Here we go again!!!

Five years ago, Leo had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia with a team of folk from different Vineyard churches and do a week-long training on worship. He loved being able to use his gifts and pour into the pastors and worship leaders!

While there, we knew that some of the pastors would be coming to the States for the International conference the following summer, so I encouraged Leo to really listen to the Lord as to who he should invite to stay with us.

He invited the De la Cruz family… a family of 5 pastors from Lima, Peru.

The week they stayed with us was a blast! They would be up early for the conference, Leo and I helped run the all-day children’s ministry portion, and then we would all stay up late sharing our stories, testimonies and visions in ministry.

Around our kitchen table, the family invited us to go to Lima, spend a month, and teach their people a little more about what we were doing to train up kids in ministry. And we did! That following February, we flew to Lima for a month and stayed in their house. We had an incredible time together sharing life, training their kids and kid teams and helping with two camps.

We came away from that trip feeling like family!

So, it was a no-brainer when they asked us to come speak and help out at their regional conference in Colombia the following year (which also happened to be when we got pregnant!). I taught about kids ministry, Leo taught about being proud of his Latino heritage and how to reclaim indigenous worship. We both felt at home with these dear pastors who became friends.

We made promises to come to Bolivia as a couple for a few weeks and do similar things to what we did in Lima.

But my pregnancy was unexpected and rough… let alone trying to figure out how to be parents…

This past October, when Elias was 15 months old, we were invited to go to the same bi-annual regional conference, but this time in Ecuador. We had a blast! We spent a little over a week with our friends, reconnecting, and renewed our commitment to come visit.

We also met an incredible couple from Pallatanga, Ecuador who, in addition to running a camp and conference center, are planting a Vineyard church. And, while they are phenomenal pastors, neither of them are really musicians nor know how to help their people truly connect with the Lord through music.

The translated stuff just doesn’t cut it for their people, most of whom are indigenous.

We have experience helping different people groups, especially indigenous, find their voices and write worship music with their own melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.

We open up the Word, and create space for people to experience God. Worship always flows as a response to His presence. It’s incredible to watch it happen; to experience people connect to the Lord for the first time through song.

And we can’t wait to be a part of what the Lord is awakening in Bolivia and Ecuador this summer!

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5 reasons volunteering, even as a toddler mom, is WORTH IT.

For the last 20 years of my life, I have either been on paid staff, a guest worship leader or speaker, or a key volunteer at a church.

I love The Church. I love serving her, watching even the youngest ones using their gifts to edify Her.

And yes, I know that WE are The Church. It isn’t contained within 4 walls of a building. I get that and believe it with all my heart.

But, there is a pep-rally of sorts that happens, usually on the weekends, when we all choose to come together from our different neighborhoods and corners of our sub-cultures and raise a unique sound that will never be lifted again. We choose to join our hearts and minds together to celebrate, learn, commune and meditate on the person of Jesus. We see Him at work in each other, we see Him in the faces of the other, and we hopefully walk away better and more open to the voice of the Holy Spirit during the week.

Now, my niche in the world of “professional Christians”- those of us who are actually paid by our specific churches- has always been with worship, and teaching children and youth. It is a blast!!! I would ALWAYS say that I had the best job ever!

If you know me in real life, you know that it is my passion to raise up youth and children to know and love Jesus and follow Him. I especially love training them to use their gifts to teach others about Him!

When I had Elias last year, I honestly thought that I would be able to continue working at church. However, at the 6 week mark, when I was done with taking time off, I knew it wouldn’t work.

For starters, I only worked at the church for 20 hours a week, with most of those being weekend hours. I didn’t get maternity leave. I was still not making the amount of money hourly that would actually contribute to our household. And, my husband was also working for the church, so weekends were tricky when we were both pulled in opposite directions. There was also no opportunity for my position at the church to grow… so it was a pretty easy decision (on paper) to step down.

But the reality? When I knew it was my calling? Wow. So hard!

