Forget and Forgive

It’s Thursday morning.  Spent all of last weekend in San Antonio on a girl’s weekend with my mom, sister, aunt, and some other lovely ladies.  Worked the beginning of the week squeezing what used to be a 5 day work-week into 2 days (I was out Sunday).  Drove to Dallas Tuesday night, got to campus and went to bed.  Up early on Wednesday to read for class, and go to class for 7.5 hours, wrote a paper, and attempted to be social (which really just looks like me eating and nodding…or being incredibly grouchy…I’m grouchy this week).  And now it’s Thursday.  I usually get to the library early and get as much work as possible done all day.  I have a spiritual formation group at 1:30 and a class from 6-9 but I spend the rest of the day reading or writing or whatever other work I have.  But it’s Thursday morning and all I have managed so far is a shower, a trip to Starbucks where I chugged a double shot of espresso and watched Netflix on my laptop, and now I am in the library in a comfy chair with my feet propped up on a table (possibly not supposed to be doing that) reading some stuff I found online last week.  So…a productive morning to be sure.

I am certain you have had days like that.  When the work of your life just doesn’t seem to compare to the sweet, sweet idea of doing…nothing.  When you need to drink a cup of coffee and just troll around online.  Or take a long walk outside.  Or read a book you’ve been neglecting.  Or whatever your thing is.

To be sure, the work of our lives is just that- work.  Whether it’s a job someone pays you for, a ministry you feel called to, a tiny human (or humans) who you are caring for and raising, volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about, or whatever it is, the things that we dedicate ourselves to can sometimes become overwhelming.

It is a joy to have work to set your mind and your might to but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have times when your brain is tired and your body is worn out.   

Today is that day for me.  And yes I will still drag myself to class. Truthfully, once I get there I will probably really enjoy it because my professor is SO SMART and I love hearing what he says about New Testament interpretation.  But all that other stuff I would normally be doing this morning…I’m going to forget about it and forgive myself.  Maybe after lunch I’ll feel up to it.  Maybe it won’t be till tomorrow or Saturday or Sunday.  But most likely it’ll be later this afternoon when I’ve let myself take a break for a while.  Cause sometimes you need to take a break.  Yes the work you do is important but it’s not more important than you.  There is always someone who can pick up your slack for a while.  Someday you’ll be that person for someone else.  Forget about it for right now and forgive yourself.  And then get back to it tomorrow.  Or Saturday.  Or next week.

Because you aren’t valuable for the work you do but simply because you exist.  

You don’t have to do anything today to earn your spot in the world.  Right now you can breath and it’ll be ok.  Seriously…it will.  Promise.  It might not feel like it but it really will.

Forget it and forgive yourself.  Hang in there!  If I can pray for you today I would LOVE to do that.  Just comment or message me!

10 tips for dealing with stress

Yesterday was not a good day for me.  I was stressed before I even left the house because I had ZERO clean clothes and a very messy kitchen (still do as a matter of fact) and ZERO time to do anything about it.  By the time I got to work I was not in the best frame of mind to work and I got sidetracked till about 10:30am when I found out that I needed to deal with some budgeting issues.  Y’all…I  HATE math (but it is super important).  So I had to struggle through piles of numbers and info that made no sense and try to wrangle it back under control.  Submit a new (lower) budget.  Then staff meeting with no time for lunch in between.  Weekly email newsletter, planning meeting for a new Wednesday night program starting in January, Advent planning…you see where I am going.  I was herding cats all day long and was getting pretty frustrated.  I like to think that I can keep a lot of plates spinning at once but the truth is that I get antsy when I feel like people are stopping me from keeping them all spinning.  Unfortunately for me this is what ministry work really is!  People are going to need my attention while I’m trying to wrestle with budget numbers.  And I need to be able to be, not just ok with that, but accepting and welcoming of that fact.  So I was busy, stressed, and not being a very great minister.  Bummer of a day.

