Plan? What plan?

It was so nice taking a break from our normal routine during the month of December: celebrating with friends and family, making special memories with my girls, and even taking time to just sit by the Christmas tree and count my blessings while I enjoy a cup of coffee from my new coffee maker. As I sat contemplating the new year, a plan began to form in my mind. I needed a new routine, a new schedule that would keep me on track with the housework, and a workable plan to add exercise to my day. So, I made a list. “Things I Want to Make Habits in 2012” 

  1. Spend focused time in prayer every morning while everyone is asleep (while staying awake myself…)
  2. Exercise 5 days a week & spend time with my girls in the process (the oldest is a runner & the youngest likes Zumba, so it should work)
  3. Make sure the kitchen is clean before going to bed every night.
  4. Make a plan for getting & keeping the house clean throughout the week so that if my Sunday school class spontaneously decides to meet in the parsonage I won’t be too embarrassed.

Sounds like a pretty good plan, right?

I had also been praying about what God would have me do differently in my life & ministry this year. I felt like He was telling me to be still. Focus on People. Be Intentional. That’s a great plan, too…I’m not really sure how that’s gonna fit with my plan…but I’m sure it will all come together once I get started…right?

Cue January 2 and we hit the ground running! My sweet husband had already taken down (most of) the Christmas decorations the week before. He’s the best. <3 So Monday morning started with a great cup of coffee and a wonderful Quiet Time. My girls joined me and we prayed together. Then we started the laundry, cleaned their rooms, straightened the living areas, and re-organized the kitchen. The second half of the day included Zumba with my youngest, finishing up all the projects I started that day, and a healthy-home-cooked meal for the family. It was GREAT! I love it when a plan comes together!

And God in His heaven said: “Plan? What plan?”

The phone rang. It was the automated subbing call telling me about a job in our local elementary school. They needed a teacher for the next four days. No problem! I can work full time in a class full of 24 first graders and still accomplish my plan. And I did. Every day I got up early and had my Bible study and prayer time. I packed nutritious lunches. I plowed through the lesson plans. I kept the little ones in line. Every afternoon I exercised. I spent time with my girls while we cooked healthy dinners. I contacted various church people through phone calls & e-mails so they didn’t feel forgotten. I even spent time with my husband (though it was very brief due to his triathlon training…but that’s another story). It was a tiring but great week. I felt like I had accomplished so much of my plan! But then the weekend hit and I crashed. I did not feel like going to church. I did not feel like leading worship. I did not feel like walking around shaking hands. But I did it anyway because that’s my job.

Seemed as if my plans were interfering with God’s plan. Hmmm…not good. I’ll do better, Lord! And God said: “Yes, daughter, you will.” Cue stomach virus.

Now I’m not saying that God made me sick…It was probably one of those little first graders who have yet to learn the meaning of personal space…or how to cover their sneeze… But either way, it has served its purpose. I am being still today. I am evaluating my plan. I am taking time to pray and ask God to show me His plan more clearly. I’m learning that it’s OK to have a plan but I don’t need to be married to it- meaning that I cannot tie myself  to my plan til death do us part. I need to let God drive, not be my co-pilot. I need to follow His plan. And if His plan happens to include some of my plans then that’s just gravy (I mean…that’s just something extra special…but maybe healthier than gravy since I am trying to be healthier…) :)

PS…Coincidentally (or not) I’ve been reading Pete Wilson’s book “Plan B.” It’s a great book that I would totally recommend for those of us who find our own plans not working out the way we expected them to! Click the title to find out more!

Ministry Ups & Downs

Life in ministry is sorta like a roller coaster…full of ups & downs. I don’t particularly like roller coasters, but I do enjoy life in ministry. Weird. I guess the up times cause me to rejoice in the wonderful things that God does in our lives while the down times make me cling more tightly to Him. (Roller coasters also draw me closer to God but in a whole different way…)

Mykaela after riding her first roller coaster (& her daddy laughing at her)

This week has been a roller coaster for us in ministry.

UP: Great friendships and community connections made during the 4th of July celebrations

DOWN: A church friend got her feelings hurt when I unintentionally left her out of Sunday plans…and she published her hurt on Facebook.

UP: My sister & bro-in-law came to visit from NC! I haven’t seen any of my NC family since Christmas, so I was excited for this visit!

DOWN: A church member got offended that my  husband didn’t go to the hospital when their niece & nephew had their tonsils removed Friday morning.

UP: Sunday School class had a great discussion about building community and being devoted to God.

DOWN: Music minister insults my bro-in-law. (Shane, of course, didn’t care because that’s how he rolls…but it bothered me. :) )

UP: Praise team & Special music is in sync, youth camp report is encouraging, sermon is a “bases-loaded-out-of-the-park-home-run” message, people are excited, God is moving!

