We live in a world of SO MANY OPTIONS when it comes to our kids.  We hear our student needs to be in sports camp in order to make team, they can’t miss the training in the work out room if they want to be seen, they want to go to camp with friends, and then, there is the hope of a family vacation.  OH, and the church is going on a mission trip.  It’s overwhelming and complicated calendaring!  Where do we spend our time and resources?

As a parent, my kids went to summer camps, sports camps, band camps, and family vacations. They also went to workcamp, not every summer, but as many as possible.  We had to look at the overall summer opportunities and choose.  When I look back now, they were all great in their own ways, but I’m so glad they did mission trips.  They were amazing, expensive, hard, learning experiences that affected their faith and gave them perspective.  I know I was their youth leader, but that’s not why we prioritized mission for our kids.

In the summer of 1999, I was a couple years into part-time middle school ministry and we were headed to workcamp.  Workcamp is a week of literally working in home repair while adding in camp elements.  It was my first one of this sort.  The youth group had served through Habitat for Humanity in our state the previous summer, and that was cool, but we wanted to do something that felt bigger.  We were headed to North Carolina to serve in a community through Appalachia Service Project, I think there were around forty of us in borrowed vans and trucks filled with tools, people, and gear.  We drove through the night (never again), had our walkie-talkies (thank goodness we have cell phones now), and while kids slept we made our way to the backwoods of North Carolina following paper maps (oh the wonders of GPS!).

When we arrived at the elementary school where we were to stay, I was introduced to my first experience of classroom floor sleeping (no air conditioning), dripping showers that never quite get warm, and the chaos and wonder of late night shenanigans and laughter. I fell in love with it all!  If I could live on these types of trips, I would.  The hot hard meaningful work alongside students, the significance it creates in our hearts, the depth of conversations, and the reality of what it means to serve Jesus with our hands in a tangible way.  These lessons are life-long and I wanted them for my own kids when they were older.

That year, my crew was assigned a farmhouse built in the 1800s.  It had sawdust insulation and our job was to pull off the walls, put in insulation, and then drywall. When we arrived, we met an exhausted, grieving family that felt the hopelessness of an overwhelming life after the loss of a child. 

We dove in and each day slowly made progress as we pulled off the walls, removed the wainscoting (which we put back up – whew!), swept out sawdust by the gallons, and learned the story of the family we served.  As we hung drywall, we talked about God and life.  As a crew, we also helped feed the cows, dealt with wasp’s nests on the second story, and one student even learned how to ride a pig.  We were filthy, exhausted, and filled with a sense of accomplishment as we sat on their porch overlooking the beauty of the mountains on our last day there. 

As we closed in prayer that final time, the family was overwhelmed with gratitude, tears filled their eyes as they again shared how amazed they were at what we had accomplished. There was a sense of hope as they looked forward to a warmer winter, but I know the hope really came from all the conversations and prayer during that week.  The students reminded them that Jesus sees them, He hadn’t forgotten them, and we were able to be an example of that love.

There is nothing quite like serving with students on this level.  Expecting hard work, teaching skills that will last a life-time, investing in a family that just needs love, and watching God work in hearts as students look outside themselves and make a difference.   We all need this in our lives, we don’t outgrow it, but when we can do this with teens we are creating a life-time of what valuing what it is to serve Jesus.

As I spent more time in ministry, I discovered so many opportunities for students.  Trips, camps, adventures!  I had to ask myself, what can the church offer that only we can?   In Michigan we have great summer camps, I’m sure other states do as well.  They are places with zip lines and incredible worship, deep conversations and conversions, and places where kids can experience a step outside of life into a 24/7 experience.  I didn’t need to compete with that, I love camp.  So, what could we do to offer something different?

I realized that I wanted students to have the opportunity to experience two things while they were with us in student ministry; serving at a high level and evangelism.   If we put our energy into these two things, and did them well, I felt like we were helping parents give their student an opportunity as well giving students valuable growing experiences before they left high school.

Mission is defined in two ways, according to the web, it’s an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel.  And second, the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith.  I felt that we needed to do both of these things with our students because they are areas that are usually only found through a church. 

Yes, we serve in our community and church ministries, but there is something about a mission trip that requires travel (road trips are incredible opportunities for connection), carries a level of importance, requires dependence on each other, and expects really hard work that changes perspectives and hearts and, in turn, opens lives to see Jesus.