I stayed on as a volunteer on Saturday nights, which was still hard because Elias wouldn’t go to anybody. My husband would run sound most Saturday nights, so as I was in the children’s area rehearsing with my team, he was in the sanctuary and unable to help. Elias was so little, and the noise was too loud during rehearsals. I would try to take him to the nursery but he would SCREAM until he would fall asleep. It broke my heart. There were actually a few times when I “wore” Elias on my back and put his little headphones on so I could lead worship and he could be with me. He loved that!

I was always drenched by the end.

It was exhausting.

I started getting anxious as I would drive to church on Saturday nights. How would he act? Would he be ok? Would he be willing to go to anyone, or would I have to wear him?

During those few months, a few different people stepped in. One staff member would just wear him as she walked around completing her duties at the Saturday service. Another mom he knew would just take him to the nursery and sit with him so he wasn’t with strangers. I was so grateful!

However, with wanting to be at church together on Sunday, it became less and less practical to come both Saturday night and Sunday. So, I stepped down from leading kids worship right around when Elias turned a year old.

We would come with Leo on Sundays, help lead worship, and enjoy being together in one service.

And, again… people stepped in to help. We have such an amazing community!

There was a switch that happened for Elias when he started to walk at around 13 months. He was ok with not being held all the time. He was more ok going to other people.

So, here are my reasons I love volunteering, even with my toddler:

1) Church is literally his favorite place to be. Whether or not I’m leading worship with Leo, Elias walks all the way up to the front during worship, and he lifts his hands, claps and sings along.

When Elias wants to keep moving and not sit still, literally at any point, he can walk down the halls and hear worship. He has been known to walk into the 5th grade room, into the 1st-4th grade room, and even up to the screens projecting the service in our church cafe.

2) Elias loves being around other kids! He knows he is a part of a huge community, and he LOVES being a part of the different music classes I’ve taught. And the kids love him!!! They are so patient and kind. One of the best parts is that our church is filled with people of all different nationalities, languages and races. So his best buddies don’t usually look like him!

3) It solidifies for me that it truly takes a village. I’ve always loved pouring into other people’s’ kids… but my heart absolutely melts watching other people pour into my son!

4) Elias gets to watch his parents love Jesus, teach the Word, lead worship and pray for others! Now, he is starting to join in, and we want him to!

5) Last but not least: being a volunteer means that I can pick and choose the opportunities that fit best for our family. When I was on staff, I was the one who had to pick up the slack when volunteers weren’t able to show up. But now I get to choose. And I am grateful for the opportunity to choose things that fit us the best.

I am so grateful to be able to walk this amazing journey, and to now be able to serve as a family is beyond words.

The flexible nap schedule, the (sometimes) over-stimulation, the poopy diapers that need to be changed at not-so-convenient times… it’s all worth it!

Captivated:Live

I turned 39 this past weekend, and to be honest, I am feeling my age for the first time. I think having a baby and not getting much sleep has something to do with it, but the grey hairs that have suddenly appeared over the last year aren’t helping, either.

As I was processing this weekend, I realized that I feel like I’m on my 7th season of life. Lol!

1- the growing up years

2- the college years (shout out to Judson University!)

3- the teaching years (2 years as a 5th grade classroom teacher, 3 years as a reading specialist in the Spanish-speaking suburbs of Chicago)

4- the traveling musician/short-term mission years- where I spent over a year living out of my car, traveling the US leading worship and speaking at youth conferences and university ministry groups.

There was a life-changing trip to Africa and India in between 3 different around-the-US tours.

5- the Colombia years (where I taught music and helped start and lead the social service and missions ministry for 5 years at an international Christian School, El Camino Academy)…. I also met and married my husband there. 🙂

6- the “back to the US” years- where we were completely uprooted from our lives and ministry in Colombia and moved to Columbus, Ohio to be close to my family and set up life so that Leo could get his citizenship. We quickly settled into life and ministry, and even bought a house! We’ve been here for 6 years now.

The 7 years of infertility span between seasons 5 and 6.

