hate mail

I am about to share the best advice I’ve ever received.

It’s not complex.

In fact, it’s really quite simple.

But it’s profound.

Are you ready for it?

“Do things for people…expecting nothing in return.” 

It was my very first time to co-lead a week long summer camp for 200+ junior high students. I was fresh in youth ministry, but I was zealous. For weeks I labored planning games, activities, bus lists, room lists, PowerPoint presentations – you name it. And the week was nothing short of miraculous. Students committed their lives to Christ, new friendships were formed, and well – no one died. Altogether, a great success.

A week later I was in the church office picking up the mail.

And that’s when I read it-

My first “hate mail” from a parent. We ran out of pizza the first night of camp and her 6th grade son went hungry. He didn’t tell anyone. And she was not happy. He would never be returning to the youth group.

Another letter brought complaints about the sunburn her child came home with because his counselor forgot to apply sunscreen to him at regular intervals. How could we let this happen? They would be leaving the church.

Scratching my head, I turned the envelopes over to make sure they had been sent to the correct church.

“Surely we didn’t both just get back from the same camp?” 

“Do they have any idea how much time I put into preparation for camp?”

“Do they know how much sleep I forfeited taking care of their children last week?”

“I do so much for these students and the parents don’t even notice.”

I remember I used to do youth ministry (and life) with this mindset. Give and you will receive. Love and you’re sure to be loved back. But, that’s not reality is it? Reality doesn’t coddle you that way.

Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, one of the hardest things is watching people leave the church your dad pastors and go to a new one. Why? Because it feels like you’re being replaced. Because so may times it was your family who stood by their side in the hospital waiting room while praying for a miracle. It was your mom who walked with that woman through her divorce. Because it was Dad who prayed with their dying grandfather. Try as you may, it’s just hard not to take it personal.

I used to think that loving a person with a pure heart meant that he or she “owed” me something. But that’s not how Jesus loved.

For three and a half years, Jesus hung out with Judas ALL THE WHILE knowing Judas would betray and turn Him over to the authorities. Jesus washed Peter’s dirty feet (something only a slave would do) knowing that Peter would later pretend like he never even knew Jesus. That’s real.true.love. Love which doesn’t think of itself. And that’s freeing.

To love while expecting nothing in return doesn’t mean you will avoid being hurt. Your husband might still be untrue to you. You best friend might still vanish without a word. You might be lied to or replaced. But the difference is, you won’t be bitter. Because you didn’t love to be loved in return; you didn’t give to receive.

You loved because Jesus told you to. And you loved the way He loved. There’s no shame in that.

“He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and give his life…” Mark 10:45

i’m praying for you

James 5:16 “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

This weekend I went to see Water For Elephants (great movie), and I ran into one of the students who graduated from the Rock Youth Ministry two years back. We caught up and laughed, but she made it a point to repeatedly tell me, “I just want you to know I’ve been praying for you.”

As Christians, we almost overuse this phrase – “I’ll pray for you.” Honestly, there have been times I’ve said it just to shut someone up so I can hurry up and get out of church and get to lunch. It’s the “brush off” comment that seems to finish up conversations and cover all the bases.

BUT, this year, I can’t even begin to count how many people have texted, facebooked, emailed or looked straight into my eyes and said to me, “I’m praying for you.” It hasn’t been a “brush off”, but people legitimately having compassion for my situation and praying for me. I don’t even feel worthy to have so many people consistently praying for me. It’s really humbling – who am I to have so many care?

So this post is simply to tell all those people, whether I know you or not, whether you’ve said a 30 second prayer or 7 months worth of prayers – T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U. It’s not always easy growing up as a Pastor’s daughter. It seems as though people watch my every move and expect me to be perfect. It’s frustrating “sharing” my father with 2,000 other people (who all seem to always “need” him) since I was 11. It’s rips your heart out when people come to the church only to leave a year later. It’s sad when the media lies. It hurts when people believe those lies. Sometimes, it’s just plain hard to hold your head up and keep going with so many people judging you and your family.

