All I really wanted this Christmas…

As Christmas day quickly approached a few weeks ago, my house was filled with shrieking, jumping, and count-downing [yes – that is a word, I declare]. The month of December was literally laughing in my face as it slid on by without a hint of showing mercy and slowing down. Our house filled with shrieks, jumps and countdowns expressed by my children – yes… and also, by me.

I was throwing a fit of anticipation, resisting the temptation to be suckered into Christmas anxiety. I was the one shrieking, declaring – I will not lose my cool this Christmas! I was the one jumping, staking my claim – this would be the Christmas I would enjoy every moment of! I was the one count-downing, sweating as each day passed more quickly than the last – with more to do and less time to finish … Christmas.

Finish … Christmas?! What the heck is wrong with this statement???

As December 25th drew near, I almost lost all I really wanted for Christmas. It was subtle, and it crept in momentarily… I was the one setting ridiculous impossible enjoy – every – moment of Christmas goals for our family. I was the one losing myself in the chaos of my mind wrapped up in thoughts of presents, coupons, sales, mailing and wrapping packages, decorating the house, cleaning the house, and planning the meals… I was the one having an anxiety attack in Target, pacing the aisles, waiting… for our eldest daughter to pick out elf pajamas she absolutely had to wear for the Christmas party she was hosting with her friends.

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She does look pretty darn cute as an elf 😉

Snap. That’s when it happened. In the Target aisle.

“I can’t do this anymore! I won’t do this anymore!”

I stopped the madness and took the kids outside of Target. “Let’s go back to the car, pick up the reusable bags I left in the trunk, and start over.”

Okay mom.

They understood. They saw me unraveling and helped me pull it back together. We went to the car, picked up the reusable bags, went back into Target and all I really wanted for Christmas wasn’t lost anymore. I found it – again.

Wonder. The Wonder of Moments. Joy-filled Moments. The Wonder of laughter, peace, simplicity, enjoying each other, being fully present together. (Even while shopping at Target.)

The next day, after the Target panic attack, I went to my women’s Bible study. Just a week shy of Christmas day, naturally the conversation turned to the potential –and sometimes inevitable– stress of Christmas. Why do we always put this pressure on ourselves? To create the “perfect” Christmas? Why do we put ourselves thru this year after year? *One friend described Christmas as an orgasm that never happens. Another friend piped in – I don’t want to fake it! HA! We were rolling in laughter – yes, at our women’s Bible study. Because the truth is this – There’s this pressure to have a grand, unforgettable, life-changing Christmas experience, and sometimes it just. doesn’t. happen.

All I want for Christmas is to be wrapped up in The Wonder of Emmanuel ~ God. With. Us.

Every Christmas, the dreaded gingerbread house taunts me. I suck at making them. The kids have made them at school, and I’m at home, praising the Lord I didn’t have to. It is always a chore. But this year the kids are being homeschooled, and Trader Joes came to our rescue! We decided to buy a Gingerbread House kit from TJ’s and the kids were excited about it. Whew. I stopped sweating over that stress. Every time we went into TJ’s to pick up groceries, the kids would ask – can we get our Gingerbread House this time? No – next time.

Until the next time they were out of Gingerbread Houses!!! Noooooo!!! Say it isn’t Soooooo!!! 

I briefly freaked out and calmed down, and said “Kids, I will get you a Gingerbread House kit if it’s the last thing I do!!!” I scrambled and called the next Trader Joes closest to us, desperation in my voice – “Do you have anymore Gingerbread Houses in stock? Ummm… let me check. (pause – panicked – moments – waiting). Yes, we have TWO left! Okay-can you put it on hold for me? We’ll be there in the morning to pick it up.”

The next day, we went to pick it up and the TJ’s associate I had spoken to went to the back to find it. He came back – ma’am I’m sorry, it was sold. I had your name on it, but someone must have sold the last TWO we had. I almost started crying… no – not really… but he could see the disappointment in my face and the kids. “Is this a gift?” He asked. “No, my kids and I were going to put it together for fun.” …you know, making Christmas memories that could be destroyed and possibly ruined forever if we don’t build a Gingerbread House together!!! “Well, we do have a few left we were planning to donate because the boxes were damaged slightly. If you don’t mind.” What?! Do we mind?! No way!! This is the Best. News. Ever!!! So the associate came back a few moments later with the perfect Gingerbread House box kit just for us. The best part – it was free 🙂 Thank you Trader Joes!!!