7- the current “Mom-and-learning-how-to-balance-life-and-work-and-ministry” years are what life looks like now. Lol!

Our church is currently in a series of “when life is unfair”, and today’s text happened to be from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. As soon as it came up on the screen, it brought me back to my testimony of how God healed me from malaria when I was in India.

For those of you who don’t know, I have 3 cd’s on iTunes. The most recent one that is there is a live album recorded when I got back from India. I tell stories of living on the road, of what spending time in Kenya was like, and my testimony of healing.

It seems like so long ago… so many new stories have happened over the last 12 years, but I’ve found myself telling some of these older stories over the past few weeks.

So, look me up on iTunes and enjoy some insights into what life was like for me 12 years ago! 🙂

The Kids Worship Club

During my very first job as a music teacher/worship leader at a Christian school and church 16 years ago, I was sometimes stressed out when a new experience was put before me.

There were many things that I had never done before: lead worship from a piano with a band, write out music for orchestral instruments, write songs for the youth that would help them connect to God in worship…

…and during this first “real” season of my life is when I recorded and released my first cd. (Shameless plug… you can find it here.)

Through that amazing time of growth, one of my mentors, Ken Reynolds, would always encourage me with something HIS mentor, Gary J. Blanchard would tell him…

Whenever you’re faced with something new, simply say “Well, I’ve never done that before!”, and go for it!
We would often laugh and say that phrase to each other as a lot of transition happened in our church, and we were often called upon to step out of our comfort zones!
I am so grateful that through the various seasons of my life, I’ve had incredible people encouraging me to face the new challenges with my gifts and talents in one hand, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the other.
Here’s the deal:  my heart is creating space where KIDS can lead KIDS in worship.
I think there’s something powerful about adults stepping out of the way and letting the kids’ voices be heard.
Now, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for how to let KIDS lead.  There aren’t many schools that teach how to play chords on a piano and follow a chord chart, how to recognize chord patterns, how to play band or orchestra instruments with worship songs (using the limited notes that beginners know), how kids can hear the Holy Spirit when they are painting and drawing, how kids need to live lives of worship and not just sing or play pretty… and songwriting courses for kids are not usually something that parents have an option of signing their kids up for.
So, my heart for this was to start something, building on things Leo and I had done in the past.
But this was totally new.
And it would take a team of creatives who “got it”.
This past Worship Club (the ninth one we’d done) was no exception.
We had around 75 kids- 2nd to 8th grade.  17 teachers and 10 helpers for the 7 classes we were offering.
Our band and orchestra class alone was a challenge:  there’s a reason that violins and trumpets usually don’t play together… there are completely different notes that the kids learn on their specific instruments when they begin, let alone that they really only know a few notes!
So, either the string section would be struggling with a specific key, or the horn/woodwind section. Last year, I had incredibly talented people teach each group separately and the strings played on 2 songs, and the band played on 2 others.
This year however, those teachers weren’t available, so it fell onto me to teach them combined.  5 violins and a viola (who didn’t know how to read alto staff), 3 trumpets, 2 saxophones, 2 clarinets and 3 flutes.
It was a huge undertaking…
I’d never done this before!
The kids struggled a bit, but were so willing (and ABLE!) to overcome their obstacles.  It was amazing to watch them progress from the first week to the last, growing not only in their skill sets, but in their friendships and encouragement of each other.
In addition to my class, we had singing, dance, keyboards, media arts, guitar and percussion.
As the Lord brought the various teachers we needed to pour into the kids, He fulfilled another deep desire of my heart:
Every class had at least one minority teacher.  Some classes were even taught by gifted high-school students.
This was truly the nations worshipping together, in many different expressions of worship!
The 3rd week of the club, there was an incredible moment after our devotions.
I got up on our little stage in front of the group to practice with them as they ate their snacks.  The kids joyously sang, danced or beat on the tables as we sang “You are Good”, and “The Good Life”.
Then, as we started into the 3rd song of the set, “Good, Good Father”, the kids really “entered in”.  Hands were raised and eyes were closed as they sang their hearts out to their Father.
During that song, instead of singing the 3rd verse (which is, in my opinion,  a little hard for little minds to understand), I felt led to have people say “You’re a Good Father” in whichever language they wanted.
Around the room, like popcorn, teachers and students alike spoke… French, Spanish, Russian, Tamil, Sign language, Swahili, Kukuyu… it was absolutely beautiful!  I started tearing up in front of them, as my heart filled up with many emotions all at once!  Then, we started back into the chorus… “You’re a good, good Father… it’s who You are… and I am loved by You, it’s who I am….”.
Kids singing in full force, completely swept up in their Father’s love.
At that point, I don’t think a single teacher had a dry eye, and my face and neck were noticeably wet from my tears.  I had no voice to sing with as I was completely choked up, but it wasn’t needed because the kids just continued to sing those phrases over and over while I played my guitar.
This is why we step into un-chartered territory.
The long nights, the stressing over computer/music-writing software issues, the juggling demands of The Club with the rest of our lives and work, the “can we try this instead”‘s, the “I’ve never done this before”‘s that we uttered many times over the 5 weeks…
We do it to raise up THIS generation’s worshippers who aren’t afraid to try something new; because in taking a risk, they learn how to lead worship with their gifts and talents in one hand, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the other.

