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my life in my words


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Maps

Bags packed, Itinerary Compiled, Passport in hand, ready to board the plane to Atlanta!

Bags packed, Itinerary Compiled, Passport in hand, ready to board the plane to Atlanta!

 

When I accepted the position of Children’s Director a couple of years ago, one of my leaders reminded me that taking on this role would mean I would become less invested in my current role as Youth Pastor. Still, I accepted the additional role. I expressed to that leader that I would be okay with that because what I really wanted to do as Children’s Director, was to begin investing into a new culture of Children’s Ministry where we would develop habits to set kids up to be more easily integrated into youth group, and thus into the future church. I wanted to become more invested in their overall spiritual growth from cradle to college and beyond.

As I looked at the opportunity for structural growth in our Children’s Ministry, I made a conscious choice to adopt the Orange Strategy. I had heard about the Orange Strategy years before I had even taken on the Children’s Director role, but knew right away that it was where I felt we should be heading. What is the Orange Strategy, you ask? It is simply the impact of successfully combining the Light of the Church (represented by the color yellow) and the Love of the Family (represented by the color red) to work together and show a generation who God is, thus creating a new color—ORANGE. I tell ya what . . . here’s a visual of what that looks like . . .

As our Children’s Ministry Crew and parents have made the shift to the Orange Strategy elements we’ve implemented, we’ve seen quality growth not just in numbers of kids, but in their excitement to show up and participate in church, their desire to become leaders in Kid’s Church/Youth Group, and their efforts to hide the Word of God in their hearts. I was talking to one of our parents yesterday morning and he said,

“When I picked my son up from Westside Kids on our first visit here, he asked me, ‘Dad, can we come back tomorrow!?! Since being plugged in here, I’ve noticed that He has more faith than I think I do at times. He gets excited about scripture memory and really holds on to the verses we memorize at home together.'”

That, along with similar feedback from other families, reassures me that we are heading in a great direction. Since adopting the Orange Strategy, our volunteers and workers have become more involved and invested in the lives of the kids we see each week and it shows in all of their testimonies of what God is doing in their classes. By no means am I saying that Westside Kids is a perfect ministry free of shortcomings and hurdles, but I am saying that we are now working more as a team to strategize how we can best serve and minister to the kids that God has entrusted to our ministry. Our team is committed to the journey and is able to trust the process more and more as we continue to bond together. While we still have a way to go, I have no doubts that we are on the right track.

SO stoked I get to spend the day at Orange Tour w/ the Westside Church staff & Heather Jolly, working to build a better Kids/Student Ministry!

Last year, I was blessed with an amazing opportunity to attend the one-day Orange Tour in Seattle, hosted by the folks that run the Orange Conference and the masterminds behind the Orange Strategy. I learned a LOT of great material to implement and walked away feeling equipped for even more forward motion in Children’s and Youth Ministry. In fact, I gleaned so much from the experience that I knew I should make it a priority to attend the actual Orange Conference in Atlanta. I was so passionate about that pursuit that at the end of the Orange Tour, I purchased (out of my own pocket) my ticket to attend the Orange Conference. After that, I brainstormed and worked with my Pastor to create a game plan for me to be able to actually attend it. Thankfully, I was able to cut costs by arranging lodging with my best friend Joy. After hammering out a few more details, the game plan was able to work out (including being able to take off time at my other job to travel this week to Atlanta for the conference). It feels like a dream come true knowing that I will get to spend a week gleaning wisdom, inspiration, and guidance from some of the greatest minds surrounding Children’s and Youth ministry. To say I’m bursting with excitement would be an understatement! Here’s a sneak peak of what I’ll be experiencing at the conference this week:

I am flying to Atlanta today and then tomorrow I will have a day off to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with different friends of mine that live in Atlanta. Then on Wednesday, I start with the Pre-Conference Workshops. The Pre-Conference Sessions I chose are:

  • YOU LEAD KIDS:  [With Mike ClearCome network and learn from others who do what you do every week. Discover the five critical areas you need to grow and develop as a leader. Practically assess where you are now, in each of these areas, and begin to create your own long-term development plan.
  • BUILDING A HEALTHY VOLUNTEER CULTURE:  [With Chad WardIn this breakout we will discuss ways to recruit children’s volunteers in such a way that you create something they will love . . . almost as much as you do.
  • STARTING A CHURCH FOR UNCHURCHED FAMILIES:  [With Carey NieuwhofHow do you create a ministry to effectively reach the families in your community? In this breakout, we’ll look at 12 characteristics of today’s unchurched families and discuss what these characteristics mean for your ministry.
  • SAFETY SYSTEMS:  [With Jim WidemanSafety is essential for ministry. In this breakout, we will talk about practical ways to develop and implement policies and procedures for your ministry, how to evaluate the ones you already have, and how best to communicate ministry expectations regarding your safety plan to volunteers and families.

 

Ready to cover some ground in networking with fellow ministers and workers at #OC14.

Ready to cover some ground in networking with fellow ministers and workers at #OC14.