Almost everybody I talk to on any given day, and for any given reason, is dealing with stress and a busy schedule.  It’s just the nature of our culture.  Most of the people I know are juggling all kinds of stressful tasks like crazy work schedules, loads of responsibilities, parenting, and relationships.  All of these things can be super rewarding and satisfying but they can also cause us to have lots of worry and anxiety.

Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
        even as you eat the field’s plants;
 by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
        until you return to the fertile land,
            since from it you were taken;
            you are soil,
                to the soil you will return.

Genesis 3: 18-19

I had always read this scripture from Genesis about “by the sweat of your face”, where God is explaining the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as though God was saying that Adam was always going to have to work hard.  But a couple of years ago I discovered that what the original language actually meant was that Adam would sweat with worry, anxiety, and fear.   Adam was sweating it out.     You know the feeling.  That same panic and anxiety that comes when you are faced with a difficult situation or job.  That fear or worry that you can’t or won’t get it all done or done right and someone will suffer the consequences.  I’m faced with this pretty regularly and in my case it can be pretty dangerous sense stress can lead to some crazy issues for me.  It’s not good for anybody to be dealing with stress regularly.  So, just in time for Hump Day, here are my top 10 tips for dealing with stress and taking care of yourself.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way an expert at any of this.  These are just things I’ve done and do that help me to maintain some mental health.

10)  Go on Youtube for 15 minutes and watch ridiculous videos.  Sometimes what you need is a good laugh.  I highly recommend this video and I know my sister likes this one.

9)  Make your bed.  This may seem like strange advice but I swear it helps.  If you start a crazy day by making your bed you know you’ve at least accomplished one thing that day.  Plus at the end of the day your bed will be a welcome and crazy-free zone, not to mention a monument to your awesome first-thing-in-the-morning achievement!  Seriously, a little bit of cleaning or organization goes a long way to improving your mental health.  If your space is cluttered your brain can register the mess as additional stress.  Just doing one small chore, like making your bed, can go a long way to helping you to feel like you’re gonna make it.

8) Go for a walk outside.  There is something about being outside, even if it’s just for a minute that I find very relaxing.  Walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine are great forms of exercise but there is something about being outdoors that is refreshing for your body and soul.  Exercise is a super important part of a healthy brain.  Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t make it work, but do your best to get some exercise at least 3 times a week.  If all else fails do some good stretching before you go to bed and right when you wake up.

7)  Get a physical and take vitamins.  Seriously, you need to be taking vitamins.  Not everyone needs a multi-vitamin though.  It depends on your diet and what you’ve got swimming around in your blood stream.  Make an appt for a quick physical with your doctor.  They’ll check your lungs, heart, and do some blood work to make sure you’re doing ok and can give you advice on what kinds of vitamins you should be taking.  I recently went in to my doctor who told me I should start taking a pre-natal vitamin.  I politely explained that I was in no shape or form needing to prepare for the birth of a child and she politely informed me that pre-natals have vitamins in them that my body needs for my health…not just so I can bear children.  I would have never thought about that unless I went to the doctor.  It takes a couple of hours (that includes driving and waiting…it happens get over it) but it makes a big difference.  You’ve got to take care of your body or else you won’t be able to do the things you need and want to do.

6) Eat real food.  There are lots of great and quick options for real food that aren’t frozen, processed, or drive-thru.  I’m the worst about this one because I crave the bad-for-me stuff.  If you are dealing with stress and you eat a bunch of processed, junk food you are going to feel more sluggish.  On the other hand eating a healthy meal will give you a boost both physically and mentally.  It’s worth the extra 20 minutes.  And make sure you drink some water.  This is my standard line whenever someone tells me they are hurt.  Your body is 80% water so make sure you are staying hydrated.  Ryan Gosling told me it’s important.  

5) Talk to somebody you trust.  Maybe that’s a spouse or a friend or a therapist.  I am a huge believer in therapy.  It’s a great to have a 3rd party who is objective and non-judgemental to share your struggles with.  You don’t have to worry that you are over-burdening them either.

