Today we celebrate the exchange of our wedding vows, the day we entered into the holy covenant of marriage. By the grace of God, our marriage has endured and is stronger and more lovely with each year. And last night as we crawled into bed, we reminisced about our wedding day. It was a joyous occasion, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. As much as I loved us then – the 21 and 22 year old versions of ourselves, newly graduated from college, completely naïve to marriage, full of excitement and hope and young love – I like “us” even better now. I love who we’ve become, as a married couple, as a ministry couple, as unique and ever-evolving individuals.
We have grown up together, Kevin and me. From those first days of college, 17 and 18 years old, we have come a long way. Our strong personalities are opposites on the Myers-Briggs (ESFJ and INTP) and we’re both first-borns. It seems we may have “broken” all of the rules about how to marry someone with whom you’re most compatible. But this marriage is a God-thing. Each of us is a strong personality, with fiery passions and peculiarities that hardly overlap. But it is because of those differences that we grow. We balance one another out in a way no one else could.
It is because of our marriage that I often ask dating or engaged couples, “How does he/she make you a better a person?” We were not created to be static beings. Rather, we should always be in pursuit of the holiness of God and to discover more deeply the person He made us to be, living out our unique skills and giftedness with passion and fervency.
As Kevin’s wife I have become more fully me. He calls out the best in me and sees gifts I try to shut down out of fear. He is not afraid to let me lead or to insist I develop a personal opinion (when I’d rather say, “whatever you want…” in the most non-committal sort of way).
I know he would list the ways I’ve helped him to grow, as well. It’s no secret that we’re a rather intense couple (in fact, some people get a kick out of watching us interact!), but we wouldn’t want it any other way. And we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that our little daughter is already a fiery individual. She will give us a run for our money, but she’ll stand on her own two feet in this world and prayerfully bring God’s Kingdom truths to those around her.
So today, on our 8th anniversary, I reflect on the charge given us during our marriage ceremony.
Kevin and Melanie, I charge you both as you stand in the presence of God to remember that only a covenant of love will avail as the foundation for an enduring household. Let Christ, in his perfect love, be your example. If you keep this steadfast love ever before you and, remaining faithful to each other, resolutely endeavor to fulfill the vows you now make, God’s blessing will be upon you, and the home you establish will endure through life’s every change.
God’s blessing has surely been upon us, in sickness and in health, in infertility and in childbearing, in joy and in sorrow, in ministry and in marriage. Our lives have endured many changes in just a few short years, but surely this home shall stand firm on the covenant made before God and upon the foundation of Christ our Lord.
Happy 3rd Month Birthday! This has been such a fun month with you. When people ask “how’s the baby” I find myself saying, “She is so much fun!” The first few weeks were just about surviving…how to feed you, how to soothe you, how to sleep with one eye open. But as we’ve learned a new sort of normal, the true joy is settling over our home and into the depths of our spirits. You are growing and learning and developing such a sweet personality and it is truly so much fun.
My favorite moment of each day is walking into the room where you’re started to wake, leaning over the edge of your cradle and saying, “Good morning, baby girl!”…and watching the world’s biggest grin cover your face. There is no feeling like that love.
And it got me thinking about our gracious God and how he must feel about us, his children. It doesn’t matter how much we fuss and cry and wrestle with our sin natures the day before, his mercies are new every morning! I believe He cannot wait to see us when we wake. He is thrilled to see if we’ll smile back at him, to watch what new thing we’ll do that day.
Your daddy and I just adore doing life with you, Kirsten. It’s a crazy dance we do, this life as parents, in full time ministry, in marriage. No two days look the same. I have come to accept that my time alone with the Lord may not (read: almost never) come first thing in the morning with my cup of tea and the rising sun. Rather than feeling frustrated by the fact that my schedule is no longer my own, I am learning to seek the Lord at any available interval. She’s asleep and the laundry’s going and it’s 11am? Prayer. She’s content and I have time for yoga and worship? Yes, please. Daddy is home and willing to stick around so I can get in a run? Thankful for the open air devotions.
Sweet girl, if there’s one thing you know about your momma I pray you know how much I love Jesus.
