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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Baby Praise. My favorite hour of the week.

Baby Praise 2Several years ago a mom came up to me and shared an idea from her former church. She told me about a program that the children’s pastor led every week called “Baby Praise”. It meant so much to her as a young mom to be able to connect with other young moms during the week and to do something fun with her child. She described Baby Praise as a time when moms and their kids sang fun songs together- many of them familiar nursery rhymes – and the children’s pastor would have a “mirror time” with each child where she sang a short song to them about how they are special to God. I LOVED the idea!! So, I decided to start something similar at my church.

Over the past few years Baby Praise has morphed into a wonderful opportunity to partner with parents! Each year my associate and I have tweaked it until we have a program I am very proud of! We have a few holdovers from the original idea, but the new items we have incorporated are what help us reach our goal of partnering with parents.

Every Thursday morning at 10:00 the moms (and sometimes dads) and children meet in one of our preschool rooms. We start with a five finger prayer that even the littlest can participate in. As we hold up each finger we say – “Good morning Lord. This is your day. I am your child. Show me your way. Amen. Hearing those sweet little voices saying that prayer every week melts my heart. I pray they will remember this prayer long after they have outgrown Baby Praise.

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Next we sing three songs from our Sunday morning experience. Every month we choose six songs that complement our lessons for that month. Since we have two teaching hours and many of our children attend both hours, they will learn all six songs over the course of the month. For those children who only attend one hour, we alternate which songs are sung which hour each week so that those children will be able to learn all six songs as well. It is adorable to watch the moms and kids singing, jumping and doing all the motions together.

Next we review our Memory Verse for the month and motions and then we watch the Ollie video from the previous Sunday. This way parents see what their kids saw that week. It’s great for kids who missed the previous Sunday too! Our preschoolers LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Ollie, Stormie Jane and all our friends in our First Look video. We then sing the other three songs for the month.

One of my favorite parts of Baby Praise is after our singing when I play a song called “How Much Do I Love You” by Jana Alayra. Moms snuggle with their little ones while singing along. “From deep inside my heart, to the farthest star, is how much I do love you.” Such a precious time to quiet our hearts and love on each other.

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Our last item on our agenda is SNACK!!! Everyone loves snack!!! Each mom brings the snack that she wants her child to have. And while the children are snacking, moms are visiting and I get to do my MOST FAVORITE part of Baby Praise – MIRROR TIME!!!!

As I hold a mirror up to each child individually, I quietly sing, just to them –
God loves ________
God loves _________
Yes, He does, Yes He does.
He thinks you are special, very, very special.
Yes He does. Yes He does.
(to the tune of Are You Sleeping)

I absolutely ADORE this time with each child. Some are a little shy and others not so much, but every single one of them are truly special to God and to me!

It blesses my heart to watch moms interact and encourage each other. Every week when I leave Baby Praise my heart is so full. I love seeing my little friends. I love encouraging moms and dads and I love multiplying the time we have on Sundays to teach God’s word.

Yes, there is no doubt that Thursdays from 10-11 AM is my favorite hour of the week.

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What’s the magic word?

Good_MannersThrough the years as a parent, I have gotten lots and lots wrong. But, as my daddy says, “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while”, and on occasion I would accidentally get something right.

One area I felt that Lee and I did a good job was in the area of manners. To this day I still get compliments on how polite and mannerly my three boys are. But it didn’t come naturally. Boys do NOT naturally grow up using the best of manners. Believe me!

I remember one time when my oldest, Andrew, was five. We had an elderly gentleman named Mr. Paul who always greeted the children on the preschool hall. He was the sweetest man and was always so friendly and welcoming. One Sunday he greeted Andrew with a friendly “Good morning young man!” Andrew hid behind my leg almost tripping me. Oh no, no, no. That does not happen in the White household. When we got home from church that day I sternly told Andrew that I would not tolerate rudeness and from now on he had better respond when an adult at church greeted him. In the most pitiful little voice you ever heard Andrew said, “But momma, I don’t know what to say?” So, Operation Manners was launched. All week long we practiced how to respond when someone greeted you at church. He practiced “drawing his handshake” (as if he were the Lone Ranger). He practiced saying “I’m fine. How are you?” I was so pleased on the following Sunday when Andrew confidently strode over to Mr. Paul, threw out his hand for a handshake and said “Good morning! How are you?” That was it. I didn’t force Andrew to give him a hug or make small talk. A simple greeting and a firm handshake were sufficient.