4) Get a hobby…that is not related to your job.  My job happens to also be something I’m very passionate about but if it was all I did or talked about 24/7 I would go crazy.  Take up a hobby, any hobby, that will let you clear your mind and relax.  I love to do different kinds of crafts.  But I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to my crafts so I’ve been able to get a lot of satisfaction from it even when it doesn’t come out perfectly.  Maybe your thing is gardening, knitting, collecting stamps, or photography.  I don’t know what makes your little heart skip a beat but find something and do it.  Here’s the thing though:  you won’t always have time to enjoy your hobby.  So find ways to stay connected to it without spending a lot of time on it.  Maybe a book that you could read while you are traveling for work (or an audiobook that you could listen to while you are driving?).  I have a Pinterest board for crafts and when all I have is the 3 minutes I’m left alone in the bathroom (is this an over-share?)  I’ll look at a couple of projects that I want to try when I have a chance.  Google is a beautiful thing.

3)  Get some rest.  I basically don’t sleep in the summer.  From mid-May till September I run on about 4-6 hours of sleep every night…sometimes less.  Even when I can and want to sleep my crazy brain won’t always let me.  And that’s ok.  Yes, sleep should be a priority.  But don’t mentally flog yourself when you can’t get a full 8 hours.  Allow yourself the time to rest, even if that doesn’t mean sleep.  Practice some deep breathing.  Lay down for however long you can in a room with NO TECHNOLOGY.  That means no tv, radio, or noise (maybe white noise is ok but seriously can’t you just be quiet for a while?)  Get comfy, close your eyes, and let your body relax even if your mind doesn’t shut down.  Let your muscles take a break for as long as you can.  You may fall asleep and you may not but either way you will be ok.  And that brings us to…

2)  Give yourself a break…and expect others to do the same.  You are not a superhero even if you play one on tv.  You are going to mess up, forget things, say the wrong thing, look a hot mess, and accidentally insult your boss.  If you are super talented you may do it all at once (I speak from experience, folks).  Cut yourself some slack and let it be ok when you prove to be less than perfect.  I promise the world will still keep spinning even if you forgot something super important.  Almost everything is fixable even if it is a super pain to fix.  And if people are giving you a hard time feel free to let them know that a) you are doing the best you can b) you are sorry that you made the error and c) you would appreciate some support while you are dealing with lots of stress.  If your boss is being a jerk and you can’t say anything to him/her I understand not wanting to sass them about not being supportive.  But that doesn’t mean you have to internalize their negativity.  Acknowledge it and let it go.  You are doing the best you can.  Give yourself a break.

1)  Pray.  This may sound like the Jesus answer but I promise you it is the best thing I do for my mental health. There was a time when my prayer life was more like a Christmas list.  “Dear God, Please give me a good job and a hunky boyfriend (see Ryan Gosling comment earlier).  I swear I’ve been mostly good.”  But I have found that the more often I turn aside to pray, even if it’s just a couple of minutes,  the more peaceful I become.  For me this started by praying the Lord’s Prayer.  The more I paid attention the words of the prayer the more I found that it had the power to refocus and revitalize me.  If I’m praying for God’s will to be done I’m going to have to let go of my death-grip on control.  If I’m praying to forgive others as I’ve been forgiven I’m going to have to start being kinder and more compassionate to people.  And my favorite part of the prayer…Our Father.  Sometimes the only word I can manage to pray is “Father” on a loop.  And somehow just calling on my creator and knowing He hears me is enough to get me through the day.

I hope these tips are helpful for you.  I’d love to hear of any additional tips or tricks you have for staying healthy when you are dealing with stress and busyness!

