Showing posts with label KidMin Leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label KidMin Leadership. Show all posts

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dear, Church Shopper,

Four Christmases. Spyglass Entertainment, 2008.
Over the years, there have been many children who have served as evangelists to their parents. A kid plugs into one of our #kidmin programs, and in no time, the parent who was once a mere wave in a car now joins his child as an essential part of the tribe.

There are usually four  types of persons to which these little evangelists introduce me, and their responses sound something  like this;

Before(now) Branded Beatriz: “I don’t mean to cut you off, but we are already strongly committed to another church.  My son is just coming here to be with his friends. Also, please don’t expect me to play any other role but simply dropping him at your church door, and promptly picking him up at 5:30. One last thing, keep the small talk to a minimum, please.”

Radically Rigid Rick: “Before my family commits, I need to see an exact list of all doctrinal statements that have been explored within your denomination over the past 200 years. I want to assure that we will be on the same page 100% of the time on all theological matters. Oh, and the second that someone implies a spiritual thought that differs from my convictions, we are outta here!”

Hesitantly Hanging Back Hal: “Ok, Lady. You’re puttin' off a real ‘Mandy-Moore-from-Saved’ vibe right now and since I didn’t understand most of the words in that service, I’m just gonna smile ‘til you're done talkin’ and then politely leave. Side-note: I didn't know cults had such good donuts.”

Transparently Toying-with-the-idea Tia: “Hey, can we do coffee sometime? I really would like to chat about church. I am not really sure what questions to ask, but I just believe in my heart that my family needs this. We need to focus on the spiritual side of life, and I want to explore the ways that the church can support us in this.”

As always, I leave each well-intended conversation regretting that I did not say more; hence this letter.

Dear, Church Shopper, 

Thank you for all that you withstood to get to church this morning. I am sure you endured wardrobe battles with your kids and there is a (big) chance that walking by our greeter led to an awkward conversation; so for all that you sacrificed to check us out-- thank you.

I know you sense the Divine in your life, and you desire to put words to this experience. You’ve come to the right place.  The church can be extremely helpful in this endeavor.

Now before we go any further, there is something I must first address.  I offer advanced apologies for the behaviors of some that you might meet here. Although Christ is transforming lives in this church, some of us still do or say things that are far from Christ-like. To type frankly, there are a few whack-a-doos and jerks in those pews.  Nothing seems to scare shoppers like yourself away quicker, so they have earned this third paragraph.

All of us come with areas of growth, and some in our church community (like in any community) lack a level of self-awareness that would enable them to improve upon these areas. While we do not condone their actions, Christ calls us to see them through a lens of grace and accountability.

Knowing this does not make them easier to love.  And honestly, some might never be easy to love. However, you did not just enter the “United Church of [that whack-a-doo/jerk you just met in the pew]”; nor is it the “United Church of [that very hypocritical Christian from 9 years ago that ruined organized religion for you]”.

This is the church that follows, worships and seeks to become like Jesus (the) Christ. It’s not about their hypocritical acts (albeit these are distracting to our faith). It’s about who we become when God lovingly molds us.  And we cannot become who we were meant to be alone. We were made for community.

While these souls will be part of your church experience, you will also meet others whose hearts beat for justice and mercy. Those who are seeking to be more and more Christ-like every day. Those who, like you, are seeking to do life with an authentic faith community. Those who will join you through life’s deepest joys and darkest days. Those whose love will remove all doubt that God made you, knows you and lovingly creates an abundant life with and for you. Yes--those people are here too (they’re just two pews back).

Christ-led commitment like this in no way guarantees that we will agree on all theological matters all of the time. However, it is our role as your church staff to equip you to grapple through these moments with grace. While this equipping can happen in other places, the church carries this out through studying the Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship and encouraging your talents through acts of service.

Compared to the rest of your week, some pieces of the church-life might bore you. Realistically, I would like to think that this won’t always be the case. I believe that it will become more soul-nourishing as we grow as a community. I would like to think that as we passionately use our talents to serve others, worshipping together would naturally become more electric. However, this might not always hold true.

Three months might pass, and while you are giving it your all, you might still find certain pieces as stagnant, or even-- life-sucking. In these moments of discontent, God could be using you to catalyze our church forward. Please share these thoughts and feelings with our church staff.

While we are not aiming for boring, we will occasionally aim for different. Some pieces of our service might feel a little (ok-very) foreign to you. For any discomfort--we apologize. It is meant to occasionally feel different because it is meant to be sacred. Unlike the rest of your week where you check-it-off your list or are entertained by it, worship calls for a vulnerable participation.

Worship calls for us to be open to the voice of the Holy One as we remember, anticipate and celebrate the restorative acts of God in our lives. The more we partake in worship the easier it is for us to hear this voice throughout our week. Consider Sunday morning as a volume knob. The more you partake, the louder the voice of God resounds in and through your life.

So wear whatever you want, be in whatever mood you want and try turning that knob with us this Sunday.  God has already been speaking to you and we would be delighted to join you in that conversation.

