Growing Up

By Colleen Mahannah, Baby Bay Director, NewSpring Church

ColleenMahannahGrowing up, all I wanted to be was a mom and eventually a grandma. I didn’t have any glamorous ideas of professional jobs or high-dollar careers. All I wanted to be was a mommy. My own mother was a great example to me. I started babysitting my brothers, cousins, neighborhood kids and family friends’ kids at a very young age.

When I first got married (going on 37 years ago), I couldn’t wait for us to start a family. Then when things happened we hadn’t expected and some time went by, I began to question, “Is it God’s plan for me to be a mom or not?” I clung onto Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) which says  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And I kept hoping that His plans included me being a mom –somehow, someway.

Then God begin to bless us. Over eight years we had five children–including a set of twins! Although I got my wish to be a mom, life didn’t quite go the way I had hoped. We couldn’t afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom. I worked outside the home as a bank loan secretary. I had a boss one time who was a very career oriented woman. She just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. She couldn’t grasp the fact that all I wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom. She felt you had to have a career to be something important. She was a mom, but felt the career made her complete. That wasn’t how I felt though.

Eventually (when our fourth child was almost a year old) I was able to open a home daycare, which was the next best thing to being a stay-at-home mom. So for almost 25 years, I was able to stay home with my kids, but also watch other people’s children. I’ve totally lost count of how many children I watched over the years (I kind of wish now that I had kept better track). I did eventually get an Early Childhood Degree – not that I felt I needed the education to complete me, but in hopes it would help me to be a better childcare provider. If this was what God had planned for me, I wanted to have the knowledge to be the best I could be.

In church, I would volunteer in the nursery and other children’s ministries. Just as my parents did, I wanted my children to grow up to know Jesus. I began teaching them at home but also wanted them to learn in church. We were members of a small church (similar to what I grew up in) from almost the beginning. Then in the fall of 2000, we came to NewSpring (at the time it was called Messiah). Shortly after joining the church, I started volunteering. In 2006 I joined the children’s ministry staff. Now I am blessed to be a part of a fantastic children’s ministry in an ever-growing, amazing church, and am delighted to be the nursery director. I just realized that I have been doing this for almost 10 years. Wow! Time flies.

Sometimes I find it rather funny, that growing up, all I wanted to be was a stay-at-home mommy. And God blessed me with five awesome children. This is one very proud mama. I am a grandmother now of six and more on the way. AND I also get to care for and love other people’s children. First in the home daycare and now at church in the nursery. I pray that they all grow up to know Jesus.

In Baby Bay and Adventure Avenue this month, we are learning that God has a plan for you and God’s plan is always best. The route my life has taken hasn’t been quite the one I thought it would be as I was growing up. As the Bible story of Joseph demonstrates, there are trials we may (will) have to go through before God’s plan is revealed to us. God has a plan for me (you) and that His plan has been (is) best. Not only have I been blessed and honored to be a mommy, but also an “adopted” mom and “adopted” grandma to many other children over the years.

When my oldest son joined the Marines and went on two tours in Iraq, the verse that I hung onto was Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (It’s still one of my favorite verses.)

So when things aren’t going quite the way “you” had planned, or not going the way you thought they would growing up; and whenever you wonder what God’s plan is, just keep hoping and trusting in Him. He does have plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11) and He will be with you all the way (Joshua 1:9). God’s plan is always best.

More Than Just Stories

By Ashleigh Bryan, Adventure Avenue Assistant Director, NewSpring Church

5_AshleighCloseUp (2)Kids are some of the coolest people on the planet. They believe in possibility. They are not limited by reality or logic or any of the other things that we at some point possess as adults. Their minds are open to anything.

For instance, when we tell a Bible story, it is so much more than a story. For them, the stories didn’t happen a long time ago, but just the other day, and they were there to witness it. They were there when Daniel triumphantly came out of the lions’ den unharmed, giving glory to God. They were there, watching, when David slung a rock and hit Goliath in the head, defeating a giant and winning a battle. They sneaked along with the spies as they went into the city of Jericho and hid with Rahab, believing that God would take care of them, even in the face of their enemies. They don’t just hear stories about biblical heroes, but they live the stories, right along with those heroes, and then they implement those stories in their everyday lives.