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After all the fuss, we had a blast making it, but it didn’t taste very good. Similar to cardboard with sugar on top. Oh well, it was all worth it – no doubt 😉

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All I wanted for Christmas was to lose myself in the Wonder of it all. The first time Jesus came to earth. The first Christmas as a baby. As Emmanuel God with us. God coming as a child. The Wonder! I want to be wrapped up in the child-like Wonder of it all. Now Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is in full swing. Yet nothing about Jesus has changed. He has been, still is and always will be Emmanuel ~ God. With. Us! He is with me. I can forever be wrapped up and lost in His Wonder. And that’s all I want for Christmas ~ and every day in between.

What did you want this Christmas? Did you lose yourself in His Wonder or in stress and anxiety? Please share – don’t be shy – we’ve all been there!

In Him, Leslie

*I hope you won’t be offended – all stories necessary for the authenticity of this post!

5 truths about being a Pastor…

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Being a Pastor is one of the most unique jobs in the world. Second only to being a parent -or third only to being in the military- I believe it is one of the most exhausting jobs in the world. However, this is my humble opinion. Take it or leave it. It is what it is. Unless you’ve been a Pastor – you don’t know what it’s like to be a Pastor. No offense.

1. Pastoring is unique… Being a Pastor is extremely unique. Because People. People are the client… the work base… the responsibility… A Pastors job is the people they pastor. Did you know that? Now you know. You’re welcome. You never know what to expect from people. Everyday will be different based on the people Pastors interact with. Every church service is different. From attendance to sound issues, to worship choices and preaching topics, ever church service is unique. No work day is the same. We like this about being a Pastors. It’s never dull.

2. There is no standard answer … For every spiritual or Biblical opinion, question, debate, ideology, understanding and expectation… there can be a myriad of answers and angles to find the answers. Following Christ is a life long journey of learning. Yes, ‘the Bible tells me so’. Jesus loves me. Relationship with Christ, is the one and only way to God the Father. However, for some of the questions people have, there are not always simple answers. Because People. People are complicated. There is no straight forward Pastoral policy and procedure handbook given out to every Pastor when they become a Pastor. The Holy Spirit has to be our guide. Because People… Complicated People. They need to know God’s love and God’s truth. We like this about being Pastors… teaching, counseling, learning and growing God’s Word. It’s never dull.

3. There is little time off… The pastors primary job is to Shepherd the people in their church… while dealing with a dysfunctional copy machine, budget decisions, preparing and planning for services, organizing outreaches and volunteers, overseeing staff, plunging clogs in the church toilet, evicting raccoons who’ve made their home in the church sanctuary… and that was just on Tuesday. There is always something to do… or someone to meet with. Work hours can vary greatly… from 50-80 hours a week. There is not always a set schedule. Many Pastors are bi-vocational working full-time while Pastoring. And time off is not always time off. In our time of Pastoring, people have decided to leave the church, and give us the news while we’re on family vacation. This is our least favorite part of Pastoring – when people leave the church. But, it is what it is. It happens. Even during our time off. There is never a dull moment, even on vacation. It’s always an adventure

4. Results are unpredictable… As a Pastor it is difficult to assess the results of your job. Jesus is your boss and your work day is never the same. Because People. The results of time serving as a Pastor will vary, depending on the people. Church growth, discipleship classes, small groups, mission trips, neighborhood outreaches, teaching and preaching, giving and tithing, financial responsibilities…  ‘Production results’ will always vary. Because People. Are people are growing and maturing in their walk with Christ? Truly knowing people are growing in Christ can be difficult to assess… by their fruits we can knowwe can make a judgement… but some would say we’re not supposed to judge one another. HA. Because People are people. Complicated people. Pastoring is always an adventure.