At the conference, I’ll have the chance to network with leaders and speakers across the nation. One that I’m already particularly looking forward to meeting is Megan Stewart, who is the Preteen Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, where my bestie Cindy J. and her family attend. Not only will it be refreshing to connect with others in my same vein of ministry, but we actually share a lot of the same interests and personality traits. Along with those connections, I’ll get to hear from incredible speakers and artists who work to help us make Children’s Ministry “the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week.” Those speakers include Doug Fields, Perry Noble, Sue Miller, Derwin Gray, Reggie Joiner, Heather Zempel, Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, Jon Acuff, and more! During the main portion of the conference, I’ll also be attending some breakout sessions I hand-picked to help us grow in some specific areas that I see our ministry moving forward in:

  • STRATEGIES TO INCLUDE EVERY CHILD (including those with special needs):  [With Amy Fenton Lee] Join us as we discuss new ideas as well as tried and true strategies to help volunteers present Bible stories and engage every student, including kids with ADHD, autism, sensory needs, and other learning differences.
  • DESIGNING A FAMILY EXPERIENCE TO CAPTURE THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR COMMUNITY: [With Mike Clear] Some people like mediocre. But you’re not some people. You want families in your community to experience something that will capture their imagination and change the trajectory of their week. You want them to be drawn to each other and to be excited by relevant biblical principles. In this breakout, we will explore ways you can make that happen when you decide to do an FX
  • LEADING TEEN VOLUNTEERS: [With Meaghan WallWith intentional recruitment and well-planned training, teens can fulfill many volunteer needs for a ministry. In this breakout, we’ll show you how to create an environment that fosters experiential life-change for contributing students while raising up future ministry leaders.
  • SPECIAL NEEDS MINISTRY TOP 10: [With Amy Fenton Lee] In this breakout, she will share 10 current issues a church can anticipate facing as they welcome kids with special needs. Join Amy as she prepares you to meet these new challenges well.

 

With a natural bent toward learning/research, I’m very much anticipating all of the knowledge I will gain to help propel us steadily and sustainably toward a better, brighter, and bolder approach of healthy discipleship for the children at Westside from cradle to college. I’m also looking forward to coming back home with more practical tools to equip our team to uncover their sweet spots in life and ministry as they continue to invest in the future of the Church!

 

I'll also be sure to keep you all updated with pictures on my Instagram (hashtagged with #OC14). In the meantime, I'll be getting some good reading done on the flights ahead! F

I’ll also be sure to keep you all updated with pictures on my Instagram (hashtagged with #AMOC14). In the meantime, I’ll be getting some good reading done on the flights ahead!


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When I’m With You

Hoppy Easter, y’all!

 

Whew! What a rip-roaring fun weekend this has been! I don’t have much mental power or time to really expound on all that went down, so I will let the pictures and videos do some of the talking. Here are some written highlights, though:

  • Taking care of Ben and Ryan while their parents were away for the weekend. These boys are awesome and so much fun to hang out with! I talked them into watching 2 episodes of CSI:NY with me and we also cracked up watching Zoolander together! 
  • I went Ice Skating with the 2Twelve crew! The last time I went ice skating was in Junior High, so the fact that I was able to actually skate “off-the-wall” was FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC!
  • Our Easter morning service at Westside Kids was wonderful and hectic and awesome and exhausting—everything a special service should be 😉 
  • Ben & Ryan’s folks returned on Sunday afternoon, and after church, I got to spend family time with them catching up and watching HACHIE (I HIGHLY recommend you watch it!!!—tears galore!) and then I made them a yummy Easter dinner so that they could unpack and unwind without any extra responsibilities. It was my first time making Easter dinner (smoked ham, garlic roasted brussels sprouts, and mashed sweet potatoes) and it was a HIT! 

And now for the pics and videos! 

 

Deep down inside, I know the Miller boys are *really* excited to have me taking care of them this weekend!

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This was so fun that I couldn’t NOT post it!

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Pre-Chill at Menchie’s before the Big Chill on the ice at our Sk8 D8!

2Twelve Sk8 D8

Shenanigans On Ice

Enjoying a rad SK8 D8 with the 2Twelve Crew!!!

 

 

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Even though they’re in High School, those boys totally deserved an Easter Basket . . . you’re never too old, right?? 😉

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E. Stubbs crafting the Easter snack—Dough Bunnies

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Even with all of the rushed craft prep, E.Stubbs still managed to spell out her love for me in jelly beans 😉

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Me and my widdle wabbit fwiend at Westside Kids!


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Love Alone Is Worth The Fight

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
[Psalm 30:5]

— feeling discouraged.

 

That was my Facebook status a couple of days ago. It was a rough day. It was a rough couple of days. From feeling inadequate at both jobs, to family concerns, to doubts of self-worth, to feeling unneeded, to having nobody show up for my ministry team meeting . . . I went to bed  with my pity party hat on, crying (yes, big girls DO cry), and wondering if what I was doing even mattered. I wondered why I was trying when it didn’t seem like I was actually making a difference. I poured my heart into my work, my passions, my family, and over those couple of days, it seemed as though I had taken 2 steps forward and 15 back—I was failing big time and bringing the people I cared about down with me. I posted the above statement on Facebook, partially wanting to just “leave it behind,” partially wanting to show my weakness, and partially as a landmark frozen in social networking time. So I posted it and traveled from FB Land to my Pillow Palace. The only thing I could do in that moment to calm the mind games was ask God to be with me. No really, I simply whispered as I lay in bed, “God, be with me. Please.” Then, I turned on this song and fell asleep, unmotivated, discouraged, and defeated.