Hopefully & Happily,
Your Church Staff

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

From Idea to Published; My Tips for Making Your First Book a Reality

Have you ever thought you would find joy in writing a book? Have you ever been overwhelmed by all of the online resources for publishing? Are you free for the next five minutes? 😁 If you answered, "yes", to the above questions, you are going to love my tips on getting your first book published. 
  1. Set Your Brain up for Success
    • Watch Mel Robbins’ Ted Talk over the “5 Second-Rule” . There are better writers than you who will never get published because they have not trained their brain for success. It is easy to think you can only write whenever you “feel” creative. Ignore this fickle temptation. If you wait to only write when you “feel” creative, your book will never be written. #truth By simply committing and pushing through any sort of “writer’s block” the creative juices will start to flow. As the tools above and below teach, you control your brain. You can teach it to write well whenever you need. Seriously. Mel Robbins and Ruby Wax have transformed my view of the vast capabilities of the mind. 
    • Read “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” by Ruby Wax to also increase your attention and creativity through practicing mindfulness. 
    • Watch the amount of hesitation when you write. Write from your heart first, and then with your brain. 
    • Pick a time and space to write that makes it super easy to do the above. 
    • Stay mentally present and only allow yourself to think about the book during your desired writing time. If ideas for the book come to you outside of this writing time, make a physical note of it and shift your focus back to your day. Allowing your mind to dwell on the book for too many hours can lead to analysis paralysis. This will squash any good idea you have. Yikes! Also, stay present in the writing process. Don’t be thinking about self-marketing as you are writing the first chapter. Force your brain to take it one step at a time. 
2. Writing
    • My suggested first step would be to write out an outline/contents page for the book. It does not have to be perfect, it just has to be on the paper. 
    • Want a writing outline template? Here's mine for a nonfiction/ministerial resource book. 
    • Here's another template for novels. 
    • Use this to make your weekly to-do list for writing. After prayer and study each morning, I would open up my laptop to my outline and know what my goal for the next hour was. :) It was very calming for me to see my directions. This also encouraged me to take it one step at a time. 
    • I used google docs, click here to see what they offer for writers. Although, I did run into some issues with end-notes (just an FYI). 
3. Self-publishing
    • (This site is super-easy, but they just do eBooks. No formatting is required on your end, and they do not charge to do it. You will receive 90% of the royalties from your sales.)
    • (They do paperbacks and eBooks, but the site is somewhat hard to navigate, and you have to do the formatting, or pay for them to do it. You will also receive 90% of the royalties.) 
    • Reach out to Rennie at .He is a publishing wiz that teaches self-publishing courses and is willing to help. He teaches at .
    • was used for my book cover. 
    • Try to be a guest blogger on sites that “sell” a similar product as your book. (This is easier than it sounds.😊 )YOU CAN DO IT!
4. Self-Marketing
    • Reach out to George Kao at (He emphasizes cultivating authentic relationships with your customers/clients. His youtube videos are very helpful.) 
    • Take Donald Miller’s FREE video course at .
    • “Make your book stand out on Amazon” with this marketing video with Derek Doepker.
    • Create blog/site with googleplus
    • George Kao teaches to not give in and pay money for Twitter followers. You want to grow an authentic followership. You will get hit up constantly for deals like this once you start using #selfpublished #amwriting in your statuses. Ignore them. 
    • Need a book trailer? Contact Scott at Olney Productions
5. Publish with a Company
    • Check out"The 21-Day Publishing Plan", by bestselling author, Michelle Stimpson. 
    • March and April are the “sweet spots” when it comes to submitting your manuscript to companies. They will have 100+ submissions a year, and they will only choose 10-15. By June they have made their final decisions for books. 
    • Here is a helpful blog on crafting a great cover letter.  
    • Need a copy-editor? Email me or Direct Message me for more info. 
6. These are some Christian companies to which you could submit your manuscript:
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any other questions about the publishing process. I am in no way an expert, but I am more than happy to share what I have gleaned from this literary adventure.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Last-Minute Lamentation; Articulations of Faith to a Child

I will never forget Holy Week of 2014. Our church family had lost one of our own to cancer, and his granddaughter was in our afterschool program. With a numb expression on her third-grade face, she sat in the circle awaiting the Easter story. The funeral had just been a few days ago. As I looked down at my legal pad, I immediately realized that the opening question of describing the sights, sounds, and feelings of a funeral was not going to fly. If I was not careful, this teaching moment could potentially paint an incorrect picture of the church for Jenny.

As you have surely done before, I prayerfully made a last-minute change to my plan and prayed for the best. I was careful not to minimize the importance of Christ’s sacrifice nor sugar-coat it. A gentle recap or an overview would be a gentle transition into the darkness that is the cross. Using our Action Bibles, the passages they had studied that semester came to light again. We spoke of how the entire Bible has been building up to this point. God wanted to be close to his creation and bring it back to him, so he sent his Son to live with us-as one of us. The kids shared ways that Jesus teaches us to have a close friendship with God.  The mild discussion led us to the fact that some of God’s creation will choose not to seek after him, which brought us to the trial and the cross.

I panned the circle to assure Jenny was doing ok then continued treading lightly, “More importantly than the cross, was the empty tomb.” [quick page turn to new pic] “With the empty tomb, we see that there is nothing that will keep us from God. Anything that stands in the way of our friendship with Christ-even death, will be defeated; and through the power of the cross, we too become conquerors in Christ. That is how very much God loves us and desires to bring his creation back to him.”

“How big was the tomb they buried Jesus in?” Sonja asked. Before I could even get a response out, Jenny dropped her face into her hands and began sobbing.

The vibe I was getting from her since she walked in was not to draw attention to her, and  I respected that. Now, the attention was on her, and only her. Not sure of my next move, I whispered a prayer. While wanting to comfort her, I wanted to do it in a way that respected her space. “Funerals are so hard, guys.” (Way to point out the obvious, Meg. Tell us, what color the sky is and while you’re at it-the grass?)

I mustered up the courage to continue, “ No matter whose funeral it is-they are hard. Jesus’ funeral was different than other funerals, though-”

I was interrupted by a young, overzealous theologian, “Because he was God’s son.”

“Yes.” I smiled and went on, “It was different because his funeral AND resurrection were used to teach us that nothing could keep us from a forever friendship with Christ-not even death. Jesus did come back to earth on Easter Sunday. This is very different than our human funerals. We will not see our loved ones again on earth.”

Jenny wiped her tears away and sniffled.  I resumed, “ But-we will see them again. In a different way, we will see them again. We will see them through every story and memory shared, and in a special place that Jesus has prepared for us-heaven. Just like God was at work throughout the cross and empty tomb, he is also at work at all the funerals of his children...even though it may not feel like it. While it may seem dark and sad during a funeral, joy is coming and we can say thank you to Jesus for that.”

Once the session was over, I asked Jenny if I could speak to her in private. I could tell that she still did not want to talk about it. I gave her the church-appropriate-side-hug, and said, “I am so very sorry about your Grandfather. And I also apologize if any part of this lesson was difficult for you today.”

I saw the faintest smile appear on her face.

“Thank you.” She said.

“We love you and your family so much at this church, and we pray you will feel the comfort of a giant hug from Jesus right now,” I said.

“Thanks.” She turned and walked down the hall.

These moments, during which we intuitively, and soundly articulate how the Holy Spirit is moving are monumental in the spiritual development of a child.  Your teammates must not only be able to teach biblically sound lessons, but they must also do their best to read the kids as well.