Mission is also going out in the world and sharing our faith. Not every heart is awaked to missions, but if a student never experiences it – how will they know what it is to bring Jesus to others in this way and maybe discover the call for their lives.  This type of mission helps students (and adults) value their faith in a new way and see Jesus through new eyes.  The best part of international or extended evangelistic mission is that it requires full dependence on God and each other to accomplish it and this is a life-long eternal learning that isn’t found in many other places.

In the early 2000s, there wasn’t as much competition for a student’s time as there is today.  Today, school’s train almost all summer and winter, club sports and sports camps take up weeks of a student’s summer, there’s band camp, and, of course, there should be a family vacations in there as well.  All of this has a cost.  As a parent, it’s hard to know which choices to make and which to invest in…

As we partner with parents, I encourage parents to ‘parent with the end in mind’.  Think of middle and high school as one long journey with different stops along with way, what do you want them to experience and learn before they leave home?  If you’re like me, you want them to expand their sport skills, experience summer camp, and you want them to experience what it means to serve Jesus on a level that means hard work and sacrifice. 

Remember, parenting the middle and high school years is a marathon, what do you want them to have learned?  A better block on the volleyball court – you bet.  The formation for marching band – of course.  The unique fun and experience of summer camp – yes please.  How to serve like Jesus?  Absolutely.

With so many options, we can’t do it all every summer or school year, but, if we can do it even just once, it matters. 

Have you thought about the long-haul learning that summer opportunities can bring for your student?  Has Jesus weighed into those goals?

No matter the choices, may you remember to parent with the end in mind and hold onto the sweet moments of family time as you enter into this summer.



Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

What do you want to be known for?  One of the things I would love to be known for is that I pray and have encouraged, taught, and experienced prayer in my life. Not because I think it’s all about me, but to know that I sought to depend on God in every circumstance and led others to do the same. I’m not there yet, but I can’t think of a better thing to be known for.

We know Jesus prayed.  He went off alone to pray (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16 and more).  He taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13).  He prayed before meals (Mark 6:41, Luke 22:17-19) and he prays for us (John 17:9).  I can just imagine Peter and John watching Jesus as he heads to the small hill behind the home of Mary and Martha.  They have seen him do this many times; he is going to talk to his Father. They watch as he paces, gestures with his hands, and speaks with his Dad before lying back on the grassy hill and resting in it.  They are having a holy conversation.  Prayer.

I believe that part of our job in ministry, and as parents, is to help teach and practice the disciplines that will help those we lead walk with Jesus long after they leave our ministries or homes.  I have learned that prayer is a key discipline for my own walk, so therefore it has become one of the key elements to teach and practice in ministry. The best ministry, the best parenting, flows out of what we have learned or are experiencing with Jesus.

Prayer is one of those mysterious elements of faith.  We, little-human-us, get to talk with the Almighty Creator God.  Think about that.  Little me and you, specks in the Universe, can talk with the Lord God Almighty and He actually wants to hear from us!  That blows my mind.  Another mystery, He answers. I’m not always a great listener, but I aspire to become able to hear his quiet whispers as well as I hear the loud words He speaks.

I wasn’t always this way.  I prayed, read my Bible, and served but I can see, looking back, that I didn’t truly value prayer.  I hadn’t yet experienced a level of connection in prayer that would change how I prayed.  I knew I was talking with God, I knew that Jesus prayed, but I have to say that I didn’t honestly respect the miracle we have by being able to have conversations with God.

What do you believe about prayer?

Prayer is defined as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship (that’s the internet dictionary).  If you’re reading this, then you might know Jesus and have some kind of prayer in your life. You might even say you believe prayer is important, because it’s talking to God, and some of you may even say it’s foundational to your life.

I think there can be a lack of understanding about what prayer is and how valuable it is to our walk with Jesus.  Prayer is simple, it’s communication with Jesus.  It’s speaking and listening to the Lord Most HIgh. It is a discipline, it is a gift, and it can be learned.

When it comes to prayer, I never really doubted God could answer and even do miracles through prayer.  But, if I’m honest, I really believed that for other people.  It’s one thing to know God will answer someone else’s prayer, it’s another to know he’ll answer yours.

Now, ask yourself, do I do it?  I mean, I hope so – especially for your own walk with Jesus but I have found many people that believe in Jesus don’t actually find time to talk with Him. Maybe like me, you’ve noticed that when you’re busier, or life is good,  you seem to forget this discipline and when you’re in need you cling to it like a life preserver.  We all do, even the disciples did this at times. 