Speaking of your faith, the most momentous event of your third month was your baptism and dedication on Palm Sunday, March 20th. In the Free Methodist Church, we believe in infant baptism as a sacrament, an act of God’s grace in which we are participants. Parents can also choose to dedicate their child, allowing them to select their own baptism as adults, but after much prayer and consideration, we decided we would baptize you. There is a spiritual, mysterious element to any sacrament (i.e. baptism, communion). We show up, we partake, we receive. But the work is done by God’s Spirit.
Thus, we wanted to invite the sanctifying of the Spirit to begin now, putting action to the meaning of your name Follower of Christ by the grace of God. When you are old enough to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus, you will get to participate in an affirmation of your baptism. This will allow you to assume responsibility for the vows we made on your behalf: that your life be lived in consecration and dedication to the Almighty God.
We invited Brian Kono to perform your baptism and dedication ceremony. Brian is a ministry professor at Spring Arbor and was a mentor for both your dad and me during our college days. He is a playing a large part in guiding me through my path to ordination, and he and his wife Angel have become our good friends. Superintendent Bruce & Jerilynn Rhodes were there for this service, along with our church family, five friends (representing many) from Albion, New York, and a portion of our family. We know that those who couldn’t attend – both family and friends – were there with us in spirit, standing in solidarity with the congregation’s affirmation to partner in your spiritual growth.
make wonderful eye contact, following us all around the room.
loves light & screens (tvs, computers)…oh boy
smiles so big! (Her left eye squints in the cutest fashion!)
has become quite vocal, giggling, gurgling, and screeching on purpose
sometimes stop in the middle of nursing to look up and chat with momma
continues to be a star at Panera during many discipleship coffee meetings
does really well wearing cloth diapers (mommy & daddy love them too!)
seems to be keeping a full head of hair and bright blue eyes (like her Uncle Brian & Aunt Ashley)
sings along during church
is in a bit of a “momma-attachment” phase
enjoys car rides
is staying steadily strong and healthy with exclusive breastfeeding (momma is so thankful!)
has taken many walks along the River Raisin her carrier or the stroller (can’t wait for warmer days)
still loves her baths
has slept through the night (7 or 8 hours) on a couple occasions, but mostly keeps a consistent 15-20 minute nursing around 3am and then again at 6am, going back to sleep until 8:30am. (Glory!)
Now for a month’s worth of sweet moments caught on camera:
These first few photos were captured a few minutes before her second church board meeting last night. The sunlight was streaming in the bedroom window and momma just couldn’t resist. (Yes, she was a few minutes late for the meeting. worth it.)
After today’s photo shoot, Daddy read Kirsten his favorite childhood book: If I Had a Little Airplane. She really loved it.
I am so thankful God chose to give me a gift I could never deserve. Each day His goodness keeps unfolding like a glorious flower, petal after petal, in the beauty of who you are. I pray I will never cease proclaiming His glory, never forget to live out eucharisteo joy over your life. He created you, knit you together in my womb, purposely piecing together every fiber of your being. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, sweet girl.
Jesus Christ is crazy about you. He loves you just as you are, not as you should be.
That quote from Brennan Manning’s All is Grace (by his friend, Brother Dominique) is shaping my perspective of my own life right at this moment. I pray you grow up knowing deep in the center of your being the truth of those words.
This month has been so much fun. Your personality is forming and we are getting to know you more and more with every passing hour. The grins are real now. You stop in the middle of nursing sometimes and just gleam that gummy smile up at me, staring right into my eyes. It’s transformative, really. I can’t fathom the depth of the connection God has given us. I love you, Kirsten, and I tell that you that a million times a day. I pray you believe me, today and always.
I have made a conscious effort to be present with you, soaking up our moments together, knowing time races by too quickly. I believe it when others tell me how quickly you will grow up. Spending five years waiting for you gave me five years to grow up a little more myself. Perhaps because of that time, I’ve developed a deepened sense of being, convicted that what people need most is the gift of presence. I don’t want to spend my time documenting your life as much as I want to be a part of your life. I apologize in advance if you’re disappointed that I don’t have every momentous occasion written on my calendar. But I do hope you’ll remember that mom and dad were with you, loving you, loving each other, doing life together.
