Sunday, July 24, 2016

Learning How to Say "Good"-byes

To this day, even after growing up as a Third Culture Kid my whole life, I'm still learning how to say "good" goodbyes. My parents and Josiah Venture staff were incredible at modeling that growing up, but it still doesn't mean it's easy. I'm learning that there are ways to make goodbyes more bearable though. 

When goodbyes are affirmed and meaningful, when there is space for both celebration of the joys and grief over the loss, then it at least feels more possible to move forward and think of the next destination. 

I just finished up a COMPASS program here at MTI, which is the month long training program for families moving overseas. I had to leave a day early to fly to Chicago for a wedding this weekend, so I had to say my goodbyes with the kids on Thursday. 

We made scrapbook memory pages, talked about what we learned in the past month, shared favorite playground/field trip/lesson stories, ate Starbursts together, and the kids were so thoughtful and gave me cards they had made earlier in the day. We did a big group hug, and then one by one they were picked up by their parents at the end of the day, and some hung back for as long as they could. We chatted until it was really time to go and gave final hugs before saying our last goodbye. 

I share this little snippet of our goodbyes to give you hope. I'm actually learning how to say "good" (if there is such a thing) goodbyes in a way that brings closure, though the sting will always be there. It's important to take the time to name the goodbye and fully enter into it, whether I'm the one leaving or staying. This time I'm staying and they'll be moving overseas with their families in the coming months, but the roles switch back and forth in different stages of life. 

If you're going to be saying goodbyes soon - with kids, at work, with friends or family, one little helpful acronym that MTI uses is C.A.R. - closure, affirmation, reconciliation. The other thing I like to think towards that MTI taught me is using the "Five Love Languages" in saying goodbyes. Being able to love others well throughout goodbyes is one of the best gifts to receive and to give. So when saying goodbyes, think of a way you can 1. serve someone, 2. be sure to affirm them with words, 3. find a meaningful gift for them to take along as they move forward, 4. give them hugs or pray over them in a huddle, 5. and carve out time to spend with them. Those are just a few ideas to get you started. It's painful, but so so worth it. 

I'll miss this group of kids! Would you pray for them right now as they continue in their journeys serving the Lord with their families and in transition? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Children's Ministry: A Snippet of the Backstory

I never would have thought three years ago that I would be sitting here, surrounded by four precious babies. I was a sub for a teacher who was sick today, so I got to hang out with the nursery kids for the day at my internship, and it was a delightful surprise not only because of their sweet faces, but because of the reminder of where the Lord has brought me from (hint: I could never have done this three years ago).

I share this photo not to tell you about baby skills (which I still have lots to learn in!), but to be a testimony to God's calling and the way He not only equips us for the plans he has for us in the future, but also changes our hearts too.

Before college I don't think anyone would have guessed I would go into Children's Ministry. I didn't really have much experience working with kids, but more than that, I didn't have a desire to. I thought kids were fun, but felt awkward when they were placed in my care. I was the teenager who didn't rush to hold babies or play games with little ones. In fact, I was often scared of any responsibility concerning kids, for fear of messing up or not knowing what to do with them.

I went to Moody to study TESOL (God knew that's the only major that would get me there in the first place; I needed something "concrete" with a clear target in mind), but quickly discovered that teaching English was not the right place for me. I cared too much about relationships with people and not enough about English itself. If I were to be an English teacher and build relationships, I knew I would have to steward my position and give my all to being the best English teacher I could be. I just wasn't too excited about that. English wasn't my passion, and I knew my students would suffer from that. I also recognized my pragmatism in choosing the major, and was convicted of being of little faith for what the Lord might have ahead.

This was from my first blog post about my journey to Moody, and my first days. 

Thus, God led me to Children's Ministry. I was shocked when the idea even came to mind as I was researching other majors at Moody. I had been doing my PCM (Practical Christian Ministry - part of Moody's curriculum and vision) at an after-school program on the West side of Chicago with inner-city kids for a semester, and that had opened my eyes to the impact God's Word and a lot of love can have on children at young ages. Other than my PCM though, I didn't have much exposure, let alone experience, with kid's ministry besides what I grew up with during my childhood.

I knew by this time that Moody was 100% the right place for me to be, but I was surprised that my foolproof plan had been dashed and I was among the high number of students who switch their majors during college (I never thought I'd be one of them, but alas, God knew I needed humbling!). My heart kept being tugged towards Children's Ministry, though I didn't know why. I sought wisdom from those who knew me, talked with my parents a lot, and went for it. Children's Ministry it was.

There's more to the story than what I can even share in a blog post, but let me tell you, after I switched majors, my heart was not the same towards children. Slowly, surely, the Lord began pulling my clenched fingers off of the concept of control, and he opened my eyes to the beauty and delight of the littlest ones of his Creation. What joy I suddenly started experiencing! This was new. I had never before been excited about hanging out with kids. My heart was thawing.

Since that first semester at Moody when the whole Children's Ministry journey began, I have seen Him constantly do His work of taking me step by step where I needed to go. I remember when I worked in the nursery at Gull Lake my first year, one of the full-time staffers told me, "I didn't like babies before I worked in Cove Kids. I was completely surprised that Gull Lake changed everything. You never know, you might find that you love babies like I do after this summer." She was right. That was the first time I truly loved babies, even though I hardly knew how to change a diaper at that point.