BUT, it’s all worth it for times like these – when you realize that an entire church family loves you, and is holding you up in prayer. And the Bible says that prayers from those living holy lives are powerful. Throughout this whole struggle, I have felt this unreal strength that is not of myself. I know it’s bigger than me. And I know it’s because of your prayers. I am MORE than blessed. Thank you.

P.S. Easter was Amazing! What an incredible day. FFC was packed, the music from @philstacey was incredible and @Jerry_Johnston brought the Word and people’s hearts were changed. Here’s some pics…

We were practicing our trio before services started and LESLIE broke the piano. Bahaha. Wonder if anyone has noticed yet!

I just love the behind the scenes action at church that no one ever knows about. Five minutes before the first service started Deej’s song got cut for time sake. Then Dad decided he wanted it so they threw it back in at the end of worship set. Talk about being ready at any minute! Dresses falling down…me chilling out in the bathroom when I’m supposed to be on stage, sweat dripping off Phil’s head – ha. I love it.

We sang Kari Jobe’s new “O the blood” – it was a blast.

The grandchildren with “O” and “Papa” at brunch! Gotta love Easter brunch. I think I consumed more than I did at Thanksgiving!

I LOVE being an aunt! And I love Lily’s face in this picture, ha. These kids affectionately call me “Gigi”, and I really don’t know why. I love spoiling them, especially if it’s on O and Papa’s dime. I also adore teaching them life lessons such as how to ding-dong-ditch someone and how to properly apply mascara. Can’t wait to have my own one day 🙂

The newest member of our family, but hopefully not for long. We’re hoping for a boy from Jer and Audg next…

Could she be any cuter?

“No, Lily, Jeff definitely would not mind if you borrowed his Visa.” 😉

Ah, siblings. Can’t live with ’em, but definitely can’t live without them!

How did you spend your Easter?

what they think

Last week, I stepped out on faith and applied for a really cool opportunity for my future. It’s completely in God’s hands and now I just wait. When I sent in my application I also sent with it some recommendation letters from a few of the kids I have worked with in the Rock Youth Ministry for the past 5 years. I simply asked them to write how God used me, if at all, to contribute to their spiritual growth. In the midst of a letter from one them, I read this:

 “This past year Jenilee went through a divorce with my former Youth Pastor, and at the time I was close to both of them. I expected Jenilee to be broken, lost, and to not know how to pick up the pieces of her life. Instead Jenilee has been an influence to everyone around her. Jenilee has given God so much glory for allowing her to go through such a tribulation, and being more in love with God then she ever was before, through both celebrations an tribulations.”

Wow. I won’t lie- at the end of his letter, I was in tears. I hadn’t asked him to comment about my divorce, but he did, and his comment was a huge encouragement to me. Because, if I was honest, this whole time in the secrecy and quietness of my at-times very scary mind, I wondered what the students thought of me. Did the failure of my marriage hurt them? We led the youth ministry for years. I know they looked up to us and as students so often do, put us on a pedestal. Did it make them doubt God? Did they still believe in the sacredness and commitment of marriage? Did they lose respect for me? At times, it’s felt like the big elephant in the room. I’m sure they see me alone and wonder exactly what happened. I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of rumors. I know they know how hurt I’ve been and how betrayed I’ve felt.

I remember going back to the youth ministry on September 22, 2010 to lead worship for the first time since the breakup of my marriage. It was an incredible feeling. For the first time, I was onstage worshipping, and the glass house had been broken. I was simply an imperfect human, just like every one else, worshipping a perfect God. I sang the words, “It’s just You and me here now,” and it’s never felt more real.

I don’t know how everyone views me now, but I know at least to that one kid, I’ve been able to be an example – to trust God and have faith that He can make something beautiful out of all the debris.

One last thing – after reading their letters, I realized that the most spiritual students from the Rock had faced some of the greatest harships – one boy’s dad died a year ago in a motorcycle accident, one girl’s family lost everything when the economy tanked, etc. There’s just something about God testing those who are strong. It’s like He’s never content with where we’re at because He always sees a far greater potential and He will use WHATEVER it takes to get us to that greater place.