In your second month these are some noteworthy moments:
one. You have officially been to Panera more than most people ever have. Wendy and Megan know you by name and are excited every time we walk in. (Yes, we’re on first name basis with baristas too!) Want to know why you’ve been to Panera so much? Because your mom and dad do ministry in an every day place like Panera Bread. I have had three coffee meetings a week for the past three weeks with individuals who are willing to share their lives with me. That time together is totally worth a $2 cup of coffee. (Plus, I can drink coffee again…hooray for no acid reflux!) Depending on who I’m with, we talk about dating and marriage and music and Netflix and education and the Bible…and it’s real life discipleship as we seek to become more like Christ in those seemingly mundane moments.
two. You started sleeping in your cradle on Feb 18, just a couple days shy of 8 weeks. I wrap you up in your Halo swaddle sleeper after nursing you. You might be asleep, you might be awake, but it’s the same time every night and you just go to sleep. No crying. I won’t jinx myself by saying anything more about that little gift.
three. You don’t cry in your carseat anymore; it probably helped we loosened the straps on your shoulders. Yeah this parenting thing is figure it out as you go.
four. We have been exclusively cloth diapering and loving it! I can’t really express why, but your dad and I both are genuinely stoked about our decision to use cloth. (We use BumGeninus all-in-ones in case anyone’s wondering. And side note, a huge thank you to my Albion friends for asking what I really wanted off of our registry and actually going in on a group gift to buy all of our diapers – and a few extras. Seriously, thank you.) The clean up isn’t bad, thanks to your dad’s installation of the sprayer on our toilet, and I’ve gotten into a pretty good washer routine. Plus, your little bum is happy with it which is really the most important part.
five. You still love bath time! I take you right in the shower with me most every day and it works wonderfully. I leave you in the bouncer right outside the shower in just your diaper while I bath myself. Then, I dry off my hands and step out to bring you in with me. You love the warm water and don’t mind it running in your face. You started getting some baby acne during the couple days when I didn’t bath you so back to the routine that seems to work! You happily watch me do my hair and makeup when we’re done because you get to bask in the warmth of the overhead bathroom heater.
six. You’ve been staying in the nursery every Sunday morning while mommy and daddy lead the church service. Only once were you wailing so incessantly that I had to go rescue you before the end of the service, leaving the last hymn unsung. The congregation seemed to understand just fine. :) (And side note, special thanks to the long list of volunteers from MFMC who care so well for you each week. Second side note, thanks to the guys who ran HDMI all the way to the nursery so the workers could watch the service!) seven. We’ve been going for lots of walks in carrier Lynne made. (She is a brilliant seamstress!) Sometimes you scream and struggle for a moment, but inevitably you fall to sleep all snuggled in next to my heartbeat. It’s good exercise and fresh air for us both (although I keep you covered up because it’s still a bit too nippy for you to be exposed.)
eight. You ate from a bottle for the first time on February 23rd. I had been considering a bottle for a while but have no desire to rush it. We still plan to nurse exclusively, leaving the freezer stocked with momma’s milk for whenever Dad or someone else is home with you for a few hours if I need to be away. It’s a relief to know how easily you took the bottle – whether I was holding it or Daddy.
I loved watching your Dad give you a bottle today. It was incredible to see him experience that connection for the first time. I couldn’t wipe that smile off of his face if I tried. We both think you were a little confused by the fact that mom is over there, but I’m eating. what the heck? But you didn’t let that stop you.
nine. You got to go with us on our first Family Valentine’s Pizza Date. Every year since college, your daddy and I go on a hunt for a new pizza place. We decided all those years ago that Valentine’s would be a family dinner date, so along you came. We ate a Nick & Nino’s and because we went at 4:30 like the old people that we are, we scored half price appetizers. Best chicken tenders ever, btdubs. We even saw Alisha – the receptionist from my chiropractor’s – and she was so excited to see you! She rushed over to give you a cuddle.
And here are a few more fun shots from this morning’s 2 month old photo shoot. We had a blast with you. I think you like the click of the camera!
bonus footage from your second month:
This particular Sunday (February 21) you had an inordinate amount of energy left after a long morning at church. We snapped some adorable photos of you in the sunlight of your bedroom. I can’t get over the red glints in your hair, your rosy lips, and those bright blue eyes. Plus, can we talk about that baby tunic-style top. I’d totally wear that. (You hit the nail on the head, Kenz.)