Andrew would probably tell you that he is the quieter and more shy one of the three boys, but he forces himself to be polite and it has served him well over the years. People to this day leave comments at the Chick-fil-A where he works about the “nice, polite, Southern boy” who helped them. (His southern accent does tend to stick out in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.)

Why is this important? It is important because when we practice manners we demonstrate to others that we honor them. When we hold the door open for that person entering behind us we are telling them that they are important. When we say thank you we recognize the sacrifice of another person. When we say please we demonstrate graciousness.

In Luke 17 we see the story of 10 men who received the wonderful gift of healing of the horrible disease of leprosy. Only one returned to say thank you to Jesus. Jesus noticed. He said, “Were there not 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Not only did this one receive physical healing, but he also received spiritual healing. Verse 19 says, “And he said to him, Arise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

When I was a little girl, my mom would offer me a cookie and before handing it to me she would say, “Thank you”. I thought that cookies were called thank yous for the longest time. When my boys were little and I offered them a cookie or a treat I would say thank you, but would continue to hold the cookie until they replied with thank you. It didn’t take long for this practice to become a natural part of their behavior.

Manners training is the job of parents. It’s not burdensome and it IS necessary. When my sons were little, they knew that any request they had would not be honored until the obligatory “magic word” had been said. Even if your child is not verbal, the sign for please is a simple circular motion on the chest with a closed hand. I have seen very young toddlers who are able to use this sign appropriately.

Lee and I felt, since we were both reared in the South, the words Yes ma’am, No ma’am, Yes sir and No sir were also requirements. I recognize that this very regional – but a polite Yes, please or Yes, Mr. Jones has nothing to do with region and everything to do with manners.

This week my challenge to you, parents, is to look for opportunities to practice and hone the skill of good manners. Moms, allow your children to open the car door for you. Dads, model thanking mom for ways she serves your family. Keep a tally board of all the times you see good manners practiced in your home. Find a way to make a game of it – Manners  Charades or act out scenario cards.  Memorize the verse – Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. or Titus 3:2 To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. I PROMISE you will not be sorry if you instill good manners and courtesy in your home.

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Well……, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

When I was a little girl I LOVED to play dress up. One time my mom bought me a curly blonde wig to add to my dress up box. Being blessed with straight-as-a- stick brown hair, this girl was delighted to have curly blonde locks during pretend time. Unfortunately, when I put the wig on, it looked more like a ragamuffin mess on my head. The curly blonde tresses looked more like a disheveled mop. Mom, always ready to redeem an unfortunate situation, thought she would shape up that unruly mess. She plopped that wig on my head and began to trim some bangs. What a great idea!! NOT!! As she began wielding her scissors with flare, suddenly she gasped to see traces of brown among the blonde curls. Uh-oh. When she took the wig off my head, I suddenly had a new, albeit, unusual hair style. “Aw, it’s just hair, it’ll grow back”, was the response. I’m so glad I didn’t have school picture day until I could get those bangs back to normal!

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How often does that happen in ministry? It really seemed like a good idea at the time? I remember when I first came on staff at my church. We had about fifty children, birth through 5th grade, and volunteers were scheduled for once a month serving (both services). It seemed like a good idea at the time. The reasons were varied – no one would be overwhelmed, it would be easy to plan time off, people were busy, one would only miss worship once a month, etc.

The longer I have been in children’s ministry the more I am convinced that weekly serving is best. I needed to articulate to the senior staff at my church the reasons for my decision to change from once a month serving to weekly. I prayed and asked the Lord to show me how best to share this with our senior staff. The Lord led me to a story in 2 Samuel. In 2 Samuel 24 there is a story about David sinning against the Lord and wanting to repent. 18-19 “That same day Gad came to David and said, “Go and build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” David did what Gad told him, what God commanded.