When my daughter was born, my son was three years old.  He had been experiencing night terrors as so many toddlers do and during that first week with a new baby, he woke us up screaming.  My mom was staying with us so she quick went to our daughter as we ran to my son.  He was inconsolable and overwhelmed with fear.  My husband picked him up as I went to make sure my mom was ok. I found her rocking our sweet baby and praying. 

When I got back to my son’s room, I found my husband sitting on the floor with our son in his arms, I could tell he felt helpless. Our little three-year-old’s body writhing in a fear we couldn’t understand. Then, we realized we needed to pray.  I know, that should have been our first thought, but at least we came to it.  I laid my hands alongside my husband’s on our son as he commanded fear to leave in the name of Jesus.  As soon as he said Amen, my son went quiet and was sound asleep.  No lie!  We learned our lesson.  Every night as we tucked our kids into bed, we prayed protection in Jesus’ name.  There has never been another night terror in our home.  I have read that we are in a battle against principalities and I knew it was true. When that becomes a reality in the bedroom of your child, you pay attention!  Jesus also tells us to ask in His name and we will receive.  The reality of this moment became a defining point in my life.  The power of Jesus and the understanding that he hears is truly amazing.

If you believe in prayer and you do it…do you teach it?  Model it?

By that I mean, do you create purposeful practices, experiences, and expectations around this spiritual discipline?  Do you incorporate it all the time or is it a one shot moment that helps you check the box and move on? 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to make our life a prayer.  (TPT).  Pray continually.  What if we did that?  It seems to me that most families only pray together over meals and bedtime.  Since many families don’t seem to have time for meals together, this would limit prayer opportunities.  Bedtime prayers with parents fall away when either the child or the parent decides it’s time to end that ritual because the child is old enough to do it themselves.  Kids know that God listens to their prayers as children, but when they get older, they seem to lose sight of this.  Whether it’s because parents stop modeling it or the church hasn’t helped them practice, we have an opportunity to help those around us learn the value and necessity of prayer.  I believe it is a completely under-utilized part of many ministries and families.

I’ve had incredible role models in my life.   When I was little and got up early, I would find my mom in the living room sitting in her favorite chair spending time the Jesus.  We weren’t allowed to interrupt, in fact, if we came into the room she would just pray a bit louder so that we’d know that we needed to wait.  If we didn’t get the hint, she would pray louder.  Jesus came first. I didn’t value my time with Jesus like she did back then, but she was teaching me an important priority.  My dad has always led with prayer. He faithfully modeled this and continues to today.  As I got older, I began to understand the value of their time with God.  I didn’t necessarily do it but I couldn’t say I didn’t know of it.

In college, I did the whole pray when you need something kind of prayers and I tried to start a habit of prayer many times. It’s so apparent when someone is praying out of a relationship or praying out of duty.  There was something different about the way they prayed that I wanted.  I knew my parents had it, but I came to desire that kind of connection for myself.  I discovered how you get there – practice, belief, and trust. 

I wanted the be able to pray with the expectancy and urgency of someone that realizes the incredible power and wonder of God.  I wanted to hear him and see his answers.  Don’t we all?  The more I dove into prayer, the more I realized I had to learn but I did know that if I wanted this, others probably did as well.

Over time, I began to incorporate prayer into ministry in more meaningful ways so that students were learning how to pray as well as experience the precious gift it is to talk with God.  Jesus died so that we could have direct access to his Father, a real on-going relationship. When we pray, we are utilizing one of the very things Jesus died for.  As we pray, our eyes are more open and we look expectantly for answers.   The first tangible answer to a prayer is so powerful for everyone.  It’s that moment when we realize that God really did hear us and we need to take note and remember for those times when we feel like God isn’t listening. I wanted students to have those moments like I had – not only like the one in my son’s bedroom but so many more.

One of my underlying goals in student ministry was to help students practice, experience, and prioritize prayer.  We get to talk with and listen to the God of the Universe and I wanted students do know how incredible and powerful this is!  What isn’t practiced, isn’t kept.  If you feel you always have to be the one to pray, then your students will grow to believe that you have to be the leader in order to have a voice in prayer.  If you never expect students to pray out loud for each other, they might not discover the incredible blessing of praying over someone else’s needs.  If you don’t pray expectantly, then you won’t see the answers. I have found that although I can teach on prayer, it’s more powerful to actually just pray and, through that, we teach. 