And during your second month this has become your typical day: nighttime 9:45pm In bed to nurse
3/4:00am Awake to nurse
4/5:00am Back to sleep
6/7:00am Awake to nurse and get up for the day
7-8:30am Spend time with momma in the living room, in my swing or on her lap, while she does devotions & then yoga.
8/9:00am Bath time with mom or dad. (Bathing is my favorite.)
10am Nurse and read my Jesus Storybook Bible with momma
10am-Noon is morning nap time, for at least an hour, maybe two. Sometimes I play for a bit.
1-3pm is afternoon nap time, for an hour or two. Sometimes I prefer to just chat for a while.
3-5pm awake and play or nap again
5:30-8:30pm Nap and play or Nap and fuss
8:30pm Nurse. Nap on momma’s lap until bedtime nursing.
And with that, dear child of mine, I leave you with this prayer from I Thessalonians 5:23-24
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. He who called you is faithful and he will do this.”
Nearly a lifetime ago, a sauve 17 year old boy made his intentions clear. The girl was 18 and naive to the world of dating, but she was confident that this guy could be trusted. God was good to weave our stories together, teaching us how to love, how to argue, how to commit.
It was 2004 and we didn’t go on lots of fancy or “official” dates during our dating years. Neither of us had a car, and money was needed for school expenses. Thus, we spent much of our time just hanging out around campus with friends and homework and dining commons food. And we liked it just fine. After one evening walk around the “P” loop, that young boy walked me back to my dorm. Somehow the topic of children came up, and Kevin shared with me a beautiful secret that I instantly cherished.
He said, with a twinkle in his eye, “If I have a daughter one day, I am going to name her Kjiersten Sophia.” He proceeded to explain the Swedish spelling to me (with that pesky “j”) and the correct pronunciation of “keerstin.” (Kevin’s maternal lineage is Swedish.) He remembered this name from his mom’s list when she wondered if her second baby would be a girl. (Hi, Brian!)
I practically melted into a puddle of sentiment right in front of him. This boy I was learning to love already had thoughts of wanting to be a dad someday. He had thought about her name and confided in me. I was smitten.
Years later in 2008, we entered into a covenant marriage during a sacred ceremony with family and friends. And after years of grad school and six moves and new drivers’ licenses and ministry and infertility we found ourselves expecting our firstborn, a daughter.
With just 6 weeks left until we meet our long-desired little girl, the reality of her life continues to point to God’s grace. Many people said, “You deserved this” or “we knew this would happen.” But the thing is, we didn’t deserve this child. We did nothing to earn favor in God’s eyes in March 2015. We had done nothing to deserve the years of infertility either. Part of me had come so completely into contentment with our childlessness that I wanted to remain the couple that displayed the grace of God for all to see, even though we never bore the child our hearts’ desired.
But for whatever reason, beyond our control, beyond our behavior, beyond our desires, God said to us,
This. This is the moment. This. This is the child to be born into the world. You. You are to be her parents. Raise her to love me, to serve me, to serve my world.
And just as we said “yes” to the barrenness and “yes” to adoption, we said “yes” to the pregnancy.
We found out by week 11 that our child was a girl. (Thanks to Natera and their fancy new DNA tests.) Immediately I set out on a name hunt. I pulled up the lists I had been collecting over the years. I scoured the internet for meanings and pronunciations, for popularity and spellings. We both determined that the meaning of the name was of utmost importance to us. Thus, any names we loved but lacked meaning were crossed off. We narrowed down our options. And I piled on more possibilities. Finally, on a long road trip, I read through the names and had Kevin veto any he didn’t like. That left us with about 10 choices for first names and 3 for middle names.
We made our decision. And a few weeks later, I changed my mind again. And again. Kevin patiently waited as I brought up new options and waffled back and forth, back and forth. At some point I settled on our original choice and we haven’t looked back. I became so certain, I used a generous gift card from a dear friend to purchase a Lisa Leonard necklace with Baby Girl’s name stamped on it. We managed to keep our lips completely sealed for the past many months, and we’re pretty sure some of you are DYING to know.
It is with great joy that we introduce to you Kirsten Grace Eccles.
Kirsten (“kur-stin”) = Follower of Christ, anointed Grace = Free and unmerited favor of God Eccles = English version of the Greek and Latin (ekklesia and ecclesia), meaning church or assembly. (Not that we chose her last name, but still a pretty sweet meaning.)