 It scares me to think of what would have happened had I not prayerfully altered the lesson. A “good” lesson could have been presented without me ever altering it on-the-spot. How would Jenny have felt about organized religion if I would have not sensed the internal and external factors at play for her as a learner? What would her takeaway have been if I was not equipped to offer up a theologically sound lesson on a whim? These. Moments. Matter. And we need to do everything in our power to assure that teammates are equipped with sound theology, and a high (enough) emotional quotient to “read the room”.

Stay tuned as we check out a cutting-edge idea in equipping one's ministry team to soundly articulate how the Holy Spirit is moving in the life of a troubled child. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

What Needs Our Kid's Prayers Reveal

Conversational tools can be helpful in assuring functional discussions with Bluebonnet kids. Such tools encourage proper listening, while also meeting the needs of more tactile learners. For almost a decade now I have used the same, palm-size painted stone as a talk-rock for varying ages during prayer time. (Yes-I hear ya, if it were smaller, it would be deemed a “prayer pebble”.) The stone is gray, and it was given to me by a camper at Camp Quinipet in Shelter Island, NY where I served as a chaplain. Like many stones on the Peconic Bay, this one is deep gray, and the waters have sanded it down to its soft, lovely state. The camper painted the top of it with different colored stripes. It’s smooth on the bottom, but highly textured on the top.

As a talk-rock, the kids hold it and pass it as they share their prayers. While they sit in a circle, they know that the only person that can speak is the one holding the stone. All the other children must aim to be good listeners. It beautifully sets up prayer time. At the end, I close us in prayer holding the same rock. This stone is more than special to me, it’s sacred.  It holds a subtle power after so many young disciples have held it while tuning into the Holy Spirit.

Over the years, I have heard some charming, prayerful moments. Pre-schooler, Hazel once lifted up this prayer, “Dear, God. My mom says, ‘Hazel, you don’t got a choice.’ But God, all I want is more choices, so if you could give me some- that would be great. Also, thank you for bacon.” And a kindergartener once stated his entire prayer in the voice of a Transformer.. Praise for Pokemon-Go, and strength to unlock the next level occurs often in all the grades.

While these moments are pure and quite humorous, there have been many more moments of holy depth. Transcendent moments of praying with children flood my memories. Many times during our pre-school lunch, I have had to hide my tears. One of my most beloved Bluebonnet Children, Ellis, had a speech impediment. For five years he would offer up the most long-winded prayers; his eyes tightly shut, the stone tightly clenched. No one could understand a single word, but his passion left the room (of other young children) silent in attention. The only word that was clearly articulated was ‘Amen!’. I looked forward to his prayers each week.

There have been times during prayer, that I have cringed a bit, due to some heretical undertones. I have heard fearful prayers towards God (since God killed Jesus), “Please don’t do it again, God.”  Prayers against those who are homosexual have also been offered from these young ones, “Help us to not talk to them”, one 5th grade boy said.  And materialistic lamentations have been prayed more than one can imagine.

You don’t need me to tell you that the "littlest of these" require mentors in the faith to prayerfully articulate how the Holy Spirit is moving in and around them (while also kindly correcting the false teachings they bring with them). While children can sense that something different is occurring as they enter our church doors (hopefully), they lack the language to claim and capitalize on it. Not to mention the fact that some holy hums could easily be drowned out by the noise of the world. As the creator of Godly Play, Jerome Berryman states, “Religious language gives words, narrative, and parables that help us to make sense of our experiences with God, to come to know God better and to make meaning of what we experience and learn in all of life.”

The third and final step in the Triple-A Approach calls for us to theologically articulate the grace-filled hope and new life that awaits these Bluebonnet Children in Christ.

Stay tuned as we take some applicable steps in this theological articulation. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mindfulness in KidMin; Help Your Students Carry Their Emotional Baggage Properly

Not only can we do our best to assure their safety while they are within our care, but we can also fight for their needs by equipping them to care for their own needs. ‘Mindfulness’ is a huge buzzword right now in both the secular and spiritual teaching arenas.  Although this practice is far from cutting-edge, new affirming research has re-birthed it. This therapeutic technique equips one to  fully concentrate on the present moment. In peacefully noticing and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings, he can take ownership of these and guard them from the actions of others in the past or future.

Although, mindfulness exercises can take the form of sculpting a symbol of one’s day out of play-dough or rediscovering one’s groundedness while laying the floor with soft music, one of the original forms was a lesser kinesthetic version- prayer. As one of London’s leading voices in mental health, The Mind & Soul Organization teaches,

 “Within the Bible there is an implicit theology of attention and awareness. Jesus goes off very early in the morning to a solitary place to pray, which is an act of sustained attention (Mark 1:35). Peter and the disciples hunt him down and interrupt him, trying to distract him with what the crowd wants. Jesus switches his (and their) attention back to what really matters and says, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come’ (Mark 1:38).” 

Not only is Jesus seen prioritizing stillness in the New Testament, but so are our Hebrew ancestors in the Old Testament. The prophet Elijah was striving to hear the voice of God, and while mistakenly thinking it would be heard in an earthquake or a fire, it was found in a still small voice in 1 Kings 19. As a compliment to the Biblical emphasis on solitude, neuroscientists and psychologists offer many helpful resources on the subject as well. One that I have recently found very helpful is “The Whole Brain Child” by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Here, mindfulness is taught to combat the “flight or fight” feeling that many kids experience while in fearful or uncertain situations. Even a child with extreme behavioral  issues has been found to behave better after a moment of mindfulness than he would have after a moment of conventional punishment.

One school in Baltimore has replaced visits to the principal’s office with a mindfulness room and behavior and academic success has never been better. The school is located in a very low-income area with a high crime rate. Many of the children struggle to feel a sense of security and love. Upon entering the mindfulness room a child is led by a trained facilitator through a breathing exercise. Once this is complete, the two begin to explore the emotions that surrounded the behavioral issue. In time the student’s visits to the mindfulness room decrease, and they begin utilizing these helpful methods on their own wherever they may be.

