Tuesday, April 28, 2020

College and Quarantine: A Candid Conversation

It's almost here.  You know, the moment you've dreamed about since freshman year.  You've climbed out of bed before daylight to make it to early classes, and stayed up long past midnight putting the finishing touches on projects and research papers. You've worked hard to pay your tuition. You've built relationships with professors, classmates and dorm buddies.  You've made mistakes, and you've learned from them.  And it's almost here: the moment your family and friends converge on your campus to watch you turn the tassel.

But there is an interruption that no one saw coming.  Just as you were preparing to savor your final moments as a college student, you received a notice that residence halls were closing, classes would become virtual, and the events of your spring semester would likely be canceled.  Suddenly, all your idealistic hopes and plans crumbled into a heap of confusion, and you are left wondering why.

Thousands just like you are experiencing a similar chapter in their story, and recently we had the opportunity to talk to four young women about how they are affected by the current national crisis.

Let's take a moment to meet them before they share their thoughts:
Katrina Cooley is from Pennsylvania and is a senior at Penn View Bible Institute.
Rebecca Flowers resides in Michigan and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College. 

Ashley Quesenberry lives in Indiana and is a senior at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences.  While studying at Christ, she resides on the campus of God's Bible School and College.

Laura Sprenkel is from Pennsylvania and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College.

WOW: Thank you for spending time with us and sharing your hearts during this crazy time.  All four of you lived on a college campus and have unexpectedly moved back home for the remainder of the semester.  How are online classes going?  

Katrina:  It is a learning curve for everyone.  It has made some things more challenging, however, I think is commendable that our school is committed to keeping the standard of excellence through this time.
Rebecca: I'm enjoying seeing my classmates and teachers via video chat.  We have classes at the same time we would if we were on campus.  This is helpful because it gives me a schedule and something to do every day, even if I'm not leaving the house.
Ashley:  It's certainly not preferred or ideal, but through this process of transition, I've been amazed at the dedication of educators across the country.  My own professors have been incredible in providing meaningful content for our classes and have been creative in finding ways for us to still meet the course outcomes.  It is nice for me to be able to log into my class sessions and to hear and sometimes even see my professors and/or my classmates.  I can't say that it's always been easy, especially when I struggle to keep the days straight at times.  I've been late to a class session because I got the times confused.  Thankfully, the professor was very understanding.  We're all just making the best out of the situation at hand.  Perspective influences a lot in this matter.
Laura: Since our school has an online department, the transition to online delivery for class has been, all things considered, relatively smooth.  Having class in my house is reminding me of the time that I was homeschooled!  I miss the classroom setting, but online methods have still allowed for "easy" communication with professors and classmates.

WOW: What are some events that you were looking forward to that are now canceled or threatened, and have you felt a sense of grief over those losses?

Katrina: Since I'm a senior, there would be a lot of "lasts" for me as a student.  I really enjoy Missions Convention and our Jr/Sr banquet, and both of those are canceled.  At this time, we're unsure about graduation, and that is the milestone we all look forward to, especially as seniors. I do struggle with the fact that my senior year won't be normal and I won't get to do all the events one last time, as a senior.  I also think about the unsaid goodbyes.  I never relished the last moments in the classroom with my friends and professors, or in the dorm with my dorm family.
Rebecca: I am so sad that we will miss spring choir tour and IHC, as well as our education department's scheduled trip to Savannah, GA. I'm grieving the lost time with friends, the loss of experiences that would produce growth and change for good, and the loss of time ministering to the kids I work with on the bus route.
Ashley: I am saddened at the cancellation of Easter services, as well as  IHC in Dayton. I've dreamed of graduation day since I started nursing school four years ago.  Now, my formal ceremony is being replaced with a drive-in ceremony, and I'm not even sure I'll get to have an actual pinning ceremony.  Reading those emails was hard.  I admit that I cried tears over the fact that the last half of my senior semester is ending so differently than anticipated.  There's much uncertainty in our lives now, and I think that not being able to know a date for when everything will return to "normal" makes the disappointments harder.  Grief is a normal human response to loss.  In order to accept and move past the hurt, the losses must be grieved in some way.
Laura: At a small Bible college, choir tour is a highlight of the year.  We had been looking forward to this tour since the beginning of fall semester, and had spent many hours in practice and preparation.  It was canceled.  The weekend after I returned home, I attended a friend's wedding.  Instead of one hundred fifty planned wedding guests, there were forty. The wedding date had to be changed so the newlyweds could get to their home state in case the state borders closed.  A family trip to celebrate my sister's graduation has been canceled, and we are unsure if she or my boyfriend will have a graduation.  I tend to get homesick easily, but the day we were told to move out of our dorm rooms , I found myself standing with a group of girls on our hall crying because this was not in our plans.  We all understood that the decision to close the doors for the semester was necessary, but the reality of that decision has been difficult.