Dancing

It’s the same  each week.  About 5 minutes after the youth leave I start the Sunday night Mental Dance of Doom.  It goes something like this:  Man, where was everyone this evening?  There weren’t enough kids tonight (regardless of the number).  Maybe they don’t like the games we’ve been playing.  We should try some different games.  I am awful at choosing games.  If I could just find a game everybody likes they’d be coming.  No, that’s not right.  People don’t come for the games.  It’s probably the small group curriculum.  They hate it.  They aren’t learning anything because it’s so awful.  I should have picked something else.  Or maybe it’s the devo time.  I’m picking songs they don’t know or like.  Maybe they don’t want to do worship time.  They just had worship this morning.  Maybe they would rather play a game.  Man I’m awful at games.  And choosing lessons.  And setting up worship.  And getting students to come.  I’m just awful at this whole ministry thing.

It happens every week so you’d think that I would be used to it.  But every week I am disoriented, disappointed, and honestly…scared.  I worry I’m not doing a good job or that if I just worked a little harder it would be better.  But I only have so many hours in a day and they can’t all be spent at the church (is that even ok to say?!?).

The truth is that everybody has some area in their life that is overwhelming and scary.  For a lot of my friends it’s parenting.  The overwhelming responsibility of raising human beings can be a bit scary.  Or maybe it’s a job.  Or a relationship.  Or even a specific project or task.  We all encounter stuff that’s overwhelming.  And the Dance of Doom kicks in and we are so sure that we are terrible people doing a terrible job.  We don’t want to do it any more.  It would be easier to let it go, to stop trying.  Sometimes it’s not an option but we wish we could just bail or that someone would come in and either tell us we are doing a good job or tell us how to fix it.

That voice is not of God.  He has called me to ministry and he’s not the one telling me I can’t do it.  It’s me, the Enemy, and my fear dancing around in my head.  I wish I could say that all I have to do is acknowledge that and it goes away but I would be lying to you.  The Dance goes on and on until I finally stop and pray about it.  I ask God what He wants from me and then I just rest.  Every time the dance starts back up I just offer it back up to God.

It’s not my job to transform the lives of my students.  It’s not your job to raise perfect kids.  It’s not even your job to be perfect at work.  We show up and do the best we can trusting that God will show up too and cover for our shortcomings.

That doesn’t mean I will ever stop trying or stop working or striving to improve in my ministry or personal life.  But it does mean that I will try to find contentment in the moment and that I will cut myself a break when I’ve done the best I can.  I won’t keep dancing to a tune that isn’t sung by God.   Because I’ve learned how sweet it is when you dance with Him.  He’s a great partner and even though my steps are clumsy and I falter I’ve never once fallen when I’m leaning on Him.   The steps aren’t perfect but they are joyful, exciting, and encouraging.  I find peace and purpose when I dance with Him and that’s the only dancing I want to be doing from now on.

So may your week be filled with laughter, songs, and dancing.  And may you find the peace and joy that comes from dancing along to the tune that God is singing over you.

 

The Monday Morning Mess

Last night, like every Sunday night, we had UMY (United Methodist Youth).  What is that, you may ask?  It’s our weekly church gathering of 6th-12th graders.  We eat dinner, play games, have small group bible study time, and in general hang out.  It’s 2 hours of craziness and I often feel like I’m standing in the middle of a whirlwind trying to control the direction it’s blowing.  Lately our group has grown from about 20-30 a week to 40-50 a week.  Which is awesome!  We’ve had to do some adjusting to make that work.  Which means my organized and decorated youth rooms got dismantled and we’re still working on re-mantling them in a way that makes sense for us.  We’ve been doing some projects to get the rooms up to snuff (let me know if you want to help with that!  I’ve got 2 booths and 2 tables that need painting!) and we’re making it work.

By the time the students leave we are looking at a pretty serious mess.  Luckily I’m blessed with some seriously amazing volunteers who always stay behind to discuss how the evening went and help me clean up.  But I’m still the last one out the door (as it should be…not complaining at all!) and I always have things that I need to tackle on Monday morning.  Usually those things are piled up on my desk staring at me accusingly until I stop ignoring them and get down to work.  There are papers that need to be filed, papers that need to be copied, checks that need to be deposited (we are always registering for something it seems), emails that need to be answered, things that need to be put away, attendance that needs to be marked and copied.  Last week I panicked because I thought there was paint on the floor from a project we are working on.  Luckily turned out to be a mushed  M&M.