This is such a mighty tool for children to take with them from your programs. While they can’t control the actions of others, students can learn to own their emotions and take control of their reactions. In pausing for a moment of solitude, they can tap into the sense of peace, strength and affirmation that only the Holy Spirit who dwells within can provide. While the concept of mindfulness could have been placed anywhere within the Triple A Approach (be aware, advocate, and articulate), the fact that it arms kids to fight for their own needs outside of your church programs puts it in this chapter.

One of my most affirming moments in ministry was birthed out of a mindfulness exercise. It was during our fifth grade after-school program, Extreme Explorers. I loved this group of nine preteens so much, but if these students had attended the school in Baltimore, they would have spent many  hours in the mindfulness room. This was quite a challenging bunch. Each Wednesday I would go home and research how to present a more engaging lesson. In my research I came across mindfulness exercises.

One day after their routine time of snacking and mingling in the church courtyard, I invited them up to the teaching space. We reviewed last week’s lesson and I shared with them how proud I was of them. I pointed out that I sensed some distracting feelings were being brought into our space and that I wanted to help them take control of those so they could get the most out of EE.  I then showed them a short and powerful video called “Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer-Salzman and Josh Salzman. This amazing bit is made up of children teaching the practice of mindfulness to adults. It’s beautiful.

After the video, I invited them to find a comfortable place in the room to lie down on their backs far from their friends. I dimmed the lights, played some soft spa-like music, and walked them through what is known as a grounding exercise.  This involved focusing on one’s breath-the rise and fall of the abdomen along with tightening and loosening different muscle  groups. Knowing the energetic dynamics of this group, I only allowed three minutes for this. I then led them through an echo prayer. While still lying comfortably, they repeated after me. At this point, the Holy Spirit filled my mouth with different words than what was on my script. The prayer that came out was one of forgiveness for those whose presence or absence had caused us pain. We then prayed to see ourselves as God does-a strong, smart, and loved tween. At this point, my eyes were closed and I heard (what I assumed was long-overdue) snickering.

As I opened my eyes, I saw six of the nine students crying. The other three were respectfully remaining present, while the room was enveloped with a slew of emotions. I was speechless from shock. My prayer was over, but I felt the Spirit nudging me in a different direction. I asked the kids to give a thumbs up if they desired more time.  They all did. For the next five (yes-five!) minutes, they continued to breath, to cry, and to experience the palpable presence that is the hug of God; while I, awestruck, subtly sobbed like a baby in a chair off to the side. I was no longer needed for the remainder of the exercise.

When five minutes were up, I left the lights dim and invited them back together as a group. I had not planned on a time of sharing, but once again-the Holy Spirit had different plans. In a gentle way I invited anyone who so desired to share their thoughts of this moments. This then opened the floodgates to the most vulnerable and deep moment of sharing. Some shared stories of divorced or incarcerated parents. Others shared of the lesser sadness of GPA-inflicted stress and peer pressure. One boy cried with his entire body for his mom that had abandoned him when he was four. I tear up now just at the memory. To my utter amazement, every student was respectful and comforting as the others shared, and what was meant to be a three-minute activity became a thirty-minute one.

In the weeks that followed, they requested more moments like this.  One time when tensions were rising during a team-building activity, Maria jumped up on a chair, turned off the lights and belted at the top of her lungs, “YOU ALL NEED TO CENTER YOURSELVES!  WE ARE NOT COMMUNICATING WELL!” We did many more mindfulness exercises and in time they all grew in awareness and ownership of their own emotions and reactions-despite the poor choices of those in their lives. More importantly, they learned how to tap into the healing voice of God which  resides within. Arming Bluebonnet Children with spiritual disciplines such as these is a mighty way to advocate for them.

Stay tuned as we explore how intentional worship opportunities is one way to advocate for students of troubled homes.  Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Advocate for Your Students with a Safety Policy

While there may be varying levels of concern for children’s safety (depending on the parent),  I am convinced that ‘safe’ is nearly synonymous to ‘successful’ in our Children and Family Ministry Programs.  The value of security is a top priority for most parents.  One step in assuring the welfare of all is to create a Safety Policy for your church.

Now, before the operational and tactical side of this compels you to hurriedly exit this tab-hear me out. There is a very helpful tool I can offer you to help make this a reality for your church family. It’s called This is a digital hub for Christian education with professional wisdom at extremely reasonable prices. You will find a course which uses Joy Thornburg Melton’s text, Safe Sanctuaries, to walk your team through creating your own Safety Policy. The course blessed us with a consultant that held our hand every step of the way. With focus groups, data collection, and then the actual writing (and rewriting and rewriting) of the policy, this intimidating task turned out to be a lot more manageable. The course also guides your team in ensuring your policy meets the unique needs of your church’s programs.

It has been seven years now since our policy was created, and it has been so refreshing to have this foundation as we strive to protect the safety of our kids, adult volunteers, and the overall integrity of our program. A supplemental tool that has helped us along the way (and that is required by our denominational conference) is It makes screening and training for abuse prevention BEYOND simple for our KidMin team.  Safe Gatherings certifications are only good for three years. And our Office Administrator keeps our certification records.

Having a solid safety policy in place sends the message, “We love you with the love of the Lord, and we are going to work our tails off to provide you with a safe, nurturing church family, filled with loving and equipped Christ-like mentors to guide you as you grow in your faith.  Despite the poor soil to which you may return, here at [insert your church’s name] you will learn that God’s grace has the final say in how you blossom in life.”

Stay tuned as we explore the power of practicing mindfulness with your students. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Partnering With Difficult Parents

In this line of work, we are trained that parents are the primary faith nurturers and our role is to partner with them in helping their children take their first steps of faith. While a partnership does occur in our attempts to advocate for a Bluebonnet Child, it does look slightly different. As I shared before, 99.9% of the time, Bluebonnet Children were brought into this world by Bluebonnet Children with longer stems. In our service to these children, we will have to learn how to dance with their parents-some more than others. You are the judge of the level of interaction you will have with certain parents. I can recall moments that I intentionally did not share a child’s poor choice with the parents out of fear of what would await that child at home.

While relationships with the parents we serve might vary in appearance, there are some general rules that can be applied to all. One leading voice on this subject is Todd Whitaker. I was blessed to learn from him at an educational conference this year.  And my approach to working with parents has greatly shifted thanks to his concepts. His guidance is not only simple (not to be confused as easy), but also immediately applicable.

