LOOK HERE for recipes, quotes, music, books, environmental stewardship, faith, etc

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to Prevent Burnout in Ministry

I was recently interviewed by CalledToYouthMinistry.com about thinking about and preparing for how to avoid burnout as the school year begins. The roundtable discussion is found here.

But I'll give my full responses below. I pray for any of you who read this and are in youth ministry and say, Slow and steady stays in the race. Give these disciplines a high priority. Just like the safety drill on the airplane tells you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others, it's crucial to maintain persistent self-care in order to be truly available to others.

Here goes!

"Don't Burnout This Time Around - How to Prepare for a New Year of Ministry."


A new year of ministry is ahead. It's exciting... and intimidating. How do you plan on dealing with burnout this year?

I have practiced 4 things that have sustained me very well. I suffered major burnout in my 3rd year of vocational ministry, nearly crashed out of ministry, and mentors helped learn how to apply these important habits to foster sustainable ministry:

  • consistent (as in weekly) days off; 
  • Sabbath-keeping (learning how the Bible and church history understands it); 
  • scheduled vacations that focused on rest and recreation, not just exhausting adventure.
  • keeping track of how many weekends I am expected or asked to be gone, and saying no to things so that I am not gone more than one weekend per month.

What situations tend to really make you feel burned out? How do you deal with them?

I am burned out mostly by three things:

1. running events, which require the management of loads of details, demand constant flexibility and adaptability, and run the risk of being amazingly successful or dreadfully horrible! I know how to run events rather well, but did not realize that so many plates spinning at once create a great deal of stress for me. If I'm not careful to allow some margin between events, I rapidly lose steam and become short-tempered and quite unpleasant.

2. camp, which is just about the most effective tool we have in youth ministry, but absolutely exhausts me now that I'm older (I'm 51). As I got older, I realized I just needed more boundaries in my work with students. In other words, I needed more personal space to sleep well and recuperate from the never-ending line-up of activities, conversations, lousy food, dirt and dust, and spiritual intensity. After the age of 40 I worked with the camps to allow for me to stay in a room by myself. The leaders, all much younger by and large, were very supportive and understanding. Having a separate room allowed for me to have meetings with leaders and offered a space for them to get some rest as well.

3. crisis and conflict, which are obviously draining. I have found that these events sometimes come in clusters, and cumulatively create a massive need for recovery as I seek to be available to students, families, friends, etc.

To really stay refreshed, our walk with the Lord needs to stay healthy. What advice would you give the youth leader that's dealing with burnout to keep their foundation strong?

I think that my response to the first question mostly addresses this one too. However, I would add that huge chunk of the problem is due to a lack of clarity in regard to job descriptions and time management. Most youth workers lack clear expectations in terms of what there job actually is, and even if they have a realistic job description, this information is not shared with parents, who then place their own uninformed demands on the youth ministry. Furthermore, I have found that the majority of those in vocational ministry (not just youth pastors, but senior pastors are equally guilty) do a terrible job of managing their time well. They are reactive and crisis-orientated, giving in to the "tyranny of the urgent," rather than focusing on healthy, proactive projects and priorities.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reading Is Fundamental

I grew up with this motto ringing in my ears at school and on TV (when I wasn't watching Gilligan's Island or Schoolhouse Rock.) As the daughter of a junior high English teacher mom and a dad who majored in political science and philosophy, my home was filled with books and a lot of public television. One summer we moved, and rather than try to make friends in my neighborhood, I hunkered down in my room and read an entire set of children's encyclopedia. (Feel free to roll your eyes.)

Nevertheless, I have never shaken the reading bug. And I have confessed to more than one friend that I believe I enjoy owning books as much as reading them... But my good friends Jason and Nancy convinced me this spring to give in and buy a Kindle. While I am certainly not weaned of books entirely, I have found it to be pretty darn great to know that by tucking one slim little device in my bag that I have a wealth of options at my fingertips..

This week only hardened my resolve to persevere in my reading addiction as I read this article from Harvard Business Review (HBR), whose title had me at hello: For Those Who Want to Lead, Read. There is so much great material in its two brief pages, take a few minutes and read it yourself. But these words break my heart:
The National Endowment for the Arts (PDF) has found that "[r]eading has declined among every group of adult Americans," and for the first time in American history, "less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature."
Combine that with this next section:
This is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced. Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.
In this "third half" of my career I am focusing my energies more and more on leadership development. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity through the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA to focus on the investment and growth of young leaders through our summer interns program; even more I am stoked about the advent of the Center for Transformational Leadership, which I am helping to direct. These, along with some teaching and speaking opportunities starting this fall, make me want to pinch myself -- I must be dreaming!

The HBR article states some obvious but significant benefits from regular reading and how it broadens the capacity for leadership: improved intelligence, innovation, insight, increased vocabulary. And I heartily agree that it is also a fantastic stress-reducer, and love hearing that it is an apparent way to fend off Alzheimer's! Who knew?

