The Art of Asking Why…

why-calvin & hobbes

 

At one point in our lives, we were really good at it.  In fact, we were so good at it that it probably drove our parents absolutely crazy!  We used to be so good at asking why…  because we were trying to understand the world around us… but somewhere between ages 3 and adulthood, we’ve lost the art of asking why.  Perhaps it’s because we lacked people who encouraged curiosity and why questions in our lives.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.  I get quite few emails and inquiries regarding children’s ministry from my peers… They often want to know what curriculum to use, what events to have, how to have a stellar children’s ministry, if I would come speak at their VBS, or to consult for them.  These are all great questions… however, when I ask them why they do what they do or why they want to change things up, I get two very common answers:  because that’s what we’ve always done or because we’re bored with what we’re doing.  Often times, I take a step back  and ask “why do you do children’s ministry?”  And more often than not, I get a blank stare before they formulate some answer about wanting the kids to know and love God.  Once I probe further and ask “why do YOU do children’s ministry”, I often get “because the church asked me to” or “because I like kids.”  I’m not saying that these are all wrong answers… but I just wish people asked “WHY” more often… Why do we do VBS?  Why do we have Fall Festival?  Why do we have Christmas plays?  Why do we have camps?  If the answer is “because we’ve always done it” or “because they asked me to,” then we really need to go back and have a clear objective about why we do what we do!

Another reason why I’ve been thinking about “WHY” is… I’m often approached by parents and kidmin leaders about the need to change behaviors in kids.  I understand that misbehavior can be frustrating and even maddening.  I usually come back to the “why” of their behavior… because I’m more concerned with the heart and lasting impact.  Kids are smart… they often can figure out how to behave so they don’t get in trouble… but that doesn’t indicate that their hearts have changed at all.  I will be honest–this is NOT an easy process most of the times… Journeying through the “why’s” are often followed by more frustrations and probably more questions than answers in the beginning… but once again, I do wish more people were concerned with the “why’s” of why kids behave the way they do…

So… all this is to say… let’s not quench the curiosity in kids when they’re little… I think “why” is such an important question in life… and at every age and stage in life, we need to be asking more “why” questions!

 

busyness is my drug…

We just had an all-church retreat… first time in close to ten years, I believe.  When you’re at a church with 1000+ adults, attempting an all-church retreat is no picnic.  The last week leading up to the retreat was crazy!!!  I’m used to the craziness… I’ve been organizing vacation bible schools for almost 20 years now… I’ve led many all-church or children’s ministry events. I used to be an event planner.  I’m used to having my life stop for the sake of getting one event come together.

Leading up to this retreat, my life was already crazy with family and personal drama… but I was able to put it all aside in preparation for this retreat.  I had been running around for 2 full days just shopping for the retreat… In fact, I literally had forgotten to eat for two days… If you know me, that RARELY happens… and I wasn’t kidding when I say I lost 5 lbs during this time.  Well, the retreat came and went… and everyone had a great time.

On my drive home on Sunday afternoon, my first thoughts were “now, I have to deal with everything that I had put on back burner for the past week,” followed by a big sigh.  Once someone said to me, “you know, I’ve done drugs, I’ve gotten drunk every night, I’ve smoked everything I could find… but when I get sober again, all my problems are still here.”  Well, DUH…  we all know this (at least I hope we do…) but it occurred to me that sometimes my busyness is my drug.

The retreat isn’t bad in itself… all the events I’ve been part of weren’t bad, pointless events… When you’ve been in church ministry for close to 20 years, life is always busy.  But it sometimes becomes a distraction or diversion from dealing with what I really need to do–personally and in ministry.  It’s easy to put my family on hold while I’m busy prepping for a big church event… and they’re gracious and understanding (most of the time).  It’s easy to put my personal issues and feelings on hold while I’m running around like a headless chicken.  But when the event is over, nothing has changed… and I either have to deal with them… or find another way to keep myself busy.  As I was in the middle of drafting this blog, I decided to take a break and watch one of my favorite blogger’s Tedx Talk: Kristen Howerton… and what a God thing that she talks about this exact topic–diversion!

