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on community, sunday suppers

maybe you know this -- it's tough being on staff at a church and finding safe spaces to experience non-pastoral, deep meaningful community. also, i'm just not good at it. it's WAY easier to encourage others to share their darkest secrets and in return offer advice, encouragement, love, a tidy Bible verse all without ever disclosing anything personal of my own.

no joke -- i literally just received an email from a fantastic young guy in our church who was following up after a meeting we recently had in which he trusted me with many details of his life. in his follow up email he said, "maybe next time we meet you can share your faith story."


yes, my job is to listen, pastor, encourage. of which, i LOVE.

but, also, i need a place to share and be encouraged, loved, challenged. and, ALSO ALSO, how can i truly expect the people of my church to be vulnerable and move towards community when i'm unable or unwilling? 

mic drop.

SO, this summer, kelly + i invited a few friends to join us for sunday suppers. here's what we knew: we desperately needed deeper friendships in which we were able to practice vulnerability WHILE also desiring to cook more {ME} and enjoy chicago's beautiful summer on our apartment's terrace.

sunday suppers. 

we reached out to six people we'd already experienced a level of friendship, safety, and enjoyment with. a few from our church; a few not; a few knew each other; a few didn't. the details: we'd meet every sunday for the summer, at the same time and place, and dinner would always be provided. we'd commit to showing up every sunday, willing to share life, vulnerability with each other. 

to our great surprise + delight: all said yes. 

a few things sunday suppers has taught me: 

--community is worth it. times a million. the care, attention, love i've felt from this group is almost unlike anything. safe friendships might be one of God's greatest gifts. 

--community is hard. almost every sunday afternoon, i thought about canceling. i'm tired from leading sunday morning, and really just want to sit alone on the couch watching tv. but, ALWAYS, the effort, the pushing through, the showing up is worth it. 

--community can't look the same for everyone. in the past, i often couldn't see how i fit into a traditional church small group, and, i think because of this, i avoided participating in any type of formal community. but, creating an experience that better fit me {cooking, entertaining} was the missing piece i needed in moving towards a regular, meeting group of friends.  

--community involves give + take. i'm a good GIVER. but, TAKING? oh no. and not because, i'm a wonderfully self-LESS person. but, because giving to others generally protects myself. it actually can be quite self-ISH. if i never have to open myself up to receiving love, wisdom, care -- i'm protected from ever experiencing deep pain. this summer, the group has not allowed me to ONLY be a giver. they expect me to show up, share, trust, and receive from them. a gift. a re-training for this pastor. 

in fact, last week, kelly + i shared something painful that happened to us this summer. something we couldn't share with the group for a variety of reasons. after we told them the details, we apologized to the group for not telling them sooner, not trusting they'd be able to handle our pain, or guide us as we healed. it was a moment i'll never forget: they shared our tears, were gentle in their words back to us, and reminded us, as lovingly as possible, to never do that again.

all the good stuff. 

so now, summer's ending, of which i DID NOT give permission for, and the group's figuring out what's next. we've decided to continue on a bit longer, going the same way we've been going, because of course you know, finding rich community takes time. it might not always look like this, but we're committed to each other and journeying along the road of friendship together. 

full, full heart. 


on officiating weddings

photo by Erin Hoyt Photography

this summer, i had the amazing honor to officiate a few weddings for the loveliest people from my church. manny + teresa's soiree was next level. a mariachi band played as they kissed and walked down the aisle. i mean. where can you go from there? oh, i know. heartfelt toasts from family + friends which put fully on display the most beautiful picture of two families {different both racially and culturally} coming together as one. i'm not sure i've ever seen anything like it. so much LOVE. 

dana + hartley's ceremony was well-planned, peace-filled, and composed of the kindest, sweetest family + friends, including the mother-of-the-bride who prayed for me before the ceremony. gracious, generous, a beautiful expansion of love. i kept pinching myself. 

and, in just a few weeks, my dear friend courtney will marry her man terry, and you best be sure i'll be doing all i can not to blubber my way through the ceremony. odds of that NOT happening. NONE. after years together, they've been through an incredible amount of tragedy, and through it all -- have been each other's love. i can barely wait to celebrate their wedding. 

i'm still a newbie to officiating weddings. compared to my pals -- i've got a lot to learn. but, here's the surprising thing: it's quickly become one of my most favorite parts of my job. 

here's what i love:

{1} the opportunity to ask good questions. as i prepare a ceremony, i ask the BIG and fun questions. my favorites: what do you love most about each other? what words do you hope will describe your family? what is your vision for your life together? the answers, each time, are brave + inspiring + meaningful. it's not every day that folks are in a place to be able to think about these things, or are even super open to sharing. but, preparing for a wedding is a special time that causes most people to reflect on their futures, and boy-oh-boy, it's an honor to be part of that. 

note: these aren't questions that prepare couples for marriage; they simply help guide the ceremony. couples should participate in some type of marriage readiness: class, counseling, etc..