Her name is our prayer and our thanks. May our daughter be anointed as a follower of Christ by the grace of God.
And now for a few more notes of explanation. For simplicity’s sake, we opted for a variant of the Swedish spelling and pronunciation (Kjiersten) of Kirsten. Given this first name connection to Kevin’s side of the family, it’s fitting that the middle name is in my family’s lineage. My maternal Grandmother’s middle name is Grace. (Hi, Grams!) And some of you may know that one of our dear friends and former youth group member’s name is Kirsten. We thought long and hard about whether or not to choose this exact name (mostly because I don’t like being a “copy cat.”) But in all of our correspondence with Kirsten over the past two years, we have been nothing but convinced that our desire would be to have our daughter live a life much like this young woman’s. She is passionate and unashamed of her commitment to Christ. She is genuine and kind, intellectual and studious. She is proof that “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). So while our daughter is not name after Kirsten L., we would be most pleased if she grows up to live that kind of life.
Dear Daughter of Mine,
As I write this post from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Tim Horton’s, you seem to know I’m talking about you. You are squirming and kicking and bouncing, almost as if you’re excited to say hello to me face to face. I can tell you with every assurance that I am even more eager to meet you. I pray for our journey ahead, those hours where we’ll work together to bring your life into this world. Your dad and I pray consistently that God would anoint you with his grace even now, and that we would be prepared to let you serve him however He calls. It is with great joy that I tell the world of my love for you, Kirsten Grace.
Our days together, in this intimate relationship of pregnancy, are drawing to a close. As difficult as it has been to carry you, I am certain that I will miss (even grieve) your nearness. Over these months I have described many times the challenges of being pregnant. It is a hard, hard thing that cannot be truly explained with words.
But it is so beautiful. Isn’t that the way of creation? The hardest challenges can reap the most wonderful gifts? It’s even the way of God. The gift of our salvation, our restoration to righteousness, came as a result of Christ taking on human flesh and bearing a cross.
So I am grateful to be a part of this difficult, beautiful creation – your life. I cannot wait to meet you.
And I am so surprised at how I feel these days. As big and huge as I am, as near to meeting face to face as we are, I feel more “myself” than at any point during this pregnancy. In fact I feel stronger and more confident. I have been able to practice yoga every single day since the week of Thanksgiving (a first in many months!) I have been walking about 3 miles most days, often with your Daddy. We love that time together; we can’t wait to add a stroller to the mix.
And despite a cold affecting my health and the nearness of delivery looming, I decided it would be a good time to cook up that turkey and have some friends over. So I’m hosting a big, delicious dinner tonight, complete with homemade pies and cranberry sauce. Oh, and I did I mention it’s 60+ degrees out today…on DECEMBER 12TH?! what???? I might just get my wish of walking the parking lot (or the park) during early labor!
Kevin and I travel a lot. We have many church conferences and training trips and spiritual retreats and family get-togethers and a myriad of other obligations. We’re used to packing our bags, loading the car, and getting to our destination with time to spare. It’s almost a challenge, then, to change our mindset to “vacation mode” where there are no time constraints or agendas to follow. But once a year, most every November we take a week for just the two of us.
With Baby Girl on the way, we didn’t want to travel long and far (like to DC or Myrtle Beach or the Bahamas as we did in past years). We didn’t want to spend too much money or too much time getting there. The goal was time together, in a new place, with all responsibilities set aside. I tend to be the travel agent because I love researching and price comparing until I’m blue in the face.
We settled on Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. This town is about a half hour from the more famous Niagara Falls, but its quaint quietness is much preferred for our style. We got a fantastic deal (Hotwire once again) on the Colonel Butler Best Western which is the nicest Best Western either of us has ever seen.
The free parking and free internet and free hot breakfast are all “wins” in our book, and the sidewalks stretch from our front door to the Tim Horton’s across the street and all the way to the Niagara River and boutique shopping downtown.
We took many walks around these historic neighborhoods, admiring the architecture and landscaping and fall foliage and emerging Christmas decor…
…and then we’d sit at Starbucks for an hour or two. Because coffee & conversation are total wins.
We drove to nearby Outlet Malls and Shopping Malls, mostly browsing and being together. We ordered pizza and wings to enjoy over rousing episodes of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. (We don’t have cable, so this is fun stuff, people!)