And this quote completely caught my attention:  “The only way to work through crappy feelings is to walk through crappy feelings.”  So I will end with her talk and this:  My name is Gloria, and busyness is my drug… and I’m ready to deal with my crappy feelings.

You-Didn’t-Have-To-Type of Experience

In my last post, I admitted my awe and love for everything Disney.  It’s mostly because they give you an experience you don’t want to forget!  Well few months ago, I got to experience something new at Disneyland.  As we were walking back to Main Street, we saw a crowd of people gathered around the Astro Orbiter.  I just assumed that it was just bunch of people walking in massive crowd.  What we came upon was a cast member dressed all in white holding a broom stick.  The head of the broom was all taped up.  My friend told me that he was probably a broom artist.  A broom artist?  What’s that???

When we got closer, I saw that pink and lavender rose petals were on the ground in a specific formation.  There were lots of people trying to take photos.  Once I made my way to the bottom, I saw that the rose petals were swept in the outline of Mickey holding balloons.  It just made everyone “oooh & aaah.”

Seriously Disney?  How do you manage to always come up with new experiences for people?  There will be tons of people who visit Disneyland that will never get to experience broom art.  However, for those that do, I bet they wouldn’t easily forget it.  Disneyland is already deemed the happiest place on earth.  They didn’t have to do another thing on the side to make this place feel better.  But they did… they added another WOW to the experience.  It seems so little, but it really wow-ed people.

My thought that evening… do we offer WOW experiences to our kids and parents that come to our church week after week?  It’s not that we have to do something magical every week… but it’s in the way we interact with kids and parents.  It’s in the way we welcome them.  It’s in the way we talk with them.  It’s in the way we show our love and care to them.  One parent told me that his daughter and son liked our church because we sent them postcards addressed to the kids, and they had never received postcards before.  Are we offering the type of experience that makes parents say “you didn’t have to…” to which we say “we wanted to”?

It’s In the Little Detail…

Image

Confession:  I really tried NOT to like Disney and his empire!  I mean, how much more money could he possibly take from all these families that just wanna have a good family time?  Although I lived about 35 miles away from Disneyland, I didn’t go for about 11 years because Disney was not gonna get MY money!!!  That money afterall can be used for something more useful!

Confession:  Disney this, Disney that… that’s all I kept seeing on facebook and blog posts; that’s all I kept hearing how magical and awesome everything Disney is… I secretly really wanted that magical experience again… so last summer right before Disney hiked up their annual pass cost to pay for Carsland, I broke down and got myself an annual pass.

Confession:  Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth… It’s seriously magical!  I’ve gone to Disneyland and California Adventure (DCA) 15 times in the last 10 months.  Not only am I having a magical time… but I’m learning a lot about what it means to create a magical experience for people.  I jokingly (actually I’m not joking) say that my church should pay for my annual pass because I’m learning so much and I’m doing so much research at Disneyland and DCA.  I’ve been thinking about few of things that I have learned, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it… I’m sure there is more to come…  but this one is one of my favorites!

Confession:  I’m a detailed person… I notice random things that most people don’t notice.  I absolutely FELL in love with this sign!  This sign is actually very easy to miss… You wouldn’t even notice it unless you were by the City Hall by the Entrance.  This is where people come for information, lost & found, etc… I love that this simple sign is from the perspective of a child… Who has ever heard of a lost parent?  Isn’t it always the kid that is lost?  Well, depending on whose perspective you take… “I lost my parents,” that’s what kids say!  Thus, lost parents!!!  I love that Disney pays attention to every little detail that screams “this is a place for kids!”  Disney truly is magical… and be warned that there will be many more posts regarding what I learned from the Disney empire!  I keep saying “Disney is gonna rule the world some day…”  I think I half-mean it!