5. Pastors are not Superman… Pastors are 100% human. In case you weren’t sure. In case you had any doubts. Any supernatural abilities a Pastors has are solely gifts from God. They must fully rely on direction and strength 100% from God their Father, Jesus their Lord and Savior and Holy Spirit their guide. No one -not even other Pastors- can know exactly what another Pastor is going thru day to day, moment by moment… they’ll have an idea, but every church is unique to its own people. But God… He knows. He knows all, hears all, sees all, understands all. He sustains super-human Pastors in their supernatural calling. Pastoring is always an adventure. 

As we prepare to leave our current Pastoral role and move into a season of unknowns, we are grateful. We are grateful for the Pastoral journey we have walked. We are grateful for the growth we have experienced thus far… and the learning we have yet to do. We are grateful the journey has never been dull and always been an adventure. At times very difficult, but never dull. Most of all, we are grateful to serve our amazing Lord, to whom no one can compare. He walks with us, beside us, around us. He goes before us, He is our rear guard. We know Him, we see Him, we hear Him, and we trust Him… in everything that has been and will be.

Our story rages on… In Him, Leslie

the incredible shrinking church

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sometimes the smallest ones can make the biggest difference…

A few years ago, we began to see our church grow while our church attendance declined simultaneously. Although people were leaving (for various reasons) something bigger in our church was stirring. The outside of our church body was shrinking, yet the core of our church body was growing stronger. Our souls were laid bare before God. We surrendered to His leading, His guidance, grace and wisdom, even as people left.  Last summer, our attendance hit at an all-time low, yet we knew God was moving in our midst. I personally struggled thru some of the families leaving, yet deep within my soul, the Lord assured me He was to be trusted thru this. My perspective began to shift. The smaller our church became, I grew more confident. This may seem backward… But God.

He whispered to my spirit and reminded me of Gideon. Gideon was the least in his father’s house… his clan was the weakest in Manasseh, yet he was called a ‘mighty man of valor’. The Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites, they felt they had been forsaken by God, but God was calling Gideon to rise up… when the Lord spoke to Gideon He said, “but I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:16) Gideon went thru his own process of testing and trusting God, his own journey of doubt and fear. His journey continued as He trusted God to be faithful to His word and calling… and Gideon prepared to defeat the Midianites.

He gathered an army of 32,000. Whoa. No problem. We’ve got a huge army. The Midianites will be no match for us! But God… He was probably chuckling as Gideon was gathering his army… Oh Gideon, don’t you remember what I told you about striking the Midianites as ‘one man’? You are the least in your family… from the weakest clan… This is why I chose you. So God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men, sending home those who were fearful, trembling and kneeling down to lap water with their hands.

With a small army of 300, Gideon and his men defeated Midian. God shrunk this army so no one would boast Israel saved themselves. With the reminder of Gideon’s journey, God was shaking the foundation of my own heart… my need to keep all trust in Him, to boast solely in Him and take my eyes of any circumstances. Regardless of our shrinking church, I know our church is incredible! God was challenging my foundation of fully trusting in Him. Knowing without doubt – He. Is. With. Me. He is with our incredible shrinking church!

Often God chooses and uses the few – the weak – the least, to change the world. The foolish to shame the wise. The weak to shame the strong. So that the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:25-31)

Moses lacking eloquence of speech, leading the Israelites on an exodus out of Egypt from the clenches of a stubborn pharaoh…

Joshua and Caleb 2 spies fully following God, ready and willing to go after the land promised to them…

David the small in stature shepherding over-looked son of Jesse, killing the giant Goliath…

Jonathan and his armor bearer climbing the hill defeating the Philistines…

Elijah challenging over 400 prophets of Baal to an altar duel calling down fire from heaven…

Little children, the greatest in the Kingdom of God and our example, Jesus teaches for us all to become more child-like…

and Jesus beginning His ministry with 12 simple fishers of men set apart to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

I know our small church is incredible. More importantly, I know the people within our church walls are people God is using to share Jesus with our community, to reach the earth for His Glory! God is searching the earth for hearts ready to trust Him… surrendered and willing to be poured out for Him… people and churches ready to be used to advance His Kingdom – In spite of our past, our size, our circumstances, our weaknesses – He. Is. With. Us. We can trust. 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

And the story rages on. . . In Him, Leslie

3 things Christ followers need to stop doing… Please.

