have some great memories. My favorite adventures have been with my boys. Travelling has been my “thing” with Andrew. We went to China together when he was eleven and climbing the Great Wall is something I’ll never forget. That trip is a blog post of its very own for another day. As he got older we enjoyed a road trip through Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Hiking in the Grand Canyon was a highlight of that trip.

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Another summer we would travel to Florida for a week of riding every roller coaster we could find. We hit every theme park we could find – Busch Gardens Tampa, Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, Epcot, and the Magic Kingdom – and road every roller coaster in the park multiple times.

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New York at Christmas was another of our adventures. We stood in line at 5:30 in the morning two days in a row to get in to see Live with Regis and Kelly. We didn’t get in the first day and were the last two in on the second day. It was worth it though! We had a blast! Walking in Central Park, riding the Staten Island Ferry, visiting the Statue of Liberty, and taking in a Broadway show were just a few of the adventures we had on that trip. We have some fun memories of crazy things that happened – like thinking we were going to a Broadway show, only to find out it was off Broadway, a little sketchy, and not at all what we were expecting!

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I had my share of adventures with Joel and Ben too. Their “thing” was revolutionary war reenacting. Since they were minors a parent had to accompany them to the weekend reenactments. Since their dad thinks roughing it is staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Marriott, it was up to mom to be the one to dress in funny clothes and sleep in a tent for the weekend. Some events were better than others. Cowpens in January when I woke up with ice on my sleeping bag was probably not one of my favorites, although, the History Channel was there filming for a tv series, so that was cool.

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I am thankful that God gave me an adventurous spirit since parenting has been the ultimate adventure. And….just when you think the adventures are starting to slow down, one of them calls and says they are moving your twin grandbabies to Wisconsin and another says they are joining the Marine Corps. Oy vey!

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Let the adventures and memory making continue!!!

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Rejection – the disappointment of being told NO.

Screenshot_2016-04-11-16-51-04Get any group of children’s ministry directors together and probably the most common struggle you will hear is in the area of recruiting. We will share strategies and ideas, but often we just lament the fact that our biggest source of frustration is being told no when asking people to serve.

I’ll be honest – I used to get borderline depressed when I would ask several people about serving in children’s ministry and would get no after no after no. Who is going to minister to all these kids? I felt so responsible, yet I had no control over other people’s decisions. I would cry out to the Lord, “What am I doing wrong? Why don’t people want to be with the kids? Am I a terrible leader? Am I asking the wrong people?” Then one day the Lord spoke to me so gently and so clearly. He led me to 1 Samuel 8:7 – “Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you.” “Kathy, my love”, God said, “you just be faithful to me and I will handle the rest. If I direct you to ask someone to join the children’s team and they say no, they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting me.”

Oh, my goodness!!! How liberating that was!!! God’s words to me were a balm to my spirit. I had been taking no very personally, but God was telling me I didn’t need to do that. It wasn’t my problem, it was His, and He would take care of it. After all, He loved this ministry even more than I did!

From that day forward I approached ministry recruiting with a whole new attitude. I didn’t feel so desperate! I would ask God to direct me to whomever he wanted me to ask to join our team. I would ask them to pray about it and then leave it in the Lord’s hands. If they came back with a no, I no longer had bitterness or hurt. I was able to joyfully thank them for considering and move on to the next person.

I will say that one thing I love about Daystar church is our Growth Track process. Growth track allows people to assess their area of giftedness and passion. Almost every month someone decides that children’s ministry is a good fit for them. We are then able to determine where our needs are and how we can help people get acclimated to our team. We are able to train and equip team members easily and keep our teams well-staffed. Since implementing Growth Track, the need to actually recruit for children’s ministry has virtually disappeared. We are constantly being fed new team members, which helps us keep up with the continued growth we see in our children’s area and often begin staffing for growth.  I highly recommend this wonderful process!!

So, the next time you feel the sting of rejection, just remember – it’s not personal, and God’s got this!  And if you are interested in learning more about the Growth track process just shoot me an e-mail – kathy@daystargso.com.

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Rah, Rah, Sis, Boom, Bah!!!

cheerleadersSeveral years ago I was serving in the second grade classroom one Sunday when a mom of one of our “wild” boys came to pick him up. I pulled her to the side and said I wanted to tell her something. Her face dropped. She was used to teachers calling her aside to tell her about her boy. But, not this time. I wanted to tell her what a great kid he was and how I saw him as a real leader. I couldn’t wait to see how the Lord was going to use him. Her eyes filled with tears as she told me that no one had ever said anything like that to her before. She had only heard how difficult he was or some kind of trouble he had gotten into.

I wasn’t making it up! I truly saw leadership potential in this kid – even as a second grader. But, seeing her reaction made me know that this is an important part of what I do in children’s ministry. I always tell my volunteers that we aren’t just doing children’s ministry, but that we minister to the whole family. I believe that with all my heart and this is a great example of ministering to parents.

I see one of the most important parts of my job is to encourage parents. I see myself as their biggest cheerleader. Any time I can give parents a “Great job!”, “You’ve got this”, or “It’s just a phase – you’ll be okay!”, I’m eager to do it.