 

 

Then I woke up to a brighter day. The thoughts of inadequacy were still hiding out in the corners of my mind, even as I looked in the mirror and said, “Today will be better. It’s a new day.” The feelings lingered and I kept pressing on. I knew they would—I’ve served in ministry long enough to recognize the mind games and the trying seasons post-victory. I just wish they would get easier to deal with as time goes by. Sadly, they get trickier and hit harder the further in you go. I played some of my favorite praise & worship songs as I got dressed and headed downtown to the waterfront for a special quiet time. The water is where I connect with God the most. The boundless wonder of the fluid mass reminds me that every particle that makes up that large body of water was handcrafted by the same Creator that made me. The the same God that orchestrates the tides also orchestrates my life. The stretch of water that spills over the horizon is as boundless as the Father’s love for me. As I sat by the water, meditating on 1 Kings 19:11-12, I asked for that whisper. I asked for the peace that passes understanding. I asked for the courage to face the earthquake and the fire, and to be able to walk away like guys do when walking away from an explosion . . . in confidence, without looking back. (Look, not all my prayers are PC.)

 

 

After that quiet time, I did what any normal human being would do when they realize they are the solo kid hanging out on a pier by the cold water—I checked my text messages and I checked my Facebook. What I got was that whisper. A very loud whisper. Friends had commented and texted some of the most ENcouraging things and it combated my discouragement like a rookie in a prize-fighting ring. Though the thoughts still clung to me for dear life, they were weakened, primed for a TKO. Part of that TKO came when I showed up to work at Westside. Our associate pastor’s mother noticed me walk in, but my headphones were in (as per my usual bad habit), so I didn’t hear her calling to me. Instead, she followed me into my office and I turned in shock that someone had followed me into my office, and stumbled to my desk as I belted out a terrified scream. Once I calmed down, she asked how I was doing and knowing she hadn’t seen my Facebook post, I broke down in her arms and let it all out. I’m not sure how much of those tears were induced by the circumstances and how much was induced by having the bejeebus scared outta me, but it felt great to cling to her and just cry it out. My co-workers at the other job would be so proud of me (it’s a Counseling Resource Center and they LOVE when you show emotion). After drying my eyes a bit, I went upstairs to see my G-Mama (our Office Admin), who invited me to come talk to her about what was going on, since she had seen the post on Facebook. I talked it over with her and was left even more encouraged and finally began to feel a strong peace about things. My heart had endured some good healing that morning.

 

 

 

The pinnacle of it all, and perhaps the driving force behind this post, was what happened later that evening. As our youth group game night began, one of my students asked if they could talk to me in private. We headed to my office and they began to share with me that one of their siblings had undergone tests and that it’s more than possible that their sibling has cancer. The student was overcome with fear and the tears were flowing as they asked me to pray for their sibling and their family. In that moment, I felt a fresh wind in my sails. I felt needed again—not to be their Savior, but to stand in the gap and assure them that their family wasn’t in this fight alone. My faith activated and I prayed one of the most passionate prayers I’d prayed in a while. We both walked out of that office with empty shoulders, having cast all of our fears and doubts on God, believing for the best. We spent the rest of the evening surrounded by people who share our hope, our faith, and our love for full life. Things came full circle and I had seen that not only was this a time for me to lean on others, but to be reminded that whether I’m in ministry or not, God wants me to be a refuge for those in need. In that moment, the student and I were twinsies—both broken, both hoping for greater things, and both putting our hearts in each others’ hands. I believe that’s what God intended from the beginning and it’s one of the lessons that it’s taken me what seems like forever to put into practice: To be able to surrender that image of “having it all together” and walk with others through the truth of “I have no clue what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it because nothing makes sense right now.” In the end, we were left with a hopeful future, knowing that whatever comes our way, we still have each other and we still have God. Before I went to bed last night, I thought to myself, “What you’re doing does matter. Stay the course.”

 

 

To everyone who left encouraging messages on my Facebook, THANK YOU! To Donna Stubbert, THANK YOU!! To Glenda Wright, my G-Mama, THANK YOU!!! And to my 2Twelvers, THANK YOU!!!! Thank you all for helping me stay on the right track and for reminding me of the complete greatness of God! I think I’m ready to go another 5 rounds!

 

rocky


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A Love Like War

Thou shalt not check Facebook before going to bed.

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I’m thinking that is going to be my new personal commandment. Seriously. Last night I was up WAY too late analyzing, over-analyzing, and questioning my purpose in ministry. It was ugly and it had my head (and heart) spinning. As I was taking my nightly scroll down Facebook Lane, I couldn’t help but notice (mostly because the FB gods reminded me) that a large number of my friends had shared the same link to an intriguing article. Obviously I had to click the link . . . after all, it was titled:

Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith

And what is one of the things I do for a living? I’m a volunteer youth pastor (my part-time paid position is as our church’s Children’s Director). Naturally, it had me at hello and as I dove into the rabbit hole, my heart sank with every paragraph. I guess it came at just the right time though, because I had actually been riding high through the stressful day of prepping stuff for Sunday’s ministry on the simple, sweet compliments I’d gotten from our pastoral staff that morning about how well things were going with the youth ministry and how they’ve noticed some great positive changes. Still, it wasn’t enough to hold the line amid the confusion I found in that article as I laid in bed near tears, ‘butt-hurt’*, and discouraged.