Fail-Proof KidMin…

I started my current ministry back in February.  I was hired to start Children & Family Ministry from scratch at our new multi-site campus.  This multi-site is different in that we will not be duplicating current ministries… but our new site is going to look different to meet the needs and reach people who we’re not currently reaching.  It almost feels like a church plant in a way.  So the past few months have been filled with meetings to plan and prepare for this launch that will happen in the fall.  I have also been trying to meet and get to know as many people as possible.  One of the overwhelming part of this whole experience has been that my reputation has preceded me… and they already have a specific perception of who I am and what I am going to do.  Few conversations have gone like this:

People:  Oh, so you’re THE Pastor Gloria… so we have heard so much about you.  We heard that you’re going to change everything, and it’s gonna be awesome.

Me:  Oh.. nice to meet you.  I don’t know what you’ve heard… I’m not here to change everything… but just to do my best to have the best children’s ministry we can.

People:  We heard that you’re gonna reform children’s ministry… and you’re gonna do all these new programs and stuff…  Is that a rumor?

Me:  Hmmm… I wish I was a miracle worker… but what I’m committed to doing is to help kids connect with Jesus, and love Him more and more!

So you can see the progression of countless conversations like this…  I’m flattered that people think I’m that good (which makes me cringe on the inside…) and scared that people have such high expectations of this ministry I will be launching!  Man, it’s A LOT of pressure!!! I wish there was a fail-proof formula to doing Children & Family Ministry… but we all know that  there is no such thing!  In fact, there are so many variables… what may work gloriously in one church may not work for us.  We need to take into account the context, dynamics, and culture of the church… yes, I believe we can have a bit of control over these… but not 100% control.  I will be honest–I’m scared of this not working out so peachy (at least in the areas I’m overseeing).  This is where I need to be good steward of what is entrusted to me, and do my best to create the best environment for the kids, parents, and volunteers… but ultimately it’s up to God to make this ministry happen!

Recently in my conversation with friends, they reminded me that Jesus often used parables and illustrations that deal with gardening, farming, plants, and agriculture rather than carpentry, which was His job.  If you’re familiar with gardening, you don’t have full control over how your plants grow.  All you can do is to give it what it needs:  appropriate amount of sunlight, water, quality of soil, necessary pruning, etc… All you can do is give it the best environment you can, but you can’t make your plan grow to your liking!  Wow–how profound (it was to me at the time)!  In the photo above, I planted 2 calla lily bulbs… I got them at the same time from the same nursery… they’re even in the same pot.  The bulb on the left bore a lot of leaves.  In fact, it started growing so fast that I thought it was going to flower first.  However, the bulb on the right grew slowly and steadily and birthed a beautiful burnt orange calla lily!  I’m still waiting for the other one to flower!  They both had the same amount of sunlight, water, same soil, and same TLC… but to my dismay, only one of them is growing tall and beautiful…

In the same way, I think ministry is the same way… No matter how much we think we have control over people, we DON’T!  No matter how much I dream of kids becoming perfect children that love and obey Jesus all the time, it’s out of my control… I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:6

“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”

God is the One who will make the kids grow… not I!  My job is to do my VERY BEST to create the best environment for that growth to happen… so there is NO fail-proof Kids Ministry… but I’m trusting in God!  And I look forward to what God will do in and through our new ministry as it launches with excitement!!!  In the meantime, you can see another success/failure of another plant I planted–one bulb on the left just died while the one on the right is slowly steadily growing!

Stronger Wings

ImageCouple weeks ago, I was invited to dinner at one of our church deacon’s home.  They have two little boys, and I got to see something cool for the first time.  Their older son had gotten a butterfly cocoon  from a museum, and it was in an insect cage.  The butterfly happened to emerge from the chrysalis during our dinner, and we all got excited!  They had an instruction manual that said NOT to touch the butterfly, but to put in a branch in the cage.  We did just that. We stared at the butterfly, and it did nothing.  In fact, we all commented on how drab and ugly it looked. About another hour into our conversation, I suddenly saw the butterfly open its wings, and it was colorful and beautiful.  I know I learned about metamorphosis in school (few times I’m sure) but witnessing it for the first time was pretty phenomenal… and I learned more about the life cycle of butterflies at this moment than I had from textbooks.

