God Knows What We Need

Last Sunday, we talked about how God knows what we need… and how God provides for our needs! Well, I got a first hand experience in God providing for my needs on Sunday, the very day I taught this lesson!

To start, our projector hasn’t been working and we had to do without! Since our lesson was on the Israelites wandering in the dessert and complaining to God during that time, I decided to make the kids act as Israelites… and each small group was to be a family. It felt pretty chaotic having kids walk around in circles (and few that just couldn’t walk but felt the need to run) and their whining and complaining getting louder and louder. Well, when our time was over, I had both leaders and kids come up to me and say: “that was so fun!” “i had so much fun today.” “i wanna come back here.”  Initially I was just thankful to get this feedback and felt encouraged despite all the technical issues we had that day.

When I went out to the foyer to get lunch, I happened to be standing across from a parent that I talk to once in a blue moon. I, of course, started with a small talk: “How are you? How’s work?” Then she proceeded to tell me how much she appreciates our children’s ministry… and she said, “I can’t wait to read this months’ parent newsletter. I read it cover to cover… In fact, I save it every month! Thank you so much for putting that together for us. I absolutely look forward to reading it. In addition, I just want to tell you that my kids tell me what they have learned every Sunday… and I love that they get excited to tell me about it. We love coming here. Thank you!” To be honest, I was caught off-guard because my church doesn’t have a culture of giving feedbacks (positive nor negative) and sometimes I wonder “does anyone read the newsletters? why do parents like bringing kids to our church? why do kids like coming?” I actually told her that her feedback meant so much and her words were my God Sighting for the day because it was one of the most encouraging things i had heard in awhile at the church.

By now, I’m feeling pretty encouraged… and feeling like I’m on Cloud 9, filled with gratitude and great joy for getting to do what I do! Well, that feeling was quickly changed that afternoon as I met with few leaders. Don’t get me wrong… I believe some of our leaders do the best they know how… but I found myself feeling flustered and discouraged in the middle of our meeting. People often tell me that I think very differently about children, youth, & family ministry… and most churches are not ready for that paradigm shift. I always think “how different could I be?” Well, I finally really felt it… and I started to feel crazy trying to explain how I feel about children, youth, & family ministry (I won’t go into too much detail since this isn’t the point of this blog but if you’d like to hear my thoughts, I’m always open for discussion–i just love talking about KidMin, Student Min, & Family Min… so just message me!)

Anyhow, I left that day very deflated. This one incident had erased my joy and excitement… and all of a sudden, I found myself asking a bunch of unhealthy questions. That evening, two of my pastors texted me with encouraging words… When we came into the office on Tuesday, my campus pastor said, “I actually left that meeting feeling more thankful for you and your heart and your vision. As challenging as it is, I am so glad to be doing ministry with you.” Those were the words of affirmation that became medicine to my soul.

Often times, discouraging words and experiences can completely erase all the highs of emotions. As I spent some time processing through the events of this weekend, I was reminded that God bookended that meeting with encouraging words of affirmation that I usually don’t hear for a reason! God knew I needed to be reminded of my calling. God knew I needed to be affirmed of our kids transformation. God knew I needed to hear that parents are in this journey together. God knew I needed to hear that I was an integral part of the team. That moment, I was reminded that the truth of the lesson came real and alive to me!  How cool is that???

One more thing… if you’re a parent or a volunteer or even an attendee, do practice giving feedback to your leaders… both positive and negative (but negative should be done in love and with careful words)… encouraging feedback means so much to a weary soul… and constructive criticism will only help your leaders and ministry grow in a good way!

Kindred Spirits at KidMin

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

That’s exactly how I feel about KidMin people! They’re my kindred spirits! Perhaps that’s why I look forward to conferences or gatherings where I get to be with KidMins! I say this over and over… but they get my life! There is so much comfort and joy in being with people who get your life…

*****

It’s been a full week since I’ve been back from KidMin 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, and I spent some time reflecting on what God taught me last week. Well, to start… God taught me how selfish I am! Ugh, I know.. not a great start! Well, let me explain. One thing I was so looking forward to doing at KidMin was just to sit with my friends and just gab, gab, gab… gab about life, gab about ministries, and laugh a lot! I have so much fun with my KidMin friends that I have made in the past… and it’s always a big reunion to be with them! The biggest thing I was looking forward to at KidMin was to just sit, relax, and laugh a ton with my friends!