Just the other day, during the weekend, we had a superhero who was having trouble being brave. As the actor was saying her lines, I heard the kids begin to shout out, and I almost reminded them to be quiet, but then I heard what they were saying. They were saying, “Be brave! God is with you!” “You don’t have to be afraid because God will help you!” “God can help you be brave!” They were boldly and fearlessly proclaiming the truth of who God is, and they weren’t scared that it would make the conversation awkward. They weren’t worried if the person believed the same things they did or not. They weren’t concerned about losing a friend. To them, it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about whether they were telling their friend, a grown-up, a stranger, or even a superhero, who wasn’t supposed to be scared of anything. To them, it was about seeing someone who needed help, and calling on the One who is the everlasting source of help and hope. It was no longer about what we told them in the Bible story, or about repeating a phrase over and over again. It had become something they could hold on to, something that could help them, something they believed in. And they knew that if they believed in it and if it could help them, then it could help someone else, too. And these were preschoolers.

This is what is so exciting about watching them grow up. Today they are learning how to be brave during a thunderstorm so that later they can be brave when God calls them to the tremendous purpose He has for their lives. Today they are learning how to stand up for what they believe in so that in college, when someone challenges their faith, they will be able to stand firm. Today they are learning that everyone is made by God and loved by God so that tomorrow they can fight for what matters.

Working with kids is always an adventure. I am inspired by their imaginations, encouraged by their faith, and amazed by their potential. And it might be cliché, but they really do teach me more than I could ever teach them:

They are helping me believe for the impossible.
They are reminding me how awesome our God is.
They are teaching me how to have a childlike faith.

There’s this quote by Rabindranath Tagore that I love: “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

When I hear a kid recite their memory verse, or watch some of them go out of their way to include another child, or comfort a child who misses their parents, I am reminded of this. Kids are our everyday reminder that God is love, He hasn’t given up, and He is still doing great things.

Champions

Written by Daniel Mahannah, Middle School Pastor, NewSpring Church

DanielMahannah“We are the champions, my friend.” Sing it with me, “and we’ll keep on fighting to the end.” Don’t you love that song?  Some of us weren’t alive in 1977 when the song was written by Freddie Mercury and recorded and performed by British rock band Queen.  But we still know the song because it has not only became a worldwide success, but it remains to this day among rock music’s most recognizable anthems. Everyone loves that song, especially at sporting events. And who hasn’t imagined that song playing in the background as the soundtrack to our lives during great moments of victory. It’s a classic.

I think we enjoy that song because it speaks to our heartfelt desire to be champions. We like winning: sports games, board games, dance competitions, raffles, races, bets, arguments, debates, relationships The list goes on and on. Winning is important to all of us in some fashion. All of us desire to proclaim, “We are the champions.” I’m sure there are studies that analyze why human beings desire to win, but I think it’s just natural. I think it’s been hardwired in us to want to succeed – to be champions. But, maybe we were meant for more than just winning at sports games and debates.

According to dictonary.com, the word “champion” is defined this way: “a person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place.” That’s a pretty basic, self-explanatory definition. However, there were four more definitions after that and the fourth and fifth definitions add so much more weight to the word “champion.” Take a look: “a person who fights for or defends any person or cause” and “a fighter or warrior.” That’s the kind of champion I want to be.

As a middle school pastor, I feel the weight of the word “champion.” Middle school students are in a phase of life that is so often misunderstood and misrepresented. They are in a season of life that’s full of discovery, changes, and difficulty. Every day is different from the last and they are trying to find their way. They are making decisions that will shape the rest of their life – and most of the time they don’t even know it. They need and desire to know that they matter and that they have a purpose. They need positive Godly influences in their life that can help affirm their personal journey. What do they a really need? A champion. They don’t need to be a champion – but someone to be their champion. They need someone who’s more than just a first place winner in a series of competitions. They need a person who is fighting for them and defending their phase of life. A fighter. A warrior.