WOW: How has God been near to you during this time, and what strategies have you used to remain joyful?

Katrina: God has helped me to learn that He knew this was going to happen.  I need to trust that He has me here and living in this moment, as it is, for some specific reason.  I realize that this is time that I can spend with my family: doing projects, playing games, and just being together.  We have played family games almost every night, and eaten dinner together, as well.
Rebecca: God has been near to me through Scripture.  As I reread well known passages, I am reminded again of how faithful He is to me.  God has also been near to me through songs, and I'm thankful for the gift of music.  I really am glad to be home, and am trying to use this time to invest in my relationships with family.  That, as well as staying connected with friends, has helped to be joyful.
Ashley: At the beginning of 2020, I knew that this was going to be my year to learn much about trust, as I have several big changes coming in my life.  The matter of trust keeps popping up in seemingly every area of life these days.  God has used wise people in my life to remind me of trust.  None of this has taken God by surprise.  While the process of learning trust is not comfortable or enjoyable, it's a good and lifelong process.  His ways are always perfect.  He can be trusted.  I've endeavored to be very intentional about using technology to remain in contact with friends, my mentor, my classmates, etc.  Seeing and hearing other human beings outside of my family members is sometimes needed, and always good for the soul. I've been careful to keep my perspective as positive as possible, filtering through what I choose to read.  My sister, Autumn, started a list of thankfulness and posted it on the refrigerator.  Our family has been adding to it each day as we go about our tasks.  It's a good reminder that we all are truly so blessed.
Laura: When your schedule goes from completely full to almost empty in a matter of hours, things begin to come more clearly into focus.  The "empty space" that used to be full is the time that God becomes so much closer to me.  I have time to focus.  This time has allowed me to search and know God more.  I've been digging into what it looks like to pray boldly.  There's no better time to pray bold prayers that when the world feels like it is falling apart around me.  To remain joyful, I'm looking at the positive aspects of this situation.  I have extra time to spend with my family, friends, boyfriend, and my cat (all of which I miss when I'm on campus).  The HSBC girls have started a group chat where we share encouragement and random things that are happening in our quarantined lives.  It's affectionately called "The Smile Chat," and it manages to bring a smile even though my phone is always blowing up with notifications!

WOW:  Do you feel like this experience has changed you, and what would you like to share with others who are in your circumstance who may be struggling?