There were about twenty of us shoved into a high school classroom in my hometown of Mabank, Texas. Todd bobbed and weaved through the cluster of chairs as he shared. The first challenge was to keep our perspective in check. For example,  if you are dealing with an arduous parent, know that she communicates in a harsh way to everyone. It’s not about you (it has nothing to do with you). But it is the only way she knows how to express herself. Most likely a Bluebonnet Child herself, she is truly living, loving, and communicating to the best of her capabilities. This is not an acceptable excuse, and it doesn't make it right. But that is who she truly is. We must wrap our minds around this awareness before diving into a conversation with this type of parent.

 Once our mentality is in the proper place, we can “sidle up” to this parent before the conversation begins. Instead of facing the person head on, we can stand at their side in a less confrontational way. Knowing that their fury is not about us, we can let them do their own emotional work while we stick to the facts. We are non-reactive, we gather information in note form (where they can see), and above all else, we treat them like they’re good. This is a very powerful point in Whittaker’s teachings. Those who act in such an abrasive or argumentative way don’t know what to do when another responds to them in a calm and collected fashion.

Whittaker challenges us to continually seek these difficult parents out and treat them like they are good.  Go a step further and treat them the same as you do your most faithful and responsible parents. Offer them all of the same opportunities to thrive. Invite them to Bible Studies with other parents and parenting events at the Eagle Nest. Introduce them to other parents at pick-up and drop-off time and ‘like’ their social media updates. Expect the same from them as your most reliable parents, i.e those who volunteer, provide snacks and commit to a timely pick-up. Always (ALWAYS!) welcome them with kindness (even though you might think they are the least capable parent you have ever laid eyes on).  This level of discomfort will slowly alter the dance steps they take with you, which will enhance your ministry as an advocate to a Bluebonnet Child.

Stay tuned as we discuss the value of a Safe Sanctuary policy in your ministry. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

Can't wait that long? Own The Bluebonnet Child eBook now!


Friday, February 17, 2017

The Do's and Don'ts of Serving Kids of Troubled Homes (sprinkled with a few regrets)

There is this very popular book called Eat This, Not That; Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save you 10, 20, 30 Pounds” by David ZinkZenko.  In this book, ZinkZenko compares different entrees of varying chain restaurants. Studies are presented to show the surprising caloric difference between a burger from McDonald’s and Burger King. Are you craving a breakfast sandwich? Then (to the disbelief of everyone) eat at McDonald’s, not Starbucks.

As I look in the rearview mirror of serving Bluebonnet Children, there are many ministerial moments that I wish I could have “done this” and “not that”.  Even though I was aware of the family’s story and was aware enough to begin advocating for the child, the steps I took were not the most helpful. Bluebonnet Children long for those outside of the home to champion for them. They desire and require one who not only believes they can be healed from their poor soil, but one who will fight for it as well. A cheerleader, if you will, who is consistently on their side, rooting loudly until their needs are met should be the role of the Body of Christ, but what does this look like?

Our church office is usually hoppin’ with Helping Hand interviews where folks can receive financial assistance for gas or utilities. As the families pass my office, they are sometimes rambunctious-no, dysfunctional, in how they speak to their children. I have begun providing small snacks and a box of blocks as soon as I hear them comin’. I greet them with a smile and some entertainment options. Empathizing with their worldview (Kudos, Payne!), I am able to engage in a conversation with the parents. This not only helps the family feel welcome during a vulnerable and slightly awkward moment,  but it frees up the parent to focus on the interview. Furthermore, another smiling face (in this case, mine) in the life of a Bluebonnet Child is always a good thing.

As very loud, and impolite families walked by my office to go to their Helping Hand interview, I closed my door before they saw me. Shameful-I know. My heart was re-broken every time I heard how they addressed their children. Once they had left the building, I would often rush to the binder of the interviewee's contact info and stash their name in my mind. I would then bring up the name to my social worker contacts to see if this family was already on some mythical “watch-list” of abusive families that exists only in my mind.

I presented a need for more Bibles at a Church Leadership Council Meeting for the afterschool program that had a growing amount of “unchurched” children. I (thankfully) had all the details lined up and ready. So when a saintly, retired lawyer unexpectedly whipped out his checkbook and asked, “How much do you need?” I was prepared to accept the gift on behalf of the kids. This same Saint would continue to advocate by paying for the therapy sessions of two very dear Bluebonnet Children in our church family.

I once wasted fifteen minutes of my life trying to convince a non-convincible parent that it was right to provide Bibles to children who were not members of our church. They “had not earned it” (her words, not mine) by being faithful in their attendance at Sunday worship.

While shopping at the grocery store, I overheard a six-year-old girl crying uncontrollably in the book aisle. As my husband and I followed the sounds, we found a grandmother repeatedly beating the young girl's hand.

We kept walking, but only for a few minutes. I then turned to him and said, “I have to go back.” Shaking in my boots, I walked back to the books. “Hi.” I said, “Everything OK here?” (As if I had any ounce of authority to ask such a question.)

“No!” the grandmother growled, as she continued to beat the child’s  hand, which was now beet red.

 “She won’t stop asking for candy!” she barked.

My blood began to boil. “Oh, I see.”  I placed my hand on the small girl’s shoulder. “I can only imagine how hard it is to be a parent in moments like this.”

She hit her hand again, and the girl cried harder. “Yea-she knows better!”

Seeing that our conversation was going nowhere, I shifted my attention to the little girl. “I’m sorry we don’t always get what we want. Maybe next time you can get some candy?” She stared at me with wet, blonde strands covering her eyes. To the grandmother, it was as if I was not even there. I only hoped that my presence meant something to the girl. After realizing I was not being helpful, I walked away in quiet tears and loud prayers.

I don’t know if I did the right thing in this situation. I wish I would have been bolder. I replay this memory over and over again, wondering how I could have moved differently. There wasn’t a single person in the store that hadn’t heard her cries and moans. Many even saw her continually (CONTINUALLY!) getting hit. Should I have followed her and recorded her license plate number? Did the employees at this store have any obligation to intervene and take action? Did someone step in after me and hopefully do something to help this little girl? I hope so!