DOWN: Someone leaves several notes in the church office written to the Jeff, the youth leader and the church council stating that the praise team needs to sing with more enthusiasm, the music needs “serious help”, and asking us to bring back the suggestion box. Naturally, these “suggestions” were contributed anonymously which is always very helpful. (Since the computer world has yet to invent a universally recognized “sarcastic font”, please don’t hesitate to add extreme sarcasm to the previous sentence…)

I must admit, yesterday afternoon I was very DOWN. Almost two years ago the “suggestion box” became a tool satan & his complainers used to completely tear down my husband and I and anyone else who attempted to do any type of ministry. We thought the issue had been addressed and the message communicated that “no anonymous complaints will be taken into consideration.” So, this new crop of complaints really was discouraging. It’s no coincidence, either, that the complaints landed on the desk the same week that people are starting to get excited about church again and when there are lots of good things happening in our church & community. Once my husband reminded me about the spiritual warfare side of things it was easier to let go of my hurt and frustration. I sing in the praise team and I know how hard we work to prepare for worship each Sunday. I also know that it would be easy to point fingers at the people in the crowd and “suggest” that they sing with more enthusiasm as well. But I’m making the conscious effort to let God, my husband & the church council handle all the complaints while I work on focusing on the positive things happening this week.

UP: World Changers will be here this week. We always have a great time serving these young people as they serve our community.

UP: I get to make a new friend today. A lady and her daughters have recently moved to our area and need someone to show them around. I get to spend the afternoon chatting and visiting playgrounds, the library & other free fun places…and do a little ministry, too!

UP: My Daddy’s birthday is today, and while I can’t be there with him, I do get to talk to him on the phone this afternoon. Plus, I got him a really cool present that he’s already received and I know he loves. :)

UP: God is still God. He is in control. I can trust Him. I am His favorite creation. He is with me. He sees me. He knows me. He loves me. When you look at it that way, nothing else matters!

 

What about you? Do you experience these ups & downs of ministry?  How do you handle the roller coaster that is the life of a pastor’s family?

 

Introductions

I made a new friend last week…and she doesn’t go to my church! Maybe this doesn’t seem like a very big deal to you, but it NEVER happens to me. Maybe it’s because my incredible beauty is so very intimidating…{snicker} :p Or maybe my ability to converse intelligently on the complex issues of life tends to bore people… {snort} :D

In case you didn't realize I was being sarcastic in the previous paragraph here is a picture to remind you of who I am...

ACTUALLY….the real reason I don’t have many local friends outside my church people is because when someone introduces me to someone I don’t know they introduce me as their “Preacher’s Wife.”

That used to bother me. During our early years of ministry my husband did a lot of supply preaching. Every Sunday we were filling in at a different church.  And every Sunday the head deacon or minister of music at each church would introduce us something like this:

“We would like to welcome Pastor Jeff Shouse and his lovely wife to our service.”     OR

“We are glad to have Brother Allen Shouse’s son Jeff bring the message to us today. He is here with his lovely wife.”

Now I’m not opposed to being called “lovely” but I began to feel like a nameless, faceless person who was nothing more than my husband’s “arm candy.” In more recent years I’ve discovered that being introduced by a church member as their “pastor’s wife” is a title of respect or honor, but often it puts up barriers which make it hard for me to make friends. People tend to hold back or put on a “spiritual face” when they are in the presence of the wife of the spiritual “big cheese.”  :)

So, last week I made a friend. She knows I’m married to a pastor…and she still wants to be my friend! Later that week I was hanging out with a good friend of mine who does go to our church. Some of her family from out of town was in for a visit and she was introducing me to them. She knows how I feel about being introduced as the pastor’s wife and how it often makes me feel like I have to put on my “church face” and talk about last week’s sermon… But this time, when she introduced me to her brother, she said “This is Stephanie. She’s my best friend!” What a great introduction! It totally made my month!

What about you? How are you usually introduced? How do you like to be introduced?

Don’t Be A Stranger

Still filtering and processing through all the great things I learned at the Armed & Dangerous Retreat and think I’m ready to share some more. One of the lessons I’ve been putting into practice very often in the recent months was learned not during one of the sessions but actually over breakfast one morning. A group of us PW’s were sitting together at the continental breakfast in our hotel lobby. One of the ladies was sharing a struggle she was facing in her church. We were all listening sympathetically and giving words of encouragement, but none of us seemed to want to be the first to give any solid advice. (Sometimes we as PW’s are given so much “advice” that we understand that it is often guilt-inducing, stressful, or even hurtful.) One of the ladies who had been rather quiet and reserved up to this point spoke up and began to speak true, godly wisdom into the situation. She said, “Don’t let yourself be a stranger in your own home! God has called you to that church. He has given those people to you as your own children to lead and care for. It is your responsibility to own your calling and lead without reservation. Don’t let others who might not acknowledge your leadership make you feel like a stranger in the church God has placed you in!”