{2} the opportunity to lead. i see my role as officiant as the leader/facilitator of the ceremony. my job is to keep the ceremony moving, anticipate what's coming next, and respond as challenges arise. i tell couples that i'll be doing these things so they can be fully present to each other and enjoy the moment. look each other in the eye, hold hands, and lose track of time -- i say.

let's be real. i love ANY opportunity to lead. but, when leadership provides a couple the opportunity to express their love on their wedding day without distraction. nothing better. 

{3} the opportunity to encourage marriage. next month, marks twelve years for kelly + me in our own marriage. together, we've journeyed as partners, best friends, life companions through the very best and very worst days. all of which has made me a very BIG fan of marriage. 

now, of course, you don't have to be married to encourage marriage, but, for me, officiating weddings gives me reminder that i'll do all i can to help others who want to be married get married.  

i love LOVE. what can i say?


summer, so far

i love summer. not just sorta-like-kinda-love, but all out head-over-heels-LOVE. i love the sunshine, the eating outside, the beach, the bike rides, EVERYTHING. why it's not summer all year, i'll never understand. does anyone actually like winter? N-O.

at the start of summer, i made a concious choice to slow down for june-july. SLOW is not a word or speed i understand or fully relate to, OH! and even better, recently i discovered that a strength of my personality type is moving quickly. BUT i've realized that walking fast, thinking fast, talking fast ALL the time isn't the healthiest way for me to live. summer has included sitting at lunch longer, walking back to the office slower, not interrupting so quickly, letting my thoughts simmer a bit before speaking, and now, heading into august, i can feel the mindful slowness paying off. 

the end of june, we went on a curriculum retreat in order to plan the next year of curriculum at willow chicago. it was all that i had imagined: great time of planning, re-sharing values, organizing and editing content, and reflecting + celebrating. last year, i felt the weekly weight of writing and creating original content. i wanted to avoid that this year -- so a retreat, time away to focus became a priority. by the end of the week, we'd completed all lessons from september-decemeber, 2015. i mean. seriously. game changer.

the beginning of july, we went to the beach house for our family summer vacation. we're a quaint family of SEVENTEEN now, and really, it's some of my most favorite time of year. we live together in one big house for the whole week -- cooking, eating, playing, swimming, resting, talking, all the good stuff. it's never perfect, of course, but always good, and always time for rest and play. i'm super strict with myself during the week: no WORK, no emails, no phone calls, no texts. just a week to not worry, and to be reminded, my work isn't dependent on me {although i act like it is almost every day}. funny thing -- it carries on just like always, even when i'm away. 

and now, as august approaches, i can feel the pace starting to pick up -- child dedication + baptism this week, the GLS next week, officiating a wedding the following week, and september and all it's newness and ministry launches not so quietly looming, and still, i'm determined to continue summer-ing until the last possible moment: a boat ride, a zoo visit, a few more quick weekend trips to the beach, late night ice cream, dinners on the terrace. in my mind, summer aint over until the first snowflake falls. which, now that i'm thinking about it, could be tomorrow. gotta go. BYE.


lessons {at the end of year-one-custom-curriculum}

last week, we completed our very first year of writing custom curriculum at willow chicago. as i've been reflecting on the year, i've realized a few lessons: 

1. it was just as tough as i expected. i knew it was a crazy idea -- writing weekly lessons for the kids of my church ON TOP of volunteer care + development, pastoring families, child dedication. every single week, i felt the lessons staring me in the face, challenging me to quit. even as hard as i worked to get ahead, i NEVER felt ahead. there was always more to write, more to brainstorm, more to communicate, more to plan. the writing train never slowed down.  

2. and yet, TOTALLY worth it. creating lessons specifically for the kids you know + love is worth the work. teaching lessons in which i saw kids make connections to how God's spirit was leading them to serve the city, notice + care for each other, and contribute to the good of the kingdom was almost like nothing i've experienced. i understand that not everyone is in a place to write their own lessons. BUT, if you've got a smidge of room to even consider and pray about it, DO IT. 