I would honestly say that out of the three steps involved in the Triple-A Approach (Be Aware, Advocate, and Articulate), advocating is truly the most challenging. It offers many more roadblocks than our attempts in awareness and articulation. However, in Christ there is hope! By the power of the Holy Spirit, let us explore our options as mighty advocates for the Bluebonnet Children in our midsts.

Stay tuned as we explore the partnership with parents of Bluebonnet Children. (Hint: they are usually Bluebonnet Children with longer stems.) Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Baby Dolls & Legos; Lessons on Nurturing & Refining Volunteer Teams

If not serving at the church I am most likely in my daughter’s playroom. As an imaginative two-year-old, she adores baby dolls and legos. She loves wrapping the doll in blankets, patting her back, and feeding her broccoli and tuna in a high chair. I join her and do all that I can to assure the utmost comfort for the little one.  This is quite difficult because she just got fed broccoli and tuna.

 After a while of this, the attention shifts to legos. Her standards of a successful Lego session are, “Taller! Taller! Taller!”. Once the structure is complete, my role is to assess the “building” for its stability. With her permission (of course) I spot the unbalanced/out of line sides and add or take away blocks. I know my work is done when the head contractor says, “Good Job, Ma!” and applies force to check my work. 

While juvenile, both of these contain helpful lessons on volunteer team leadership; and, man, do we ever need help! Too bad my daughter’s not a toy soldier fan because there are occasions in the trenches of ministry where that is a much more fitting metaphor.  Propelling a team towards progress sometimes feels like a battlefield; what with its miscommunications, personality clashes, misplaced priorities, and a lack of self-management skills within the squadron. 

I could see why some want to give up on the dream of a healthy team. They want to give up on the relational covenant (1 Corinthians 12:14) to which they have been called. They think their attempts at empathy, prayer,  and reading team dynamic books have all been in vain; and they resolve to simply show up for the remainder of their term.  They stop striving for an ‘A’. They settle for an average grade in the course.

But then I am reminded that Christ did not give up on us nor does he ever. It is for this reason that we should not give up on each other.  We need each other. It is only in Christian community that we discover our true identity (1 John 4:12). In order to become who God created us to be, we can not go at it alone. More importantly, our broken world desperately needs strong ministerial teams (Matthew 5:14-16). (Can I get an Amen?!)
adult, annoyed, blur
After years of searching (accompanied by the occasional day of crying and cursing) for the secrets to nurturing and refining a strong, Spirit-led volunteer team, I have come to the conclusion that I have most likely made it more difficult than is necessary. Could the route to a healthy volunteer team be as simple as intuitively nurturing your teammates (as one does with a Baby Doll) while also maintaining a critical, keen eye (as one does with Legos) as the “structure” of the team develops?

The Baby Doll Approach: Intuitively Nurturing 
  • Make it a priority to know their stories. This may occasionally mean a late night text with a prayer concern or a spontaneous chat at your office. Come out from behind your computer and be fully present with them in the conversation. If this calls for hot tea, an impromptu prayer, or a church-appropriate-off-to-the-side hug you don’t want to miss these cues. BE FULLY PRESENT WITH THEM! :) 
  • Create a space of servitude that honors their gifts, personalities, and limitations. While it would be ideal if all of your teammates were emotionally healthy/ self-aware persons, this is not always the case. Some of your teammates might be completely oblivious to their limitations/vices, and God can use you to lovingly guide them towards this awareness (more to come on this in the Lego approach). All this to say, if a volunteer on your team fails, and you did not do everything in your power to set them up for success by honoring all of the above, you are partially to blame. #hardtruth 
  • Establish a position for them that is not only rewarding but enjoyable as well.  Go the extra mile and give them a partner with whom they have good working chemistry. Grant them their preferred days and times to serve. Offer them as little or as much say in their area of leadership as they so desire.
apple, bag, client
  • Memorize how they take their coffee or Sonic.  This seems menial, but this small gesture shows they are more than a “bucket-o-talent” to you. They are people with preferences, and you care about those preferences. 
  • While meeting over these drinks, come prepared with some intentional (yet, informal) talking points. These will not only enhance your professional bond with them as valued teammates, but it will also enhance the overall ministry because you are allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. These questions can be as simple as, “What has God revealed to you about yourself this semester of serving? Are there any talents/gifts from which you enjoy serving that are not being utilized? What parts of your position bring you the most joy? What supportive steps can I take to make this a more enjoyable role for you?” Volunteers are (most likely) over-committed people. If they pressed pause on their lives to meet with you over a latte, make it worth their while.
The Lego Approach: Strategizing Keenly & Critically  
(Now before you go running for the hills with discomfort, hang with me. :) The Lego approach will be much easier if it is preceded by the Baby Doll approach. They work interchangeably, but the Baby Doll approach should be the foundation to create a healthy team dynamic.)
  • A volunteer’s vices must not upstage her talents; if so this is a liability to your team and the reputation of your program. A high maintenance teammate can be a huge distraction from the ministry to which God is calling you. Plus, your other teammates will suffer if the majority of your attention is used on damage control for this one volunteer.  After the second or third apology to parents, you might need to ask yourself, “Is this simply a rough edge of this volunteer who is serving out of her gifts and has loads of potential?” or “Is this is a red flag that this teammate is either A) not emotionally/spiritually healthy at the moment to fulfill this role or B) not serving out of her gifts?” Either case calls for an honest conversation. The latter calls for a potential break from serving or some grace-filled redirection towards a different position.
  • Whether your team is experiencing growing pains or abusive pains,  it is your job to address them. While you, “cannot fix [the teammates described above], it is your job to control them and in some cases protect others on your team from them.” teaches Todd Whittaker.  In his fantastic book, Shifting the Monkey; The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and other Slackers,  he equips you to handle the most difficult personalities on your team in a strategic (non-manipulative)  kind of fashion. I seriously cannot brag enough about this book! Click on the above link to read the description and prepare to have your mind blown and your ministry improved. 
  • Communicate the “right” way. Varying levels of personalities, life stages, and situations call for different types of communication outlets. Keenly discern the best one. Does the topic at hand call for a text, email, phone call, face to face in your office, or a walk around the park? Each of these has their perks and drawbacks, and choosing correctly will prevent fallout from potentially sensitive subjects. ‘Typing’ from experience, many a bad day will be prevented if the right communication route is chosen.
can, chat, chatting
  • “No” now does not mean “No” forever. Think critically of the ideal timing of recruiting based on a person’s life.  If the Holy Spirit has led you to call this person, don’t give up on ‘em. Now, this is not synonymous to pestering. If seamstress Sandy says sewing (complementary tongue twister) for the Christmas play is too much with her teaching schedule, then make a note in your calendar to call her in June for the VBS costumes. You know as well as I that their hearts are hungry to serve, they are simply awaiting direction. 
  • Maintain professional boundaries. This can mean different things. To me, it means that I do not talk about volunteer needs when I am off-the-clock unless the person brings it up to me first. I don’t want others to run away when they see me in the bread aisle for fear I might hound them for their time or talent. I also keep healthy boundaries by only speaking on issues that I am “over” (#busychurch) and delegating the rest to the right personnel. This naturally builds up the rest of our team and eliminates some potential miscommunications.  
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Where Jesus Prayed" By Danielle Shroyer; A Book Review By Meg Calvin