One excerpt stuck in my mind the most: 

According to a new five-week, three-question national survey sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), the youth group itself is the problem. Fifty-five percent of American Christians are concerned with modern youth ministry because it’s too shallow and too entertainment-focused, resulting in an inability to train mature believers. But even if church youth groups had the gravitas of Dallas Theological Seminary, 36 percent of today’s believers are convinced youth groups themselves are not even biblical.

Ouch. Just. Ouch. I mean, I just finished up a youth service on Sunday where I spoke to the students about developing healthy relationships with their parents and now the guilt of using entertainment clips and pop culture references (also well-balanced with scriptures and in-depth perspective of those scriptures) is suffocating me. How did I get it SO wrong? I thought I was winning . . . but I guess that’s what losing looks like through rose-colored glasses. I’m obviously losing because YOUTH GROUPS THEMSELVES ARE NOT EVEN BIBLICAL. Excuse me while I GDIAF.** +

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It was years ago that I first felt that “calling” from the Holy Spirit to use my gifts, talents, abilities, passionate pursuits, time, and energy into investing in the lives of young people through the venue of youth ministry. Even to this day, the teenagers that I teach every week and walk through life with are my burning passion. The moments when they come up to me to share what God is speaking to their hearts; The testimonies they ask to share in front of their peers; That moment when they realize they not only have incredible value, but are catalysts of hope for future generations is what just GETS my heart excited! That I get to spend time with them where they can show their full selves, unashamed to be judged by an adult is priceless to me. It’s in those teachable moments I thrive because I get to remind them of biblical principles in practical ways that cause them to think (without shame or guilt) about why they are doing what they are doing. We have tough, honest, real conversations that I know they may not be having with their parents. And I get that it’s a big issue brought up in this article—the disconnect between parents and teens—but to assume that all youth pastors are trying to be the parent to these teens is just plain incorrect. I personally don’t want to be their parent. I LOVE their parents and I could NEVER EVER EVER in a million years replace their parents. I simply exist as a youth pastor to coach them, to pray my guts out for them, to help them understand the Bible in a relevant way, and show them how to practically apply the truths found in the Word of God in their everyday life. I also know that their parents want to do the same thing, but sometimes struggle with the “how” of it all. It has happened on more than one occasion that a parent has approached me saying that they don’t know how to talk to their kids about certain topics. So we dialogue and work as a team to put it on their child’s level. That’s the other part I LOVE about my job—being a teammate with incredible parents!

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The article goes on to say:

He continues, “I am greatly encouraged by the results of our survey. American Christians are finally waking up to the disconnect between the clear teaching in Scripture in favor of family-integration and the modern-day church’s obsession with dividing the family at every turn. Age segregation, especially during the tender and impactful teenage years, not only hasn’t worked, it’s been detrimental. Even worse, it is contrary to the Bible. But the good news is that practices in the churches related to youth groups are changing dramatically. Twenty years ago no one was even asking this question.”

I will be dead honest with you—this part “ate my dinner.” When our youth group was meeting on Sunday mornings, the beautiful connection was that our students were required to join their families for the main worship service, and then meet up with us in the youth room after the post-praise and worship coffee break. That was a non-negotiable for me, but now that we have a Sunday night service, the requirement is that they choose to either sit in the full service with their parents or come downstairs to volunteer with our Children’s Ministry. Some sit upstairs just fine, some would rather be downstairs, teaching and assisting the younger kids during their praise & worship and Bible lesson. I truly value the inter-generational worship that happens when teens and adults are in the same room, but I’m also okay with that inter-generational worship happening with the teens and younger children in our Children’s Church setting.

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Sadly, and I may face the “not-so-well-done-good-and-faithful-servant” judgement for this when I get to heaven, but I’m not entirely against age segregation when it comes to teaching the Bible. And yes, I know, as mentioned above, that makes me an unbiblical Christian, but it’s where I’m at. I have heard from many students that (in regards to a traditional all-church Sunday morning message) they simply cannot sit still for that long of a message; that the message is over their heads; or that the teaching doesn’t really apply to them. Does that suck, yeah it does. But I’d be a fool to say that I don’t know exactly where they are coming from. I was totally that teen that had a hard time being honest about my life with my parents (one of which was not a Christian) because of our unstable home life and family culture. I told my Small Group Leaders MUCH more than I ever would have told my parents about my life and they helped me rebuild the bond with my folks, and ultimately, Christ. It was tough for me to sit through a sermon in the main service because the “songs were so old school” or I didn’t understand why I should focus on putting God first when it came to my mortgage payments, office parties, or marriage counseling sessions. I was bummed that we never played fun games or had object lessons in the main church service. Maybe that’s why I’m a youth pastor. Maybe it’s not about wanting to teach the Bible in a new way to empower teens to understand who they are and whose they are. Maybe it’s not about that desire to enable them with practical tools, scriptural guidance, and a safe place to discover a sure faith that they can continually grow in beyond High School, through College, and carry into their own families. Maybe it’s just because I hated sitting through an adult church service as a kid. I guess I just loved my unholy youth group WAY too much.  Am I against kids sitting in the main service with their parents? Not in the least! On the other hand, I’m also not opposed to giving kids another option if they are not in a place where they can get the most out of said main service.

