Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Shame Tree

There is this tree in a church that at first glance is quite beautiful.

It's fake and is on one of the main walls. It has bright colors on it; all the perfect colors of fall and the leaves and hands that are on the tree have names on it.

It's stewardship month for most churches- the time of year that a lot of Pastors (myself included) dread because it is the time that we have to talk about money. It takes money to run a church, yes I know this, but talking about money is uncomfortable and while it is a part of my job it can send people into a deep pit of shame.

This particular tree is for anyone that increased their giving or began pledging for the first time. I couldn't quite figure out what about it bothered me until yesterday.

As I looked at the tree, I felt shame in the pit of my stomach. The thoughts went through my mind "if I attended here would my name be up there?" "would my family be able to increase our pledge?"

And the truth is, not likely. Living the life we live right now is hard financially and not because we live extravagantly. Cost of living is up, prices of houses have risen, daycare fees, school fees, etc.. it all adds up. 

Some people are struggling to pay medical bills, dealing with the loss of a job or a spouse that provided more income- it is all hard and it is the reality of most people's lives. 

Walking by this tree sent me into a shame spiral and I have to believe I am not the only one. The tree symbolizes the very essence of what people fear church is. That church is about money, taking your money and then glorifying those that give said money. Making the "less than" feel unworthy and perhaps like they do not belong.

Jesus preached against this very thing- against making people feel any less than a child of God. Jesus threw over the tables in the temple for they were mis-using the temple and what it was built for. Jesus got angry at how the people were being taxed, how the rich were only getting richer while the poor were just trying to get by.

See the source imageWhen we glorify the wealthy or the ones that are just a bit wealthier than we are; it begins to send people into a dark place and away from God. Making them truly believe that they are not worthy enough, that maybe they don't belong and that God doesn't love them enough.

Stewardship, while necessary, is not just about the money and it is certainly not about rewarding the ones that give the most. The person that pledges the least and the one most are equal in the eyes of God and at our church. Both people have gifts beyond money to give. Both people have devoted their life to Christ and both people are worthy of being recognized for the work that they do.

This stewardship month, I promise to all of my congregants- I will talk about money but I will do everything possible to not make you feel as though you are not worthy because you are not able to give more. I will stress the importance of not just our monetary gifts but our spiritual gifts which are needed more and more every day in this broken world.

Being a good steward is taking care of your church, God's creation and each other. 

Do this every single day without allowing anyone to tell you that you are not good enough or you don't do enough. 

Go out and be the light of God to those in the world that need it the most and you my friend, will begin to see the change that the very light can do. 

We are all worthy, we are all enough and we are beloved.

-Pastor Ali 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Life has me...GOING CRAZY!

May is always a busy time of year. From graduations to weddings to end of the school events. Did you know that there are about 10,000 things to do at the end of the year in preschool? No? I didn't either. Apparently there is about every opportunity to be involved and to make yourself feel like a bad parent for missing things and/or not being able to attend things.

Now, let's be clear. I know I am a good mom. In fact, I know I am a great mom. My kids are fed, dressed, usually clean and have a loving home. Yet, society puts all this pressure on us to be "perfect" in an imperfect world.

Who has time for the Kansas kindest citian event, the field trip, field day, art show, talent show...the list goes on.

Plenty of places and ways for you to feel like you have failed as a parent.

I recently found out that ordering a yearbook in KINDERGARTEN is a thing. A real thing that most parents do. To be honest, when I saw the order form back in FEBRUARY, I ignored it. What kindergartner needs a yearbook? Then I was told that there is a yearbook signing party... oh crap! My kid will be THAT kid- the one you strive so hard to make sure your kid isn't.

My first thought, I'll just pull him from school that day. He will never know what he missed and I will be the COOL mom for letting him out early. Then I really started to think about it- I don't have time to pull him from school so what am I going to do? Henry's teacher lovingly told me that all kids will have something for kids to sign so my kid will be walking around with the stapled pieces of paper that say "autograph" while others have a book...

Deep breath... It will be okay. Henry will be OK. The kids are OK.

As we start to get ready for summer, deep breaths are going to be essential for all of us parents. The kids will be home, the house will be a mess, the outdoor toys will not be picked up (mine never are) and they may live off of fruit snacks and cheetos all summer but they will be okay. Everything will be okay because our kids know we love them, know we always want the best for them and know that they are loved.

SNL did a great skit on the "perfect" parent. Watch it here and enjoy a good laugh knowing that ALL of us are perfectly imperfect, enough, worthy and beloved.