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This scrumtrelescent read will fill you up like Thanksgiving Dinner (minus the Tums). It is a rich dish that covers many facets of the Christian faith. It is hearty in the sense that it is satisfying to those of all levels of Biblical literacy.   With each page, readers are led into a different time and culture by Pastor Danielle Shroyer’s authentically wise and witty voice. She is both a credentialed spiritual director and tour guide.

Upon traveling to the Holy Land with her fellow pilgrims, Shroyer had planned to take a break from her “word-crammed” life.  A desire to do more sensing and less talking filled her as she discovered that “Jesus was more human, more real, more divine and more beautiful” than she had ever imagined. Thankfully this break was short-lived, and this literary souvenir can now be shared with the masses. If one is on the fence about checking out this masterful two-hour-read, prepare to be persuaded.

  • Each chapter is based on a  word or line of the Lord’s Prayer that thematically intertwines with a specific destination on her tour. This makes this book a versatile resource for any small group or sermon series. 
  • Carter Rose’s photography is a life-giving spiritual discipline all on its own.
  • While some might be weary of a boring geography lesson, they can expect the exact opposite. Shroyer has a magical way of getting her readers emotionally attached to each timeline and map that her words depict. She writes, “ The air in Galilee feels...FULL. [...]It’s as if the air had more energy in it.[...]I wonder if that’s because Jesus’ imprint is still here, somehow, as he left behind a trace of his own  life-giving force that even two thousand years cannot erase.” She describes the sea of Galilee as Jesus’ routine commute (Galilee’s borders had been divided into quadrants), “Jesus spent much of his life traversing boundaries. Where others were labeled by place or tribe or religious affiliation, Jesus saw fractured hearts, dismembered dreams, the ache of alienation, hopes faint as a whisper.”
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  • Each chapter drips with mind-boggling facts of our Christian story. She writes of the Synagogue in Magdala that was discovered in 2009. It remained in nearly pristine condition for two-thousand years safe underground. To add to the surprise, it was hidden less than two feet below the earth. Amazing!  The new sanctuary in Magdala, Duc in Altum (“into the deep”) honors all women ( named and unnamed) who had walked with Jesus and led others on their walk as well. This part of the book is truly empowering. Tissues will be needed. 
  • Shroyer would not be doing her job as a Pastor if she did not close the book with a booming benediction, and that is exactly what she does. The final destination on the tour is the Chapel at Shepherd’s Field.  Here where the Shepherds heard angelic sounds, Shroyer sends her readers out with, “You remember that you were made for: praise, and joy, and a heart that delights in the glories of this world and its Maker, Savior, and Keeper. You were made to be loved and to discover that love with boundless overflowing joy. You were made to see stars, to witness miracles, to watch love be born into this world, to proclaim it ever new each morning.” 

The Power of Awareness in Serving Troubled Kids Part II

(Read Part I first 😀 .)
Another external factor that should be considered is a child’s socio-economic class. This paints a different worldview for each person. While we might be more aware of it in lower class families, poor soil can be found in any class. I was once guilty of judging the impoverished families of our community for how they ran their families, and I am so thankful that I had a change of heart.

As soon as the strap hit my shoulder I knew something wasn’t right. Heart racing, I unbuckled my bag only to find that my wallet had been stolen. Stolen? Yes-stolen. I was heart-broken; it was most likely pocketed by a person who came to our office seeking shelter, funds or food.

The church's community meal was the next day, and unlike previous shifts, I was not feeling good about this one. My heart was bitter. Needless to say, the disappearance of my wallet gave me a resentful filter through which I viewed the entire evening. My usual common courtesies of small talk or topping off waters were non-existent.
Despite my sullen mindset, I remained faithful to my volunteer hours. The following week was Christmas, and each family would receive a gift from us. With my prickly attitude and low expectations, I began lining up these twenty-plus bags of groceries.
The fake Holiday-cheer of mine quickly faded with the first person who fought me on the “one-per-household” rule. It also did not help my morale when families sent different children through the line to get an extra bag. But I remained faithful. I showed up and served.
Man Wearing Black Apron Near Two Silver Metal Cooking Pot
My infant daughter joined me at the next weekly meal. I wore her in a carrier. She and I weaved through tables giving refills and taking trays. Similar to before, I was not emotionally present until a voice shook me out of myself. “How old is your baby?” I turned around to see a round-faced, brunette in her mid-twenties with a messy ponytail and pastel sweats. She was surrounded by a flock of children.
Our paths had crossed before, but the extent of our conversation was based on her preferred amount of gravy.

“One,” I said.

“She walkin’ yet?”

“Yes. On Christmas day, she just decided to take off,” I replied.

After sharing a chuckle, she did something unexpected. She went around the table and shared the early milestones of all of her children. Sharing at great length, she spared no detail. Her cup overflowed with pride and love. Her memory far surpassed mine, and I only had one child. Prior to this moment, I had wrongfully doubted her competence as a mother. In fact, since the wallet situation, I had been viewing all of the guests as potential thieves who could not be trusted.