Hey. I’m a Christian. 

If you’re a Christ follower too, that’s cool. There are 3 things you need to stop doing (if you’re doing them). Please. For the love of God. And btw, if you’re not claiming to be a Christ follower – this is not for you. So keep on keepin’ on… More power to ya.

If you know someone who claims – ‘I’m a Christian’ – Do specific thoughts come to mind? Do you hold them to a higher moral standard? Do you have certain expectations of their actions? Do you consider if their lifestyle reflects their claim?

You Should.

You see, I have been living as a Christ follower as long as I can remember. I’ve been going to church since I was born 37 years ago. My parents took me until I could take myself, and I’ve never stopped taking myself to church. When I was 16 years old, the Lord called me into full time ministry.  When I was 18 years old, I began working full time in Christian circles ~ Mardel Christian bookstore, Women of Faith, New Life Clinics, and serving in youth, worship and Pastoral ministries in churches across the United States. So…being a Christ follower is my life. 

I am basically a professional Christian. But, being a Christian is more than “my job”.

What does that even mean? Am I super holy? Um no. It means I am super needy. 1) I am a sinner. 2) I am desperately in need of my relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord every single moment of everyday. . . waking or sleeping. . . all 24 hours. Every. Single. Day. 

As a professional Christian, I have spent much of my life in relationship with other Christ followers ~ all on their own journeys ~ thru acquaintance, co-workers, friendship, counseling, mentoring and discipling. Throughout my life, I’ve been the “religious friend”. I’ve overheard friends say, ‘don’t tell Leslie this … fill in the blank.’ I’ve made people uncomfortable…and still do, I suppose. Especially as a “Pastors wife and Worship Leader”. These “titles” automatically come with their own laundry list of expectations and pre-conceived notions people have of me and my life. I’m certainly not perfect and definitely not anyone’s Holy Spirit. However, I’ve always felt different… like a stranger in the world… because I was set apart. 

In my relationships with other Christians over the years, I’ve noticed a profound difference between those who live as they are, and those who merely say they are. I have been surprised by the distinction between who we proclaim to be with our lips, and how we actually live out our lives.

Last I checked, following Jesus is a full time gig. Like, He has expectations of those of us claiming to follow Him to look different than the culture we’re surrounded by in the world we live inSo, if we call ourselves Christ followers, we should stop doing these 3 things. Please. For the love of God. Otherwise, let’s agree to agree we might not actually be. . .living as Christ followers.

Stop. Seriously. Immediately. 

This may sound judgmental? I’ll let you be the judge…

1) Comparing sins – Justifying our own sin by comparing our sin to others sin.

If you are making excuses for your sin, based on a sin comparison chart you’ve drafted – Stop. Don’t do that anymore. Being a Christ follower means repentance – aware of your own sin and convicted by it. Don’t compare your sin to the person sitting next to you in the pew, or the person singing next to you in the choir.

Jesus began His ministry with a message of repentance. Repentance means change. Repentance requires a turning away from our sin, not justifying our sin. “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:16-17. (ESV)

2) Being hypocritical – living the Christian life with your mouth, but not your heart.

The “Phaducees” (Pharisees & Sadducees) had God on their lips but their hearts were far from Him.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15: 7-9.

If you are a Christ follower, your actions, choices and decisions and should reflect it. Not merely your words. Jesus rebuked the Phaducees because they were pompous and religious in word and appearance, but deceived in their hearts.

3) Living selfishly – Hey Christian, it’s not all about you. The Christian life is one of great sacrifice.

We are called to lay our lives down for others. Our lives should look more like the life of a servant than that of a king. Washing feet rather than turning up our noses. Putting others above ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing. Called to give ourselves away and lay our lives down.

“And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35.

It is not easy to be a Christ follower and it was never designed to be.

So this is a challenge to those who call themselves Christ followers. Attending church for 1 or 2 hours a week, paying tithes, singing in the choir or serving in the children’s ministry doesn’t automatically make anyone a Christ follower. If you’re comparing sins, living hypocritically or selfishly… Stop. Please. Thank you. Christians – we need to look different than this world we live in.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10.