20-21 Araunah looked up and saw David and his men coming his way; he met them, bowing deeply, honoring the king and saying, “Why has my master the king come to see me?”

“To buy your threshing floor,” said David, “so I can build an altar to God here and put an end to this disaster.”

22-23 “Oh,” said Araunah, “let my master the king take and sacrifice whatever he wants. Look, here’s an ox for the burnt offering and threshing paddles and ox-yokes for fuel—Araunah gives it all to the king! And may God, your God, act in your favor.”

24-25 But the king said to Araunah, “No. I’ve got to buy it from you for a good price; I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.”

This passage spoke to me. Once a month serving was no sacrifice. Why would we offer to God once a month? Twelve times a year. Why bother?

As I began to institute a weekly serving schedule of attend one/serve one, I realized there were so many blessings. Parents and children felt more comfortable when they saw the same faces each week in their classrooms. Separation anxiety for little ones lessened. Serving teams developed community with each other.  No one was ever required to miss worship. Volunteers took ownership of their rooms. Another blessing is that team members really get to know the kids and the kids really get to know them. The relationship is so precious.

The first question people ask when I tell them we would like a weekly commitment is, “What happens if I need to be gone one week?” No problem! We will secure a substitute for you. We understand that folks occasionally are out of town or sick. We have no problem securing a sub for those days. Once this concern is addressed most volunteers are fine with a weekly serve.

Of course, we have an occasional volunteer who cannot commit to weekly service due to work schedules or caring for a family member. We can always work around these issues. Having extra sets of hands in classrooms on any Sunday is always a good thing!

So what might seem to be a good idea sometimes just might leave you with a really bad haircut.

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Waiting on a waiting list….

What if there was a waiting to list to serve in children’s ministry at church? Has that ever happened? I must say, since I have been at Daystar I have been more well-staffed in children’s ministry than at any other place I have ever been. I would even go so far as to say we are more often than not fully staffed. But I have never had a waiting list for serving! What an incredible place to be.

As some of you know my son joined the Marine Corps this past year. He has had to travel quite a bit and at times has had to layover in airports overnight or several hours at a time. Each time he has had the opportunity to visit the USO lounge at the airport. The USO (United Service Organizations) is a private, non-profit organization that provides morale and recreational services to members of the US Military and their families. His description of the care and attention he receives makes my momma’s heart happy.bendressblues

Recently I decided that I wanted to give back to this organization that has been so helpful to my son, so I submitted an application to volunteer at the closest USO airport site to my area – Raleigh-Durham International Airport. As soon as I submitted my volunteer application I got a notice that said, “Thank you for your interest in volunteering with the USO. At the current time there is a waiting list for volunteers. You will be notified when there is a need in your area.” What??? A waiting list to volunteer??? That is incredible!!!

What if we had that same “problem” in children’s ministry? Can you imagine? What if, instead of trying to figure out the next best strategy for encouraging people to join our team, we were saying, “Thank you for your interest. Our current team is full, but we will notify you when there is a need.” What if instead of spending our energy pleading for more help we were able to spend that energy in training and equipping team members. A girl can dream, can’t she?

I am so grateful that there are so many people willing to volunteer their time to help my marine be comfortable. His sacrifice to our country, along with all the other service members, deserves no less. But, isn’t the sacrifice that Jesus made for us worth even more?

There *should* be a waiting list – and not just for children’s ministry. Believers should be involved in the local church and a part of the mission of reaching the lost. Children’s ministry should not be viewed as “childcare”, but an extension of the ministry that is happening in the church as a whole. As we minister to children we are also ministering to families. As parents feel comfortable with the children’s area, they are able to be relaxed and open to hearing what God has to say to them in “big church”. When our rooms are well-staffed we send the message to parents that we are prepared for their little one.

While I am so incredibly grateful to be very well-staffed at Daystar, I will continue to pray that some day, like the USO, we will have a waiting list to serve.

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