Basically my worst nightmare.

Basically my worst nightmare.

 

I don’t enjoy the mess.  I am not a messy type of person.  I like things picked up, filed, and organized.  That fact makes me something of an oddball in youth ministry (although most of the people I know are at least somewhat organized) but it’s the best way for me to function.  For me a messy space= a messy brain and I need all the help I can get in keeping my brain straight.  So no mess please and thank you.  But there’s something about my messy youth room that makes me smile.  Even something about the panic of cleaning paint/chocolate off the floor BEFORE ANYONE KNOWS.  Having a jumble of chairs and having to move things around fills me with love because it means we are making room for more of God’s people.  Cleaning the floor and washing out paint brushes fills me with joy because it means that we have lived in this space.  Picking up bibles and pencils and putting them away fills me with peace because it means teenagers got out their bibles and used them!

 

I don’t know what your Monday mess looks like today.  Maybe piles of dirty clothes and baby bottles.  Maybe it’s paperwork and emails.  Maybe it’s kids coming back to a classroom.  Maybe it isn’t a literal pile at all but is instead a mental pile of worries and anxieties about money, loved ones, or life choices.  I don’t know what your Monday morning mess looks like but I do know that God is at work in it.  I know that He is moving in this world and in your life.  I pray that you find love, joy, and peace in your messy Monday.  If not today then a Monday in the future.  I promise not all Monday’s will be quite so messy.  I promise you are not alone in your piles of work and problems.  Today I will say a prayer for you and I will look forward to the way God will turn messy into blessing for you.  Monday mornings are messy but they don’t last forever.  May your day be blessed.

Gardening

We had our big Youth Kick-off last night and it was awesome!!!!!!  We had over 80 people there, youth and families, which is sort of astounding since we average about 20-30 a week.  Our group has just grown a lot over the past year and I don’t just mean we’ve added a bunch of people.  It’s obvious that students have really put down some good theological roots as they start to “talk the talk” like it’s just everyday speak, ask tough questions, and make choices based on their faith instead of on what everyone else is doing.  It’s cool to be a part of and I’m grateful for all of it.  With a growing group and the start of a new year comes…paperwork.  Every year students have to turn in a new Youth Ministry registration form with all their info on it, like health insurance, school info,  a liability waiver, media release…you get the idea.  All of that has to be put into a database and then the forms are scanned and uploaded to the database as well (just in case).  Even if a student has turned in all this information before there is always something that has to be changed…which means I spent 5ish hours today sorting through registration forms and entering data.  It’s a lot of work up front but then it’s done for 12 months and it is great to have so that we can mass message the kids, parents, and volunteers or just in case something does happen we have everything we need in order to handle it.  So yeah…I did paperwork all day.  Talk about  a let down after an awesome night of ministry.

But then I got home and as I pulled up into the driveway I realized…I need to water the yard and I really need to pull weeds.  I moved into a house with my best friend just before Easter this year and I love living in a house.  But it is VERY different from apartment life and sometimes I forget about all those little things you have to do on a regular basis.  And I’ve been forgetting about those weeds since 4th of July.  So I went in, feed the dogs, and got ready to do yard work.

Before

Before

We live on a corner lot of a cul-de-sac so there is a lot of yard, y’all.  And we have those awesome 1950’s style sprinklers- you know the ones that look like someone is watering with a paper fan?  Well anyway it has to be moved into at least 3 different spots to get the whole back yard so I started there.  Then I headed up front to that beauty above and started tackling the weeds with my trusty garden trident.  What is a garden trident you ask?  It’s that 3 prong fork thing that you use to dig up weeds.  It looks like a bent trident.  I know that garden trident isn’t it’s proper title.  I believe it is called a cultivator. But I mean come on- would you rather pull weeds with a “cultivator” or a GARDEN TRIDENT?  Is there really any question?  I didn’t think so.  Moving right along…