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While I get that this article’s main agenda is to put a fire under parents to be their pastors at home (which I’m in full favor of), I don’t necessarily agree that youth group is wrong. I think it depends on the motivation and networking behind the youth group. Every week, I put together a Children’s Ministry newsletter, which lays out a recap of both our kid’s church teaching from that past Sunday, and the sermon notes from our youth service that past Sunday. I do that because I WANT the parents to talk with their kids through the week about what they learned. I want them to dialogue and dig deeper into what the Bible says on those particular topics, as they apply to where that child is spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It isn’t my desire to cause disconnect, but just the opposite, through our ministry. I believe with all my “unbiblical heart” that it is entirely possible for young kids, teens, college students, parents, KidMin pastors, youth leaders, youth pastors, and lead pastors to team up and work together to empower each other as we pursue a practical, faith-filled relationship with Christ, even if we do allow kids the option to attend Children’s or Youth church services instead of the main service.

I admit, the article has a lot of great points, some valid opinions, and convicting statements. I’m not yet a point where I’m ready to go to our pastoral staff and say, “Look, youth ministry is a joke and it’s worthless and unbiblical, so let’s just end it now!” However, I am looking forward to wrestling with those convictions in the article in regard to where our youth ministry is at. I went to bed hopeless, woke up with a headache, and yet, I still can’t shake this notion that what I’m investing into these kids is completely meaningful and effective on some level.  I realize I won’t be their youth pastor forever . . . and if this article proves to be a turning point in how church programming evolves, time and circumstance might just boot me out quicker than I’d like. I’m not even the best youth pastor, coach, or mentor—but even so, I want to take advantage of every moment I can to be a positive coach, pastor, mentor, for every student that walks into our church. I just pray for the grace, wisdom, and understanding it will take to shut the door on that chapter of my life when the time comes. In the meantime, you can just call me that Ungodly Girl Who Loves And Wants To Empower Kids With All Her Heart*** . . . erm . . . UGWLAWTEKWAHH for short . . .  you know, Amo works just as well, I guess. 😉

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* Offended by something simple that should be easy to “get over.”

** Teen-speak for “Go Die In A Fire.”

+ I am, however, going to do more study and spend time in meditation/prayer on this topic.

** To all the parents whose teens I end up pushing away from God years down the road, please consider this my huge apology in advance. If it makes you feel any better, I hope that my kids get involved with a youth ministry and other positive influencers at some point in their lives.  And to my future child’s youth pastor, please work with me—I’ll need your help!


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I realize that most would associate me with Children’s Ministry because, well, I am the Children’s Director at our church. Being the new Children’s Director allows me to take what I have learned over the years (and am still studying/learning) about Christian Education and Discipleship to an even younger level—and I LOVE it! However, I am also the Youth Pastor at our church and have been for the past 5 years.

Even before I moved to Seattle, I was heavily involved in teen discipleship. I started leading a youth Sunday School class for Jr. High/High School girls during my Senior year of High School and served in our student ministry—preaching, teaching, leading small groups, event staffing, mentoring programs, etc. for over 6 years—before shifting over to doing the same in our 20/30-somethings ministry. From time to time, I am faced with BIG questions from parents, and I LOVE being able to dialogue those things with them because it gives us even more common ground and challenges me to rethink and prepare for my own future children. Most are easy to navigate with them, but as our age of technology grows and our society becomes even more damaged/damaging, they get trickier. Recently, one of my teens sent me a text saying, “Hey Amo! I really want to get a Facebook Account because I want to stay in touch with my friends, but my parents want to know what you think about it first.”

 

First of all, I’m honored that parents would be willing to let me sound-off on big decisions like that. Secondly, I knew it was a response that couldn’t be contained in one simple text, so I sent an e-mail to all of them so that they’d all be on the same page. I figured it might be good (and possibly helpful) for others if I re-posted it here. Feel free to share any feedback of your own!

 

 

TO: Youth parents; Youth student
FROM: Amo
SUBJECT: To Facebook Or Not To Facebook . . .

Howdy folks!

