December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas! Coming Home

All my children will be home for Christmas. I've stocked the fridge and baked dozens of cookies. The gifts are patiently waiting under the tree. We're prepared as much as we can be. I'm very excited and very grateful.

As a college kid or young married, I was the one going home. Now, I'm the mother and grandmother waiting for my kids to come home. But home is incomplete without the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst.

Whether you are going home or waiting for someone to come home, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. May the mystery and wonder of the Christ child be born in you again today.


December 19, 2012

What Do We Tell the Children about Death?

Need help to talk to kids about grief, death, and dying? Here is a link to a 30-minute radio broadcast with Joseph Primo, who is the Associate Executive Director of Good Grief, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey and serves on the board of The National Alliance for Grieving Children..

Quotes from the broadcast:

“We need to honor the feelings of every child even if they are uncomfortable for an adult to hear. After a death or tragedy, children are trying to make sense of the world in their own way. That is something we can facilitate, but it is not something we can force or mandate on a child, teenager, or adult. It is part of our unique grief process.”

“We need to make a paradigm shift from grief is messy . . . to grief is good and it serves a purpose for children . . . their reactions are leading them towards healing.”

“We can take a break from the media. We don’t have to consume all the news . . . taking care of ourselves is not disrespectful."

Not an easy time for anyone.

Grace, Kathy

December 17, 2012

Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma

Today, an unspeakable tragedy took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Fox News reports that 26 people are dead; 20 of the victims are elementary age children. It's horrifying, mind-boggling and surreal—an unspeakable evil and every parent’s nightmare.

Pray for the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown during this confusing and desperate time. Around the dinner table tonight, there will be many conversations about why tragedies like this happen... and questions from kids about whether or not they're safe, especially at school.

As one mother on the scene put it, "I'm in a state of shock. I don’t know how I'm going to handle having [my daughter] know... about the whole situation."

Trauma is best understood as any event that shatters our sense of safety. Immediately, one can become hyper vigilant—overly sensitive and set on emotional alert. Fear rules, especially in kids. The pictures online screamed of the horror. In these moments, children need adults who are attuned to their emotions and tender to their needs.

Six "T's" for Helping Kids through Trauma

Togetherness. This is a night where your kids need to have you close. They need to know they're safe. Pull in together as a family. Pray together. Be together. The antidote to trauma is safe, loving relationships. Coddle your children a little bit more. Stay in close proximity to them, particularly if they’re anxious or afraid.

Touch and Tenderness. Touch is an expression of affection that reinforces proximity and closeness. It produces a calming affect. Fear makes our minds race and wander, but tender touch dispels it. Hold a hand. Stroke your children's hair. Let them sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around them. Kiss them. Be present emotionally. If they’re acting out a little bit with anger, rebellion or defiance, it very well could be a fear response. Be sensitive to their behavior.

Talk. The questions will come: "Will a shooter come to my school?" "Why did he hurt those kids?" Be present, sensitive, and don’t offer pat answers. Engage them in age-appropriate discussion. Contrary to what many of us believe, talk doesn't perpetuate anxiety—it helps to reduce it. Avoid graphic details, but don’t skirt around the issue. Become a safe place for them to bring their questions.

Truth. Fears of the unknown can paralyze us. Anchor their hearts in truths like, "Not everyone in the world is bad. You're safe now. God loves us and is close to us." Remember, our kids absorb us. Your mood, thoughts, and actions directly influence theirs. These truths flow through you–Mom and/or Dad. Share the promises of God's Word with your kids. Pray for, and with, them.

Triggers. Someone screaming. A door slamming. A siren. What children experience or see on the news can deeply affect them. Don't let your kids get overdosed with the news stories and all the gory details. This can lead to nightmares, excessive bouts of crying, deepening fear, and not wanting to attend school. Be attuned to your children. Don’t react to their emotions, respond lovingly.

Time. Don't rush or ignore this process. Over the next several days, we will all be flooded with information about the shooting. Keep your life as normal as possible. Sameness and routine reinforce the message of safety for your kids. Your family stability over time will help dispel their fears.

Our children are not immune to the darkness and brokenness of our world. We may think that if we ignore this incident, our kids won’t know about it or feel the impact. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our kids need parents and teachers—those who have influence in their lives—to be emotionally present and invested, especially in moments like these.