So it’s been a long day and now I’m outside jacking with sprinklers and pulling up weeds and suddenly I feel…relaxed.  Well, uh.  There’s just something about working with your hands that’s very soothing and so the more I pulled up weeds the more calm and focused I felt.  As my hands did their work my mind was free to think about other things and I got to thinking about the stories Christ told about weeds, gardening/farming, and things that grow.  I could think of several times where that sort of language pops up in scripture.  And after spending some time outside today I felt doubly blessed by those words.  It makes sense for people who needed to work the land in order to eat (no such thing as Ye Olde HEB)  to tell stories about nature and faith but how amazing that even though all my veggies come from the store all it takes is one small flower bed to remind me of the awesomeness of creation and the Creator.  And how amazing it is that we are invited to not just see this creation but to be given responsibility for its care.  To still be called to be gardeners long after we’ve lost the right to enter the Garden.

After having spent 2ish hours outside I feel more energized and excited than I have all day.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I didn’t get all the weeds…but I got a lot of them!

Pile of Weeds with my trusty Garden Trident

Pile of Weeds with my trusty Garden Trident

Tomorrow I’ll head back to my office and have more paper work to do and more emails to send and more letters to mail out.  I’ll have to work on confirmation lessons and bible study lessons.  But it’s all gardening.  It’s all working the ground so that stuff can grow.  It’s pulling weeds so that the life doesn’t get choked out of the beauty.  It’s the worked that I’m called to- the work we are all called to in one form or another.  What a blessing to work alongside the Creator in His Creation.  What a blessing to be a gardener.

After

After

Let’s start at the very beginning…

I’ve been told it’s a very good place to start.

This is me.

This is me.

This is my adorable dog, Gus.

This is my adorable dog, Gus.

This is where I work.

This is where I work.

I debated putting up pics of my family and friends (mostly my too-cute-for-words nephew) but I figure we have plenty of time for that later.  So why the sudden blog?  I’m a youth director- which basically means I spend about 70 hours a week hanging out with, planning events for, and generally tracking teenagers.  The rest of the time I talk about said teenagers and the work that goes into an effective youth ministry.  Most of my friends are in ministry of some kind or another.  It’s kind of all I do.   This February I’m heading off to Israel for a couple of weeks to learn about the Holy Land.  I’ll be 100% honest…I thought I’d get on a plane (not my favorite thing to do anyway) and then walk around Israel for a couple of weeks.  No muss, no fuss.  Well at the first meeting we had for the trip planning I found out that I was sorely mistaken.  I’ve got homework and lots of it.  Reading, marking maps, and EXERCISE so that I can keep up when we apparently hike our way through the Promised Land (I’m sure it’s very biblical).  So I’m sitting there realizing what I’ve really gotten myself into, adding that to all my regular work commitments (which are varied and numerous), plus my extra work for district and conference events (Not a United Methodist and have no idea what I’m talking about?  Check it out here.) .  All of this addition is starting to make me nervous.  So how does that equal a new blog?  Well the thing is, once upon a time I considered myself primarily a writer.  And what does a writer do?  So glad you asked…they write.  But for the last 4 years all I’ve written is curriculum…for work.  I need and want a space that belongs to that part of me that existed long before I started in full-time ministry.  Yes, I’m going to talk about youth ministry stuff sometimes.  But mostly I want to write again.   Just for fun and just because I can.  Yes, it’s going to cost me something to commit to this thing.  I’m going to lose time and energy writing on here when I could be sleeping or whatever.  But I need to write just as much as I need to sleep.  And more than that I need the discipline of writing.  I’ve got a lot going on from now until…well I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.  I need to be disciplined if I’m going to be able to give everything my level best.  So I’ll be here, hopefully several times a week, telling you about my wonderfully weird and messy life.  It’s my constant pursuit of the Divine all mixed in with my daily living right here in black and white.

How do you find time for the things you love in the midst of a busy life?  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!