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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?  


child dedication {in service booklets}

this sunday, we're celebrating child dedication + baptism at willow chicago. i've mentioned before -- last year, we began combining the two celebrations into one service, and how great it's been.

one of my favorite things about the service is that we invite children in grades 1-5 to experience the service with their families. they don't attend their usual promiseland classes. i LOVE this. for many reasons. TOP of the list -- it gives kids an opportunity to understand the significance of dedication + baptism, far better than teaching in their classrooms could ever do.

in order to guide them along, we created in-service booklets that kids receive as they're entering the service. our hope is that the booklets provide a tangible way for children to document as they participate, and to be mindful of all they're experiencing. so far, SO good. 

after the january celebration, TWO parents approached me asking if they could have more information on explaining baptism to their fifth grade kids. both kids were moved by what they experienced and wondered if they were ready to be baptized. i mean, c'mon. 

*below is our dedication + baptism booklet. if you've created something similar, leave a comment, i'd love to learn from you. NOTE: because it's a booklet, you're seeing the pages out of order: back cover, front cover, inside pages. make sense? cool. 


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