We have prayed for God to bring people to events with a specific number and watched as he delivered.  I’ve also seen prayers for healing that God chose to answer in different ways.  I’ve watched as God changed the direction of rain storms and I’ve stood soaking wet  in cold rain. We expect students to use their voices to speak into it and we allow quiet.  The point, pray.  When it begins to be the first line of defense, the first way to help, and the first reaction to a problem – then we’ve made a dent.

People that pray together, stay together.  This isn’t a new phrase but it is still true.  The more our students and leaders pray together, the more we pray as families, the more connected we are to each other and Christ.

Pray with eyes wide open. 
Pray in response. 
Pray expectantly.

May you discover the wealth of blessing that comes as you bring everything to the Lord in prayer.  Not because he answers like you’ve asked, but because it gives him your trust and control.  If you pray, then you get it.  If not, I challenge you to begin. My mom is a bit over 80 years old as I write this and she would say that she still wants more through prayer…it’s the example I seek to follow. 

I can remember it like yesterday.  My husband had been let go from his job due to restructuring, I was just starting a master’s program while working full-time in ministry, my kids were barely teens and we were struggling to make ends meet.  The disappointment of saying no to drum lessons, the checking of the bank account and putting a few groceries back on the shelf, the hurt in my daughter’s face as I said no to a play date because I didn’t have the gas to get her there and still get to work the next day were very real.  The reality of humbly borrowing money to make the mortgage, trying to make the simple, inexpensive gifts seem more than they were.

Financial change is hard.  It’s amazing how many things in our world depend on money.  As I sat in my chair one August morning, I remember feeling overwhelmed.  We had gone from living comfortably to just keeping our heads above water in a matter of months.  I watched other families take their kids school shopping without thought, while I had to figure out how to explain that this year we would be shopping at the thrift store and making the shoes last a bit longer.  Don’t get me wrong, thrift store shopping can be fun, unless it’s the only place you can shop…that changes everything.

On that morning, God brought me to Matthew 6.

 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:28-34

The questions were so real – what will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?  These were my actual worries.  How would I find the money for groceries that week?  My kids were growing and needed new shoes, where would the money come from?  God whispered to me through those verses, I know your needs.  I’ve got you and your family.  Seek me, let me show you how I can care for you.  The tears flowed as I let the truth of Jesus’ words sink into my heart.  It was a new level of trust for me in my walk with God.

I’d love to say my husband got a job the next day, but he didn’t.  He felt God calling him to start his own business which meant many more months of schooling and training before he would begin to make an income.  Yet, we sought to remain faithful.  It wasn’t easy but I can tell you God knew our needs.  Brand new boots in just my kids’ sizes showed up at my door, a check in the exact amount I needed to pay for a school bill came in the mail from a source we didn’t expect, a loan was forgiven, and I could go on and on.

I learned a lot through those years of pinching pennies and sacrifice.  Humility, understanding, budgeting, and how to take joy in small things.  Change brings new perspectives, and this was no exception.  I understand how easy it is to find yourself homeless, I know the feeling of returning bottles for groceries and standing in line at the food truck, asking for help to pay for a prescription.  May I never forget what that feels like as I walk with families that are walking that journey today.

A few months ago, my now grown son and I had an interesting conversation in the kitchen. Somehow the conversation came around to when he was younger and I said, “I’m sorry we weren’t able to give you more opportunities during those years.” I was feeling shame over all the things that we couldn’t give him.  He said this, “Mom, don’t feel that way.  You taught me that God provides.”  Wow, who knew? I sure didn’t.  It was a shame and hurt I had carried a long time and God reminded me in that moment that shame isn’t how he works – that was all me. That simple kitchen chat healed a long time hurt that I carried even though my son didn’t. Oh, how God provides!

Financial change can really challenge our trust in God’s provision. Maybe you’ve found yourself feeling forced to put your faith where your pocketbook is, and that’s often a hard place to give up control.  Yet, I encourage you to hold onto Matthew 6.  Jesus meant it when he said, the Father knows all you need.  Seek him first and he will give it to you.

God is faithful. He hears you. You are loved.

If you are in a time of financial change, are you remaining faithful in your tithing?  What kind of attitude do you bring to your day as you learn to live with less?

