A Year of Smiles – Day 337: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #3 (Reason to SMILE #337): THE PAGEANTS

One of the craziest times of the year in children’s ministry is Christmas. The kids are antsy, ready for a break from school. They’re on a constant sugar high as a result of all the school, family and church parties. And their excitement level is through the roof as their days begin to fill with parades, breakfasts with Santa and all the festivities that lead up to the Big Day.

It’s a magical time of year. 😉

In the midst of all that chaos is the annual Christmas play. I once thought making a trip to the mall at Christmastime was the best way to kill a person’s Christmas spirit. Well, I gotta tell ya. Fighting the crowds at the mall is a walk in the park compared to corralling a group of hyperactive kiddos and keeping their attention long enough to learn at least one verse of a Christmas carol – just one, a short one. Five minutes. It’s all I ask!

Though frustrations abound, there’s nothing like seeing the finished product. Practices may have been crazy. Dress rehearsal may have made you rethink your calling. But seeing that rambunctious group of children standing proudly on stage, singing so sweetly and bringing SMILES to everyone’s faces is worth every hair-pulling moment of Christmas pageant practice.

The next time you enjoy a children’s Christmas program, don’t forget to show your appreciation for the director and other volunteers who worked patiently with those kids. By the night of the performance, these folks are tired and they could use a great, big dose of encouragement. Give hugs. Give SMILES. And maybe give a gift card for a day at the spa – no kids allowed! 😉

 

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A Year of Smiles – Day 302

Reason to SMILE #302: ROLLER COASTERS

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Sweaty palms, racing heart, quick breathing, jittery nerves – nothing can abate the anticipation of reaching the pinnacle of the roller coaster except the thrill of the plunge when you’re flying full speed down the coaster track, gasping for breath, choking on your own heartbeat and shrieking promises to the Almighty that you swear you’ll keep if He’ll only let you live to the end of the ride.

Aren’t roller coasters fun? 😉

Yeah. I used to love riding roller coasters! I used to – past tense. It’s not happenin’ today or any day in the future. Give me a nice little train ride around the mall at Christmastime and I’m good. Seriously.

I feel the same about life, too. If I had my choice, my life would be filled with smooth, level roads to travel. Directional signs would be well lit, easy to read and conveniently placed. There’d be none of those high, rickety bridges, ridiculous detours, unchecked potholes, unfinished roadwork or mislabeled street maps. Period.

My life, however, completely ignores my wishes!

Last week was busy for me (one reason why I’m so far behind on my daily SMILES – ugh!). I was planning and preparing for the church fall festival. I was also preparing myself to say “good-bye” to a ministry position I’ve held for the past four years (another reason I’m behind on my SMILES – 😦 ). The fall festival was my last event and last day at the church. Talk about your roller coaster rides! One minute I’m slowly climbing up a steep incline as I’m mourning the loss of time with “my” kids. The next minute I’m free falling down a 50-foot drop as I’m bustling to create carnival games, recruit volunteers and beg for candy donations. And the next, I’m doing loop-de-loops as I’m running through the fall festival, assuring everything is running smoothly, giving hugs to children, friends, even strangers, trying not to freeze my hiney off in the 40 degree weather and praying that somebody figures out how to use the cotton candy machine.

Whew! What a ride!

This particular ride has been a rough one. I’m following God’s direction to go but I’m not sure where He’s leading. Though I know He knows best, not knowing what’s in store makes the ride pretty scary. And the good-byes are definitely much harder. BUT there is a SMILE in even this crazy roller coaster ride.

You see, no matter where life takes me, whether I’m on the mountaintop where all is well or I’m in the valley where things look bleak and uncertain or I’m spinning round and round in the hallways of life waiting for doors to open, GOD IS THERE. He’s with me on the mountain, in the valley and in the hallway. He led me to each of those places and He’ll continue to lead me on. I may be hanging on for dear life during the ride but God is there hanging on to me. That, my friends, is more then enough reason to SMILE.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7 – 10 (NIV)

A Year of Smiles – Day 297

Reason to SMILE #297: THE RIGHT SONG AT THE RIGHT TIME

I knew my afternoon was going to be busy. I had a long “to do” list and a short amount of time in which to finish it. You see, the church’s fall festival is days away and although there are only small tasks to complete before the big day, those small details can really add up.

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I needed a burst of energy to get me hyped and ready to conquer the busy afternoon. Caffeine wasn’t going to be enough. Food would have been a huge help but who had time to eat! I hopped into my car to go pick up the items still needed for decorations and games. I turned on the radio in the hopes of finding some energizing tunes and as I was arriving at my first stop, there it was – the perfect song.

Celebration by Kool & the Gang blasted through the radio and a SMILE grew on my face. “There’s a party going on right here – a celebration to last throughout the years!”