So I am frequently asking others what they are reading. I don't know about you, but I always have a few books going at once. Here's my latest list:

  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I mentioned this one earlier in the summer. Slow and steady wins the race here, I pray. It started with Caedmon's Hymn from the 7th century, and I've progressed to the 16th century. That's something, right? More importantly, I am really enjoying it. Poetry is not something to be rushed.
  • A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Congregations by Daniel Rodriguez. I just finished this this week. I cannot recommend this book enough. It expresses the reality of church ministry in Southern California. Our denomination has eight languages being used in our churches, so I'm looking for any insights I can gain in what it means to minister and develop leaders interculturally.
  • Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service by Stephen Seamands. This was recommended to me by Telford Work, chair of the Religious Studies department at Westmont College. I'm going to use it in a class I'm teaching on internships for the department this fall. It is outstanding, practical, readable and theologically solid.
  • The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. This one has been recommended to me by two different people. I'm just getting ready to start it. I do not know if it's a function of my age or calling, but as my vision for leadership development sharpens I find I am moving from adolescents to college students and young adults. I have had the "now what?" conversation with recent college graduates a few hundred times, so I am really looking forward to hearing from someone else on this subject.
  • The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky. To relax, I opt for narrative non-fiction over fiction, but I found this book neglected in my room the other day and decided I need to give it a whirl. How can I go wrong with Dostoevsky??
As I said, I love to hear what others are reading and why... Comments?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Claire 2.0

Today marks two years since we lost Claire. I have not gotten used to her absence, or forgotten about her. I still cry if I hear any songs from her favorite musical Wicked, and little things set me off: blooming roses, succulents overflowing out of a bowl, an olive-colored sweater, a silver bracelet that she gave me, anyone with shiny red hair.

This morning I met for breakfast with two friends who knew her well. We scanned over the menu at Cajun Kitchen and imagined what she would have ordered... would it have been an egg-white scramble or oatmeal? We couldn't decide for sure. Then we started telling stories, some that made us sigh, some that made us laugh hard.

While we each had years of memories with Claire before the cancer really took hold, it is sad to say that the strongest memories are still from her years of steep decline. We can laugh and cry at the same time when we think about how hard it was for her to speak in the last year, or how she insisted on doing things for herself when she was well past the ability to do so. We each remembered going over her multiple medications with her, learning their complex purposes and side effects. Each of us shuddered as we recounted different ordeals at the ER and the hospital.

Despite the strong visual recollections of scars and thinned out hair from treatments and IV's and glassy eyes after seizures that stay with me, coupled with the even more powerful memories of that hospital smell, I am still able to cling to the essence of Claire, and how I was changed by knowing her. I could share so many different experiences with her, but here is a significant one.

After her first extended stay in the hospital due to that first cataclysmic seizure at the end of school in 2000, she had received a huge number of cards, flowers, stuffed animals, balloons and plants. Don't forget, she was a beloved teacher at Santa Barbara Christian School at that point, not to mention an incredible youth ministry leader with me and all-around friend to so many.

I didn't quite know how we would get all those the gifts packed up. Cam was back at work (and they weren't married yet), so I offered to take her home. I admit I was tempted to say, Claire, can we just throw away the cards, crayon-decorated banners and droopy daisies? but I knew better. She valued every item to the hilt and was going to give them the attention she felt they deserved. We slowly peeled every card taped on the wall, gently groomed the flowers of their dead leaves, and straightened up the potted plants that had been jammed in the corner. We piled each item carefully onto a large cart that the hospital provided.

Of course I then wondered how we would successfully navigate the various doorways, elevators and long hallways with all of this stuff! But I had nothing to worry about. Because the next thing that Claire did took my breath away. As I tried to manhandle the cart down the hall onto the elevator (I let her take a balloon, being the nice person that I was) she just smoothly slid into my place and took over the cart. From there she took a VERY slow lap around the entire floor. She stopped for each orderly, each technician, each janitor and each nurse... whom she each knew BY NAME, mind you... and thanked them for their care. THEN she looked over her ridiculous haul of gifts and would specifically select a plant or flower that she deemed to be just right for that person. Once we had made the entire circuit, she then made sure that there were some things left for those who were not on this shift. Finally, she reserved the most beautiful plant for her favorite nurse, who started crying.

Claire the Patient became Claire the Fairy Godmother. I know it sounds crazy, but she seriously brought so much joy and smiles and love to the people who labored on the cancer ward at Cottage Hospital. She blessed their hard work and redeemed it. And in the years to come, as many of them remained through her multiple visits back there, she continued to remember their names, showering blessings and asking about their families.

Who does that??

I noted earlier that something that always makes me think of Claire are succulents. While she was a master gardener, she always tended several bowls and pots of succulents, arranging them in fantastic ways that were like works of art. Personally I love succulents because they are so easy to take care of (and let's be honest, so hard to kill!).

But I think that succulents are great metaphors that capture the beauty of Claire... Succulents survive in the desert; similarly, Claire was sturdy under incredible and unending duress. Succulents are uniquely beautiful, and while characters like Howdy Doody and Pippi Longstocking make fun of people with freckles and red hair, Claire was an absolute knockout. Succulents thrive on little water and soil and demand little attention; even near the end of her life, when she had lost the ability to communicate, walk or dress herself, she was still a hostess and earnest friend, constantly wanting to know how you were doing.

