Keeping It Simple

Not an actual picture of my event... just what I pictured it would look like in my mind!

Not an actual picture of my event… just what I pictured it would look like in my mind!

Years ago…when I still imagined it was possible to be the perfect pastor’s wife… I started the tradition of having the Shouse House Open House. Every Christmas I would invite the entire church into our home/parsonage for food and “fellowship” (the Christian word for sitting around eating, talking, and trying not to gossip or cuss in front of the preacher). And every Christmas I would spend the days leading up to the big event cleaning, cooking, and completely stressing out over ever single detail.

My very first open house I had a menu plan that would rival Martha Steward AND Rachel Ray, a housekeeping list longer than the long-dead Santa’s fictional naughty & nice list (sorry if I just ruined the magic for you), and a stress level higher than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs (picked that one up in Kentucky- feel free to add it to your repertoire).

Christmas is always a busy time of year for pastor’s families, and adding this high pressure event always made it worse. In those years I found myself yelling more, sleeping less, fretting, crying, bossing, arguing, whining…it was certainly not pretty. Peace on earth, my foot! Who’s idea was this open house, anyway? My dear sweet Jeff was always quick to remind me that this was all my idea. Thanks, sweetheart.

This year we’re in a new house, with new church people, and new traditions, but I sorta wanted to keep some of my familiar traditions going. So I started planning our annual Shouse House Open House…but this year I decided to do something different. I decided to keep it simple (Novel concept IKR?…Sorry…I have teenage daughters…). Anyway… It’s part of a new set of principles we’re starting to live by personally as well as within our church ministry. There are 4 principles, actually:

  1. Cover everything in PRAYER
  2. Make the GOSPEL the center
  3. Focus on PEOPLE rather than programs
  4. Keep. It. Simple.

In order to live by these principles I had to re-think my open house event. I stopped and prayed- God, do You truly want me to do this again or am I only doing it because I’ve always done it (ever heard that? Yeah, we don’t want to be one of THOSE people…). Once I got the go-ahead from Him, I had to remember that my purpose in life is not to impress my friends with my cooking or housekeeping skillz (yes…that’s a Z…don’t judge). My purpose in life is to Know Christ & to Make Him Known (aka “Gospel-centered”). So I made sure to invite people outside my church family- people who may need to know the real “reason for the season”- who may not go to church even during Christmas. I also wanted to make sure to be people-focused during this event. What’s the point of inviting people into my home if I’m too busy keeping the meatballs warm and the layer cake from slipping to sit down and have a conversation with any of my guests? So… I decided to keep it simple.

This year instead of an elaborate menu, we made six double batches of Easy Cookies (see recipe below).  Instead of Pinterest-worthy punch, we had red juice with ginger ale. And instead of a spotless house with a worn out family, we swept the kitchen, straightened the living room, and closed the doors to all the other rooms in the house. (We no longer live in a parsonage, so no one needs to be inspecting the bedroom closet, right?) 🙂 Keeping it simple resulted in over 400 cookies to share! (Sounds like a lot, but it actually only took a few hours on Saturday…and we were able to use the leftover cookies for neighbor & teacher gifts.) Plus I still had energy to visit with my guests AND my family still liked me when it was all over! Voila! Simple, meaningful, joyful, fun- not just in theory! 🙂

During this busy and often stressful season- what are some ways you’re keeping it simple?

Shouse House Open House~ Christmas 2015

Shouse House Open House~ Christmas 2015

EASY COOKIES

1 box cake mix

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1/2 bag candies or choc chips

Mix well. Place by small spoonfulls on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10 min or until set but not hard. I doubled this for each batch and used a teaspoon so I could fit 20 cookies per cookie sheet. The doubled recipe made about 75 small cookies.

Variations I used:

Yellow cake mix with chocolate chips (why mess with the traditional chocolate chip cookie? This is always the most popular at any gathering)

Chocolate cake mix with milk chocolate & semi-sweet chips (so rich and delicious)

Spice Cake mix with cinnamon chips (this year Walmart was not carrying cinnamon chips for some reason so we used butterscotch… not nearly as good…but no one complained- they were still cookies) 🙂

Yellow cake mix with peanut butter chips & butterfinger crumbs (Enough said- YUM!)

Chocolate cake mix with caramels (found a bag of little caramel melts that I didn’t have to unwrap or anything. They were so good and didn’t stick to the paper or burn out like I expected. Win- win!)

Red Velvet cake mix with white chocolate chips & peppermint candies (This is our all-time favorite combination for Christmas! Soft, beautiful & oh so delicious!)

*For spring events I’ve used lemon cake mix and rolled the cookie dough balls in powdered sugar before baking. They are perfect for a baby shower or Mother’s Day tea*

What other combinations would you try?

Choose Joy

James 1:2-4

I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into church that Sunday morning knowing that the church was going to vote on the future of the pastor- my husband. The betrayal had come as a shock to me which made it even harder to swallow. As the service started, my mind raced with questions and emotions, fear battled with faith. What would we do if they voted us out? Why would they even think of doing such a thing? How can I protect my kids from what’s about to happen? We live in a parsonage! We’re about to be jobless AND homeless! God- where are you!?!

The next thing I knew it was time to lead the congregation in worship. As I stood and looked out over the people we had loved and led for years, the last thing I felt like doing was singing. I wanted to scream and cry and throw things. The ministry we had poured our lives into was falling apart and I had no idea if the people we had come to love would stand with us, vote against us or just leave in the turmoil. But the clock continued to tick, and it was time to worship. I can’t do this, LORD. At that moment God brought to mind James 1:2-4 with a gentle whisper to my soul “Consider this an opportunity for joy, my daughter.”