So, I got a text from E— earlier asking for my opinion about Facebook and well, it’s a response that definitely requires more than a text back. 😉 I LOVE questions like this because it gives teens and parents another opportunity to get real and honest. It’s true that I have a Facebook and that I got a head start on social networking when it was first making its grand entrance during my teen years. While it gave me a chance to experience the fun and excitement of keeping in touch across the miles, it also showed its ugly side quite frequently. Please know that this is coming from someone who only has personal experience as a youth pastor, and not as a parent. However, it’s a question I have wrestled with time and again, as I move closer to building my own family.
That said, I would not recommend that any teenager get a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Keek/Pinterest/Ask.Me/SnapChat/Tumblr/MySpace/Blog/Chat Roulette, etc. until they are 16 years old. Even with that age restriction—with my own child—it would be with these clear boundaries and stipulations until they turn 18 years old:
  • I am allowed to have your password and adjust your security settings
  • I am allowed to randomly check on your account for your safety. 
  • If grades start failing or behavior issues arise at school, Social Site privileges will be taken away for a week.
  • If chores and other responsibilities are slacking, Social Site privileges will be taken away for a week. 
  • You are only allowed to “friend” people that you know in real life.
  • You will have a Social Site curfew—no Social Sites after 10p. 
  • You are not allowed to post about private family issues on Social Sites or use them as a way to “get back” at a family member.
  • You can only have ONE account on each Social Site.
  • I will never “hack” your account or make you be my “friend” on any Social Sites,  but I do expect clear communication about any thing I’ve seen on your account that concerns me.
Here’s why:
  • Social networking is not necessarily real life. What you see on a Social Site is a highlight reel, not a full-length motion picture. This leads to confusion and deficit in self-esteem, contentment with what you have/where you are/what you are doing with your life. 
  • Online bullying is real. I’ve been there—experienced it personally, observed it among other friends, counseled other teens on it, etc. It’s ugly and truthfully, E—, your heart is so good and well-meaning that you would be an easy target. While I know you are 100% secure in who you are as a woman of God, it’s a sneaky snake for breaking spirits and allows for mind games like no other. 
  • Social Networking is a Time-Suck. Even as an adult, when I hop on any of my social networking sites, I have to ask myself honestly: How much time do you spend on those sites in one day. And in that time, what else could you be doing? What could you be learning? What real-life friendships could you be making? Would it be more meaningful to hop online and get lost in a long list of quotes, pictures, etc. or to send an e-mail/write a thoughtful letter to someone who is really on my mind? Truth be told—Social Networking can easily become a silent idol.Also, many social networking sites allow spam and malware to be hidden under the guise of  clickable ads, pictures, videos, and games. Not only does that open another gateway to dangerous things on the internet, but it is also a time-suck because you get lost in a series of click-after-click-after-click
  • Social Networking can actually make you less social. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on on your phone or your computer that you forget that real people are in your presence. The internet can wait. Real life people cannot. Imagine what you might feel if one of you was in a car accident and the day before, the majority of the day was spent online, spending all of those precious moments “Liking” and commenting on Some E-Cards* that didn’t actually contribute to your intelligence or character. That would be a mega bummer, to say the least. *SomeECards are really popular online right now. 
  • Stranger Danger. Again, it’s real. There are people online who lie about their age, occupation, likes, home life, etc. in order to prey on innocent people. They do not care how much you love Jesus, or how much you want to have genuine friendships. They only care that their mental/emotional/physical needs are met, no matter the cost. I speak from experience, after being led innocently into a chat room with a grown man when I was a younger teen—no bueno.
  • Social Networking is not going away. It will still be there when you get older. In this present day, the most valuable social networking one can do is writing letters, meeting up for quality hang out time, sending e-mails, sending texts, etc. Not only is the internet not secure, allowing businesses and strangers to access your personal information and location, but Social Sites are notorious for altering their security settings without alerting you. To them, money is king and if you sign up for something (whether you read the fine print or not), you willingly agree to be their pawn. They’re not going away anytime soon, so waiting until internet protocol enhances their security features as the time goes by would only be a plus.
  • Social sites provide both positive hang-outs AND negative hideouts. It’s easy to re-create yourself to cater to someone else’s approval and acceptance. It IS entirely possible to make great new long-distance friends and maintain those friendships online. However, it takes discipline, grace, and wisdom. It is also very possible to damage yourself and those friendships due to deception and the fact that tone is not conveyed very well in typewritten words. There are also features on Facebook that allow certain statuses and info to be hidden from selected individuals, which can complicate relationships if not handled properly. Social Sites have been known to cause naturally extroverted people to turn into recluses because they trade in their real life for an online life. It’s sad, but it does happen . . . very frequently.
That said, I know that there are some teens in our youth ministry that ARE on Facebook and that’s great! That’s also entirely up to them and their parents, just like this is entirely up to you all. I honestly do not view those that are online differently than those that aren’t. I will most definitely interact with those on social sites and unless it’s something that’s detrimental to a students’ health (mental/physical, or otherwise), I won’t offer those things up as conversation pieces to their parents (unless those parents ask). If it were my own child asking to register for a social site, I would tell them that they are allowed to use e-mail to communicate with their friends (since e-mail is necessary to register social sites—thus they will for sure have an e-mail) until they turn 16 and at that point, we’ll talk about why they want it, what can happen, what I expect of them when they get it, and what they expect from me as their parent when they get it. I imagine that my child will ask me to trust them and to give them grace, and I will be more than happy to agree to that, if they are willing to agree to the safe boundaries I’m setting up for them.
I know it wasn’t necessarily asked for, but as a bonus, here are the top safest Social Sites in my opinion:
1) Blog, 2) Pinterest, 3) Instagram, 4) Twitter, 5) Ask.Me, 6) Facebook, 7) MySpace, 8) Tumblr, 9)  Keek/SnapChat, 10) Chat Roulette

I know this is long (and again, it’s only a personal opinion), I hope it gives you guys some good things to dialogue about. I love y’all mucho mucho and I hope this helps a bit!