As a middle school pastor, that’s what I get to do. I work along with an amazing team of staff and volunteers and we get to be champions for middle school students. I don’t mean that we are champions in their eyes, but we are fighting for them and their phase of life. It’s our desire that middle school students are told over an over again that their phase of life matters. Middle school is not just a waiting period for the rest of life – it’s probably the most important phase of a person’s life and we don’t want to miss it. And we especially don’t want them to miss it. Middle school matters.

I think that most of us truly desire to be that kind of champion, the kind that is fighting for something significant in this world. That kind of champion understands that life is really all about Jesus Christ. After all, wasn’t Jesus the ultimate champion, in every sense of the word? He not only defeated sin and death, but he fought for us. He championed His greatest creation – us.

I want to model what Jesus did. I want to fight for students like Jesus fought for humanity. I want to be a champion. Do you? I think you do. So, let’s be champions together. Let’s fight for our kids and students, families and friends. Let’s champion their causes and phases of life. Let’s make an eternal impact in the lives of those around us. Let’s fight for people so they can come to know who Jesus is. Let’s be champions!

Impressionable

Written by Karla Stinson, Adventure Avenue Director

KarlaStinsonMy daughter recently gave me a beautiful vase she made in her advanced ceramics class at high school. It was fired in a smoky blue glaze and hand-stamped with the first part of my favorite verse: Trust in The Lord with all your heart.  (Proverbs 3:5)  It came on my birthday and was full of colorful fall flowers that my family gave me. I loved it!

As I stared at the detail of her finished work, I could picture her sitting at the wheel looking at the initial pile of clay.  I recently visited her work room at school, and was invited to come throw a creation of my own, even though it had been over 20 years since I took a ceramics class in college.  I remember how she helped me mix the powder and water in the pug mill until the right consistency was met. Then we each sat down with our kneaded pile of clay, and I learned how to center it on the wheel.  As my foot pressed the pedal and the wheel began spinning, my hands became covered in the wet clay that I hoped would become something of value. But as I tried to remember the technique I learned so many years ago, I soon realized I needed guidance. By the end of the hour, I had failed at my attempt to create what was sitting in my head.

vase2 vase

But now my vision is back to her, sitting at the wheel preparing to create what would soon produce a huge smile on my face. Her hands press tightly around the unformed mound.  The wheel begins to turn and the pile of wet clay is transformed, wide at first, and then pulled upward and out again to form a rim.  She painstakingly bends over to shape every curve with her fingers and when the wheel stops, she works carefully to remove the vase with her tools. But she’s not finished yet, because now she begins the process of carefully imprinting the letters around the outside before the clay hardens.  32 letters in all; all pressed with precision and care.  Then she waits. She waits for her teacher to fire her creation, so once it’s complete, she can apply the glaze. Then, it’s fired a second time. When the cooling is over, she sees the finished work she has completed and smiles.
I’ve often heard the analogy of how God is the potter and we are the clay, and it’s true when people say that we are His vessels. But looking at my daughter’s irreplaceable vase, I now see things from a little different perspective. I see my daughter as the clay, myself as the potter, and my God as the teacher. I see her when she was a new-born baby, all limp and needing to be held a special way. I see her as a four-year old, with an “I can do it” attitude. I see her in elementary school, forming her own identity and beliefs. I see her in middle school,  pulling away and moving up in the world. And I see her now as a Senior in high school, about to graduate, still growing in her faith and trying to figure out who she will become.
God has allowed me to be her mom, and there’s nothing more impressionable in a child’s life than a parent. Sometimes we feel like failures, and we may see our attempts at parenting much like I did when I tried my hand at ceramics a few months ago.  For the most part, though, we stick with it. We learn from our mistakes (and there are many) and we press on with God’s help. And while our journey of parenthood really never ends, there is that moment when we look at our child, thank God for His guidance, and realize how beautiful she has become.
With Your very own hands You formed me.  Now breathe your wisdom over me so I can understand You. When they see me waiting, expecting Your word, those who fear You will take heart and be glad.  I can see now, God, that Your decisions are right; Your testing has taught me what’s true and right. Psalm 119:73-74 (The Message)

Work in Progress

As I promised last week in my blog post I am having my staff doing some guest blogging on my site. I am so blessed to work with some of the most passionate and creative people on the planet. Over the next few weeks you will have a opportunity to get to know them and their heart for the things of God.