-Pastor Ali

Thursday, March 28, 2019

No, Not MY Daughter!

In public and at school we all have the "perfect" children. We strive to make sure they have the perfect clothes, the perfect lunch and that we are the perfect parents. When our children throw a fit in the middle of Target we give them our phone or just buy the toy they want to avoid the looks from others. When our child is acting like a child during an important moment, we threaten to take away their new favorite toy or ELSE.

When in reality none of us have the perfect children. None of us have it all together and we do all these things for what?

We do them for ourselves because we live in a world where we are terrified of what people think about us, that people will judge us and that we will never be good enough.

Well, as my dear friend Tiffany Baker has often put it, the jig is up and when we all just accept that we are all human and we are all imperfect, the world would become a lot more perfect.

Yet, not everyone has had the luck of being in a mom's group with Tiffany leading that is so incredibly important it allows you to actually let go of these things and just go with the phrase "the kids are alright".

My kids do not have the perfect clothes. Most days, Henry wears pants that have holes in them. I can't keep up with how rough he is on his clothes, so if they rip he wears them. I don't fix them- no one actually has time for that.

Their lunches consist of whatever I can find to throw in their lunch box and when Tannie now has a tantrum in the middle of Target I just stare at her and say things like "wow, who's kid is that?" Or you know, I just give her my phone.

This week, Tannie had two not so awesome reports. Now, let's be honest, she is 2 and in kids day out. Having a bad report in kids day out will not set her up for failure and she will still likely get into a good college but there is still something about the look on the teachers face and the words "Do you have a second?" You suddenly become a little child and feel as though you are in serious trouble. "Sure", I said.

Well, it turns out for the past two days Tannie has hit and pushed her classmates and had to sit out a total of 5 times. My first reaction was honest.. "Oh ok. Well, hmm..." I didn't know what to say. My daughter? That adorable one that is currently screaming me for more peanut butter as I write this hit others? Of course not...

I had been waiting for this statement for the whole school year. Let's be real. Tannie is Tannie. She is smart, she is spunky and she doesn't let anyone stand in her way. Her teacher expressed that it is often when others are in her space or looking at her and she wants to be left alone.

The mama in me gave myself a high five. At 2 years old, my daughter knows her boundaries and how to tell people to leave her alone. But, I guess doing that by hitting that isn't okay in kids day out....

Our kids are not perfect but they are perfectly imperfect and when we let go of the "perfection" we all buy into as parents and just embrace the reality that 2 year olds hit, 6 year olds rip their pants and that life is just messy, we teach our kids a lot more value and worth than we know. We really teach them about being themselves, we teach them that their voice matters and we teach them that material things are not what life is about.

Don't get me wrong. My kids get the phone and there are times they get the "talk" before we go places but as I learn more about being a mom and myself, I am realizing that their imperfections are the perfect things about them.

Always know you are enough, you are worthy and you are beloved.

Pastor Ali

Thursday, March 21, 2019

There is New Life- happy birthday

If you have ever lost someone, there are phrases that are the worst to hear. Ones that make your skin crawl, that make you want to jump up and down and scream that they are wrong, that make you cry and cry and anger you even further. If you are wondering if you are at fault for saying some of these...well, the answer is yes.

We all are.

We have all said the wrong thing when to someone we care about when someone dies.

"Oh it's for the best" Really? The best? Death?

"Well, at least they aren't suffering any longer" Umm..excuse me, they actually weren't suffering before

"It was their time" their time for what?

"Oh now they are in a better place"

That last one. That one is the one that used to make me so angry. ME. A PASTOR! After my dad died, I didn't care to hear that he was in a better place.

Absolutely not, because he wasn't supposed to be there yet. He died out of the natural order. Both of his parents were still living. He was only 56.

The list goes on and on. All the reasons that he shouldn't be in that better place.

As time has gone one, 5 years, I still wonder about that statement. Yes, I know he is in a better place but why can't he still be here and then go there in awhile?

I will never know the answer to that question, all I can do is have faith that he is there, that he is loving life and that he is living his new life to it's fullest potential because he is now sitting with God at the long table that Jesus went to prepare for us. The table with his parents, his friends, his family that are all there.

New life, new births, birthdays.

There are signs of new life all around us on a daily basis. For me, it is the green poking it's head through the dirt in my garden. My cousin, Brittany's beautiful baby. My children growing into little people.