IMG_3134During Presenter & Staff dinner on the first night, we prayed over this verse on the left and for all the attendees as we colored outside the lines. I also specifically remember Chris Yount Jones telling us to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to those that may need a friend, a hug, or someone to listen to. Yeah, yeah… I know…

Well, that was Thursday night… and before I knew it, it became Monday, the last day of the conference… And i had barely seen my friends! I thought I would be up late with my friends every night just laughing our heads off, but that barely happened as I was busy getting ready for my next workshop or I was meeting with certain individuals, etc. I was bummed… super bummed! This is where God said “Gloria, stop being so selfish! I know you love being with your friends… but you’re not here just for you to be with your friends. You’re here to connect with others and to encourage them! Remember when you first started out in KidMin and how alone and lost you felt?” BAM–a total rebuke! Yup, I was selfish… (I never seem to learn that lesson well).

As I was confronted with this rebuke, I took a look back on my KidMin weekend, and I realized what a blessed time it was! I did get couple meals with some old KidMin friends that refreshed and encouraged me… but the bigger blessing was in connecting with new attendees, connecting with KidMins in my workshops and getting very encouraging feedbacks from them, getting to know new people through “Here Alone” connect group, and being a listening ear and praying mouth at The Shelter. A lot of these conversations took me back when I was a newbie, when I was struggling in ministry, when I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and when I felt like no one understood my life. I honestly don’t know if anyone I talked with really felt like they got something out of our time… but I was reminded that there are many that are still looking for their kindred spirits and I hope they realize that there are many in this KidMin World. My prayer is that everyone at KidMin left with at least one more kindred spirit in their lives… and that God would continue to use me to bless those that are discouraged and struggling in their roles as a KidMin because without my kindred spirits, I wouldn’t be where I am today!  Thank you God for last weekend and this great reminder!

Kid & Youth Ministries… More than Bible Lessons…

therapy-counseling-familyIt’s a general assumption that Kid & Youth Ministries is all about teaching Bible stories, lessons, and planning activities to the kids that come to church on Sundays! Yes, we do a lot of that… However, that’s not all we do! In fact, that’s not probably not the most significant part of what we do… Gasp! (I can just hear the echo of shock from some reasons…) Yes, it’s true… teaching Bible stories and lessons aren’t the most significant part of what we do! If you ask me, the most significant aspect of our ministry is loving them unconditionally as we journey with the individuals.

We, at church, may have the challenge of not having enough face time with the children (in an average church, an average child will only spend 39-45 hours the whole year in Sunday School… that’s barely 2 full days worth!). However, we have the unique opportunity to journey with them through various life stage as long as the family continues to come to church. Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of our kids come to church with baggage from home life, school life, social life, etc. While we give priority to teaching the Bible truths each Sunday, we also make sure each small group leader connects with their students on a more intimate level. Most of the times, that’s where true ministry takes place. We hear about a fight the child had that morning with a sibling, about how he/she got in trouble, about how the child misses a parent who is no longer living with her/him, about feeling lonely and sad, about their hurts, and more. Also in small groups, the kids get to discuss Jesus more in depth with their small group leaders, share good things that happened during the week, and how God answered their prayers. We have the privilege of talking through these challenging and good times. We have the privilege of crying with them and celebrating with them.

Don’t get me wrong… everything we do is because we have deep desire to help kids know and experience Jesus in tangible ways… but people often think kids and youth ministries are all about activities, events, and lessons! We plan activities and events to provide more opportunities for draw more kids. And of course, we want the kids to learn the Bible. But our job doesn’t end there!

As we come to the end of academic year and we also prepare for Promotion Sunday at church, many of the small group leaders tell me that it’s their desire to stay with their small group kids! This makes me happier than I can express… because they realize that they don’t teach a grade, they don’t just teach Bible lessons, BUT they’re investing in the lives of the kids that have been entrusted in their small groups. The relationship and journeying with the kids through the good and bad times is what we really do… and we do this by sharing the unconditional love of Jesus! Kids are experiencing Jesus through their leaders! It can’t get more tangible than that in Sunday School!

All the volunteers and staff are privileged to journey with these kids and youths… because we get to experience God’s grace and redemption in their lives when they make decisions to follow Jesus. We get to develop relationships with the whole family and become a part of their extended circle of influence in the lives of the kids. We get to see them grow and mature!