Two days later, I had dinner with a good friend of mine.  We were talking about struggles of parenting (although I don’t have children, as a minister to children and families this is a topic I take great interest in).  She told me about a story she had read online about why it’s important to allow your children to struggle through life experiences.  It’s apparently a pretty famous story (that I had never heard before)… and I even found several different versions online.  This was my favorite version:

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

 The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

 One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

 The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

 At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

 The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

 As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

 But neither happened!

 The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

 It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.

Wow!  I never knew this… (or I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to have learned this fact!).  I learned TWO amazing life lessons through butterflies this week:

  1. Yes, struggling is an important part of growth experience!  In fact, it’s the struggle that gives you stronger wings to fly!  Not only parents but churches/ministries often make the mistake of raising children, youth, and adult congregation members in a bubble.  We don’t allow people to struggle… we often tell them how to think, feel, respond, and act as Christians… when what we need to do is allow them to struggle through their decisions with our guidance.  We need to let those God has entrusted to us to come to their own convictions through struggles (even if they arrive at undesired decisions at the time).  We need to allow people to make mistakes and learn from them.  We need to allow people to develop stronger wings so that they can fly even when they’re no longer part of our ministries.
  2. Eye witness and experience teaches us more than textbooks.  I know that metamorphosis of butterflies is part of primary and secondary science curriculum… I vaguely remember the diagrams in my textbooks.  However, the details of this lesson never stuck… but when I saw the butterfly emerging from the pupa with my own eyes, I was completely fascinated by the process…  and I haven’t forgotten the details because I experienced the wow of the butterfly pumping fluid into its wings.  Experience will always trump information transfer!

I took this photo of a moth in Minneapolis couple of years ago… I thought it was pretty amazing then… but I now have a whole new appreciation for these beautiful strong wings!

Don’t Tell God What To Do…

Yup… I did just that!!!  I know, I should have known better… but I was burnt out. I was tired.  I was hurt.  I was frustrated.  I was annoyed.

When I left my last church, I took few months off.  When I started to talk to God about my next ministry, I put a huge condition on Him.  “God… I’ll go anywhere… ANYWHERE… to another city, another state, even another country!  I will go ANYWHERE–just don’t send me to an Asian church!!!”  I started making my own plans… I began several conversations with churches and missionaries… I even started cleaning out my stuff, and even started packin away things I didn’t think I needed right away.  I was so sure that God was going to call me to leave Los Angeles, and I was excited to see where He was going to lead me.  However, even when great opportunities came up, I just didn’t have that conviction nor confirmation to go… so I became indecisive and just sat on my decisions.  Well, fast forward 5 months. Yes, I had received phone calls from few Asian-American churches… but I had immediately said “no” to all of them except for one only because they had different ideas and vision, which intrigued me.  But deep inside, I couldn’t see myself there.  Well, fast-forward few more months.  God often speaks to me through amazing people in my life… and they all started talking to me about how I was letting my baggage get in the way of the most amazing opportunity.  I really fought it… I really struggled through it… but you can see where this is going… I was willing to do anything for God, but I put a huge condition on Him.  And the story of my life is… God called me to serve in the largest Asian-American second generation church in the country… what in the world???  I just have to look at the irony of my life, and just laugh!

I don’t believe God just sits back and enjoys messing with my life… and laughing at my life.  But I believe that God is telling me that He has a perfect plan for me that is WAY better than what I have planned for myself.  Yes, it’s another lesson learned… but God did give me a firm conviction and confirmation that this is where I am suppose to be… at least for now.  I have to admit that I was disappointed that God didn’t listen to me, but I have no doubt that His plans for me are far better than mine… and I AM excited to start kidmin at a church right near where I live–in Los Angeles!!!  It’s gonna be an exciting journey!!!