Written by Jesse Mahannah, Elementary School Pastor, NewSpring Church

JesseMahannahWe bought a house! My wife and I are first-time home buyers and we found the perfect house that had literally everything on our wish list. Well…almost. Everything except a working bathroom…and okay, maybe a functional kitchen…and it did have wood floor but it had to be refinished. Alright, so we may have bought a fixer-upper! Of course most people would say that renovating is a lot of work. Now throw in our 18-month-old, high-energy, all-attitude, do-it-herself, miss-independent of a daughter and you have an interesting combination. But the amount of work ahead of us didn’t slow us down, we dove straight in! You can blame ambition or ignorance, but either way we were excited about a reno project we could work on together.

It might sound weird to get excited about sheetrock and sawdust, and I guess it kind of is, but I think it honestly is a little bit bigger than the renovation. I don’t know if I could’ve nailed down exactly what got us so excited about the prospect of a large project to begin with, but as we’ve continued working I think I understand a little bit more now where our excitement comes from. One time in particular stands out to me. For me to work on the house safely, my wife would entertain our daughter in what would eventually be her bedroom with a baby gate separating both of them from the worksite warzone. This particular time however, Elizabeth, our daughter, thought the best use of her time would be to stand at the baby gate, shaking it back and forth, and yelling “Daddy” at the top of her lungs over and over again. While endearing, I knew that she was ready to run through the house yelling and having fun. That was one of the harder parts of working with Elizabeth; she wanted to run through the house and it just wasn’t ready for her yet. That was hard for her to understand.

As I cut the sheetrock, there was a moment of clarity for me that seems to accompany most of my parenting. My first thought was, “Even though this is frustrating for her, I can’t wait when everything is finished for her.” And then I thought, “I wonder if this is how God feels?” I laughed to myself. See, my wife and I had dreamed about this home for years. We had talked about every detail, debating pros and cons for hours. For Elizabeth it was just too hard to picture. (I should probably cut her a break–she’s only 18 months old!) She didn’t see that the old carpet would be replaced with a finished hardwood that would be fun to slip and slide on in her socks. She didn’t see the spot by the crumbling closet where her toy chest would sit. She didn’t see the place underneath the drafty window that would be perfect for Mommy and Daddy to read to her before bed. She couldn’t see it yet. And that was okay. I laughed at the image it must look like for God when I get upset at something that’s really just a work in progress. It’s probably similar to a toddler shaking a baby gate.

See sometimes I ask God questions about messes in my life and I’m quite sure that my Heavenly Father can’t help but smile and think, “He just can’t quite see it yet.” I’m positive that there are times when I stand at what I see as an impenetrable obstacle and scream and holler and God waits on the other side preparing something amazing for me. I know from experience that those moments when I feel like I’m the messiest I’ve ever been and can never be cleaned up, he has a plan to make me more like his Son. Just as it was true for the prophet Jeremiah it’s true for me and you that “before [God] formed you in the womb [he] knew you” (Jer. 1:5).

Don’t get frustrated that you can’t see God’s plan; he’s been planning it for years. And don’t get frustrated if you or your kids or your life seems to be a mess. It’s like Paul told the Philippians to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Ph. 1:6).

What stood out to me that day wasn’t just the realization that God has a plan for me. It was the joy that accompanies my plan for Elizabeth. I’m not excited about sheetrock dust and late nights working just because I’m glutton for punishment. I’m excited to prepare a place just right for my daughter and my wife. How much more excited should I be that my Heavenly Father doesn’t just have a plan for me, but for Sarah and Elizabeth as well and for you too? That’s what I love about NewSpring Church. We don’t act like we’ve got it all together. And in KidzWorld we most certainly understand that you and your kids are going to have good days and bad days. Our thrill is when we can come alongside families and help them–help them see that their Heavenly Father is absolutely nuts about them and that he has a plan that is perfect for them! And even though there are going to be messes or surprises that might not be part of the design, our Heavenly Father is well equipped to handle all of our works in progress.