And the story rages on. . . In Him, Leslie

What the *Pastors Kids* are doing in church…

Today was like any other, every other Sunday.
Every other Sunday I lead worship, and Pastor daddy brings the kids to church.
On the every other Sundays, “Mommy, are you doing worship today?”
“No, I’m taking you to church.”
We have breakfast, do a few chores, take our Sunday baths, and we’re on our way for our super long, three minute commute, around the corner to church. And usually, we are a few minutes late, which is ridiculous. But, it happens people. Every other Sunday.

We stroll up to the front row, because that’s where Pastor daddy sits and we want to sit with him 🙂
I jump right into worship, both literally and figuratively. {I’m a jumper for Jesus.}
Now, there’s nothing magical about sitting in the front row of a church service, but there is more room.
To jump.
To spin.
To twirl.
To do the splits…
which is what my 3.5 year old dearest daughter was doing this morning, in church.
While we love having kids in our church services, we draw the line at gymnastics while the band is playing “Furious”.

I’m focused on Jesus, from the moment I enter the worship circle…
A few lines into the first song –
my darling 7 year old begins asking, “How many more songs are there, mommy? When will go to class? Will Kyle and Owen be here today?”
After whispering a few million answers, I’m focused again – my hands are raised, my voice is praising and my eyes are closed… until I get hit with a flip flop.
My 7 year old has decided to make a game of “go fetch” with his sister, throwing his crocs and her flip flops toward the stage.
Whoa now, little PK’s. 
You may think you can do whatever you want in church, but sorry – no – this momma’s gotta set some boundaries.
“What are boundaries?” my 3.5 year old asks when I tell her she can’t do the splits during worship anymore.
“Ummm… never mind.”

As worship continues, for a while {because we are a church that loves to worship!} I sit down and take a breather.
I sneak a peek over to my 9 year old. Her eyes are on the screen, she’s focused and learning to worship.
I am holding the 3.5 year old and scared to look over and see what my 7 year old is now up too.
*Sigh* it’s nothing too crazy – he’s reading the words on the screen and only asking me, “Mommy – what does F-U-R-I-O-U-S spell?”  
A few moments later, he’s in some frog-like fetal position asking me [for the billionth time] “When are we going to class?”
“I don’t know, buddy.” [but it sure can’t start soon enough for me!]

Worship is winding down, we pray over our kids before they go off to their classes [hallelujah], and –Oh snap– I still have my 3.5 year old, who refuses to go to her class, with me.
I try taking her {again} into class and she won’t have it.
(Well, you could just make her go.) 
No, no. You don’t understand. She won’t have it. 

But that’s okay, there is much purpose in this…
So we’ll make the best of it, and try to sit thru daddy’s sermon without making too much ruckus.

A few coloring pages, a super tiny nap, and a donut later, the service is winding down.
Whew. We made it through without any major meltdowns.
Miracles still happen, people. Trust me, they do.
We stay and chat for a while after service and I hear from several people, both visitors and regular attenders, how much it meant for them to see our kids acting crazy normal in church.
Our PK’s are ministering to people with their antics, their actions and their attitudes. 

It’s pretty amazing, if you think about it.
God uses the smallest people -*kids*- to minister to adults. 
His Kingdom is coming in a way that will upset the wisdom of this world.
It will be unexpected, unpredictable, underestimated and mis-understood.
His Kingdom is most clearly seen thru the eyes of a child.
We must position ourselves, as children, to *see* how God is moving and what He will do.

As we left church today, our 3 PK’s surprised our socks off again -except that I wasn’t wearing any socks today- but you get the picture.
In the van, on the way home, during our super long three minute commute ~ and all throughout the afternoon ~ they were singing, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never gives out on me…” over and over again.

When you think they aren’t listening, they hear.
When you think they aren’t watching, they see.
When you think they don’t understand, they do.

Worship is coming unto Jesus ~ just as a child. 
Trust. Surrender. Obey. 
Then we will *see* His Kingdom Come.

“At the that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” {Matthew 18:1-5 NKJV} 

Kids can be ridiculous, but so can adults. We have much to learn from them. I’d love to hear your stories of kids who have ministered to you. Please feel free to share, comment and follow our stories!
In Him, Leslie