Katrina: It has changed me.  I realize thing things that I take for granted.  I see that I go through a lot of motions, but wander how much of it reaches my heart.  Do I appreciate the moments while I'm in them instead of always looking back wishing I had?  Do I take the time to tell people what they mean to me and let them know they are appreciated? This quarantine has given a lot of time to think and reflect on what things should be the most important things in our lives.  I'd like to encourage others to cherish the moments you have together with your family.  These are times that everyone will remember.  Make it a time that you won't regret.  Feeling sorry for yourself steals your joy, makes you miserable, and wastes precious time.  Look for the good, and if you can't find anything...start something good.  Pray and see what God would have you do.
Rebecca: This experience has made me rethink my priorities.  I realize how many times I was so preoccupied with unimportant things instead of focusing on the people there in the moment, loving them like a good friend, and enjoying life then and there. If you're struggling, I would encourage you that it's okay to be upset.  Sadness and grief is not a sin.  God is not scared of your feelings (John 11:35).  But don't live in sadness and grief.  Take it to Jesus and ask Him to carry the load with you.  Realize that joy will come in the morning and that this season will end (Psalms 30:5).  We are all in this together.  Don't feel like you are alone.  Remember Jeremiah 29:11.  We have a hope and a future.
Ashley: This experience has changed me.  I realize now the small things that I have before taken for granted.  Things such as a hug from a friend, the luxury of going for a random shopping trip to TJ Maxx, or the relaxation of sitting in an adorable coffee shop.  Even things like attending church and worshiping with other Christ-followers has been taken for granted.  There are countless blessings that I now see more clearly: family time, relationships, my faith, the beauty of nature, and rest.  In my nearly twenty-five years, I have learned that great disappointments often breed much growth if we allow it to happen.  We can either own the disappointments, setbacks, and losses and come through them stronger, or we can allow ourselves to become a victim of them and wallow in our self-pity.  During this time, God has given us all opportunities to learn something, to grow closer to Him.  Lean into the disappointments and the growing process.  The result of what He wants to do in each of us is more beautiful that you or I could possibly imagine.
Laura: How could anyone live through an experience like this without being changed?! I live more in the day to day than I did before.  I feel motivated.  Motivated to accomplish things that I have placed on the back burner because of busyness.  Motivated to embrace where I am no matter the circumstances.  Motivated to achieve academically along the journey to accomplishing my goals.  Motivated to embrace normalcy.  I have newfound appreciation for campus life and the college experience because the temporariness of this time in my life is now vividly real.  My advice to you?  Embrace this time.  I know that sounds like the worst advice anyone could share at a time like this, but embrace it.  Embrace the fact that for perhaps the first time in your life, you can't make your own plans.  Embrace the fact that you get to try something that is maybe completely new.  Embrace the opportunity for God to fill the "empty spaces" on your previously full calendar.  Embrace the opportunity to connect with people, even via technology.  Embrace the feeling that you don't have your life completely figured out, because you don't, and that's okay.  Embrace the abnormalcy that you are currently experiencing because, before you know it, it will be gone and our world will fall into a new normal.  Embrace this rare moment in your life because it's happening for a reason.

WOW:  Katrina, Rebecca, Ashley, and Laura, thank you so much for sharing with us!  We appreciate your time, your vulnerability, and your honesty.  These are unprecedented moments that will soon be history, and we know that God is using these days to draw us closer to Himself.  We wish you all the best in the remainder of this semester and in the days ahead!  

To our readers who find yourselves in similar circumstances, we trust you have found encouragement through the words of your peers.  We pray that God will make Himself fully known to you during this time of extreme change in our world.  We challenge you to stay focused, committed, and more determined than ever to be a light in a culture of darkness.  Lots of things may be different, but God's plan for you hasn't changed!

-Stephanie Burley


Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Whole New World

                                  - Christina Black

Some of our dearest friends on earth eat dinner with their whole family almost every Sunday. The other day, though, I was looking through Facebook statuses and saw them, those precious friends, pictured on video messenger with their children and grandchildren. They had taken screen shots of their whole new world experience!

Video family time is such a typical activity for us on the mission field, but I knew it was highly unusual for them, and the separation they no doubt were feeling deeply pulled on my heartstrings. I rather jokingly told them, though, as I hit reply, that they were getting their missionary training! But feeling slightly sobered by the whole event, I began to think. Could it be possible that almost everyone we know, and love will now identify in some new, significant ways with their missionaries? Will recent weeks make a difference in the way we pray for missionaries in the future? Did it even cross our minds that we might be living a “missionary’’ lifestyle during our time of quarantine? As I pondered these ideas, a post appeared on another Facebook page. It was a blog that I read and considered for days. I reached out to the source and asked if I could share some of the ideas his blog had inspired. He readily agreed, and here are some of my recent thoughts:

  New Rules of Life

  1. I am a busy missionary, but I take time, daily, for emails, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Marco Polo, and iMessage; because they are my only options if I want to stay connected with my family and friends around the world.
  2. My home is the center of my universe. My office is across the hall from where I sleep. It is where I often teach by Zoom or work online. We cook and eat most of our meals at home. We have to keep ourselves busy during our free time, so sometimes we read books, color, do puzzles, and play games.
  3. We don’t greet people in the same way on the mission field. At home in the States I instinctively know who to hug warmly, who prefers a handshake, and who might just like a smile. I remember when we moved overseas, that I suddenly didn’t know how to greet people! I had to learn new ways to show pleasure when seeing someone.
  4. Especially when we first arrived, on both fields where we have served, I fought to overcome a lot of fear. “Was it safe to eat the food on my plate? Was the table clean? Would good medical care be available if we needed it?  Did I have enough faith to live without a paycheck?” I wondered. 
  5. I woke up one morning about 20 years ago, opened the windows, swept the insects that had collected and died in the hallway as they swarmed around the one little light I left on to attract them, and started some coffee in the old pot with the broken carafe that previous missionaries had left behind. I remember feeling such resounding loneliness. It almost seemed as if I could hear it mocking me.
  6. I remember homeschooling the kids for the first time, trying to find a window unit air conditioner for our bedroom, and searching endlessly for a gentle soap. Shopping weekly was like a search and rescue event! When I found canned green beans, I hid them behind the sardines because I could not afford to buy too many at once, and I also knew there were only a few cans of green beans in the whole country.
  7. I was sitting in a grass hut in the Philippines and voiced my frustration to someone who had known and helped many missionaries. He said these words, and they gave me such hope and comfort, “In a few months everything here will feel normal. It’s just all really different right now. Be patient with yourself.”

   Be Patient with Yourself

I am absolutely sure that each of you dear readers have already started to see the parallels I mentioned earlier as you have followed me through my list of thoughts and memories. You, like your missionaries, have learned to depend heavily on social media recently. In fact, I am going to miss the increased presence of my friends and family there when this is all over!

You have learned to make your home the center of your universe, to greet people differently when you really just want a hug, to ignore your fears and keep doing what you need to do, to live by faith, to power through the loneliness, to shop in a culture without everything in stock that you need, to resist hoarding, and to be patient with yourself while you learn to trust more and worry less in a whole new world.

Please, allow yourself to remember these days- forever! Let the memories fuel your prayers. Pray for your missionaries in a whole new way today and in all of your tomorrows! You see, you have lived some similar experiences!     

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Meet Esther Dotson Coner

For many of us, Esther Dotson Coner is a familiar name.  She grew up traveling extensively in music evangelism with her parents and siblings, known to many as The Edwards Family. In 1993, Esther and her husband, Tim, began a full time music ministry of their own.  In 1998, they transitioned to a pastorate in Gratz, PA. Esther's life was full, being a busy mom and pastor's wife. 
In 2004, Esther's loving husband unexpectedly went home to be with Jesus.  Her life took a different turn as she, along with their four precious children, moved back to her home in Indiana.  For the next seven years, she worked from her home as the Deputation Secretary for Evangelistic Faith Missions.  In 2005, she became the co-supervisor of The Steps, Inc., an after-school ministry for kids in Ridgeville, Indiana.  She continues to serve in that capacity today.  
Esther remains active in music ministry with her family, as well.

Esther shares that she loves to spend time with her family which includes her husband, Kenny, children Sharlenae (Phillip) Collingsworth, Brianna (Brian) Plumley, Luke Dotson, and Jillaina Dotson.  

Esther's favorite title these days is "Grammy," and she's soaking up every moment with her new grandson, Noah Timothy Collingsorth. We agree that little Noah is just perfect.   


In the spring, Esther's favorite activity is working outdoors, landscaping and gardening with her family.  She also enjoys reading, bike-riding, and canoeing.  She has a cup of coffee with breakfast every morning (a taste she has acquired since her husband and children are coffee-lovers), and she enjoys eating healthy foods.  Like many of us, Esther finds herself doing a lot more cooking since the children are doing their studies from home!