God changes hearts. He provides all that we need. He is generous with his love, which is poured into us and overflows. I am undeserving, un-capable without him, and in desperate need of his grace, which gives me what I absolutely don't deserve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Finding Beauty and Being Honest

Today was a day off from my internship, so I got to explore the area a bit. Part of what this day also included was time alone with God, and that was much needed, and hard too as I wrestle with questions and anxious thoughts about the future (and the present). 

Pressing into those kinds of places is never very fun at first, but the Lord is ever near and faithful and forsakes us not when we come crying out to him in confusion. He already knows me completely, and yet sometimes I hold back from honest words in prayer. I have been challenged lately to bring everything before him, even as the psalmists held nothing back. 

In the end, the day could be encapsulated by two things - talking with God and enjoying His creation. This looked different than I expected, but it was good, as He intended it to be. 

First stop: Garden of the Gods. 

Second stop. I googled "Most beautiful churches in Colorado", and found one that wasn't too far away in downtown Colorado Springs. There's something about the majesty, creativity and reverence of a church like this one that brings me to silence and awe. My heart needed that on a regular Monday. These kinds of places also remind me of Czech and the story God has been weaving together with his own hands.

Third stop: Not pictured. It was my favorite coffee shop though, and one that includes big windows with bright light beaming through, warm and comforting pourover coffees, service that's friendly and inviting, and a yellow couch that almost always has a free spot right by the window. 

Fourth stop: Broadmoor hotel. This is a five star hotel where you can visit even just for the day. It's free to walk around their grounds and the pristine lawns and flowerbeds along with the crisp lake complete with swans made me feel like I had escaped to another world. 

I also finally got to finish a little mini-painting that I had been working on for a while. It's of a house that's next-door to my favorite coffee shop here. It's eclectic and charming, and little house portraits are a relaxing no-pressure project. 

Happy Tuesday now to you all. You've almost made it to the middle of the week. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Meet-Up in Colorado

An unlikely combination occurred today: Caleb, Haley, Me, Grandma and Bapa - in Estes Park, CO. 

It's incredible to me that I can drive up to Ft. Collins for the weekend and join Caleb and Haley for a couple of days. I'm still wrapping my head around having a car (though it's just a borrowed one!) and being able to pick up and go somewhere like this. Not only were Caleb and Haley around this weekend though...Grandma and Bapa came through Ft. Collins on their road trip out towards the Midwest! 

We spent the day leisurely exploring around Estes Park together, with not much of an agenda except spending time together. As a Third Culture Kid, family time is not something I take for granted, and it's almost like a surprise every time there is an opportunity to be together. I'm grateful I could join in on this mini Colorado gathering this time. 

P.S. If you've been following my blog for a while, you may remember that it's always my goal to get Bapa to give a big smile with me for a photo at least once. This time it was Mom who requested the smile photo in a text later in the day, and so me and Bapa obliged. That last one's for you, Mom. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MTI and What's Next?

It's hard to believe I have already been at MTI for almost 7 weeks. I have reached my half-way point here at my internship, which was marked by the start of a new COMPASS program, where I'll be helping in the process of training families as they head to the mission field by working with the 7-12 year-olds classroom for this next month. 

I'm co-teaching this class for the program so that I can get acclimated to the curriculum and learn from the expert - Brittney, who's been here for years! Really, all of the kids' trainers here at MTI are incredible at what they do, and I am mostly learning from observing them day in and day out. I am overwhelmed at times still by all that is new, but the staff is so gracious with all of my questions. My favorite part is always getting to know these kids and creating a safe environment for them to learn, build relationships and grow in. 

You might be wondering at this, is MTI the kind of work you're hoping to do after college? And I can honestly say I don't know. My parents are (wisely) advising me to "suspend all judgment about the future" for now, since I'm still collecting pieces and don't have enough information to decide what's next after I graduate in December. Once my internship is over, I'll start processing everything that happened this summer and look at what my options are ahead. It's scary sometimes. It really is. Isn't the unknown always somewhat daunting? 

At the same time, I've seen the Lord guide me so lovingly over the years and am also excited to see what he has up the path a ways. I won't know until I get to the bend; and I'm not there yet. 

I'll admit, it's pretty difficult for me to not think about what's next, but it's part of what I'm learning this summer: live in the present, take each day as a gift from the Father. Live with what the Lord has placed before you, Claire, right in the time he has given it. If the Lord provided manna for the Israelites in the desert, enough for each day, ordained for them and given by His good hand, then will He not do the same (Exodus 16)? He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever.

Or to take another OT story, will there not be just enough oil and flour in the jar tomorrow (1 Kings 17)? To the widow in the story, it looked like she was running out each day, and yet each day, the Lord showed his faithfulness and came through on his promises to provide.

One other verse comes to mind as I think through all of these things, and it's one I've heard since I was a kid, but that keeps coming back...

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" - Matthew 6:26

So I keep doing what he places before me each day, learning all I can here at MTI, and soaking in the wisdom of those who are so good in this field. I'm trusting that the Lord will take what little I feel I have and use it for his good purposes and for his glory. He knows what's next; I need not worry. 

(There's a little perspective from the driveway of the place I'm staying for the summer - "Forest Lane", as I like to call it)

P.S. I have lots more photos of the kids, but for their own safety and privacy, I don't feel comfortable sharing their photos without parent permission! I would love to share their faces of joy and friendship, but want to be sensitive to their families. Thank you for understanding!