And on our last day, we packed up, enjoyed our hot complementary breakfast, and drove to THE Falls. We had visited the American side of Niagara Falls a time or two while living in Western New York, but this was the first time in many years either of us had been to the Canadian side.
The combination of my pregnancy hormones and my sensory receptiveness and the sheer glory that is this God-wonder brought tears to my eyes. I could not contain the reaction to such a breath-taking site. If you have never been to the Falls, please plan a trip.
After walking around the chilly, windy mist, browsing a gift shop and snapping a few photos that don’t do it justice, we hopped back in the car. Twenty minutes later we had crossed into the US and made our way to Olive Garden for lunch on our way to Albion. And yes, we topped off our “Baby Moon” vacation with a weekend in our former home town. It was wonderful time with dear friends and teens and littles who still share our love and lives. They showered us with a crazy-awesome amount of gifts for Baby Girl and exchanged hugs and stories.
I’m so thankful for our time away, our time alone, our time with friends.
The most incredible experience in my life (…in my life…? *Mel, that’s kind of dramatic* …but really it’s true…) happened on Tuesday night as I crawled into bed. With head propped on two pillows and a third folded up under my legs (because all the pillows are necessary at this point in pregnancy sleep), I turned out the light. Your daddy got in bed next to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. All of sudden *bubble, bubble, bubble* you started moving. Within a moment, the bubbles became full out KICKS eliciting a “WOAH” from your mama. Kevin reached his hand over to my belly hoping to feel what I was feeling. We weren’t expecting anything, but then, “Was that you, Melanie?” Nope, that was definitely the baby!
We started giggling and our grins practically pierced the darkness in the room. The next five or ten minutes you were going to town, Daddy feeling every one of those kicks. It was incredible.
(side note: I had eaten a couple slices of cinnamon sugar toast just before bed and we’ve deduced that you love cinnamon. Your first big kick was at Taco Bell after munching on Cinnamon Twists last Thursday, August 13th.)
Since that moment, my entire perspective seems to have shifted. I can’t describe the life changing moment in words or even telling someone with a smile broadening ear to ear. But your life is changing mine, Sweet Girl. As I learn to accept my new limitations, admit defeat, buy bigger sizes, and walk a whole lot slower, I am recognizing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. God is using you to make me the woman He desires me to be. As much as I don’t feel ready for any of this, I can say with confidence that the five years of waiting was the Lord preparing my heart for this deep transformation. And for that I am thankful.
This is a busy summer for your Dad and me. It’s been fun having so many friends get to share in our excitement in person. Hugs abound, enthusiasm for the Lord’s bounty is proclaimed, and a few “bump grabs” have been occurring. (For the record, I have started to show in a bit more obvious way, and I’m a “physical touch” type of person, so this is welcome.)
First there was a week at Family Camp. Somerset Beach is our home-away-from-home and I wrote all about it last year in a letter to you. Kevin was in utero when he first started “attending” this annual event and now we’ll get to say the same about you! The highlight of my week was getting to teach Holy Yoga at 7am each morning. It was thrilling to have not just 5 or 6 students (as I expected), but 17-25! At least two-thirds of the attendees were brand new to yoga and the student ages ranged from 12-65. Everyone did wonderfully, and I was so encouraged to continue my pursuit teaching. With all of the traveling and conference events we participate in, I hope to become an itinerant Holy Yoga instructor.
The next week we headed to Spring Arbor University for a week at Bible Quiz Nationals. This is an event that’s near and dear to our hearts, especially as we’ve made wonderful friends from all over. It’s our one opportunity to see those loved ones from Seattle and Wisconsin, New York and Kentucky. Having shared our story of your long-desired conception, there was so much rejoicing as we reunited!
Your Daddy was a Quiz Master for the week, getting to administrate the rounds of competition for Senior Teen Vet quizzers. Having been a quizzer and coach himself for many years, he knows the inner workings of the teams and does a wonderful job in this role. And then there’s the awesome benefit of hearing him preach each Sunday quoting the Scripture passages that have been deeply engrained into his soul thanks to years of study and discipline. Time well spent.