Hugs and blessings,
Amo


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Believe In What You Want

There is something so refreshing and empowering about putting your God-given talents and passions to good use. Even more exhilarating is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom that takes you from simply being interested in a hobby to honing a craft. As a creative, limits are a distant concept. Cady Heron portrayed it best when she said, “The limit does not exist.“* We see something and analyze it, tear it apart, re-imagine it, and add our own flair. We don’t always have all the answers, but we’re not afraid to do whatever it takes to search for them. It’s not unusual to find us in a coffee shop or library studying typography and design strategy while our friends are hitting the bars or checking out the local sports scene. We’ll get there and join in the fun, but first—we must nurture our craft. It is essentially “our baby.” Nothing excites me quite like the news that others in my circle of friends are interested in pursuing the creative arts. So when I was informed that one of my youth group students was doing just that, in a big way, I couldn’t help but hop aboard Cloud 9!

 

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A— is one of the students I get the opportunity to hang out with on Sunday mornings at Westside. She is incredibly sweet, gentle, and imaginative. Her passion for animation and other creative arts shines through every drawing she shows me. I have no doubt that she’ll grow to revolutionize the industry with her talent, focus, and passion to give life to the images in her mind. While many students will be heading off to Soccer, Bible, or Cheerleading Camp this year, A— wants to attend the 2-week Web Design Camp at DigiPen University, where she’ll spend quality time in classes that will teach her basics of web design, encompassing a broad range of other creative arts. Her goal is to utilize creative arts in her future career and DigiPen will be able to efficiently equip her with the knowledge, hands-on-training, and creative community she’ll need to get a head start on that. However, much like anything worth pursuing, it comes with a hefty price tag. The cost of attending DigiPen is far more than what a typical sports or church camp would cost. Her desire to attend has no limits either, so she has taken it upon herself to use her talents for a fundraiser that will help offset the cost. She’s calling it CARDS 4 CAMP.

 

All cards come with a similar-colored handmade construction paper envelope . . . but you can also get a one-of-a-kind handmade envelope to go with your the one-of-a-kind card! These cards are made from fancier papers and upcycled materials such as old art projects, calendars, and homework! It gives a touch of whimsy appropriate for a Mother's Day card!

All cards come with a similar-colored handmade construction paper envelope . . . but you can also get a one-of-a-kind handmade envelope to go with your the one-of-a-kind card! These cards are made from fancier papers and upcycled materials such as old art projects, calendars, and homework! It gives a touch of whimsy appropriate for a Mother’s Day card!

 

She has created four original designs of cards that can be used for this upcoming Mother’s Day, as well as other celebrations. If you’re scrambling around for that last-minute card or would like to buy extras to stock up on, while supporting a worthy cause, here’s what you need to know:

For the price of a Hallmark card (or less), you can own or gift an
original work of art by an up-and-coming young artist AND help send her
to web design camp at DigiPen University!

Prices are as follows:

$4 Card and Matching Plain Envelope
$2 Fancy Envelope
$5 Card plus Fancy Envelope (You save $1!!)

Cards can be purchased directly from us or by emailing us at cards4camp@gmail.com
(Note, cardstock colors and card design will vary. Each card is signed by the artist!)

Here’s a closer look at her beautiful fine art:

 

Most importantly, she enjoyed using her talents to create these cards. Art is very important to her, and she enjoys expressing herself that way! Although there are four designs that grace the cards, the inside is blank, and each card is a little bit different. Colors and card design will vary, making each card unique. You’ll have your own special work of art!

 

 

This card was designed in a graphics program by A—. The photo is courtesy of her little sister. A small ‘royalty’ of sales for this card will be given to her accordingly.

 

This design is typical of her drawing style. She enjoys drawing manga and comics. This card is great for Mother’s Day, but could be used in another way, such as a mother’s birthday.

 

This was her first design. | I think it’s easy to see why this one’s my fave 😉 Coffee, anyone?!?

These photos depicting the four seasons were used by permission, but also altered sufficiently as to not plagiarize. The sentiment “Thank you for being there through every season of my life” is perfect for Mother’s Day, yet could be used for other special people in your life on other occasions. A “just-because” card for a best friend, a thank-you card for a memory, or your great-grandparents anniversary.

 

Whether you are a fellow creative or not, I hope that you are able to see what a great endeavor this is, especially for a young person growing up in a society that teaches apathy and satisfaction with achieving the bare minimum. She is making some wonderful choices for her future and I hope that you’ll consider joining her in the journey!

 

* Oh you *KNOW* it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t find some way to work in a Mean Girls quote. 😉


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It's a retro kinda Monday . . .

It’s a retro kinda Monday . . .

I had a WONDERFUL weekend full of good times and good treats.
For instance, yesterday, my friend Robert dropped me off at Barnes and Noble so that I could sit in a coffee shop and think through some things that have been going on in my life that I need to wrestle with. It felt incredible to get out of my house and sit in a cafe and drink hot tea
(I highly recommend the Hot Cinnamon Spice by Harney & Sons) that I didn’t have to microwave and to enjoy a piping hot bowl of chili!
Oh the little things I once took for granted.

So what better way to kick off the new week than to share some goodies with you?! Enjoy!

I got to have Christmas Breakfast with one of my 2Twelve Students and his family!

The Millers are an awesome family that have taken me in and covered me in love and guidance. Now that I’m not under house arrest, Mrs. Miller was more than willing to have me over for a special Christmas celebratory dinner. One thing you should know about me by now is that I LOVE breakfast. Any time of the day. I’m a sucker for eggs, turkey sausage, pancakes, fresh fruit, etc. Any time—actual breakfast, lunch, or dinner! So, in following up with my previous brunch party hosted by my amazing G-Mama, the Millers also treated me to a delicious Vegetable Egg Bake, Fresh Fruit, Bacon, and Coffee Cake! Another thing you should know about me is my breakdown of favorite fruits, cause well, I HEART FRUIT!!