Yessss! I had a celebration to finish planning and this 80’s flashback was exactly what I needed to get me going. I finished all my errands and even had time for lunch – although it was an extremely late lunch.

So, if you’re anywhere near Albany, Georgia, this Sunday, you’ve got to join us for Game Day: A Fall Family Event ’cause “we gon’ celebrate and have a good time. Yahoo!” 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 284

Reason to SMILE #284: SPROUTING OF THE SEEDAdobe Spark (25)

“Mrs. Karen, do we get another memory verse tonight?” one of the kids asked.

“Next week we’ll have a new one but not tonight,” I replied.

“Awwww!”

Two kids asked that question as we finished our Wednesday night activities. Both responded with the same disappointed groan. I was thrilled! No, not that they were disappointed – well, actually, yes, that they were disappointed! For their disappointment over not receiving a new memory verse was a clear indication of their desire to know God’s Word! Woohoo! How cool is that!

This may not excite you as much as it does me but knowing I played a small part in developing a child’s desire for God’s Word gives me a SMILE that I will carry for a lifetime!

A Year of Smiles – Day 281

Reason to SMILE #281: SMARTIES

It’s funny the things we remember from our childhoods. I remember chasing my brothers around the house with a plastic baseball bat and getting stuck on the monkey bars because a snake had decided to crawl under me and hold me hostage. I also remember piling into a little Ford Fiesta, along with the seven other members of my family, to go to church every Sunday. And at this church was a pastor who would carry gumballs around in his suit coat pocket. All of the kids knew it and as soon as the service was over, we’d excitedly make our way to the pastor to get a piece of gum. What an impression this pastor made! With the simple gift of a piece of gum every Sunday, this pastor showed us kids how important we were to the church family.

At the church I attend now, we also have a smartiesman who is making a lasting impression on the lives of children. He is affectionately known as the “Candy Man” and the kids are always seeking him out. They all know that each Sunday he hands out Smarties and they love it! He has a big heart and loves to see the SMILE on the face of each child as he hands him or her a piece of candy. It may seem like a small gesture but I know the impact it has on these kids and the love they receive with each pack of Smarties will last a lifetime.

Oh! And each Sunday, the Candy Man makes sure I receive a pack of Smarties, as well. He walks up beside me, reaches for my hand and secretly sneaks me the candy. “You may be the Children’s Director but you’re just as little as they are. So you get a piece of candy, too!” Makes me SMILE every time.

A Year of Smiles – Day 270

Reason to SMILE #270: BEING MISSED

“Mrs. Karen, I came down here to see you!”IMG_8104

One of my kids who moved up to the youth department this year made a special visit downstairs to the children’s ministry to see me. As she gave me a hug, she said, “I miss you.”

Oh, what sweet music to my ears! And what a heart-swelling SMILE!

Sorry, Youth Minister. Those kids I sent upstairs to you in August will always be mine! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 227

Reason to SMILE #227: SIMPLICITY

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I often think I am too simple minded. When listening to the conversations of others serving in ministry, whether it be in children’s ministry, student ministry or pastoral ministry, I am many times awe struck and even a bit jealous. These ministers speak with such eloquence. Their words reflect great intelligence, an impressive education and a wide scope of sound reasoning. Then there’s me, shrinking into the corner of the room and thinking, “Wow! I don’t talk like that. Heck! I don’t even think like that! Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.”

There’s nothing like being in a room full of fellow ministers to make me start questioning my calling! Ask each one what the requirements are for a successful children’s ministry, and sit back and listen. You’ll find that most everyone will have a list of six to eight, maybe more, foundational necessities that will guarantee the success of their ministry. Then ask me.

“Karen, what is the key to a successful children’s ministry?”

“Love.” The end. Next participant, please.

But, to me, it really is that simple. I could have the grandest of facilities, top of the line sound and video equipment, next generation check-in software, an abundance of committed and hard working volunteers and teachers and an engaging curriculum but if the children in my ministry don’t feel loved, accepted and welcomed, none of it would amount to a hill of beans. Love yields relationships. Relationships yield trust. Trust yields openness to the Gospel. Openness yields new believers in Christ. So, yeah. My answer is love.

We complicate so many things in life, don’t we? We especially complicate our faith in God. We call those complications religion! We argue over how one should dress for worship, what music should be played and what color to paint the walls. We debate methods of baptism, church organization or polity and styles of worship.  But, to me, simple-minded me, our faith doesn’t have to be that complicated. It really is quite simple:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Luke 10:27

If we can follow these two precepts, everything else will fall into place.

And I don’t know about you, but when my life has less complications, it’s a whole lot easier to SMILE!

A Year of Smiles – Day 225

Reason to SMILE #225: SOMEONE TO COUNT ON

My Sunday began as usual – choosing songs for morning worship with the kids.  “Hmmm. Which song should we sing today?” I thought as I scrolled through our music files. “Ah! We’ll start with this one. We haven’t sung this one in a while.”