Here’s a “bumpie” from my week at SAU (July 2nd):
We had the next few days at home to recover, do laundry, catch up on meetings and counseling sessions for church, and prepare in advance for the next few Sunday services. We were off again on Friday, July 10th forGeneral Conference 2015. Every four years the North American Free Methodist Church has it’s week long business and worship sessions. This is an incredible time of fellowship and networking with pastors and missionaries, worship leaders and friends from literally all over the world. We got to know Dosseh, the district director of the Ivory Coast and Togo (Africa) FM Conference. Our church had just committed to giving toward the founding of the Ivory Coast church conference and it’s so exciting to put voices and faces with the names on a page.
We had lunch (or dinner or coffee dates) with so many good friends – Randi & Kris who are moving back to Toledo! (three cheers for having a ministry couple, who’s our age and stage of life, just minutes from home!), Caitlin (a dear friend from college, who lives so close but we had to go to Orlando to meet up with her), Darryl & Tom and Randy and Jon and Rick & Kim (good friends from our Albion, NY church), Cathy & Steve (SoMi pastor friends), Colleen (a Pittsburgh pastor who we met briefly at quizzing a year ago and kept in touch with), and so so many more. Our hearts were full!
Plus, we stayed in this beautiful resort where the convention center was located. The pool and the sun were good for my soul!
We spent this past week back at the homestead. More laundry. But lots of home cooking which tasted so good after only eating out for a week. We accomplished much and had some fantastic meetings with church friends. One of those days I got the gotta-rearrange-furniture bug (which I “catch” every month or two.) I consulted a measuring tape and your daddy’s geometrically minded brain and we set to work. He spoke my love language so beautifully as we worked together to bring our gigantic sectional upstairs to the living room. I had found it on Craigslist back in the fall for $500 and loved it. But it was to be used in the basement “man cave.” Then we rearranged everything and brought the tv and game system upstairs. This left the sectional all forlorn in the basement.
I LOVE its new home in the living room and I LOVE my husband for taking the time to work with me.
Today we’re loading the car again and driving back out to Somerset. This time I’ll be the speaker for Young Teen Camp all week! I’m honored to have been asked back, and feel a little more at ease knowing what to expect this time around. (I spoke last year at the same camp.) Kevin is coming with me to spend time away from the office sermon planning through Advent. (And also because I have a leeettle bit of separation anxiety. :)
As I take you with me to camp, I’m praying every day for you to grow to know Jesus (even now) and to seek wisdom. I’m praying that I’ll speak the right words this week, clearly and concisely and kindly, as God leads me. I’m praying these middle schoolers will see Jesus and learn to love him more.
And I’m so excited to watch you “popping out,” Little Girl. You’re beautiful.
Today marks our 1 Year Anniversary of pastoral ministry at Monroe Free Methodist Church. Your Daddy was ordained last May, and appointed as Senior Pastor here in June. His first Sunday in the pulpit (and mine at the piano) was June 29th, 2014. It’s been a fast year, a hard year, a wonderful year. As I’ve told many who inquire how is it going? – this gig has a steep learning curve. There are so many lessons to be learned that can only be taught by experience, digging right in. I thought I’d share with you a few reflections from this first year.
No one ever taught me when to order Easter lilies or Palm fronds. (Fact: I didn’t even know how to spell “fronds” until right this moment.) I thought I was getting ahead of the curve when I called florists about lilies a good six weeks before Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, none of them even knew what their stock or prices would be at that point. I ended up rolling the dice and shopping at Meijer a week before the holiday. I paid about half what the florists were quoting me. Little did I know when I was failing at ordering lilies, that’s about the time when I should have been ordering Palm fronds. Thankfully a local garden center supplied us with the palms at the last minute.
I even had to email our conference office to find out whether to drape the cross with purple or white before and after Easter Sunday. This kind of stuff you just don’t think about when it’s always been “someone else’s” responsibility. Thank you, “someone else” for always doing those behind-the-scenes things in church.
Like making coffee. I barely know how to brew a cup of coffee with my Keurig, let alone make a pot for the morning church crew using the ancient Bunn Pour-omatic. I learned quickly when there was no one else to do it. (Though perhaps no one drinking my coffee might be a sign of something…)
Those first few months, I took it upon myself to “do it all.” I unlocked all the doors at the church. I turned on all the lights. I set up the coffee table. I turned on the heat. I prepped the sound system and the projector. I shoveled the sidewalks. And since it was part of my “office manager” job description, I also cleaned the bathrooms, restocked paper products, took out the trash, vacuumed the floors, washed the windows, and dusted.