Claire, we miss you, we remember you often, we have been changed by knowing you. As I said at your memorial, quoting from Changed for Good:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Poetry Plunge ~ Discipline and Dessert

I'm here to say that I have not neglected the Poetry Plunge that that I started in early July. Am I taking a long time to get going? That's a question of perspective. During a week where I sat glued to my TV marveling at the Olympic sprinters, I'm also remembering the beauty of slowing down by reading poetry.

Take a moment to consider what poetry teaches us:
For me, poetry is a practice that is helping me begin to slow down and become more attentive. Learning to read a poem carefully trains us to pay extraordinary attention to the sounds and images of language that we might easily overlook in our haste. It is not surprising, given the value that our culture places on speed and efficiency, that poetry is not a particularly popular art-form these days; poetry books for instance are very rarely bestsellers. Poems offer us an invitation to abide with their words. (In Defense of Poetry, C. Christian Smith)
Rather than be frustrated by how I don't "get" poetry in the first reading, I'm slowly learning that it's opaqueness is drawing me in, trying to get me to crack the code. This happened as I read this one by George Herbert.

Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angel's age,
        God's breath in man returning to his birth,
        The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
    The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

    Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
        Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
        The six days world-transposing in an hour,
    A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

    Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
        Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
    Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
        The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

        Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
        The land of spices, something understood.

At first glance, I quickly skip over "angel's age," but land on "the soul in paraphrase." Those four words are so lovely, I just stop and roll them over my tongue, at the same time realizing I don't even know what is the subject of the poem. Ah - prayer! Now I'm hooked. What a perfect description of prayer. Tell me more!

"Heart in pilgrimage." Yes. "Engine against th' Almighty." Hmm. This makes me scratch my head. Which I am now discovering is a good thing. S-l-o-w-l-y I work it out... prayer is where I also get angry and impatient with God, questioning and doubting and venting, an "engine" fighting against Him, but also engaging Him, much like the "reversed thunder" in the next line. On and on it goes...

George Herbert lived from 1593-1633, not even seeing his 40th birthday as he died of tuberculosis. He was an Anglican priest who was the rector at a little parish called Fugglestone St Peter (how priceless is that?). Richard Baxter, a well-known Puritan pastor, said of him, "Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books." I would want such things said of me.

More importantly, I can say that this poem was not just a nice diversion. It changed me. I learned something as I was challenged to think about prayer in new ways. As Mr. Smith says later in his essay quoted above,
Like a rich and carefully crafted dessert, one must savor a poem in order to enjoy it fully—its images, its context, its sounds. A good poem is hospitable, inviting us to sit for awhile and enter into a conversation. Poetry, however, does not come naturally for us in our times; it is a discipline to which we must commit ourselves. 
Thus I plunge forward, continuing to savor the new flavors and old ones forgotten. Try it yourself. It's worth the effort.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's Cookin'? (Arroz Negrito Otra Vez)

I posted this recipe last year around this time, but made it again tonight, with two unique changes.

I got the idea for the changes from the Here & Now podcast on NPR. The cook they interviewed talked about (I kid you not) milking the corn when you cut off the kernels. After I got over how crazy it sounded, I realized I had to try it.

Additionally, I took her advice and chopped the leftover cob into 4 big chunks and threw them into the mix as it cooked to suck every tasty flavor out of it before I threw it out.

I'm happy to say a hearty yesssssss! to these changes. The sweetness of the "corn milk" was apparent, yet the kernels still popped with good summer flavor.

Arroz Negrito makes me happy in so many ways... it reminds of my beloved trips to Guatemala with students, it tastes FANTASTIC on homemade corn tortillas, and it leaves you with leftovers that might just taste even better than the first round.

Serves 4

1 cup of white or brown rice
1 tbsp of oil
1 onion, chopped
minced garlic - the more the merrier
1 can black beans - drain the liquid into a measuring cup
1 small can diced green chiles - drain off fluid and add to black bean liquid
1 chopped green pepper (leave in chunky pieces)
1 chopped zucchini
1 tsp of chicken or vegetable bouillon
1 tbsp diced cilantro
1 tsp dried oregano
1 corn on the cob (follow the instructions for "milking the corn" from the link above - it's easy)
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste


Sauté the garlic and onion directly in the rice cooker by turning it to "cook." Continue till onion is slightly translucent.

Add rice, the bouillon, spices, and the rest of vegetables.

Mix together until it all starts to clump together. At this point add the beans. Stir together.

Add enough water into measuring cup of bean, tomato & chile water until it makes 2 cups of water. Put this water into rice cooker. Stir well.

Cover and cook!

Serve warm and garnish with pico de gallo, salsa, sour cream, sliced avocado... use either as a filling for burritos or soft tacos, or just piping hot in a bowl! And here's the recipe for my homemade corn tortillas.

Other possible vegetables to include:

1 can of diced tomatoes - use fluid from that to add to black bean water (I did that tonight - ¡perfecto!)

diced cabbage