During this time of quarantine, Esther is primarily focusing on more quality time with her family, taking time to play games and to sing, as well as continuing routine devotional times together.  She's also working on some home projects, and she likes to stay informed with current events by tuning into President Trump's daily White House briefings.

Just this week, Esther shared some insight with us that we would like to pass along to you:

"It is so encouraging to know that NOTHING ever takes God by surprise!  Ultimately, our safety is of the Lord!  '...for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.' (Psalm 4:8)  What peace that brings!  Keeping our focus on the positive things that are happening is healthy for us!  In the midst of this crisis, there are many positive things!  Primarily, PRAYER is going up for America.  It has, no doubt, made a difference!  We do not need to be fearful, just aware, respectful and reasonable with our actions.  God has us in His care!  I love a statement that I recently read:  If a tiny virus can do this much damage, imagine what mustard seed size faith can do!  I will not be surprised that when this is allover, we are going to hear some great faith-building testimonies as to how God worked during this COVID-19 quarantine."

Thank you, Esther, for sharing your heart with us.  We are excited to have your archived message to Women of Worth featured during IHConvention 2020 online!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Curbside Calling and Porch Visits: Pastors' Wives in a Pandemic

- Valorie Quesenberry

This is a very strange time to be in ministry. 
Then again, it’s a very unique time to be in ministry!

Just think, we could have gone our whole lives and never experienced a season quite like this. Our mothers didn’t. Our grandmothers probably didn’t – most of them were not born in 1918. The pastors’ wives who influenced us when we were young girls didn’t. But we have!

Because this is such an unusual time, it is only fitting that God has birthed in us a desire to creatively keep on ministering to our parishioners. At first, it was rather unsettling, wasn’t it? We thought it might only last a Sunday or two. But then, we realized that we were going to be “shut down” for quite a while. Many of us had not done full-blown livestreamed services. Many of us had never had a Zoom meeting. Many of us were comfortable on the internet and social media but never imagined that it would become our primary source of communication and ministry. Our husbands were rattled a bit as they tried to adjust their preaching to a blank screen and did their best to figure out how they could encourage people who  desperately needed a bright hope just when we couldn’t even shake their hands or see them. Some of our churches started to do the drive-in church idea; the Christian community across our nation has adopted this novel way of doing worship – sitting in a parking lot, looking at a raised stage while listening to an FM transmitter or watching a livestream, singing loudly with the windows rolled up and honking the car horn for “amens.” The memories and photos of these days will someday invoke the kind of nostalgia we feel when we look at vintage images from the past. We will always remember the way the Church of Jesus Christ refused to quit and found ways to meet together from a distance. 

But in between Sundays, we have found that we need to connect with our church family. Part of the beauty of being the Body is the relationship with the other members. This has been taken from us in the ways we are accustomed to using. But, many of us have thought and prayed and tried something new. Here are some things that pastors’ wives across the country are doing:

§  Phone calls and texts to check in with families of the church
§  Driveway and porch “visits” with their husbands to encourage and pray with members; one pastor’s wife called it “curbside calling”
§  Schedule of handmade cards of encouragement from church children to elder saints
§  Post cards and cards with handwritten notes to church families
§  Treats and gift cards for bus-ministry families
§  Baked goods like cookies and cinnamon rolls delivered to church families
§  A weekly group ladies’ prayer call
§  Packets for Sunday School children with activities, treats and Easter eggs
§  A picture from each church family shared to a special page on social media
§  A Zoom ladies’ Bible study
§  “Masked” prayers at windows, 
§  Songs and prayers outside the windows at the nursing home
§  Flowers delivered to porches
§  Easter eggs hid in the Sunday school kids’ front yards with treats inside to coordinate  with the day’s lesson. For the adults - packages of Peeps candy with the words, “We miss our” peeps. “

§  Video clips from each family to post to the church Facebook page

All of these innovative ideas are things that none of us, a couple months ago, would have known could have such a huge impact. But it is vital for pastors and pastors’ wives to stay connected, according to the dynamic and needs of their congregation and the limitations of their situation. Not every church needs the same approach. And sometimes we have to try a few ideas before we find the right one. 