And I got very bitter, very fast. I was so hurried and frazzled that I never had time to prepare my heart for leading worship, let alone get my head on straight for directing my team during rehearsal. I was short-fused, and something needed to give.
Eventually I began to hear the wisdom of my patient husband: Ask for help. Others have a desire and a gift to serve. They’re just waiting to be asked. When I finally hit the end of my rope, I called and emailed five or six people that very day, asking if they would help me shoulder these Sunday morning tasks. Every one of them said yes. The following Sunday I felt a million times lighter.
As we came into ministry at MFMC, I was moving on from my years of youth ministry and stepping into a new leadership role as worship director. The Lord had been preparing me for this work during the past 15 years of participation with worship teams. I have served as a vocalist and keyboardist on many occasions, loving every minute of using my gifts and training for God’s glory. But leading the ministry? That was uncharted territory.
Never before had it been my responsibility to select the music for the worship sets every-single-week, create new slides for every-single-song (while learning how to work the open source software called OpenLP), or coordinate Scripture volunteers and sound techs and ushers. And that’s when it was just me and a keyboard.
Our congregation was so receptive to my very quiet and contemplative style of worship leading. They came eager to learn and soaking in the new space we were creating in our corporate worship. I am so thankful for the grace they’ve shown as I’ve hit wrong notes, missed transitions, sang wrong words, or let my ego get in the way.
Over the next six months, God began gifting me with team members. As new friends were starting to attend our services it seemed many of them were interested in serving on the worship team. I began holding auditions, allowing me to hear their voices or instruments, and giving us time to dialog about their experience and their call to serve. To this day I am being BLOWN AWAY by the team God is forming. A year ago when it was just me up there, I couldn’t dream big enough. But here I am with a crew of 8 vocalists, 2 cajon (box drum) players, a cellist, a trumpeter, a clarinetist, a bass guitarist, 2 keyboardists, an acoustic guitarist, and me on our micro-grand electric piano. (Thank you, Craigslist.) WOAH, right?!
I love keeping things fresh every week, rotating vocalists and instrumentalists. This gives the team a chance to serve with new people and gain a unity among us, while giving our congregation the opportunity to welcome newness and change. Some weeks are “big” with the drum, bass, guitar, piano, and four vocalists. Other weeks are more acoustic, with two vocalists and a guitar or piano. I love it! Our practices are something we all look forward to and I am beyond impressed with the way every one of them comes to rehearsals prepared and on time. (And by “on time” I mean I get there a half hour early, and half the time a few of them beat me to the church.) Praise be to God for His goodness in knitting together a team of lead worshipers.
As I look back over this first year, I am amazed at the way our community has been changing and by the growth your Dad and I have experienced in our personal ministry areas. We love working together, complimenting each other’s abilities in a way only God could have ordained. He’s the big picture guy, I’m the detail planner. He preaches and teaches, while I coordinate and lead worship. We counsel couples togethers, we disciple individuals one-on-one. We meet together to plan the next few weeks or months of ministry. We have had to learn to take off the “husband and wife hats” and shift into “pastor and worship leader roles.” Together we set visions for teaching goals of our Sunday night series and take turns ironing out the details. He has mentored me into my Local Ministerial Candidacy and continually puts great trust in my leadership abilities, hardly ever questioning my plans or execution. I am so thankful for the way we work together and I am eager to continue in my track of ordination.
As you come into this world a bonafide Pastor’s (Pastors’) Kid, we are praying for you. May God grant you grace to follow Christ from a young age. May you learn to the love the Church. May you find your niche of service – even as a child – and thrive. May you experience the unique set of spiritual gifts God has ordained for your life. May you forgive your Mom and Dad when we make mistakes and tell us if you’re feeling left out or “second place” to church work. May you love our bedtime prayers and the liturgy of reading Scriptures together. May you ask questions and think critically and develop a worldview with Christ as your lens.
We can’t know how our ministry will change when you enter our lives. We believe our hearts will grow ten sizes, and we know our people are going to welcome you with arms wide open. We pray you will love growing up in the front row of church every Sunday, loving the Lectionary readings, and learning to sing the songs Monday through Saturday, and gleaning the Good News from your Daddy’s sermons.