This past week, I got another invitation to a high graduation of a kid who was in my ministry when he was in elementary school… and I was filled with gratitude as I thought back on his life… I’ve been able to witness him growing right before my eyes… and from a cute little 2nd grader to a tall, handsome, and God-loving young man!

If you ask me, the most significant things that all the volunteers and I do isn’t teaching Bible stories and lessons… but it’s really investing in growing relationship with the kids and families… It’s not easy at times, but I absolutely love what I do!

The Distance Between the Mind & the Heart

We should handle it the best way we know how and get on with it. That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.
~M’Lynn, Steel Magnolias
 

This is one of my all time favorite quotes from the girliest movie that I actually love… Steel Magnolias!  The reason why I love this movie so much is because it has so many awesome quotes, tearful moments followed by laughter…. and besides how could you not love anything with Sally Fields?

4play-Heart-vs-Mind2The first time I heard this line by Sally Field’s character after her daughter’s funeral, my heart just sank because it resonates with me so much! I always feels like there’s a long distance between my mind and my heart… Over time, I’ve learned to build my mind to be strong and focused (probably as self-defense mechanism) but I haven’t honed in on building my heart as much. My mind often feels strong but my heart often feels weak. I get hurt easily. I get disappointed easily. My mind says not to mind what other people say or do… but my heart can’t help but to feel sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, hurt, and unsettled.  I know in my mind what I should do… but I wish somebody would explain it to my heart because it often doesn’t accompany my mind. I often wonder why God made the mind to think differently from the way the heart feels. It would be so much easier if they just cooperated and worked together.

This morning as I was thinking about this quote, I was reminded that my only source of direction and answer is talking to God and turning to the Scripture. I always wish it was “yes” or “no”… but I often don’t get those direct answers from God, but I know that He has given enough truths for me to follow. Besides, I was reminded that “yes” or “no” isn’t what God wants us to have, but  He wants ME to seek Him… and that’s when He grants us clarity! Now, let’s go tell my heart that!

What Is Enough???

To change the world, we must change our country. To change our country, we must change our city. To change our city, we must change our community. To change our community, we must change the room. To change the room, we must change the table. To change the table, we must change the conversation. The greatest way to change the world is to change the conversation. The more world-changing conversations we have, the greater chance for the world to change.” -Jim Doggett, excerpt from More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger

2 years ago, I read a book that completely rocked my world… so much that I went on a 7-months of fast, and I chronicled my experience starting with this post. What was amazing to me throughout these 7-months was that the less options I had, the easier my life was! For example, knowing that I could only wear 7 items of clothing saved me so much time from standing in front of my closet, trying to decide what would be the most fashionable, most sensible, most flattering outfit to wear. And it hit me that my life was easier when I had less… However, living in Los Angeles, bombarded by fashion, brand names… and being around people who had nice things to wear, brand name purses and shoes… it all influenced me to want more and better things! It’s really not other people’s fault. I’m just not strong enough to resist some of those things. I may not be a big shopper, but I still love my purses and shoes. It was the same for food, technology, etc.

more or lessWell, just last week, I finished a book called More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger, and it rocked my world again! Jeff reminded me that “my enough could mean more for someone else who has less.”  What a concept!!! I know, it’s not rocket-science… but it seriously rocked my world because I was reminded how excessive my life is. I may not live in a mansion nor even a house.. yes, I still live in the same apartment I’ve been for the past 10 years… I may not spend lots of money on shopping because I really hate going to the mall… but I still have more than what I need. My life is not inconvenienced in any way… and let’s face it–all my problems are really first world problems–like wanting a new iPad because mine is three years old and the home button sticks!

The good life is not found in luxury. Rather it’s found in the life that enhances the life of another human being.

Generosity is not about giving money. Generosity is a lifestyle that seeks to understand the needs of others in strives to end that suffering. True generosity is a choice. Generosity seeks to live with less so others can have more. (both excerpts from More or Less)

Sure, I try to do my share of helping others. I am passionate about sponsoring kids through Compassion International and World Vision. I try to help people that I see in need such as homeless that surrounds this city that I live in. If I have food or even leftovers, I’m usually in the habit of giving it away to them. However, I usually give out of excess that I have and because it’s convenient for me to give. I don’t think about what’s actually enough for me… and I haven’t made real conscious to live on less so I could do more for others. That’s what really messed me up!