  1. Pineapples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Honey Crisp Apples (okay, okay, and apples in general)
  4. Grapes
  5. Blueberries

What’s extra cool is that, knowing how much I ADORE Christmas (hello, we STILL have our tree up at the house), they left their Christmas decorations up so that I could enjoy them as well. *swoon*

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Learning ADRIFT from Jedi Master B—, one of my 2Twelve Student Leaders!

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I fell in love with their sweet pup pup, Danny!

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Basking in the warm glow of the beautiful lights

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I totally want to do this when I get a place of my own!

My buddy, Jolly, had me in stitches with this hilarious comic strip!

Seriously, at this point, I just gotta laugh to keep from crying 😉

Ha-larious!

Ha-larious!

 

I celebrated Birthdays with my family thanks to technology!

I’ll be brutally honest—this holiday season took SO much out of me emotionally! I MISS MY FAMILY LIKE NO ONE’S BUSINESS!!!
It’s true. As much as I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m good on my own and I don’t need to have constant contact with my family, I do. I need them. Even when I feel they don’t need me or that I don’t really “need” them to get through tough seasons of life, I do. I got to Skype with them during the holidays but it’s not the same. A computer screen is no substitute for a hug or a snuggle or a good cry sesh. It’s also no substitute for family comfort food, relaxing walks in downtown Austin, or Mamo’s Christmas cookies. Over the past few days, my mom and my youngest niece both celebrated their Birthdays. While I couldn’t be there in person, my sibs made sure to send me pics. I cannot even begin to tell you how bittersweet these pics are. I’m stoked that my mom was treated to a delicious dinner and that my niece got a super cute new pet, but I wish I could have been there as well. I did spend a good amount of time at B&N last night with the water works going because I realized that I wouldn’t get to give my niece Birthday snuggles. The good news is that I’ll get to spend 4th of July weekend with them (AND FIREWORKS!!!!!) this year!

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My mom and sis celebrating my mom’s 20th Birthday ;p

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My sibs and nieces

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my youngest niece chompin’ down on some good ‘ol Tex Mex

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My sister and the girls . . .such beauties . . . and ummmm booties 😉

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My bro bro and my oldest niece

For once in my life, I am actually factually jealous of a bunny rabbit . . . mostly because this wascaly wabbit, Lola (her present), gets to snuggle with my sweet niece on her 4th Birthday! ♥ PS: You can tell we’re related because she also walks around with no pants on 😉

I got to go out for coffee & shopping with my best friend, the Magster!

I got to finally reconnect with my bestie after a stretch of busy seasons. Yesterday in youth group, I taught the students about how a true friend cares about your INSIDE more than your OUTSIDE and the Magster is definitely one of those friends to me, as well as one I reciprocate that with. On Saturday, she treated me to coffee at ZOKA in Greenlake (trust me, if you can get your hands on a Zoka roast, you’ve got GOLD!) and some sock shopping at THE SOCK MONSTER. She finished it up in true friend fashion and grabbed some groceries for me for this week. 🙂

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Amazeballs! . . . errrr Grounds.

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Tea Maxi anyone?!?

Peanut butta’, Zoka time with mah homegirl, the Magster

 

New Fun Socks!!! DEFINITELY a treat!

New Fun Socks!!! DEFINITELY a treat!

My friend Alisa shared this with me.
I DARE you not to laugh as you read the reviews!

No really. Go. Now. Read. LAUGH!!!!

Playmobil Security Check Point

(click through to read hilarious reviews)

I am officially a Seahawks Poser!

I went shopping with my friend Heather the other day in search of some Seahawks colored clothing to wear to church on Sunday to stand in solidarity with the sports fanatics that attend Westside. Heather spotted this AWESOME sweatshirt and I got to wear it for the big game day. Unfortunately, I missed the game. Partially because I was teaching youth during the majority of it and partially because afterward, I was wiped out and needed to go home and take a nap. I slept through the game 😦 Having watched a couple of Texas games this season, I don’t feel TOO bad about missing this one. At least I got the sweatshirt, though, right?!? 😉

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I actually LOVE the style of the sweatshirt too!

Who’s ready to get wild & crazy and cheer on the Hawks?!? This Amo right here!!! Ohhh bed head and face mask, you are mah heroes 😉

 

My friend Kat is now officially a blogger!

You should definitely head over to THE WIFELY ADVENTURER and subscribe.
She’s got so much snark, wisdom, and great stories to share!

Have you downloaded the new Chris Tomlin album yet? If not, get on it!

 

(click through to listen on Spotify)

I cannot get enough of this gem. My fave songs are:

  • AWAKE MY SOUL
  • GOD’S GREAT DANCE FLOOR
  • JESUS, SON OF GOD
  • THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME

 

Yeah, and that’s only SOME of the fun!
For now, I’m gearing up for a good, strong week ahead as I start to make trips back into the workplaces I once frequented.
And now I MUSTACHE you a question . . .

 

Amo—little, yellow, different. 😉

 

How was YOUR weekend?
Did you do anything exciting?!?