Every time I turn around I see an article on social media heaping more guilt on parents for what they’re doing – or sometimes not doing. So many opinions and so much pressure is placed on parents from every direction. If I can be a voice of encouragement, I am going to take any opportunity to do just that. That’s my favorite way to partner with parents.

And that little second grader? Well, he earned the National Merit Scholarship, spent a year doing missions, and has grown up to be one of the finest young men I know. So parents – Take heart! You are doing great!!!

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How do I choose when I don’t like the choices?

I promise you that this post will be the only one that gets “political”. I have pushed back the constant nudgings over and over again. But, today I just can’t help but share what is on my heart.

This year has been incredibly interesting. I didn’t foresee that on Mother’s Day this past year my baby would leave for boot camp and return a changed man. The marines don’t give much notice. When they decide to move, they move – whether momma is ready or not! And I’m not sure I was ready. Actually, I’m pretty sure I was no where near ready!

Having my son complete boot camp, combat training, MOS training and now be stationed in Okinawa, Japan has done something to me inside. Don’t get me wrong. I am proud. Ridiculously proud, as any of my friends could attest to by all the Marine Mom t-shirts they see me wear all the time! But it has also been sobering. Being in the military is dangerous. My eyes gravitate to news reports that mention marines. On January 14th, 2016 when I saw the news that twelve marines had been killed in helicopter crashes while on a training mission, I was shaken to the core. My mind went to the place of – What if one of them were my son? I grieved for the moms and dads who lost their sons, the wives who lost husbands, the children who lost fathers, the brothers and sisters who lost a sibling. I cried many tears for them. I watch, like a hawk, any information about North Korea and the shenanigans of their crazy leader. I spend much time in prayer.

As I listen to the presidential debates this year it is different than in years past. Before, I wanted to know who was conservative enough for my taste. Who would uphold my 2nd amendment rights? Who was pro-life? And who would protect and defend the Constitution of the United States? While I still want to know all of those things, this year my mind goes to another criteria. Who is worthy of my son and quite possibly his life? I also think about my two little munchkins Leah and Amelia. Who is going to support issues that keep our country free and safe for them?

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(I know this is personal for me and does not apply to most of you. You may think me selfish for feeling this way. You may not agree with me and that’s ok. You don’t have to! But, since this is my blog, I get to say what is on my heart.)

So that is where I am – how do I choose when I don’t like most of the choices? It is quite the conundrum. All I can do is pray and ask God to continue to guide and direct, and try not to worry. And pray I shall.  I’m not making any promises about the worrying part.

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Lessons learned from The Sound of Music.

soundofmusic1Lessons learned from The Sound of Music

This morning as I was driving to work I was praying about a situation with a child in our ministry. We have been having difficulty with this child and his impulsiveness. As I was praying several thoughts kept popping up in my head and every one of them were from one of my favorite movies, “The Sound of Music”. Here are some lessons learned from a nun named Maria.
Lesson 1 – Keep a sense of humor. The first evening at the Von Trapp house, Maria sits on a pinecone at dinner. After crying out, she blames it on rheumatism. Rather than lash out at the children, she quietly talks about how thankful she is for the “gift” the children gave her earlier in the day and says, “Knowing how nervous I must have been – a stranger in a new household, knowing how important it was for me to feel accepted. It was so kind and thoughtful of you to make my first moment here so warm and happy and pleasant.” The children, feeling rather guilty, start to softly cry. Maria’s point was made without any harsh words, but rather in a quite comical way. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Oh how often a volatile situation can be diffused with a chuckle or two.
Lesson 2 – Be confident. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Maria leaves the abbey for her new endeavor to be governess to seven children (about the size of a small group!), and starts singing the song, “I Have Confidence”. Truth be told, Maria was really trying to convince herself that she did indeed have confidence in the situation. There have been times in ministry where I wasn’t really sure about how to handle a difficult situation, but God has always been faithful to give me exactly what I needed when I needed it. I have heard the saying, “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips those He calls.” I believe this is true. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God has supplied you with everything you need to complete the work he has given you. I am confident of this.
Lesson 3 – You can be firm and kind. In the song referenced above, there is a line that Maria sings, “I will be firm, but kind.” Sometimes we think that in order to get our point across or for our discipline to be effective we must be harsh. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can be gentle and still be firm in our discipline. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And verse 4 says, “a soothing tongue is a tree of life.” We want to speak life to our little ones, even in discipline.  I have often told workers that we cannot change in one hour on Sunday morning all that has gone on during the week.  We just have to love each child with the love of Jesus.
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Lesson 4 – Pray for our children by name. One cute scene in the movie is Maria’s first night at the Von Trapp house. Before climbing into bed, she kneels down and prays for each of the children. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember Kurt’s name, so she just prayed for God to bless “what’s his name.” Too cute!! We try to have a good leader/child ratio so that we can foster relationships with the children we minister to. We try to have our small groups really be “small” groups. We want our leaders to know the children by name and to pray for them. I pray for my leaders every day and I encourage my leaders to pray for their little ones – by name.
Lesson 5 – If you leave, the Lord will bring you right back. Just ask the Reverend Mother. #justkidding #kinda #notreally #maybealittle #signedupforlife #truth #loveyouall #forreal

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