Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moving On

Hello faithful readers (all 3 of you)...

Obviously I haven't done much blogging lately and I had pretty much decided to give it up, but now I've decided to simply go a different direction.

And so...I am discontinuing the Courtyard blog, but you can find me online at jennwilliams.org where I do hope you will visit from time to time.

Farewell Courtyard, it's been fun!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I know I'm stubborn and thick-skulled, but there still has to be an easier way to learn some of life's lessons.

As a church, we walked into the start of 2012 without a worship leader, a student ministry pastor in Nicaragua completing an adoption and a lead pastor entering her third trimester of pregnancy (that would be me).  Thank goodness for AR Kids Director, Danielle Burt, for being our stability in the midst of the chaos!

As I write today our new worship leader is busy preparing for his first Sunday at Ashley Ridge Church, our student ministry pastor is on a flight home with his wife and son, Danielle continues to hold strong and we have someone on the way to the office to talk about our new part-time administrative assistant position.  

Me? Well, I'm even more pregnant, but I'm taking this moment anyway to do a little reflection on some lessons I've learned in the last two months:

1. God is a much better leader than me.

So often I'm my own worst enemy.  Whenever I convince myself that I'm the leader, it all depends on me and it's all on my shoulders, I set myself up for immediate failure.  It's God's church - always has been, always will be.  Sadly, it takes being forced to my knees to realize that it never depended on me in the first place and when I take a backseat, we can all go so much further.

2. No one wants to be an extra, but everyone wants to be needed.

It's nice for people to think we're super-human, but it's never true.  Acting super-human only accomplishes two things: 1) it burns us out, and 2) it keeps us from empowering other people and enabling them to use their gifts.  The first Sunday we were without our student ministry pastor, we had 6 new volunteers ask if they could jump in.  Chances are they would have loved to be part of student ministry sooner but we were so busy filling the spots on our own that they couldn't see the need.  

3. When we're weak, He is strong!

It's the only way to explain the last two months.  We were poised for internal combustion and instead God has forged new territory, broken down new walls, strengthened our leadership, brought new people with new ideas and new gifts and blown our minds.

Those are just a few of the lessons I've learned/re-learned in the last two months.  

What has God been teaching you the hard way?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You know those times when you're riding high, feeling good, sitting back and thinking "all I do is win!"?

This is not one of those times for me.

In fact, quite the opposite.  Lately my thought has been, "I just can't win."

The people-pleaser in me learned a long time ago that I can't make everyone happy, but it's still hard when people are mad at you and despise you for reasons that don't add up.  But a wise person recently reminded me that God knows what's in your heart.

That thought is both a comfort and a challenge.  There will always be people who misunderstand our actions and intentions, but God will always know where our heart is.

I'm going to continue to make mistakes in my life - sometimes more than others.  And even when I don't mess up, there will always be people who don't see it that way.  Thank goodness for grace and thank goodness that the only One who matters knows exactly where I am and where I'm coming from.

(And then there are the times that you're in the middle of writing a blog post about not winning and  your husband makes a surprise visit to your office with these...

Life is good, my friends, life is good.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Some Political, or Not-So-Political, Thoughts

Once upon a time I was a political science major, spending my summers working in Washington, D.C. both on and off Capitol Hill.  It was a time when I found public policy endlessly fascinating and felt important because of the tours I gave, articles I wrote and hands I shook. 

(side note - of all the people I met and hands I shook, the most exciting was definitely the day I literally ran into Muhammed Ali as I was giving a tour in the Hall of Statues.  His hand completely encompassed mine and I'm not even sure I got words out.  A-mazing!)

But this morning I overheard myself saying to my husband, "Well, at least the commercials can stop in South Carolina.  Poor Florida."  Who was that person?

Truth is, I still enjoy politics.  I make it a priority to vote because I think it's a privilege, and if you get me far enough away from my role as pastor I'm more than happy to wax eloquent on my views about why small government matters.  But I made a choice, or rather a discovery, near the end of my time in college - I was far more passionate about and believed much more in the difference the Church can make in the world than government and politicians.  And if I was going to expend my energy and time in a specific arena fighting corruption, abuse, mis-informed ideas, hurt and suffering, I was going to do it in the Church.

The Church as an institution made up of imperfect human beings is broken, much like the government.  However, the Church still has a leader worth following, a leader who still believes in the Church and a leader who is willing to sacrifice popularity, political gain and His very life and His name is Jesus.

I choose to work for Him.  I choose to follow Him.  My hope is in Him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reality Check

Being 30 weeks pregnant is kicking my butt.

Well, let's be honest, being the mother of a 2-year old, pastoring a church plant and being 30 weeks pregnant is kicking my butt, but for now, let's blame the pregnancy.

I remember doing it all right the first time around - eating right, exercising regularly, reading the book every month and following the preparation checklist.  This time...well, let's just say I've already had two pieces of dark chocolate this morning and I'm currently drinking a diet Coke (I don't even like diet Coke!).

So what's the difference?  Reality.

Last time I had the luxury of soaking it all in and letting the pregnancy be the number one thing in my life.  This time, there's no checking out of the day-to-day.  If my 40-pound 2-year old needs picked up, I pick him up.  If a meeting needs to be had and 6am is the only time to do it, then 6am it is.