They are all signs of hope, hope that there is new life after death, that there is something better out there and that there is something bigger than us all. Without them, without the hope of the "new" we would lose hope in the God that loves us, saves us and reminds us of this new life every single day.

As time goes on, the pain of losing someone starts to soften. It becomes more of who you are and not what you went through.

We all wear our pain and our brokenness in the way that we live our lives and it is what makes us beautiful. It makes us real, it makes us human.

As the season of Lent goes on, we are leaning into what that pain is and how to continue living with it vs living as though it never happened or that it was "the way things were meant to be".

God calls us to live a life of abundance, even through our pain, even through our brokenness and even through the loss of the ones you love the most.

We are invited this Lent to embrace this invitation and surrender to God- surrender it all and envision a life where our pain makes us beautiful and we look at ourselves every single day and know we are enough, we are worthy and we are beloved.

Happy birthday, Dad. I hope it's a great one.

Tell everyone hi- I hope you ARE living your best life in that better place.

-Pastor Ali

Friday, March 15, 2019

My Happy Place

As a child, we went every spring break to Lawrence where my mom's sister and her family lived. I grew up in Wichita, until I was 14, so going to Lawrence was always a big deal. My best friend was there, my cousin Brittany and my brother had his best friend, our cousin Skyler.

For a whole week we got to be with our cousins, doing whatever we wanted and I would imagine driving our mothers' crazy. As an adult and mother, I think they must have been crazy to be in a house with all the kids for a whole week. But I have come to realize that if you are in your happy place it really doesn't matter. My mom's happy place was with her sister and for us kids it was being with our cousins.

My sister, Paige, always went 20 miles down the road to our Nani and Nana's house. She got to the point where she was too "cool" to hang out with Brittany and I, she probably still is, and would go spend the week with our grandparents. During her time there she and our Nani would go flower shopping and spend hours planting flowers and learning about them. I never had any interest but as an adult something shifted.

Henry is on his fist real spring break. I was determined to make this week great for him, the one I remembered from my childhood. He has had sleepovers, been to his cousins and had a great week so far.

My happy place has changed over the years, no offense Becky and Britt, but I have taken on the love of going to my Nani's house, talking to her on the phone and calling her one of my best friends. Although I got sick this week with an awful cough, we still ventured down to my Nani's and I got to spend time in my happy place, which turns out to be a place of safety and joy for my children as well.

My Nani, being almost 81, goes at the speed of a 30 year old. Really, she has more energy than I do and when you go to Nani's you do not just sit around and do things. Oh no, there is a list of things to do and they will all be accomplished within the time you are there.

We ventured to many places yet the best one and the one that I know my Nani loved the most was getting our pansies. As a child, I never cared about flowers, that was Paige. Paige was the one that shared that love but it has shifted over the years and I am obsessed. My Nani and I began talking in Feb. about when we could go get them and we finally did. And we didn't stop there, we planted pansies, made fairy gardens and just spent time together talking and being present.

My happy place is with my family and when I get a chance to relax, spend time with my family and include gardening, there isn't much (even the tantrums of a 2 year old) that can bring me down. I now understand why my mom and her sister didn't care that us kids were running around like crazy for a whole week, they had each other and they treasured that time together through every meltdown, tantrum and fight us kids had, they were in their happy place.

I hope you all can find your happy place this lent. Find the place that makes you feel the closest to God and spend time there. Because when we do that, we are truly able to lean into our belovedness and live the life of abundance God wants for each of us.

Many blessings to you as spring starts to come- Know you are enough, you are worthy and you are beloved.

-Pastor Ali

Friday, March 8, 2019

Leaving a Legacy

Lent is upon us. It is a time of year to reflect on our lives and to look with God toward the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus is approaching the 40 days before his death, he is ministering to those in his midst, he is showing his true divinity to his disciples and he is preparing to leave a legacy of hope, grace and resurrection for all of God's people.

What is our legacy? What will you leave in this world for your children? Do you think about that often?

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to put into words how I feel about the decision made at the United Methodist General Conference and what legacy this will leave for our children and future generations.

The church is at a stand still. When I am asked what do we do or what is next, I simply say "I don't know". And that is the truth, I don't know but here is what I do know

The UMC was founded on grace, love, mercy and acceptance of all people. John Wesley fought for the rights of those that didn't have a voice and wanted the church to be a place where all people felt welcomed and a church with open minds, open hearts and open doors.