Wow. How often have I felt like a stranger in my own church? Last year when so many people were grumbling about our family, spreading rumors & trying to stir the pot enough to get us voted out, I dreaded going to church. I felt like no one wanted me there. I avoided all the special events & dinners. I kept to myself during services. When I was at church I felt like I was in the way, unwanted, ignored, useless. I felt like a stranger who didn’t belong. Even this past year after the blow-up, when most of the trouble-makers are gone and the turmoil has settled down, I found myself still feeling like a stranger at church. Does anyone really know me? Do I really have anything to offer? Who am I to lead or offer advice or make corrections? This is their church. I haven’t grown up here. I haven’t been here as long as most of them. I’m younger than many of them. I don’t hold any official position of authority. I found myself shrinking back. Not wanting to take leadership. Not realizing that God has placed me in a leadership position simply by making me the Pastor’s Wife!

Therefore, I’m doing things differently now. I lead when God calls me to lead and I let others lead when God calls them. I speak the truth and give godly advice when people ask for it. I offer help & guidance when it is needed. And I make no apologies for the spiritual leadership role I’m stepping into. God has placed me here. These are my “kids” and it’s my job to love them and lead them into being the people God created them to be. If someone doesn’t want me at the church or if my presence makes them uncomfortable that is their problem. God has placed me here in this place at this time for a specific purpose. God has called me to be who I am where I am and no one can take that calling away from me except God Himself. That gives me the freedom and courage to be bold in proclaiming His Truth, leading His people, and being the person He made me to be! I love that feeling!

I think the people of my church and community like the new me. They have actually started calling and asking for advice about different situations they are in and have asked me to tell them what the Bible says about different issues. There are still a few who resent my husband’s and my presence in “their” church but I continue to hold my head up high, force myself into their view & claim that ground for Christ. After all, it is His church…the home He has placed me in…and I will not be a stranger in my own home!

(PS…the PW giving this wonderful advice was my sweet new friend, Eleana Garza! A beautiful and soft-spoken young lady of God who knows how to be both loving and bold and is definitely gifted with wisdom from above! Thanks for sharing, Eleana!)

The Best Christmas Program EVER

Cover of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever...

Cover of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I was subbing in third grade recently and thoroughly enjoyed reading that book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson. I skimmed through it during my 30 minute lunch “break” while sorting worksheets for the afternoon, grading spelling tests and shoveling my food in as fast as I could before the students returned…but that’s another story. Anyway, the thing I loved most about this book is the fact that these hoodlum kids came into the church Christmas program that was planned to perfection. But instead of ruining it, they helped make it into the best Christmas pageant ever (…hence the title).

I, personally, like to have a plan for everything. I grew up in a family whose mantra is “Lists are our friends” and whose first question to one another every morning was “So, what’s the plan for today?” It’s not a bad thing to have a plan…unless you’re married to it. I’m not talking about my husband…though he actually prefers NOT to have a plan, which was cause for many a “discussion” in our early years of marriage. No, what I mean is that I’m learning that while having a plan is not a bad thing…we shouldn’t be so “married to” the plan that we lose sight of what is important. My husband often tells our congregation he imagines that God laughs when we tell Him our plans. Too true. Being a pastor’s wife was not part of my plan for my life…neither was living in Kentucky…But it was part of God’s plan and I wouldn’t trade His plan for anything.

I’m trying to make myself believe that God has a plan for everything…even Christmas programs. I mean, I can say I believe that to be true, but then I make my own plans without talking to Him about it. I worry when things don’t go according to my plan. I make my plan more important than God and the people He loves. This year is going to be different. I started with a plan for Christmas, but I talked with God about it the whole time I was making my plans. I’ve even changed plans as I felt God leading. I was feeling pretty good about it all. Then God said to heaven: “Hey, y’all, watch this!” And all the plans I thought I held loosely were blown away by His awesome power…At least I hope it’s His power that’s blowing away all my plans…( =

Unexpected twists and turns, new technology, strange weather, untraditional traditions, canceled practices, births, deaths, sickness, rambunctious youth, extra children, homemade costumes, and yard sale decorations are all (apparently) part of God’s plan this year and (hopefully) make for the best Christmas program ever!

Spottsville Baptist Church Christmas Program 2009

Have you had your Christmas program yet? Did it go according to plan? Ours is this weekend…praying it goes according to somebody’s plan…preferably God’s…( =