We tend to lean out rather than in when life gets hard.  I’ve watched people blame God or withhold from God during seasons of hardship and I’ve wanted to do the same. How about you?  Do you find it easier to blame God then trust him?  If you’re in a season of struggle, with whatever issue it is that you face, are you staying in the Word?

One of the most important things I learned from that season, is the power of God’s Word to speak into our lives and I found His Word to be trustworthy and true.  He has promises for you as well.  Lean in, ask, see what God will do.

A Woman In Red

Her image kept coming to mind.  A woman in red.  Red headscarf, red dress, a smile. That’s it, no defining face or figure, just an impression that she was waiting for us.  Over the months of preparation, her image continued to come as I prayed with the team for our upcoming trip.

We had been invited, in conjunction with World Missions and Zoe Waters, to lead a women’s conference in Fissel, Senegal.  Fissel is an hour and a half van ride from Mbour just outside of Dakkar.  Pastor Albert had invited us to come and lead the women in his community in their first ever women’s conference.

As day one of the conference opened before us, we prayed and wondered if anyone would come.  This isn’t a place with internet marketing or Facebook boosts.  Yet, as women arrived to the cement block church full of plastic chairs, the room began to fill.  Many had started walking at sunrise, in the heat, to be to the conference on time.  Women who never really have time to get together, women hungry for discipleship, women willing to stay the night on a cement church floor just to hear God’s truths.  As I looked at their faces, it was overwhelming.  Women with babies strapped on their backs, women sitting on wooden benches with no support (for hours), a couple younger women serving the older by walking around with a shared cup of water as the heat increased throughout the day.  Women who love Jesus, who wanted to know Jesus, and who want their children to know him.

While one of our ladies was teaching, I had the opportunity to just observe the women and pray as they listened.  Then, I saw her.  Esther.  My eyes grew wide as I realized she was dressed completely in red. No other woman had red on – just Esther.  She looked beautiful.  And, I knew her.

When we had arrived in Senegal a few days earlier, it was a Sunday morning.  As a team, we were able to attend a church in Mbour and connect with the pastor and his family.  His wife, Alice, and two other women from his church cared for us that first day through meal preparation, kindness, and prayer.  Esther was one of those women.  While we were together, we had learned Esther’s story.

As a follower of Jesus, Esther had paid a high price.  By choosing Jesus, her family had cut her off and her husband divorced her.  She was alone.  Yet, as I watched her across the room in her amazing red dress, I could see the peace and joy radiating from her face.  Later as I shared with her that I had been praying for her specifically for the past five months, we shed tears of amazement and wonder at how God works.

Just like the Esther of Scripture, she had left her family to be with the King and she continues to come to her King for reassurance and love.   Her faith comes from the deep places, one that says she knows hardship but chooses joy. Her life is hard, yet she smiles.

The theme of the conference was; You are loved.  It was our hope to encourage these women to know their incredible worth in Christ and his love.  As we closed the conference on the second day, we were able to tell each woman personally how loved they were as we placed a necklace around their necks that read, I am loved (in French).    Placing that necklace around Esther’s neck is a moment I’ll always remember.  A sister in Christ, on the other side of the world, she taught me so much about faith and sacrifice. 

Women walked miles to hear of Jesus, they applauded the words of Scripture, and they drank in the truths of forgiveness and grace.  As a part of World Missions, we were able to give each woman an audio Bible (Treasure), in their own language. The Treasures will allow them to experience the Word of God personally in a culture that is illiterate.  Children will be raised hearing Scripture.  Generations will shift because God’s Word is being heard and shared, discussed and believed.

I’m humbled to have been able to play a small part in it all and it has led to ask myself some hard questions as a Jesus follower, a parent, and a leader in ministry.  Maybe they’ll make you think as well?

  • What am I willing to do to hear the Word of God? Would I walk a mile?  Would I walk 30?  (one man walked 35 miles to come to our women’s conference – can you even imagine?)
  • How much do I take reading my Bible for granted? Is it a pearl of great price?
  • What am I willing to do to help my children connect to a Christian community and learn more of God?
  • Am I willing, here in my own city, to share Jesus? Not metaphorically, not to a group, not just though actions, but with a simple look-them-in-the-eye question that asks –Do you want to know Jesus?

Oh Jesus, may I never take for granted the wonder and access I have to Your Word.  May I realize the privilege it is to be able to read and share it.  May I never back down from showing my kids who you are and do whatever is necessary to point them to you.  And, most importantly, may I never hesitate to share your gift.