I made our playlist and waited for the kids to gather.

Soon, our morning activities began and music filed the room. My first song choice was playing and all was going well until… the chorus.  The words rang out,” I’m counting on, I’m counting on God. I’m counting on, I’m counting on God.”

Now, I must interject here that there are times when I get a little annoyed with some of our children’s songs. The chorus in this one repeats the same line over and over again.  And it’s not just the repetition of the words that bugs me. It’s also the music. The chorus is basically written using only one note. Don’t get me wrong. This song is awesome. It simply took some getting used to.

Today, however, it wasn’t the repetition of our song that disturbed me. As we were singing “I’m counting on, I’m counting on God” for the second or third time, I began to hear something more than the monotone melody of this children’s song. Rising above the music was a distinguishable voice asking, “Are you counting on me?” It was all I could do to control my emotions.

You see, I’ve been struggling lately, feeling like one particular issue I’m facing is hopeless. I had resigned to the fact that I’m alone in my struggle, that nothing will change and that I simply have to live with things the way they are. After all, I have been dealing with the issue for quite some time and every time I believe a breakthrough is just around the corner, there’s always a setback.

Man! What a bunch of hooey I was allowing the devil to spew into my ears! As a child of God, I always have someone on which I can depend. My Heavenly Father is faithful to answer my cries for help. He is the only One who can solve my problems and make a way when I can see no way at all. It’s time I begin trusting Him with everything – even that one situation that I believe is hopeless – no, especially that one.

Isn’t it ironic that a song I haphazardly picked for children’s worship would be the vehicle for God’s voice in my life today? Nah. God knows how to speak to His children. That’s something you can always count on! And God’s dependability is most certainly a reason to SMILE!

A Year of Smiles – Day 221

Reason to SMILE #221: POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE

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• splendid celebration with ceremony and fuss

Tonight at Kids Central (the children’s ministry at my church), we celebrated the promotion of six of my kids to the youth department (The City). Each year, I make a huge deal out of this rite of passage by making the rising sixth graders wear graduation caps (made from construction paper and yarn), donning them with honors (a beaded necklace with a plastic graduation cap pendant) and having them march from the children’s hall up to the youth area to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.” The kids think I’m crazy! I think it’s fun.


Why not make a fuss over the promotion of these kids? It’s a big deal, especially to these 6th graders. For the past year, they’ve been itching to hit The City. They had reached the top of the pecking order in the children’s department. They’d been the top dogs, the leaders, and were beginning to feel a little out of place. To these kids, they are no longer kids and they’re ready to be considered a young adult.

I see it a bit differently! In my eyes, they’re still kids. Being in the youth group doesn’t change that. They’ll always be my kids and I’m going to miss them at Kids Central. That’s why I make such a big deal of their promotion. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of what they’ve learned in their time at Kids Central. I’m proud of their growth – personal, social and spiritual. And I know that The City will be a little brighter now that some of my kids are a part of it.

Okay. Now I’m making myself cry!

I can’t stop these kids from growing and I can’t keep them at Kids Central no matter how much I want to. Though I hate to see them go, I will continue to usher them into the youth group with all the pomp and circumstance they deserve. And I will SMILE as I watch them march down the hall knowing that God has great things in store for these kids.

I’ll also SMILE knowing what’s waiting on these new youth group members once they walk through The City doors: a clobbering with pool noodles, an attack with silly string, an assault of noise makers and all the fun stuff that comes with welcoming the newbies!

A Year of Smiles – Day 214

Reason to SMILE #214: ROCK PAINTING

Yes. We’ve jumped on the bandwagon. But what a fun and inspirational bandwagon it is! Have you heard about these groups that are organizing to paint rocks, hide rocks and search for rocks in their communities? The idea is to gather up some rocks, decorate them with all sorts of designs, inspirational quotes, etc., hide them around town for people to find and while you’re hiding them, search for rocks other people have hidden. Oh, and if you find a rock, you’re supposed to re-hide it elsewhere. What a neat idea! This has kept many a family busy during the boring summer months. It has also motivated people to get out of their houses and to visit all kinds of local businesses, parks, places of worship and more.

Children everywhere are having mom check the pages of their local Facebook group for clues as to where the rocks are hidden and then pushing parents out the door to race to find these rocks. What joy these rocks are bringing to these kids! But on the flip side, some of these kids are experiencing extreme disappointment upon the discovery that the rock they were seeking has already been found! The good thing is there are many a conscious rock painters watching for posts about disappointed kids and are making it their mission to ensure these kids find a rock. It truly is awesome to watch!

Well, I’m done watching! Tonight, at Kids Central in Albany, GA, we painted about 35 rocks that will be hidden all over our community.  Take a look:

 

 

That’s 35 SMILES we’ll be sharing with our little world!! My only wish – to actually see the faces of the rock seekers who find these crazy rocks!