Rev. Dr. Mark Crear is founder and president of Mark Crear Ministries. He is a minister, author, Christian counselor/trainer/speaker and Olympian. Mark is Chair of the Black American Association of Christian Counselors and Director of Counseling for The Family Church International.

A Star Still Shines

Periodically, I  purchase a caffeine free diet Coke when I get gasoline. Today when I paid for my drink, the familiar clerk asked, "How are you today?"

"I am doing well.  I don't think anyone can complain after yesterday." I replied.

"Yes, yesterday was such a beautiful day." the clerk answered.

I stopped for a moment, depositing my change, and thought, his perspective is clearly  different from mine. I  expected a comment related to the horrific school shootings, but his perspective was the great sunny day in mid-December with temperatures near 50, which is unusual in Indiana.

Perhaps the shootings were extra close to my heart because my oldest daughter is an elementary school teacher in Colorado. I know how passionate she is about teaching and how dearly she loves her students. I texted her immediately when I heard about the tragedy and she texted back how hard the day was , so far away from the school in Connecticut, but so close in circumstance.

Perspective influences how we respond to such events. I noticed in news clips toward the evening that several churches in the small Connecticut town were having services so that people could come together, to mourn and look to God for compassion, love, and companionship that will be needed in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead. The Fishers United Methodist church was open from 7-9 Friday night with one of the pastors available for discussion and prayer.  

Looking to God, not necessarily for answers to unanswerable questions, but for comfort and strength to work through the shock and horror of events that happen far too often, is the only way to walk through the varied emotions and deep grief present in families who suffer loss.  

Tomorrow will be the third Sunday in Advent -- the image that is with me today is the star over the stable -- we might name our stable, but the bright star that was so clear that night, still beckons all to come, to come to the one is life, and light, and love.

Let everyone pray not only for families touched in any way by the shootings at the school, but for all priests, pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders who will offer care to these individuals.

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

December 14, 2012

Christmas Gifts from Your Church?

There is a great article in Ministry Matters about what pastors would like from their churches for Christmas. Actually, that's a good question for spouses too.

Some churches are generous in their thoughtfulness of clergy families. But others, not so much.

In one of our churches the ladies of the church thought they would do something nice for the staff and their families. But they had a large number of staff and this meant a lot of people, so they elected to have a dinner in our honor in the church fellowship hall. Just us and no church members, other than the servers. They took the cheap way out. Not because they could not afford to do something better, but using the basement was just more convenient for them.

Actually, I was doing pretty well with all this, because I had such low expectations, until the wife of our choir director said to me under her breath, "Like this is supposed to be special for us?! This is no different than the Wednesday night church dinners we have to eat every week." And indeed there was the same cook, the same paper on the undecorated tables, the same plastic silverware, and my husband was asked to say the prayer.

I hadn't quite thought of it that way, but she was right. Then I ate the entire meal served with a side dish of anger. The church ladies were well-meaning, except they hadn't gone to the trouble to think or ask what would be nice for us.

But there are happier stories too, like the little church that gave, what seemed like a lot of money, so we could enjoy Christmas. Then there was the generous soul who bought us a color TV, so our little girl could watch Sesame Street in color. Yes, that was the reason.

I know we're not in ministry for the money or for what the church can do for us. I know we are supposed to be above all that, but sometimes it's refreshing to experience a giving and generous church. Too many church people are only too happy to take all they can or stand by while others do the mission and ministry.

Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit. Rich in Spirit. Rich in generosity. I pray that you have a generous church and a generous heart this Christmas.


PS. Don't forget to check out that Ministry Matters article!

December 12, 2012

If You Have a Do-Nothing Church, You Can Still Do This

If your church needs to reach out in mission and ministry but you don't know what to do, you can support two of our young missionaries in Tanzania. Both Eric and Liz are recent graduates of Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee and are under 30. This is basically Eric's first church. Here is their December newsletter. If you want to be a part of God in action, here is a golden opportunity.