Truth is, I prefer it this way.  I know, wait, that's not where it seemed like this was going.  But, it's true.  Given the choice between utopia and reality, I choose reality...every time.  Why? Because it's real.  Because reality is where we're stretched and challenged, changed and inspired.

It's the same thing as saying "I wish I had one of those jobs where you checked in and checked out and didn't have to worry about anything."  For starters, I don't think those jobs exist.  And while there are moments that I long for that, I know I would be bored out of my mind.

I'm thinking this is part of the reason God sent Jesus.  God could have stayed out of the mess and fixed everything magically from a realm outside of human reality, but instead He chose incarnation.  He chose to come and be with us - in the mud, in the every day, in the stress and the balancing act and the uncertainty.

Did you catch that?  The Creator of the universe who could have it any way chose reality, our reality.

It's here in reality where I learn more everyday to trust God for all that I can't control.  It's here in reality where I shed tears that even I can't explain, the kind that can only by comforted by a Father who knows my innermost being.  It's here in reality that I get that Jesus' sacrifice was truly a sacrifice.  It cost Him everything to come and die for me.

So, I'm 30 weeks pregnant, half of our 4-person church staff is currently missing, my 2-year old is in an "I don't want to go to bed at night" phase, and still, I'm thankful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Nowhere, actually.  

Well, maybe that's not true.  Since my last post (yes, Greg, it was in August), I've been to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where I officiated a wedding in the middle of Hurricane Irene (that could have been a post), to Clemson University for the Clemson/Auburn football game (another potentially great post), to Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for another wedding (turned out to be windier than Hurricane Irene - go figure) and finally to Pennsylvania for a celebration of my Dad who turns 60 this weekend (watch for a post on my dad later this week).

I've been everywhere and I've been nowhere because the truth is I've simply been busy and got out of the habit of writing.

Have you ever noticed how readily we leave behind the disciplines of reflection and conscious thought when life speeds up?  I have, and I've also noticed how those absences always come back to haunt me.

So, I don't know where you've been lately or what's been keeping you up at night, but let me invite you to take a deep breath and slow down.  A little reflection, a lot of prayer and some time to think are worth their weight in gold.

I'm back...oh, and I'm pregnant :)

Monday, August 08, 2011

I Stink at Resting

Now, before you rush to judgment and think, "this is one of those posts where the writer thinks they're divulging a character flaw while really being all look-at-me, I'm so awesome I can't even stop my awesomeness to take care of myself," let me assure you, it's not.

I really stink at resting.  I waste time with the best of them.  I watch television shows that take hours of my life I'll never get back (Design Star being my newest fascination).  I play sudoku and solitaire before bed to make my brain stop doing somersaults with the information in my head.  But, I'm terrible at resting, actual God-commanded-I-feel-re-energized-when-I'm-finished resting.

Take today for example.  I had a really long week last week and worked 16 hours yesterday.  I needed to rest today and I made up my mind last night to do just that.  It started out pretty well when my son jumped in bed on top of me at 5:30 this morning and my sweet husband swept him up and took him from our room so that I could go back to sleep.  I managed to fall back asleep (a huge feat for me) and stayed asleep until 7:30.  I got up and played with Jake for awhile, ate a bowl of cereal and then headed to the gym.  Really I was too tired to go to the gym, but I told myself I would feel better after I went - I didn't.  I just felt more tired and frustrated with what had been a lame work-out b/c I was too tired to push.  I came home, showered and got dinner started in the crock-pot.  I ran two quick errands and landed, at all places, in my office.  (Again, this is not "I'm an awesome workaholic, please pity me" post).  I was not there to work.  I was there to grab lunch from the food leftover after yesterday's volunteer appreciation breakfast and lunch.  I ate, checked facebook, tried to upload our Rwanda video to youtube, failed and decided to move on.  I had a gift card to Kohl's in my purse that I thought I could go use.  I got there, realized I was too tired to get enjoyment out of walking around the store without a purpose (not unusual, I'm not a big shopper) and left.  Then I sat in my car...

I felt trapped.  My husband was at work, the babysitter was at the house with Jake and I really wanted to be at home watching a movie, falling asleep in the couch or reading a good book.  Only, I didn't want to go home where I could do those things b/c the babysitter is there and I'm worried she'll think I'm a slacker.  Plus, if I go home there will be cleaning and laundry and 80 other things that need to be done.  I contemplated going to the movie theater to see something, but there's nothing out that I want to see now that I've seen the final Harry Potter.

Now it's 1:30, I'm stressed that I only have 2 1/2 more hours before I go home and the babysitter leaves and I'm sad that I've squandered a rare opportunity to do whatever I want and simply rest.  

What's wrong with me?  Or, shall I say, "what's wrong with us?" because I'm guessing I'm not the only one like this.  We all live hectic, over-booked lives and we wait until we're at breaking point to rest and then we don't know how to do it.  Our list of "things I'll do when I get a free minute" is too long and our rest debt, much like our national debt, is too high to solve in one day.  We need to make serious changes to our lifestyle, but the truth is we're too tired to really think about it.

Hmm, I wonder if this is why God felt the need to make a regular routine of rest a command.  He knew we would be bad at it.  He knew we were just arrogant enough to believe we could go on forever without it.  So, how do we get back?  What does real rest look like?  How do we change our culture to encourage healthy, life-giving rest?

I need you blogosphere - help me.  How do you rest?  How do you help and encourage the people around you to rest?