Of course, all of us hope that the situation will soon begin to change for the better and we can gradually get back to the “old way” of doing church. Imagine being able to meet as a group again on Sundays and Wednesdays and even on days in between! It might take a little while for the restrictions to ease, but we will celebrate when that big day comes! And I don’t think we’ll ever again be nonchalant about the privilege of gathering together as one Body in one place. 

The joy of heaven will be the eternal and constant presence of our Savior and the never-ending companionship of those we love. We were made for relationship. God remarked about the first man that it was not good for him to be alone. (Genesis 2:18) We are created to be social beings, meant to interact with our Creator and with each other. Sin has stolen from us, over and over again, this gift of relationship. Sin separated the first couple from God, and it isolates us today when we choose it over Him. And sometimes the results of sin in the form of a virus show up to separate us from each other. But over there, in that Land, there will be no separation of any kind. We may be sure of that. 

For now, we are going to overcome these obstacles to ministry with a little creativity and a lot of grace. The One who called us will enable us. And who knows what new skills we may carry into the next season of ministry? After all, God doesn’t waste anything He can use for good in our lives and ministry, even a pandemic.

Thank you to my online pastors’ wives for sharing their ideas with me. 
I love my ministry colleagues!

And, if you’re not a pastor’s wife, just know that YOU can be an encouragement to her! 
During this uncertain time, she has her own set of concerns and stresses. 
A text or phone call or small gift might really make her day.
Together, we can help each other to come smiling and singing through!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Meeting the Children's Ministry Challenge

                                   -Stephanie Burley

One of the most influential ministries of any lively church is its children's ministry.  Countless stories have been written detailing the impact of a praying Sunday School teacher, a concerned bus captain, a passionate kids' club director, or some other caring individual who was willing to give of themselves to touch young lives. 

An important part of any children's ministry is its ability to connect personally with the most vulnerable: the children.  Today we are faced with a new challenge.  Without any warning or time to plan, most churches find themselves disconnected from the children they usually serve.  Social distancing hasn't just taken a week from us.  For most it has been four weeks and counting.  We aren't sure what the future holds.  Many are fearful that summer vacation Bible schools will be held virtually or not at all.  With the uncertainty comes frustration and confusion. What next?

Disadvantaged children from your church's bus ministry may be the most at risk of all during this time.  Child advocacy services are not able to be as involved in their assigned cases during a quarantine.  Parents who are already struggling with drugs and/or alcohol, or are prone to domestic abuse may have an escalation in negative behaviors, leaving children who find church and school to be their "safe place" feeling anxious and alone.

On the other hand, there are children who find themselves in a different set of circumstances.  They may come from a middle class family and have no obvious material or emotional needs.    However, they too have unique disappointments and fears.  Some have watched their parents be laid off from work and have sensed tension in the home due to impending financial pressures.  Some are experiencing difficulty with transitioning from the classroom and not having the teacher as accessible and able to meet their needs.  On and on the list could go, as uncertainty looms.

We know that God is able to give us direction in meeting the needs of the children in our communities and in our churches.  And it isn't really a matter of  "if" we should, rather "how" we will respond when our usual methods are unavailable.  

If you're struggling to decide how to approach this challenge, ask yourself this question - "What message do I need to convey to the children?"  I believe there are three important facts we need to share:

  • God loves you and He is in control.   
  • I am here for you and have not forgotten you.
  • Life will not be like this forever.  
Allison, a 6th grader in Ohio, has received a special envelope in the mail every Friday for the last month.  Her Sunday School teacher has included a handwritten letter and a copy of that week's Sunday School leaflet.  I'm guessing that all the other children in Allison's SS class have received the same communication.  
A Children's Minister's wife in Indiana has been delivering goody bags to the children in the church as a way to connect with them on a personal level.
A Jr. Worship co-teacher, also in Indiana, is using Zoom to visit individually with the children who would normally be in her Sunday services.
Joana Stratton, Children's Ministries Director at Hobe Sound Bible Church, shares that on the Saturday before Easter, they hosted a drive through Easter Egg Hunt for the children.  Additionally, they have created an easily accessible You Tube channel.  Several missionary families join online, and some of the missionary children were able to give a greeting during a recent video!  Another member of the team put together "smile bags" for the children to let them know they are missed, and an online talent show is in the works.  

