Letting Go of the List

Today, I’m delighted to be on Heartskeeper Author Sarah West‘s blog talking about why I let go of the list. You know, the list of those qualities desired in a mate.

Most women have one. A lot of guys do, too, even if they won’t admit it.

I had one. Well, no, that’s not entirely accurate; I’ve had four, at least… [READ MORE]

In honor of my #KidsMin bestie…

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Everybody, meet Beth. I met Beth about twelve years ago when my family was preparing to move to Texas. Her family had to Texas from Georgia. (She still talks about going back to Georgia. Crazy kid.) Having been involved in the same church and many of the same ministries for several years, we became fast friends, and today, although we don’t get to talk or hang out often, I’d say she’s one of my closest friends.

Of the many things we’ve done together, one of my favorites is children’s ministry. We’ve been fellow Sunday school teachers, Bible club leaders, and VBS leaders/volunteers. Beth has great vision for everything she takes on – just out-of-this-world and imaginative – something the kiddos love, not to mention the artistic teams she supervises. (Seriously, I wish I had pictures to show of the VBS themes she’s executed and how she decorates her classrooms. If you’re ever running low on ideas, I highly recommend checking her out on Pinterest. She is awesome.) She’s does an amazing job leading the kids in music, taking the time to help them understand and be excited about what they’re singing. Although she’s a few years younger than me, she is always inspiring me to think bigger.

And so, when God laid it on my heart to undertake writing a curriculum from the book of Proverbs after teaching some littles a lesson on Solomon a little over two years ago, Beth was actually the first person I talked to about it. And when Small, But Wise was ready yesterday morning, she was the first person I sent the link to. Of course, I sent her the link to the corresponding Pinterest board, too, because we’re both Pinterest junkies. I really wanted to share it with someone who has been in the trenches with me before anyone else, and so I did.

Along with Beth, I’ve been thinking about children’s ministry life, so I thought I’d share some things that have made the trenches a little bit easier, more robust, and adaptable.

Picture Bible(s). Consider purchasing a picture Bible. It’s good to have something for your visual learners. My personal favorite is The Children’s Bible from Golden Press, but I also recently picked up God’s Love for You, a Bible storybook by Rich and Renee Stearns (the World Vision people). If a picture Bible isn’t an option, look for visual aides on Pinterest or Google Images and show them to your students on your smart device.

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Bible Coloring and Activity Books. Yes, there are TONS of craft and activity ideas out there, but believe me, for those times when life comes up and you don’t have time or energy for activity and craft prep, a coloring or activity sheet is a perfectly acceptable fallback. I like Zondervan’s The Beginner’s Bible SUPER DUPER MIGHTY JUMBO Coloring and Activity books because you can run off copies royalty-free for classroom use.

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Have the basics on hand. Children’s ministry crafting staples include: construction paper, poster board, yarn, beads, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, and colored pencils.

Start collecting children’s ministry crafting fodder. You know, cartons, paper and styrofoam products, newspaper, and cardboard tubes. The sky is the limit with crafts when you have supplies on hand.

The dollar store is your best resource for craft materials. The goal with crafts is to help students develop fine motor skills while expressing creativity, so the materials don’t have to expensive or high-quality.

Get on Pinterest. After today, y’all are going to think Pinterest is paying me to talk about them so much, but there are millions of ideas on there for every kind of craft, activity, and project imaginable. Many pins link to additional website and blog resources, like most of the pins on the Small, But Wise board link back to the curriculum.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, find yourself a ministry buddy. Find someone to share thoughts and ideas with. It doesn’t have to be someone at your church, though that can be helpful. Beth and I haven’t been in church together for about two years now (and it was on and off even before that), but I still feel comfortable approaching her when I need someone to chat with.

You may not know me from Adam, but I am always here as well. To prevent spam, I shut comments down on posts after two weeks, but you can always visit my “about” page or email me at lydia.evelyn.thomas@gmail.com. I am thrilled to chat and answer any questions you might have, children’s ministry-related or not.

Be blessed, and happy Thursday!

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(And since it’s Throwback Thursday, here’s this oldie-and-terribly-unflattering-but-goodie)

I’m not going to teach your kids that Mary and Joseph were bad parents…

(And other thoughts from the war zone.)

I am neck deep in reformatting the Small, But Wise curriculum for its formal release next Wednesday. It would have been up and ready two days ago, but … hard drive failure. I’ve been plugging away, making things pretty and writing the Bible stories I’ve chosen to illustrate various Proverbs principles in a digestible narrative format for Kindergarten through 5th grade students all over again.

In the past two weeks, I’ve done little else, and you know what they say, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” What I’m writing for the curriculum hasn’t really changed, but every time I study these stories, I consider different things. It’s how I keep familiarity from producing contempt. Because these thoughts don’t generally fit within the scope of the lessons of the stories I find them in, sometimes – sometimes I share them on social media. Most of them are more fleshed out than others, but sometimes – sometimes I’m just coming up for a breath before going back under.