I read the first lectionary reading for this year's advent season as I was preparing for the December 2nd sermon...and I couldn't believe it. I started searching another lectionary text and another. WHERE WAS THE CHRISTMAS STORY? Why was I having to read about preparing for Jesus' return or prophecy or things like that? I wanted to preach about Mary, Joseph, and the BABY JESUS. Instead of picking a different text I asked myself what I was supposed to learn. The conclusion is that the Advent Season is a time of preparation. I had this same problem with my own wife's time of pregnancy. I have this same frustration sometimes with the churches here. When are we going to get going already!?! When can the pastors finish their education, when can the churches be built, when can we start receiving teams and volunteers...when can we arrive?

This Christmas season has already been a good reminder of the importance of setting things up well. I have seen this especially in the churches we work with as they try to set a good foundation, literally and figuratively. I was so excited this past week when the church in Masalula started on the foundation of their church building. I was just as excited to have pastors in my home teaching about the importance of worship and explaining about the tools that we have in the common lectionary. These may or may not sound like church geek things to you, but these are the foundations of our work. The church in Masalula has plans to use their building as a nursery school because their nursery students, 4, 5, and 6 year-olds are having to walk an hour to school.

Tarime United Methodist Church is using the lectionary and an advent worship service to cement their call to serve street children. The church is now known by many in town as the Church of the Street Children because we average around 10 in worship on a Sunday and more than that for the food and Sunday School offered before worship service. These foundations are the tools being used to set up the now for the later and they cannot be neglected (as much as we impatient people may have a problem with it). There are other foundations being set in place. Garnasara United Methodist Church has dug the foundation and is hoping to place the first stone soon. The leadership has already put forth an idea for a center for women and children, working on their education and rights within the village of Garnasara. A service that is very, very needed within the village of Garnasara that can be done inside the church building. The foundations are being put into place; we are preparing and will be ready when the Holy Spirit brings the opportunity our way for the next step.

Have a blessed Advent, a season for remembering the historic birth of Jesus, but also (and of equal importance) a season to prepare for his return.;;

Missionary Bios can be found at

This Fig Tree Is not Blossoming

Recently I spoke with a staff member of a small membership church. Because I've known him for a long time, I asked how things were going. He responded saying that the church was out of the way so membership was dwindling; there were no youth and only a few children. (And that was on a good Sunday.) The church was doing absolutely nothing as far as mission and he expected it to die soon, because the aging membership wouldn't be able to keep things going much longer.

Naturally, I shook my head in sympathy. But as I drove home this thought occurred to me; that church is only 10 minutes away from thousands of people. Not only that, there is a brand new subdivision with upscale homes just down the road. Maybe at one time the church was "out of the way," but not any more. And our church has people driving by his church to come to ours. So people will drive to go to church.

Then I remembered what he said about the church doing "absolutely nothing as far as mission." With that thought, my sympathy morphed into anger. What would you expect when a church acts like it is invisible to the community? And to think that he accepted all this as though nothing could be done about it. Or maybe he'd given up.

A very sad commentary on Christianity in some churches today. But whose's responsibility is it to wake up this church and its staff? The pastor's and/or staff's? The lay leadership? The District Superintendent's? The bishop's?

Whoever it is, one thing is clear, the people related to this church are not opening their hearts to God. Because this is a spiritual issue and not an organizational or programmatic problem. You cannot tell me that God doesn't want that church, or any church, in mission and ministry beyond its own walls. The church is the Body of Christ--a living, breathing group of faithful believers. Sounds like this church has cut itself off from the Body and is dead already. Just remember Jesus' warning to the unfruitful fig tree.

What would you do if this was your church? Or has it been your church already?

Grace, Kathy

December 11, 2012

How Can This Be?

How many times in life do we say or hear someone else say, "How can this be?"

My friend who lost in-vitro twins at 23 weeks cried, "How can this be. I ate right, took care of myself. We prayed for God to care for these babies. How can this be?"
A neighbor whose 35 year-old sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me, "How can this be? She is so young, exercises and lives a healthy lifestyle? How can this be?"

Far too many times the words, "How can this be?" bring together thoughts of something unfair, unexpected, undeserved.

The angel came to Mary, explaining that she was chosen to carry God's son. Mary replied, "How can this be?"

Mary surely was not expecting a declaration from an angel. Her confusion is recorded, "Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and wondered what the words meant." The angel explained further God's mission. Eventually Mary replied, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."