I won’t lie… this isn’t as easy as it sounds. As I decided to sponsor one more child this past week, I thought to myself “I could just eat out once or twice less per month.” And then I started to think about where I go out to eat. I really do enjoy trying out new restaurants and fine dining. And I sure enjoy my sushi, oysters, and crab. I thought about giving up my favorite dining experience, and I immediately started to feel sad… How ridiculous that I’m getting sad about eating less sushi or seafood when I could be feeding a child for a whole month? It’s an internal struggle…

So… I’ve decided that some things really need to change! I need to do something to make conscious decision to determine what is ENOUGH for me! I need to make conscious decision to understand and meet the needs of others to help end their suffering. It’s a choice!

As I’m still processing all this… I took my first step: I decided that I could surely sponsor another child overseas. That’s why I took one more child through World Vision last week. I’m also starting to clean out my life–to declutter, to donate what I don’t need… and I’ve been thinking through “an enough experiment” that I want to do… I don’t know yet, but stay tuned. As soon as I get that figured out, I shall be sharing! That way, other people can keep me accountable, and I can share my experience and how God has worked in my life.

But for now… go read this book… or at least ask yourself “WHAT IS ENOUGH?” for your life!

Church Stuff Doesn’t Have To Be Boring…

boring meetingI recently had the opportunity to train children’s ministry leaders and volunteers at a local small church.  I have to admit that I was somewhat dreading this event because it was in the middle-of-nowhere in Central California.  I just wasn’t looking forward to the 2-hour drive on my Saturday morning.  To my surprise, they actually had 20 volunteers show up… this is amazing given that they have around 40 children on Sundays.

We spent about 2 hours together.  We laughed a lot… we made lots of noise.  We jumped up and down.  We used chenille wires to create things.  We used sticky fingers, rolled dies, and played games.  After our 2 hours together, many individuals came up to me to thank me for coming out to their church.  Many of the comments I heard were:

  • I can’t believe how fun this was!  I certainly didn’t expect this training to be so active, interactive, and fun!
  • My daughter (6 yrs old) was upset that I dragged her to church on Saturday morning because I couldn’t find a sitter.  But she had so much fun that she can’t wait to come back to church on Sunday!
  • You make children’s ministry so fun!
  • This is the most fun I had at a church meeting!

Well, I’m very pleased that everyone had so much fun… but it got me thinking… Why do people automatically assume that any training at church, including the ones for children’s ministry, is going to be boring?  Well, it’s probably because that’s their past experience with any ministry workshops and/or trainings.  Well, first of all, I believe that if you work with kids or youths, you just can’t have boring, non-interactive trainings.  We must lead by example, and if the leaders don’t know how to have fun, build relationships, and interact, how can we expect the kids to do the same?  Secondly, I believe a team that laughs together stays and grows together… so I believe having fun together is a big component of a successful team!

So people…. please… let’s stop making church stuff boring… and let’s bring the fun back… especially for children and youth ministry stuff!!!  Afterall, the Bible is actually the most exciting book ever written… and face it, living a Christian life definitely isn’t boring! Let’s have fun!!!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference... we love to have fun!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference… we love to have fun!

Failing does NOT make me a Failure!

failing

The feeling of failing SUCKS! There is really no way to sugar coat it… because no matter how you try to justify failure, the yucky feeling is still there! In the past few months, I’ve had to deal with few failures I had the “privilege” of experiencing. Each time, my heart just sinks to the very bottom of my stomach, and it hurts… sometimes it hurts like hell.

However, I’ve always been a big advocate of failure.  I won’t lie… it sucks when it happens to me… I think about the time, money, energy, heart, and resources that were “wasted” but I still wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a constant reminder that I went out of my comfort zone… and I took risks. It’s a constant reminder that I’m not perfect nor invincible. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t know it all, especially the future. It’s a constant reminder that life isn’t easy. It’s a constant reminder to persevere and try again when I fail. It’s a constant reminder that I need to rely on others for help and grace, and most of all, rely on God for wisdom, guidance, healing, and refuge.

I’ve had sleepless nights. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve shed tears. I’ve been disappointed. I’ve been angry. I’ve been sad. I’ve been hurt. But I still wouldn’t have it any other way… because without failure, I wouldn’t understand the glory of success as well. And failing does NOT make me a failure, it makes me human…  who won’t settle for less nor complacency, but who is determined to persevere and have great expectations in this life… because I believe God has amazing plans for my life!