That’s rare. So rare. I try not to post anything without fully explaining my position, without acknowledging other points of view. I am known for my thoughtful perspectives, for my ability to understand where other people are coming from. So even when I post something that seems overly-simplistic, most people know it’s not my intention to limit or misrepresent anything. Most people.

Yesterday, I wrote one of those uncharacteristically mindless posts. As I said earlier, I was in the middle of formatting Small, But Wise, in the story of Jesus in His Father’s House, asking questions and listening to the teachers there. Incidentally, this is also the story where Mary and Joseph accidentally leave Jesus in Jerusalem and travel a day before they realized it. For a moment, I had a thought: How did they go a WHOLE DAY not realizing JESUS was with them? My very next thought was, Nobody’s perfect. And I began to think of all of the imperfect people God uses, including myself.

And because I didn’t think these thoughts required more fleshing out, I shared them in brief (Small, But Wise getting an honorable mention, of course), along with this graphic.

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“Let’s not forget, Joseph and Mary left Jesus in Jerusalem and didn’t realize he wasn’t with them for a WHOLE DAY.”

I didn’t talk about the manifold issues I have with the liberties this graphic takes, especially the number of times it takes things a person did one time and proclaims it as their identity. Yesterday, however, I was posting in the spirit of the graphic, not the letter: Do you seriously think God can’t use you?

More than that, I was just sharing my life. Not in a bragging way: Hey, look at me.  More like, Hey, I’ve been working on this and had this thought while working on it. I shared it across my social media streams with my readers and friends, and I shared it in a private message group with my siblings (though not in exactly the same words). I wouldn’t normally share something like that with my siblings, but others were sharing about their day, so I thought I would, too.

Wow. Okay, guys. Did you know that in Jesus’ time twelve was practically manhood and that they travelled in large groups? So it’s totally not the BIG DEAL I had made out of it. Yuh. Serves me right for having thoughts and saying them out loud. So glad someone took time out of her busy schedule to school me on these matters, because Lord knows you wouldn’t want someone who thinks Mary and Joseph were only human producing a curriculum you can use in Sunday school or a Bible club.

It’s true to say that I don’t need this. I am dealing with all of the emotions that have come with my mom’s diagnosis; I am stepping up even more in various ministry this year; and I am always working on a writing project in some shape, form, or fashion. I don’t have the headspace to worry about whether something I say is going to bring out the correction of someone who doesn’t just not know me, but actively chooses not to know me.

I probably have a dozen friends in my circles of acquaintance who could have critically commented on what I posted yesterday. Instead, they chose to see the spirit behind it. They knew there was nothing harmful in it, even if it wasn’t as carefully thought out as some of my other posts. They knew there was nothing in it to lead anyone astray, even if it didn’t acknowledge the fact that Jesus was practically a man and they travelled in groups back then or even that Mary had other kids to look after. They knew I was just talking about my day. Because they know me.

And so yes, it’s true to say I don’t need this, but it’s truer to say I don’t deserve this. I was talking about my day; I wasn’t trying to crumble any towering delusions, or to explode onto the scene with an epiphany. It wasn’t anything that warranted any kind of correction. Standing up for myself in this matter isn’t anything that warrants the mockery or the silent treatment I’ve received in the past twenty hours, either.

I try to be thoughtful. I try to come at issues from as many angles as possible. I try to relate, to understand. I don’t always do it well, but that’s who I am.

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When I say, “Let’s have a conversation…”

I got into a discussion this morning about head covering. My older brother shared an article. I would have ignored it, because the Lord knows he and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this subject, but there were comments. A few comments expressing agreement, but one from another friend said that God loved her whether she covered her head or not, and another responded that it wasn’t a matter of God’s love, but of obedience. I didn’t have to say anything, but it’s a subject in which I’m well-versed and somewhat passionate, so you know…I did.

This isn’t a post about head covering by any means, so I won’t share here what I shared there. (Though if anybody ever wants to talk head covering, my door is always open). My comment was deleted pretty quickly, anyway. (To be fair, so was the comment about obedience). My brother mentioned that he thought it was a good article, and that’s why he had posted it; he didn’t mind people disagreeing, but he wasn’t going to have debate and contention over it on his status. That is entirely his prerogative.

Regardless, the whole thing got me thinking about discussions on social media.

First of all, not everything that everyone posts is meant to provoke discussion. I have to be more mindful of this. A lot of people tend to post things that sound good to them on a basic level, and they’re not looking for an intellectual challenge, they’re looking for confirmation. Me? I love a good discussion, and when I post, especially here on my blog or on Facebook, that’s what I’m looking for. What did my post make you think of? What did this post make me think of?