3. it took a small village. an amazing group of people contributed in all sorts of ways: Chi Chi, Melissa, Rosario, Matt, Noel, Dan, Cara brainstormed activities and content, Aaron + Molly created visuals, Jill + Crystal organized supplies. it was an EFFORT. no one should and can ever do this alone. not only because the workload is too great, but because one person's perspective on the curriculum process from start to finish is not what's best. we need various voices {racially, culturally, parent/non-parent} contributing all along the way in order to create lessons that are deep, full, and applicable to all kids.  

4. there are missing pieces in kidmin curriculum support resources. i've been working in the children's ministry curriculum industry for a LONG time, and am very familiar with all that's available. YET, this year, was the first i noticed a few glaring holes. first, and not suprisingly, there's a great lack in multicultural visuals available. when i'd look to add a supporting image or video to one of our lessons, it was difficult EVERY time to find videos {bible story teaching videos, worship videos, countdown videos} that included non-white folks. i especially found this to be true when looking for early childhood videos -- which appear to be mostly white. 

this is not ok for my context, naturally, but really, this shouldn't be ok in all of our contexts. i'm committed to contributing to the solution as we move forward. let's do this together, ok? 

second, there seems to be a lack in certain bible story resources. specifically: Acts 2 {holy spirit, pentecost, and early church} videos, games, creative art. i showed this video almost every week because it was the best and one of the only i could find! other stories seemingly lacking: esther, jesus + the children, the greatest commandment, deborah.

5. training is key. there's two phases to curriculum: creation + implementation. both are equally important. i gave a lot of effort to creation this year, only to see quickly how i needed to shift my attention to helping teachers implement well. our volunteers are AMAZING. but, most weren't part of the creation process -- so needed extra vision, goals, training on how to best implement the lessons so that the full vision was accomplished. next year: BIG focus on this area.

alright. i'd love to hear from you. what have you learned this year about curriculum? 

PS: catch up with these posts from this year's curriculum writing adventure. 


life, uncluttered 

it's may 11th, and i'm thrilled to be slowly emerging my head out of the crazy, busy APRIL that just consumed me. from easter, to child dedication, to temporarily relocating our church due to the NFL draft, the last few weeks have been busy.

to be super honest, the busyness this go around has added more than just a few dark circles under my eyes. i'm tired, a bit down in my spirit, and definitely not at my best.  

last week, after a crazy day at work, i came home exhausted. my husband sweetly/gently suggested we reschedule plans and not meet our friends for dinner. to which, i (not so sweetly) replied that dinner was IMPORTANT, and how could he EVEN suggest something so ridiculous? 

clearly, i've lost my mind. and, my husband is a saint. 

here's the thing: life and work will always be busy. MAY, for me, will be full, in different ways than APRIL, but still very full -- a speaking engagement at an interfaith prayer breakfast, officiating a dear couple's wedding, launching our summer schedule, and teaching a new parenting class. 

so, then. the question is not how to go-go-go-go, packing the schedule full, surviving and pushing until it's not physically/emotionally possible, BUT instead, limiting, focusing on only the essentials. life has felt cluttered, busy and unbalanced. i want something different; an uncluttered, free life that includes a good balance of work/play/rest.

practically, that means making intentional choices both towards addition + elimination.  

eliminate. for this season, we have the loveliest women cleaning our apartment. we come home every-other-thursday to the cleanest of cleans. if i spent A MONTH cleaning, i couldn't make it look the way they make it look. {i'm seriously no good at cleaning, but like to pretend i can do it all. the women coming to my apartment remind me I CAN'T DO IT ALL. stop pretending. ask for help.}

add. counseling. i've seen a counselor for a long time, and wouldn't be able to think clearly, process fully, be emotionally well without her. the extra time spent driving, meeting with her, scheduling, processing afterwards is time i'll gladly add to a full schedule. 

eliminate. grocery shopping. every saturday, we order our groceries from instacart. typically, i love shopping for meals for our family, and for entertaining. but, c'mon. this season is ridiculous. the time NOT spent going to the store has paid off big time in energy and time. 

add: cooking. for myself, for others. the creative act is life to me. and, in a busy season, easy to justify eating out or buying premade meals. but, life uncluttered means adding life-giving, and cooking is top of the list for me. 

add: friendship. we're adding a supper group this summer to our schedules, and the intended purpose is deeper friendship, vulnerability, connection. i'm thankful for the friends who haven't let me go in this season. they pursue me, fighting against the busy wall i put up. i need more of this. 

eliminate: perfection. worry. 

a small picture of life, uncluttered for me. and, you? what must you add/eliminate?