Drowning in Details

amazon_forest_trees-wide.jpgI am a person who can’t see the trees for the forest; so organizing a trip for 24 people is a little overwhelming… let alone the fact that 14 of the people on the trip couldn’t pay for the majority of the costs.  On top of the individual trip costs, we had to raise money for the medicine, supplies, and toilet project… a total of $4000 additional.   I’m also not good at coming up with crazy ideas for fundraising, especially here in Colombia, where missions and mission trips are a relatively “new” idea to most churches.

We had our annual “Celebrate Colombia” day at school, and I was able to tell all the parents about the upcoming Amazon trip and ask for their prayers and financial support.  I like talking about the trip and getting people excited about what the Lord is doing in the Amazon; but what put me out of my comfort zone was walking up to the parents after the main celebration and asking them to donate towards the trip.  I had an offering bag, and just walked up to everyone.  It made me feel so uncomfortable, but I knew that if I didn’t ask, they wouldn’t give.  We raised enough money that day to pay for 1 ½ trips! So, it was worth it… but it was hard for me!

That same day, I was talking to a mother about putting together a worship event/fundraiser for the trip.  I think I looked at her with a blank stare, wondering how in the world it could happen.  I knew we would be able to use my church, but I didn’t have time to work on getting a whole concert together!  The mom told me that if I organized it all, she would get her dance team together to help out.  There was that word again…. Organize.  As if I didn’t already have enough to organize!

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But, we did it!  The following weekend, my middle-school worship team put together a great bi-lingual worship concert, and we had an amazing time of prayer for the Amazon, Bogota, Colombia, South America and the Nations.  The community also surrounded the team and prayed specifically for us and what the Lord had for us in the Amazon.  We felt so empowered!!!  The dance team was also a great addition to everything, as they danced while we worshiped with song!  I can honestly say that the entire evening was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of for a very long time!  And, we raised enough money for 3 more people’s trips!

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During the months of planning and preparing, the Lord was so faithful in my weaknesses!  He would continually bring people alongside to help me, as well as allow me to push myself to get better.   However, I don’t know if planning and organizing is something I should keep pushing myself to get better at, or if I should find one person who thrives on details and organization to be a part of our team.  This is my struggle now.  I can honestly say that I drown in details.  I am so much more of a big-picture person that I get lost in the tiniest of details, and it really affects me.   The tricky part is finding a person who is going to stay around for a while.  Most of the teachers at ECA stay 1-2 years… if they stay for 3, that’s a blessing!  So, I am praying that I find a Colombian who will come alongside me and commit to these trips as much as Leo and I have… for the long-haul!