We can tap the angel's words when situations in which we say, "How can this be?" occur to us or to those we love. First the angel said, "Peace to you. The Lord is with you." Knowing that we are never alone, that God is always present, is solid grounding for whatever happens in life. The angel reminded Mary that God was with her. We can remember the angel's words that God is with us.

Second, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid. Fear is an unwelcome part of any unexpected event--fear about a diagnosis of cancer: what will happen next--fear when a job is lost: where will I get money to pay bills? Practices that deepen one's connection to God can sustain when fear is present but perseverance is needed.

Third, when the angel explained that Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, was also pregnant. The angel concluded, "There is nothing that God cannot do." These words offer hope. Hope that peace will come. Hope that persons saying "How can this be?" will find light in darkest circumstances.

So when we say "How can this be?" during trying times, we can rest in the angel's words to Mary: "The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. There is nothing that God cannot do."

God is present; God is hope. God's love can sustain us through the darkest night.

Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

December 10, 2012

Nursing Infants at Clergy Spouse Events Response

As this year’s chairperson of the Indiana Conference Clergy Spouse Retreat, I feel compelled to respond to the September 24th blog concerning the issue of nursing mothers that arose at our Retreat in September. I also want to respond to some of the comments to that blog as well as the most recent one on November 6th. I want to give a broader and accurate picture of what happened and what is being done since the event. But first, I want to give an historical perspective so that all who read will be able to see who and what the Indiana Conference is and more precisely, what the Indiana Conference and the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee are not. I ask that if you feel you must respond to my comment that you do so only after reading the entire comment and that you do so kindly and prayerfully and try, for a moment, to walk in our uncomfortable shoes before passing judgment.
The Clergy Spouse Retreat of the Indiana Conference has been in existence for 40 – 45 years. There arose some child issues and, in 1989, a policy concerning children at the Retreat was written. This policy has been in effect since that time. It has been published in our brochures and in our communications. Evidently, this last year (and, it seems, in the most recent previous years) the policy was, regrettably, omitted in all communications. This happened because, well, we are human and have a propensity to err. And, err we did.
The mother in question was unaware of the policy and innocently brought her child with her to the Retreat. I was immediately made aware of this before our first session began. As I was busy doing what chairpersons do before the Retreat started, I asked the retired clergy spouse mentioned in the September blog (who is on the Retreat Committee) to speak to her and talk about our policy. About ½ hour later, I asked this committee member if she had talked with the mother and she said she could not find her. So, I decided to let the issue go and address it if it became necessary. The mother brought the child into the session and again, I just let time take care of what needed to be done. The baby did what babies do and the mother correctly took the baby out of the session. I asked a committee member, who has been on the committee prior to 1989, if I should go talk to the mother. She said yes. I went out into the hall and the following is the CORRECT chain of events and conversations. I simply told her I did not know how to handle this but there is a policy of no children at the Retreats. As an aside, I later found out I misspoke -– the policy states that children are not allowed in the sessions and at mealtimes. If a spouse chooses to bring their child, they must provide for their own childcare in the hotel room. I later corrected my error. I found out she had not brought any childcare with her. I told her that we did not want her to leave the Retreat but if she felt she needed to because she had no childcare then she was not to go home until the morning. The first session was an evening session and she lives about a hour from the Retreat site. I also told her I was going to call a committee meeting after the session and we, as a committee, would discuss the situation and try to find a solution so that was another reason she should not leave that evening. The Retreat committee, upon hearing of the event, expressed the range of emotions one would expect from anger to affirmation, both directed at me. Because we wanted to help and because this Conference has many spouses who have Open Hearts, several of the committee members volunteered to provide childcare for this mother. Bear in mind, these spouses and/or their churches paid a fee for them to attend this retreat so those who volunteered their time were willingly giving up their retreat time to help out. I went to the mother’s room and presented this solution to her. It was her choice to use only one person, the aforementioned retired clergy spouse. Never, not once, was this mother asked to go home. Rather, we bent over backwards to accommodate her, knowing we would be addressing this issue after the Retreat.
On the way home and afterwards, I ruminated about and prayed for direction in how to handle this issue. I devised a plan of forming an ad hoc committee to research and study this issue and then have this committee present their recommendations to the full Retreat Committee in March. I spoke with our Cabinet Clergy Representative about this and she was in full agreement that this would be a good way to handle this issue. I was in the process of formulating this plan when I got an e-mail from the mother asking if I could send her a copy of the policy and then could we talk. I responded quickly by sending her the policy and told her of course we could talk. I was very happy we could do this. She and I then had a long, warm, non-incriminating conversation. I shared my plan with her and she, too, thought it was a good way and she would be willing to serve on the ad hoc committee. That committee has been formed and will be meeting next week to discuss their research findings and start to formulate some recommendations.
I am concerned and disappointed that the Clergy Spouse Retreat Committee of the Indiana Conference has been portrayed and castigated as non-caring, exclusive, and, as one comment said, needing to “ask for forgiveness for being so mean spirited.” I believe we are far, far from any of those aspersions ascribed to us. I am disappointed that some fellow clergy spouses from wherever in the nation or world may now have a skewed opinion of our Conference from this one blog. I am also disappointed that several spouses who have posted comments have been very negative and judgmental even though uninformed about the total picture. I did appreciate one of the comments to the September 24th blog from Anonymous when they wrote, “There must be something else to this” and went on to ponder what the “something else” could be. Hopefully, my comment will help clarify some of the “something else.” I believe, with all of my heart, that the Indiana Conference has some of the most caring, loving, considerate, and open-hearted spouses in the denomination. I will defend them to the end.
Again, if you need to comment about my comment I ask that you do so prayerfully and carefully. Anger is not helpful and neither are nasty and spiteful comments. They really do not further the Kingdom of God. There are a lot of needs and emotions present in the meeting room at our retreats. A nursing mother is not the only need to be considered. We, as an imperfect people on this committee, want to do what we can to be the best we can for our fellow spouses and meet as many needs as possible. So, please, if you have any criticism of our actions, be kind and most importantly, do try to be helpful. If you have had experience with fee-based, adult, non-family types of church events and have faced this situation, we welcome genuine, caring comments.

