204 months – a gushing birthday letter to my 17 year old

Dear Mallory,

For 17 years we’ve been your parents. Man, we parents really lose it during the teen years, don’t we? We used to be super attentive and excited about your little pinky twitching. We used to laugh – even cheer – at your flatulence! How times have changed. We used to tell anyone within earshot about your latest developments, like when you FINALLY rolled over at 8 months (too many people heard about how you really liked to sit as a baby), how your first word was “watch” at 9 months (how did your little mouth wrap around such an obscure reference), how you got most of your other words all mixed up and backwards, like “phone-miker” instead of “microphone” or “beltseat” instead of “seatbelt,” many of which have found a permanent place in our familial vernacular.

We actually used to make appointments with our friends to show you off. Ha! They thought we were there to visit with them, but we just wanted to show them what you were up to. I don’t even know if they rolled their eyes at us because I was too busy looking at you.

We were nuts about you and everyone knew it.

Here’s the thing – we’re still nuts about you, so at what point did we stop celebrating your milestones?

Mallory at 204 months old

Think about it. Now, at 204 months, you’re  walking across full rooms without help. You’re walking to the bus stop,  you’re walking to school. You’re walking, walking all the time and we never mention it all. It’s got to be disappointing that we don’t notice all that walking you’re doing.

You don’t just say “watch” anymore, you say mouthfuls of words! You’re talking not only to people, but on devices too! You’re expressing emotion and voicing opinions. You’re using your words ! Why aren’t we celebrating this?

Let’s talk about how you no longer just sit and roll over. You play SPORTS. Your father and I hardly know what sports are.  Here you are tapping into these latent skills and excelling! You got 98% in P.E. last year.  How’s that even possible, are you an Olympian? You’re on the volleyball and badminton teams and you were on the BOYS BASEBALL TEAM last year. At 204 months, you are showing up your immobile kin and you’re showing up society. Barriers, inherited and societal, are to be overcome! Good for you, 204 month old!

What about the driving! We put a steering wheel in your hands and told you to press go with your right foot, and stop with your right foot again–no, that’s the gas, yes, that’s the brake–and you didn’t look back, except to check your mirrors. I watch you take it all so seriously and try not to inhale too quickly when you’re taking the corner wide. You’re DOING THIS. You’re transporting us to A & B [somewhat] safely. How do you exist?

Mallory Driver

Truthfully, you’re not even overly keen on driving, other than to recognize that it’s probably a helpful tool should you want to leave the city. But you love being in the city. You navigate the transit system like nobody I know. You don’t even stick to the subway lines, you’re on buses and streetcars, alighting and transferring left, right and centre. A week or so ago, you did more touring of Toronto in one day than I have done in my lifetime. You tell me it’s easy – you just need fare and the TTC app and the city is your oyster. But just because you make it look easy, doesn’t mean it is! Don’t negate the fearlessness and aptitude required to tame the Red Rocket like you do. You are a super hero.

Mallory in the city

If the goal of parenting is to move one’s children towards independence, we realistically stopped parenting you at month 40.

You have delighted us consistently over the last 204 months.

Mallory Sign 1

But I want to be clear about this. Our delight may look like it’s about what you do, but it’s actually about who you are.  All those cheers for your baby flatulence weren’t because we hoped you’d win Fastest Farter in the West, but because it showed us that you were healthy and functioning properly. We’d hardly care about that 98% in gym except it reveals something about your character and how you like to challenge yourself.

If our love were dependent on what you do, how would we handle that time you got 27% on a test or the way you have totally forgotten how to make your bed over the past couple of years. Even those things reveal something (as you explain that for all the sleeping you’re doing in this season of life, it makes almost zero sense to make a bed).

If I were to encapsulate who we see you becoming, who God intended you to be, what comes most to mind as your enter your 205th month and 18th year, I see you as an adventurer and lover of life. You are very willing to try new things and even seek out new experiences. Truly, and now is the time to say it, I credit you for making every single one of our moves – even the one to Ghana – a joy. To see the world through your eyes, to watch how you embrace the challenges, well, you help us all adjust and probably curbed a freakout or two.

At 204 months, you find yourself in yet another new home. While I’ve been tempted to grieve the change, you’re excited about living in a high-rise – a community of a couple thousand people in one building. You’ve already invited your friends over and went on a mission to find out where the heck the gym was and discovered that the penthouse floor is really just the same as our floor only at the top. You’re learning, learning, always learning. I want to celebrate that – that as long as you’re curious about the world around you, you will continue to grow and develop. New things every month – this is life you live and we celebrate.

I love how you love God, openly wrestling with deep questions without losing your trust in him. You teach me, young one! The way you love others, deeply, loyally and how you think big, important thoughts that the world needs to hear… how am I so privileged to sit at the table or on the couch or by your bed, your only audience, to hear from you? Sometimes I’m afraid to talk because it means you’ll stop. These are golden moments.

Your Daddy and I have many secret conversations (we’ve cut down on the appointments with friends to brag about you) where we actually get giddy about how precious you are.. Our hearts burst or hurt in the rhythm of your own joy or pain. We see you becoming that girl, that young woman God made you to be.  This birthday, my only advice to you is to keep going!  You’re doing it, you’re WALKING!

And we’re celebrating!

Mallory Selfie

Happy Birthday, Mallory!

Love, Mommy

P.S. Have I mentioned how you can laugh at yourself.

Mallory 204 Months Old

Behind the scenes photo…

Mallory Behind the Scenes 1

Literally, “behind” the scenes.