Whether large or small, each church has a tremendous opportunity to minister to children.  Rather than  allowing this time to pass without any real connection, consider looking over the list of names of the children who are on your church's attendance roster.  Ask God to direct you to the specific need of each home.  Don't be afraid to branch out and try something new.  And don't be afraid to adjust if that new thing doesn't fill the need.  One children's worker attempted a Zoom meeting with her group, and it was challenging.  There were more effective ways for her to connect, and it was beneficial for her to recognize that and change course.  

Decades from now, our church's children will remember these days as defining moments in their lives.  Be bold, be engaged, and be a part of the new thing God is doing!

If you or your church is providing an alternative ministry to children during this time of social distancing, would you take a moment to share in the comments?  Your idea may be a blessing to someone who is looking for an outreach opportunity.
Children's ministry is ministering to a person at the most critical time in their life.                  -Dale Hudson

IHC 2020 Cyber Convention!

Prepare to join us for this exciting online event!

Click here to access IHC 2020!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Navigating an Unexpected Homecoming

                        -Stephanie Burley

For the last couple of years, nothing has been as exciting as planning for the days when our kids could be home from college. Buying a plane ticket is the easiest purchase we make!  Their arrival is highly anticipated, and we maximize every moment we can be together. 

But this time, things are different.  No one wanted this.  No one asked for it. The global pandemic we are currently experiencing finds many of us with a full house as our college students make their way back from closed residence halls. Our hearts ache for our kids as we process the news that they won’t be able to complete the year on campus with all the accompanying activities and opportunities for which they had hoped and planned.

So how can we carefully balance our role as parents to “grown” children while welcoming them back and helping them through this time of transition and possible frustration and even grief?  Consider the following:

  • Set realistic expectations. It may take a few days or even a few weeks to develop a comfortable rhythm.  We should give ourselves much grace during these trying times. Take a deep breath and remember that we are not alone. There are millions of others who are facing new challenges right now and God will walk with us on this new and sometimes difficult path. We should encourage the same for our college kids.  

  • Create reasonable boundaries. Our young adult children need to know that we love them, but they also need to understand that one or both parents, as well as younger siblings, still have work and school schedules, maybe more rigorous than theirs. As an example, staying up half the night may work in the dorm, but it may not promote a healthy transition back into family life. We must function as a unit in order to have a pleasant, happy home, and that likely will mean them relinquishing some of their freedoms. It is in these times that a respectful approach will be of great value.

  • Communicate with mutual respect. As parents, we expect our children to show respect for us and our home.  It’s important that we also communicate respect to our children, no matter their age. Our responses to their behaviors and attitudes say more about us than about them. Our kids need to see Jesus in us, now more than ever!

  • Watch for subtle changes.  Many of our college kids are grieving. They have experienced great losses this semester. If we notice sadness or anger, hopelessness or aimlessness, boredom or anxiety, we shouldn’t ignore those emotions. This is our opportunity to parent them uniquely during one of the most crucial times in their lives.

  • Encourage alternative experiences. Long-anticipated events have been erased from the calendar, but that doesn’t mean life can’t be enjoyed.  In fact, this can be a season of discovery as we are forced to be creative and flexible. Cooking/baking/grilling, photography, music, art, online enrichment classes, games, biking, hiking, nature hunting, and on and on the list could go of activities that we sometimes just can’t find the time to do.  Now may be the perfect opportunity to engage in a few of these as a family. Documenting with journals and pictures will capture the memories for them to share as this story is handed down to their children and grandchildren.