JOY? Are you serious, Lord? You want me to choose JOY in this moment?

Yes, joy is a choice: often a hard choice. It’s choosing to see the goodness of God in the midst of my circumstances. The rest of my life may be terrible, but God is good. Choosing joy is looking beyond my temporary condition in order to see the big picture of God’s plan. Things may be falling apart now, but this “light and momentary struggle is achieving for me an eternal glory” that far outweighs what I’m going through. (2 Corinthians 4:16) This testing of my faith will produce endurance and character and strength and trust.

God used this trial to point out the areas where my attitude needed to change. Who am I singing for? Am I singing for the attention of the people or the applause of God? In whose strength am I leading? Am I doing ministry in my own strength or fully relying on God to accomplish His work through me? Am I willing to let God shape me and make me stronger by taking me through hard things? Who really holds my future? Am I clinging to control or trusting Him with my life? On that day I learned a great lesson: I can choose joy because His approval is all I need. His strength will carry me through every trial. And looking back I now can testify that joy was the best choice because God truly did have my future in His hands and His plan really is a good one.

Here’s what joy looked like for me on that dark day. I stood on the platform, closed my tear-filled eyes and sang:

Choose Joy- KOur God is greater

Our God is stronger

God, You are higher than any other

And if our God is for us, nothing can stand against us!

That, my friends, is why we can choose joy!

When you look back at the hard times, how has God used them for good in your life now? How can you intentionally choose joy today? Build a foundation of choosing joy in the little moments in your life so that when the crisis hits, you already know what true joy looks like!

Signs of Life

20150401_100526 It happens every spring: the frozen ground begins to thaw and tiny bits of green begin poking through the surface. By the time we get to this point in the season it’s almost as if we had begun to wonder if winter would ever end! Is everything dead? Will we ever see signs of life out in our yard? It’s sort of like ministry. We go through seasons where we don’t see any growth or progress. We work and pray and hope for people to be added to our number, for lives to be changed, for our churches to grow, but it seems as if there is no life to be found. We look at social media and see pictures of record numbers in attendance and 5,286 baptisms in other churches, and we wonder why God doesn’t seem to be working in our own ministry.

But the truth is: God is always working- sometimes we just have to look a little closer to see it.

Do you see that man who unassumingly mows the yards of his elderly neighbor ladies? What about that mom who brings her toddler to Sunday School despite the fact that her husband chooses to sleep in on Sundays? See the empty-nester couple who brings that neighbor kid to church and then treats her to a milkshake afterwards? And look, there’s an older lady who babysits for a young couple struggling to find time for their marriage with all those children running around. The woman who faithfully prays for her pastor, the teenager reading her Bible at the lunch table at school, the business owners who give away more product than they sell… those are signs of life. God is working. Most of the beauty is just below the surface, but it’s there.

So be encouraged! There is hope! These little acts of goodness don’t happen naturally- they are supernatural! Take some time today to look a little closer at the people in your ministry. Find that proof that God is working, and hang on to that hope!

 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9

The Grass Is Not Greener

Oh to be the pastor’s wife of a big church! I imagine that would be so grand! There would always be plenty of money and resources to do everything we dream of doing. We would always have plenty of volunteers to keep the ministry going. And having staff would certainly make our lives easy and our burdens light!

I shared my imaginings with my friend Tiffany whose husband pastors a church of thousands in Oklahoma, and she had a good laugh.

Others may have looked upon my life with envious thoughts:

Oh to be the pastor’s wife of a small church! I imagine that it’s so much easier living in a small town with a slower pace and fewer people. We would have so much more free time without all those people and projects that big churches have. Oh how nice it would be to just do the ministry yourself without having to go through the red tape of staff and board meetings. Wouldn’t that be the life?

As someone who has served in small churches my whole life, that was quite the comic relief!

That’s how it goes, though. We look at the struggles in our own lives and we long for the life that someone else seems to be living. We imagine how much better our lives would be if things were different. The grass on the other side of the fence looks so much greener than our own. We compare and complain and long for something just out of reach, but even when we figure out how to hop that fence, it’s still not what we were hoping for.

I used to wish that God would call us to serve Him at a large church with modern facilities in a big metropolis. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! But time after time He has moved us to serve in small churches with more traditional buildings in rural communities. As my discontentment and disappointment grew, God used the Jenny Allen Bible study “Stuck” to finally get my attention. She pointed out that God is the author of my story. He is the one calling the shots and directing my path. And when I complain about my situation or long for something other than the life He has given me, I am actually questioning His wisdom, power & love!

What?! I would never do that! God is God and I am not! Jesus loves me this I know! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N! I would never claim to know better than God! Well, except for when He doesn’t lead me in the direction I wish my life would go…and when I don’t like the life He has given me…or when someone else’s life seems so much better than mine. Oh. Sorry, God.

“Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow…” (Mt 6:28)

buttercup

God plants the dainty flowers in the field and the giant oak trees in the forest. He plants the tall grass on the prairie and the palm tree on the beach. And each of those creations blooms and grows and praises Him right where He has planted them. They know that their Father made them for  a specific purpose. He cares for them and knows what is best. He is God, and they trust Him.

That’s how we should live the life God has given us. Rest in the fact that God has made you and given you a specific purpose. He cares for you and has planted you right where you are for a reason. He is God, the Author of your story. So whether you’re a giant oak in a mighty forest with lots of resources and staff…or you’re a tiny daisy standing alone in the middle of a small town… stop looking over the fence at someone else’s grass, and start blooming where you’ve been planted!

 

If you were the author of your own story, how would your life be different than it is now? How can you embrace God’s specific calling on your life and bloom where He has planted you today?