December 5, 2012

Riding the Circuit to all the Christmas Parties

Just how many parties can one church have? Don't get me wrong, I love the Christmas season and enjoy parties. But sometimes I feel like one of those circuit riders galloping from one house to the next. This week I've got three, and that doesn't count another community dinner or office Christmas party.

Perhaps Christmas parties run the risk of being too much of a good thing.

As a clergy spouse, sometimes, I confess, I feel obligated to go. And I do hate to send my spouse to sit alone. The food is always wonderful and there is always too much. And too much temptation. So I am pacing myself this year with the food, because I don't want to gain the usual 5-10 pounds. So why do I bemoan going?

I do enjoy the laughter and good times, but I don't like making small talk to people whose's names I don't really know. And I suppose, I think that Christmas, while being fun, is also a time of reflection on the Incarnation, which Will Willimon calls, the "surprising overlap of heaven and earth."

Sometimes, I just want to stop and listen and admire the beauty of the season. I don't like the hectic rush, not all the time anyway.

Christmas is surely about celebration, but it is also about peace on earth and peace in my soul.

This Christmas I hope you have a chance to slow down and enjoy all the gifts that God showers upon you.

Grace, Kathy

December 3, 2012

We Reap from Fields We Didn't Plant

Yesterday as I was watching Rick Steves talk about Christmas in Europe on PBS. It seems that in England mincemeat pies are traditional Christmas fare. As the scrumptious dessert was served, the cook said that in the old days only the very wealthy could afford meat pies at all. Now, everyone enjoys them.

This got me thinking about how many things we have that, once upon a time, were reserved only for the rich.

Then I thought how many times I've prayed that my children would have it better that we have it now. I'm sure mothers everywhere pray that same prayer. We don't want our children to be faced with the wars and rumors of war, illness, or hardships we've experienced. We want our children to have a bountiful life surrounded by hope and love, and steeped in a vital faith.

We live in a world where we have received the benefit of the prayer, work, dedication, and faith of our fore-bearers. They nourished our faith and made our world what it is, for good and ill. I pray this Christmas season, our children find us faithful in our legacy to them.

Grace, Kathy