Suddenly, I was ashamed of my thoughts and suspicions.  As I walked back into the kitchen, the Holy Spirit humbled me. I realized that while my lens was temporarily tarnished, God’s perspective is always grace-filled. God loved her and me in the same unconditional way. Regardless of social class, God sees through a filter of love. Instantaneously, my negative lens was wiped clean, and my bitter dehumanizing thoughts vanished.

Awareness of one-another’s story is key as we serve others in Christian love.  Even though grace is God’s gift to all social classes,  each person brings a different set of values and perspectives to the table. Since Bluebonnet Children can be planted in any socioeconomic class, it does nothing but enhance our ministry if we are intentional in our understanding of these differences and opportunities.

One leading expert on this topic is Ruby Payne. While I do not know her personally, she holds a very special place in my heart. My mother was enthralled with her work while she was completing her Masters of Education Degree. In Payne’s book, “Bridges out of Poverty; a Framework for Understanding Poverty”, she clearly articulates the unwritten parameters by which the impoverished, the middle class and the wealthy move through the world. Her work has been monumental in the world of education; and has influenced numerous community initiatives that are eradicating poverty (not an overstatement).

With this chart as a tool in comprehending my experience at our community meal, offering mercy naturally takes less effort. My wallet was (most likely) stolen by one who sincerely believed that he had no real control over how his life turned out. Like cards, the lives of the impoverished (so they believe) were dealt to them and choice plays no role in their circumstance. Unlike other socioeconomic classes that revere the concept of personal responsibility, whoever took my teal Liz Claiborne  wallet believed that the rest of the world owed him something. No judgment here-it is what it is.

Furthermore, since persons in extreme poverty operate out of a “survival mode”(in which all decisions are based on temporary feelings) it makes sense that many parents deemed it “moral” to send their kids through the grocery gift line under false pretense. When a person’s main goal is feeding their family, the black and white rules of the surrounding culture fade to grey.  Political connection? Personal achievement? Nope-the driving force here is to simply live. Wake up tomorrow morning? Mission accomplished.

When someone is operating out of survival mode, they are also unable to plan ahead or even envision the future. All basic needs must be met first. Sadly this is not the case for those who are in poverty. We know this from Sir Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basic needs must precede all psychological needs and needs of self-fulfillment. It should not be surprising to us that our meal guests are not rushing to worship with us on Sunday morning. How can we expect them to give any thought to the spiritual trajectory of their lives while they're not even sure from where their next meal will come? And for those of us who serve in Children’s and Family Ministry, what does partnering with a parent from this family look like?

Grappling with questions such as these will equip us as a Bluebonnet Child’s supplemental family and in time, Christ will reveal the answers. As partners with Him in the Gospel, He is counting us to become aware; aware of self, aware of His holy hums (through prayer), and aware of the internal and external factors of each child’s story.  May our awareness move us towards action on the pages to come.

Questions to Ponder
  1. Are you aware of your gifts (talents) and limitations? How could you better honor both of these?
  2. What does your ideal regimen of prayer look like? How do you operate differently when you are fully in tune with the Holy Spirit?
  3. Think of a time in your ministry when a lack of awareness towards a person’s story (all of the internal and external factors at play) negatively affected the situation. Looking back, offer a solution for a better outcome. Send up a prayer for those involved. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Power of Awareness in Serving Troubled Kids

To be truly aware is a treasure worth seeking; awareness of self, of the present moment and of others. Know that every minute is valuable and full of potential when it comes to reaching out to the Bluebonnet Child.

Before growing in our awareness of another, we must first know and love ourselves well. This is not news to you, but there is not a single parishioner who feels it is her divine vocation to maintain your level of self-awareness/management.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a committee of beloved church members whose sole purpose was to manage this?  (Sign me up!) Don’t get me wrong, they love you and your ministerial leadership, but taking care of you is up.To.You. Nurture your soul, so God can create soul-nurturing moments through you.

In our attempts to be self-aware we naturally discover and hopefully honor how God wired us.  There are many great resources for this, and one that has recently enhanced our staff’s life is the Servant By Design assessment. From this we learned to trust our gifts and respect our limits. Each person on your team has a unique set of skills, life experiences, and a natural wiring that could bless a Bluebonnet Child, but the first step to serving is being self-aware. “Ya wanna know what sets highly influential people apart?” Education guru, Todd Whitaker, says, “ They are aware of how they came off to others.”

Along with being self-aware, one must also be aware of how the Holy Spirit is moving in his life. While we will unpack this further in another chapter, the key is prayer. Hold it at the forefront of your mind that the child who takes the most patience is in the most need of your ministry, and an arsenal full of that much patience only comes from a routine of prayer.  As we tread on the poor soil in which a Bluebonnet Child is planted, we must be prayerfully in tune with the Holy Spirit. Or as Williams Carrey put it, “Prayer – secret, fervent, believing prayer – lies at the root of all personal godliness.”

This divine dialogue sustains us as we seek to be more aware of the Bluebonnet Child’s story, and believe you me, some pages can be pretty dark. Once we are self-aware and aware of the “Holy Spirit’s Hums” it becomes quite easy to be fully aware and present in each moment. From this level of awareness, we can be more observant of any signs of abuse.
Being aware of these signs not only lead us to advocate for this child (more to come on this), but it helps us to understand the implications that poor soil will have on the learning environment. In any teaching space, there are external and internal factors that could potentially prevent the child from learning at her best.  In my opinion, abuse can take the form of both. The first are those that are physical distractions outside of one’s person, say if a child’s new sweater is itchy or there is an electric drill buzzing next door. The latter are emotionally-based.

As neuroscientist, Eric Jensen, writes, “ Although all of us acknowledge that we have emotions, few of us realize that they are not the cards on the table but the table itself. Our emotions are the framework of our day.”  The primal spark of “fight or flight” is housed at the base of the brain in the amygdala; it is literally the foundation of the mind.  If this spark is ignited too often (which it is for Bluebonnet Children), the other functions of the brain (rationalizing, creativity, memory) shut down (They.Shut.Down!).This is not a matter of a bad mood or a good mood. Cognitively speaking, it is impossible for the brain to perform well if one is living out of fear and uncertainty.  The best teachers have a heightened sense of both the external and internal factors and they adjust their lesson and the teaching/worship space accordingly.

Stay tuned as we explore the power of being aware of each child's socioeconomic class. Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

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