Secondly, discussion (for those genuinely interested in discussion) doesn’t have to get ugly if we embrace these opportunities to get to know other people through the presentation of different viewpoints and talking/listening through them, instead of amassing likes and shares and confirmation of what we think. Even with my love of discussion, for the most part, I don’t go around hijacking random posts by expressing my thoughts on what their posts made me think of; usually, I just scroll on by. If there’s something I feel that strongly about, I tend to be passive and say it in my own space, with very little exception. Why? People tend to accuse me of being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative, when really, I’m just being me – thinking out loud. All too often, saying anything besides “Amen” on social media is to draw fire.

Thirdly, there tends to be a hierarchy in online discussions. If someone has a certain education, or holds a certain position in the church, they tend to be held up as the authority on any given subject, as if everyone else needs to be told what and how to think.

In the publishing world, we talk a lot about engagement on social media. Engagement on social media is measured by the number of likes, shares, or comments a post receives. Hypothetically, the posts that accumulate that kind of engagement are gaining the most attention, the types of posts you should be posting more often. To me, though, engagement means something entirely different: it means someone is thinking about what I’ve posted, or I’m thinking about what someone else posted. Of course, a thoughtful comment can express that, but more often than not, it can’t actually be measured. That’s the kind of engagement I care about, publishing world or no. I want to have a conversation, on going, about all sorts of things.

I started this journey of wanting to have a conversation on social media over two years ago, when I started talking about sexuality, specifically broken sexuality and how it can be redeemed. Instead of a conversation, rumors started circulating about my sexuality, which is admittedly and undoubtedly broken and being redeemed, as if I couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. It sucked, and ended up being so far from what I intended it to be, that I stopped posting about it altogether.

I started avoiding all sensitive subjects, anything where I had a strong opinion, until my #GetOutoftheField posts, and even though I tried to be sensitive about the sensitivity of these topics, I lost followers across all platforms. (It was not sensitive enough for some, and too sensitive for others).

It all makes me wonder: Can we even have productive conversations on social media? Can we even get to a place where we can think out loud…together? Can we disagree and still maintain an atmosphere of respect?

Honestly, I’m not optimistic, but I’m going to try again. And this time, you can say whatever you want about me, label me however you want. I’m going to speak up more, and you’re welcome to comment your thoughts or questions. Let’s try to get a discussion going. (Because of spammers, I close comments after two weeks, but feel free to post a visitor comment on my Facebook page with a link to the post you’d like to discuss with your thoughts. I really, truly love hearing from you, even if you disagree.)

Let’s start today. What did this post make you think about?

Wasting Other People’s Time in 2016? How ‘Bout No…

I don’t know if y’all have heard, but there’s a battle of the sexes taking place on social media as we speak. Men started it with #WasteHERTime2016 and so naturally women rose to the occasion with #WasteHisTime2016 and the slightly nastier #TrapHim2016. What a great way to ring in the New Year.

This isn’t a blog about dating or relationships, though, trust me, as a single woman in her late twenties, I have a thing or three to say about dating and relationships. I just left off blogging those particular thoughts in 2013. Until this morning. Dr. Lydia* is back in session. (You’re welcome).

First of all, and most importantly, all human relationships should function from a place of respect. By that, I mean that we should relate to each other as living, breathing, feeling, and thinking beings; we should treat people with the dignity we would want to be treated. Wasting each other’s time, and plotting ways to waste each other’s time? Not respectful. Not dignified.

Secondly, clearly there is some resentment out there about wasted time in how we’re relating to each other. If I had to guess this probably stems from misplaced expectations and fear of commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to blow your mind: every interaction with the opposite gender does not translate into a thing. People tend to think that’s more of an issue with women, but in my experience, men can be just as bad. There is freedom in just being friendly (i.e. display interest in each other’s lives) and knowing that’s all it is. What occasionally messes that up is one party expecting more than friendship, and when it becomes clear it’s not more than that, said party may feel that his or her time has been wasted. My advice? Interact expecting friendship, knowing that friendship is nothing to be sneezed at. Be grateful for friendship. Granted, some beautiful romantic relationships have grown from friendships, but don’t go in expecting a romantic relationship.

But maybe you’re saying, “I have plenty of friends, I’m looking for something more.” There is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re constantly frustrated by people wasting your time, can I humbly submit that you might be looking in the wrong places? Not everyone is ready for a serious commitment; the fact that #WasteHERtime2016 and #WasteHisTime2016 are trending is proof of that. Some people like the fun back-and-forth of a more casual relationship, because the deeper you go in a relationship, the messier it is. (I’m not saying that’s right or good, it just … is). And if you perpetually find yourself in the company of these kinds of people, and they are usually pretty open about what they want and don’t want, maybe you’re not as ready for commitment as you think you are, and frankly, you’re probably wasting your own time. If that’s not what you want, it’s up to you to change it.

What if, in 2016, instead of wasting each other’s time, we treat each other with respect and dignity? What if we are intentional about building strong, committed friendships and just being thankful for them? What if we say no to wasting our own time and letting others waste our time? What if, next year, instead of a negative trend, it’s positive because we empowered ourselves to do something differently than we’ve gotten used to doing?

I think we can do it, don’t you?

*I am not actually a doctor.