When people are “shoulding” all over you: How to use criticism as a tool to build your ministry

As a ministry leader, I receive criticism regularly.  I receive it from people I’m ministering to, people who minister alongside me, and even those who are looking in from the outside.  I’ll probably be criticized for the title of this blog.

When I first started as a ministry leader 8 years ago, I had the best of intentions.  I was going to selflessly serve in order to foster a culture of missions in our church.  This was something God had laid on my heart and had been affirmed by my pastor.  Apparently, there were many in our church who had the same desire to develop a missions ministry. I had a large team in the beginning.  It was an exciting time as we started to build a vision for how our church would reach out locally and globally.  We talked a lot, made plans, we prayed and started moving.

When we took practical steps to implement our vision, things began to change.   As we carried out our tasks, be it a fundraiser, education and awareness, or an actual project, tensions arose.  People didn’t like the choices we made, the way we did things, who was involved… People weren’t afraid to say how things should be done. Well, they might have been a little afraid because many of them used e-mail.

I can remember feeling very down about it.  Couldn’t people see that I just wanted to serve?  It all came to a head when a member of our church Board called to tell me that they felt our missions team was overly focused on raising money and that we were not working well with other ministries.  I hadn’t realized till that moment that ministry leaders (I) can be competitive!  The poor board member who was designated as the person to contact me was not prepared for my emotional breakdown, How come people only tell me what I’m doing WRONG?!

My outburst surprised me too.  I didn’t think I was harbouring these feelings. I thought I was managing things pretty well.  But I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate my motives and why I felt threatened by these criticisms.  What I found out surprised me.

Most of my critics were right.

I sat down and thought of everything anyone had said about either the ministry or my role as ministry leader.  Whether they gave it in anger, before, during or after the fact, whether it was petty or hefty criticism, whether it was made by e-mail or in person, I added the criticism to my list.

Things like:

  • I shouldn’t have asked a newcomer to pray and made her uncomfortable
  • I shouldn’t have such a large focus on money for missions
  • I should develop my leadership skills
  • I shouldn’t look at my watch when someone is talking to me
  • I should delegate more
  • I should communicate better

Truly, these are practical and helpful goals!  I couldn’t receive them because I was hurt by the way they were delivered.  I could only hear the “should” of their statements, meaning, in my head, that I must have done something wrong.  I felt like they were shoulding all over me!

Offence is a human reaction, but it often stems from our own pride.  If our source of strength, love and acceptance is Jesus, then we would probably never be offended.  A noble goal, but a difficult one!  My own offence was a trigger that my sustenance was not coming from the Lord. I was looking for my reward from people… and not receiving it.

With God’s help, I decided to be more receptive to my critics as they had valuable insights for future ministry.

Here are some helpful guidelines I use to turn criticisms into valuable tools to build my ministry.

React in prayer

When you feel that familiar twinge or knot in your stomach, it’s not time to worry, it’s time to pray.  Get rid of those feelings that can lead to anger and sin by talking immediately to the Lord about it.  Seek the Lord’s heart and his wisdom in the matter and you can’t go wrong.

Test your heart

Ask the Lord to assess your motives.  If you are feeling threatened why is that?  Are you hanging onto pride or personal motivation?  There is no room for this in ministry.  Ask the Lord to forgive you for putting your vision ahead of his.

Know your critic

Knowing your critic means loving your critic and trying to understand where the criticism comes from.  Is it out of their own hurt?  Or, conversely, is out of a desire to see the church live up to its potential?

I enjoyed this recent article that attempts to categorize 5 Types of Critics in Your Church.  It is insightful, as well as helpful to know how to respond to criticism. I agree that those who are constructive in their criticisms can be engaged to participate more in ministry, while others potentially need to deal with their emotional issues.  It’s true that there are some critics who will do nothing but attack and it’s good to keep in mind that it’s not about you.

Give weight to the practicalities of the criticism, don’t get caught up in the “should”

Which leads me to the point that if you get caught up in the “should” of the criticism, you probably think it’s about you.  If you can remove yourself from the equation, you will discover that a lot of your critics might have helpful things to add to your ministry, whether they’re given with proper motives or not.  (As a bonus, perhaps taking their criticisms seriously might be a step in the right direction to make them feel loved and accepted.)

Give equal weight to the encouragements you receive

When the Board member called me, my reaction was to say that people ONLY call me when something is wrong.  In short, I was having a temper tantrum.  I’ve heard it my daughters and in my nieces and nephews… OK, in me too.  When something isn’t going our way, we want to put absolutes on our statements: “He ALWAYS gets that toy…” or “I NEVER get to stay up late…” This is not a realistic perspective.  So as I wrote down my criticisms, I also wrote down my encouragements and I was very surprised to discover that many people, if not more, were blessing me with their love and support, but I wasn’t acknowledging it.  I had felt that I ONLY received criticisms. I couldn’t receive the encouragement because my perspective was tainted with worries about my own inadequacies.  I’ve learned to hear and give thanks to every single encouragement as it comes.  As much as there are criticisms, there are also cheers.  Both are valuable.

Gain focus and strength daily from Jesus

It is best practice not to find yourself at your wit’s end because you haven’t dealt with the criticisms.  They have an accumulative effect if you  ignore them.  The thing you should give the most weight to should be from Jesus himself through daily interaction with him through scripture and prayer.

I give this “criticism” in utmost love and appreciation for what you do in your ministry. Keep up the good work!