  • Capture the atmosphere.  Home is the safe place. Home eases the pain. Home allows healing. Home keeps us grounded. Moms, we have the opportunity to create this place for our kids who need this so desperately right now.  We can listen without interrupting. We can be present without hovering. And we can make our homes a haven from this storm.  

As we consider the time we’re spending as families, social distancing from the rest of the world, let’s be intentional about making the best of this unexpected opportunity with our most valuable possessions. We’re given this moment. This unplanned, inconvenient, and painfully beautiful moment. It’s in our hands today.

Friday, April 10, 2020

When I Survey

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  -  Galatians 6:14 

The cross still stands outlined in stark relief against the backdrop of time. After all of the books, poems, songs and sermons about it have been exhausted, it still calls to us. The sacrificial death of an innocent in place of the guilty captures the attention of even the most jaded.  It reaches out to us with pierced and blood-stained hands. It begs a response. That, with grateful humility, we sacrifice ourselves and shoulder the weight of a cross of our own to follow the One Who died there.  

Isaac Watts is known as the “Father of English Hymnody.” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” has been said to be the best of his over 700 hymns. It is the hymn that forms the bridge between psalmody and hymnody as the common practice for congregational worship.  

Watts was born in England and raised in a family of Dissenters. His rigid deacon father disciplined him for constantly composing verses.  One time, after several warnings, Isaac received a spanking for his rhyming, to which he responded woefully, “Oh, father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make." He disliked the strict and awkward metrical psalms that were sung for congregational worship at the time, so when he complained about them, his father rather sarcastically told him to come up with his own.  That comment launched Watts’ hymn writing career.  

Although Isaac was frail and sickly, he was highly intelligent, training in Greek, French, Latin and Hebrew.  He became a pastor, but soon left the ministry because of illness.  He lived the final years of his life as an invalid, continuing to write his many hymns.  

Watts had very specific goals for his hymns. He wanted them to parallel the theme of the sermon, to be evangelical in nature, and to reflect personal experience, not just a recounting of past events.  He wrote about Old Testament events in light of the truth of Christ.  His texts were composed to fit the most common meters, allowing them to be sung to a variety of tunes, and almost all of his lines expressed a complete thought. This was important because at that time, the song leader would “line out,” the songs in such a way that the leader would sing a phrase, and the congregation would repeat it.  

Published in 1707, in Watts’ first book of hymns, “When I Survey,“ appeared titled, “Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ,” under the topic “Prepared for the Holy Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.” The song employed poetic devices that contribute to its power, such as oxymoron, paradox, and rhetorical questions. It is a song, like its subject, that insists upon a response.  It is interesting to note that the pledges at the end of the song - “my soul, my life, my all,” were formerly vows that were required before entering monastic life.

Typical of a Watts’ hymn, the words have been sung to several hymn tunes. The most commonly used are HAMBURG, written by Lowell Mason in 1824, based on a Gregorian chant; and ROCKINGHAM, composed by Edward Miller in 1790.

Often in our eagerness to rush to the victory of the empty tomb, it’s easy to neglect a full embrace of the bitter beauty and aching love displayed at the cross. We need to sit and grieve its terrible costliness, and the sin that caused it. There, God proves that there is no length to which He is unwilling to go to win our hearts. His passionate pursuit of us cost Him everything, a price He willingly paid. So, we don’t just celebrate an unoccupied grave. With full hearts, we also commemorate the avenue that Jesus took to get there. And the only response that proves our grateful sincerity echoes these words that Isaac Watts penned so long ago:

When I survey the wondrous cross 
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss. 
And pour contempt on all my pride.  

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Resources:  www.challies.com - “Hymn Stories:  When I Survey.”  Tim Challies.  www.hymnswelove.blogspot.com -  “The Story Behind When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Liz Tolsma.  www.reasonabletheology.org - “Hymn Story:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Clayton Kraby.  www.sermonaudio.com - “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  www.sermonwriter.com - “Hymn Story:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  Richard Niell Donovan.  www.umcdiscipleship.org - “History of Hymns:  “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Rachel Tillay.

- Joy Barnett