The clergy are not the only ones tasked with the legacy of the church. All of us, every single member, child and clergy have to work together to be the church that God wants us to be. To leave a legacy for our children that they are proud of and not one of hate, exclusion and punishment.

My children love our church. They feel welcomed there, they are loved there and they run around that place knowing it is theirs and that the people inside of it will help to raise them to be followers of Christ with open hearts, open minds and open doors.

I want that to be the legacy we leave. The legacy of love. Love can be hard when we don't understand the other side. Love can be hard when we have been hurt by the other person but love is possible when we have the love of Christ in our hearts allowing us to see the true humanity in all of God's people.

I choose to leave a legacy of love, inclusion and hope for my kids. My hope and prayer this lenten season is that the church and all people in the church are able to look within themselves, to have true self-reflection and to surrender all their fears to God.

When we give it God, when we allow God to hold us and guide us there really is nothing we can't do and I strongly believe that. Trust that God is a loving God, a God of inclusion and a God of resurrection so that we can go out and be that to the world.

Do all this knowing you are enough, you are worthy and you are beloved.

-Pastor Ali

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

It is All About Balance

1 Corinthians 3: 16

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?"

Our family recently started going to the gym. If you know us, you know that this is new and not the "norm" or has ever been the norm. Now, before Paul met me, he did exercise and was really fit from the police academy.. then we got married and we each settled into our new life as a married couple and exercise and keeping ourselves "fit" just didn't fit in there.

Then came these kids of ours. It turns out that a baby really changes your body, oh and turning 30. 

In last three years, it has become apparent that if I want to maintain the way I looked when I was younger, I was going to have to do something about it.

Really it just started to make more sense to me as I started to reflect on my own life, my own well being and what kind of example I want to set for my kids. I want them to see me fit, I want them to see exercise as something fun and I want us to be healthy for each other so we can live a long life of abundance as God wants us all too. 

We joined the gym in November and honestly haven't missed a work out since then. Once we started, we got hooked. Not only is it a great work out...BUT there is CHILDCARE. Like there is a place where you can drop off your kids and say "have fun" and they love it and they get worn out and you get to be ALONE and exercise. I don't know why this mom secret has been kept from me for so long. Or maybe I was told it but chose not to listen.

I am aware that changing your way of life, leaning into your messiness and brokenness is about balance and a want within yourself. 2 years ago, you couldn't have gotten me into the gym but something inside of me changed. I started to see myself as this temple that God gave me, a body that God gave me to take care of so that I can live my life of abundance and belovedness to the fullest. 

This past month, there has been a competition of sort at the gym called "melt". While I do not really care about the competition it created a space for myself and two good friends to work out together and to explore some of the different group classes. I have shied away from the classes out of fear of what others may think... here is the truth. No one care.

Absolutely no one cares

No one is watching you and if they are it is because you are doing so amazing that they want to copy you, so no one is watching me

And no one cares

The group classes have pushed me further than I knew possible and have really opened my eyes to the different muscle groups that I didn't even know needed to be stretched.

One of my favorite classes is called centergy. It is a combination of yoga and pilates and really helps to stretch out all of the work you have done in other classes. Now, I will say that it isn't just stretching. Oh no. There is this whole 5 minute plank series and you do not just plank. Oh no, you plant on your elbows, move your legs side to side, move up to your hands and do this about 1,000 times. It pushes you. The first few classes I couldn't do it and I didn't push myself because I wanted to ease into what my body could do.

Tonight. Tonight I did it. I did the whole class without any trouble. I finally found the rhythm and then the last 15 minutes is spent on restoration followed by 5 minutes of Savasana. You simply lie on your back and breathe, eyes closed, letting go of all the negativity and breathing in the beauty of the world and what you just accomplished.

I left tonight feeling full. Feel connected to God and feeling connected to my body and how it needs to be taken care of. 

And then I picked up the kids. I took a deep breath and we got in the car. The screaming started pretty quick and I started to think about dinner... my zen started to go. One kid only likes candy and cookies, the other sits and eats but it takes forever and you have to count bites while they complain. 

It is all about balance. The balance of finding your zen and how to maintain it. 

I maintained that zen, sure did. The kids are currently eating McDonalds and I am zenfully writing this blog without a care in the world.

God wants us all to take care of ourselves so that we can go out into the world and care for others and sometimes that means giving in to what you can not control and maintaining your zen by going through the drive-thru.

No matter where you are in your life, how active you are or aren't always know you are enough, you are valued and you are beloved.

-Pastor Ali