I Loved Eleven: Reflections on the Night Before My Son’s Twelfth Birthday

Tomorrow, my precious first born turns twelve years old, and there is a whole lot of me with a whole lot of feelings about it.  Of course I find myself thinking about all the things I miss about having a younger child. I miss kids books and bedtime snuggles and how excited Josiah used to get whenever he saw a digger.  I miss new baby smell and the weight of a young child in my arms. I miss his three year old laugh.  

baby josiah
I mean, what is NOT to miss?

But even as I miss these things, I can honestly say I would not turn back the clock if I could.  Little kids are so wonderful, but big kids are really great too. For me, having an eleven year old was one of the best things to ever happen to me. 

I realize, however, that we don’t always hear much about the great things that come with kids getting older.  Our narrative is so often focused on the lament of our children aging that we can forget the joys that come with each new season.  I think that’s a shame. That’s why, today, with just a few hours left before my son turns twelve, I want to celebrate those. I celebrate with this – my “Homage to Eleven” (*the age, not the character on Stranger Things).

Eleven, you were so good. 

You were growing.

You were getting nearly as tall as me and outgrowing both your grandmothers. 

You were a crazy mohawk you didn’t want to cut, sneakers you outgrew before you worn them out, and growing out of all your pants in four months so that we had to go shopping the day before we left on vacation.

You were eating a full medium pizza by yourself and telling everyone about it. 

You were ordering from the adult menu in restaurants.

You were big enough for the big water slides and the high ropes courses and not needing to do the swim test every time we went swimming.

You were giving away your toy trucks and loving when another little boy enjoyed them as much as you had. 

You were independence.

You were walking to school by yourself.

You were “go pack your bag” for vacation, and knowing you would do it fine on your own. 

You were packing your own lunches and putting in more than pudding and fruit snacks. 

You were not needing us to tuck you in, or run your showers, or carry your money for you when we went on vacation.

You were being able to be left on your own for a while.

You were being able to watch you from the beach while you went swimming and not having to go in with you.

You were doing your own laundry, mopping the basement every week, and using your backpack to hold your I-Pad so you could listen to podcasts while you did your chores.

You were learning. 

You were learning to cook and bake. You were making crepes and scrambled eggs and a full week of breakfasts for us one week. You were cooking a meal of “spaghetti nests”  one night when we were out with Lucy.

You were passing three levels of swimming.

You were learning to sail at camp and loving it. 

You were school projects on food trucks and a speech about why apples are good for you. You were feeling proud that your writing mark went up a whole letter grade after working so hard. 

You were new things.

You were starting middle school.

You were joining school council.

You were making the basketball team. 

You were your first youth retreat, your first year in youth group, starting to help in Sunday School. 

You were sitting in church for the service and starting to joke: “You’re going to use that as a sermon illustration, aren’t your Mom?” when we heard new stories.

You were deciding to try out for every team at school, even the ones you knew you wouldn’t make. 

You were getting baptized, and making your faith your own.

You were helpful.

You were “Can you help me carry this?” – and you could.

You were “Can you figure out how to fix my computer?” – and you could. 

You were “Can you watch Lucy?”- and you could.

But what I liked best, eleven, was that you were so much fun.

You were starting to figure out sarcasm. 

You were liking the good movies and being able to play the good board games…

You were Cities and Knights of Catan, Indiana Jones, Marvel. 

You were long bike rides we could do together, basketball in the driveway, diving contests when we went swimming. 

You were getting the jokes.

You were going to a show in New York City, Harry Potter Studios in England, and eight kilometre hikes up mountains in Newfoundland. 

Eleven, you were special.

You were brave.

You were discovering who you are. 

You were not regretting getting older. 

Thanks Eleven.  Tell your friend, Twelve, I’m really looking forward to him.




Tired Pastor: Reminders For the Weary in the Third Week of June

tired pastor

I’m at the “count-down-how-many-sermons-I-preach-until-vacation” time of the year.  

It’s also the “give a little cheer when I cross something off the bulletin” time of the year. And the “I can’t do that until I get back from vacation” time of the year.  And the “I refuse to buy more groceries when we are leaving soon so I am having crackers and a granola bar for lunch,” time of the year.  


It’s the “this will be our last session until fall” time of the year.  It’s the “end of year dinner” time of the year. It’s the “we’ll put that on the agenda for September” time of the year.    It’s the buying teacher gifts and trying to schedule summer birthday parties before school ends and dragging kids out of bed in the mornings and “how many days left of school?” and booking guest preachers and advertising summer camps and debriefing a year of ministry and final swim tests and remembering to put on sunscreen in the mornings time of year. 

And it’s also the time of year when I feel so tired.

Perhaps, Pastor, you are feeling tired too.  It has been a hard or wonderful or profoundly normal ministry year.  There have been the normal ebbs and flows on the calendar. The series preached.  The visits made. The meetings had. The crises averted, confronted, avoided.

And now you are sitting in your office and your eyes are blurring a bit as you try to write a sermon, or you are finding yourself sighing when a certain name appears in your email or you are saying things like: “There better not be anyone die this week.”  

I have come to realize these feelings are to be expected this time of year.  But what is funny is that every year I seem to forget this, and I find myself thinking the same things:  “Is there something wrong with me? Am I totally burnt out on ministry? Do I need to get my iron checked?” 

It’s funny that even though every June is the same, it still takes me a few weeks to remember: There is nothing wrong with me.  I am not sick. I am not failing at my ministry. My heart is not hard. My iron is not low…I am just tired.

It has taken me fourteen years in this role to learn what I need to remember when the June exhaustion hits.

This is Normal

Growing weary is not a bad sign. It is a very normal sign of living a normal life, and we all go through it.  There are seasons where this feeling is natural, and this one is one of those for me. 

Listen to It

This very normal feeling is something to heed.  It reminds me that I am not invincible, that I need God, that I need to rest.  I can’t run at full speed forever. Everyone needs time to fill the gas tank.  This feeling is a reminder: “Pull over.”


It’s time to take a breather.  I don’t need to figure everything out right now. I can’t even rationally think about the fall; I can’t effectively process the last year; I can’t fix everything that needs to be fixed before I go on vacation next week. I need to push the pause button and things will feel different after some rest. 

And, finally, and most importantly:

Calm Right Down

I don’t know about you, but when I get tired, all the big emotions flood over my whole life. I find myself irrationally questioning my call, my job, my purpose.  I want to quit everything. I want to say “There is no way I am doing that next year!” 

But I need to calm right down, and remember that those feelings are not to be trusted. Tired Leanne’s feelings LIE. 

After some rest, I remember, I may feel differently.  After some rest, I may have a new perspective. After a pause, I almost always feel ready to hit “play” again.  

That’s why I have learned to monitor my responses this time of year.  When someone asks me “Are you going to do this next year?” and all of me wants to respond by saying: “No! I cannot possibly do another thing ever!,” I have learned to say instead: “Let me get back to you after my vacation.”  

I have learned to remind myself:  I’m not crazy. It’s just June. And June doesn’t last forever.  As the rhythms of life ebb for a little while, as I gratefully receive God’s gift of rest, as I pause and as I listen, Tired Pastor will fade away, as she does every summer.  Renewed, Rested, and Ready Pastor will return. 

Even better news?  Rest and Pause works great for all the tired versions of you, too. 

In the meantime – two lunches and one sermon to go!

If you would like to get updates on future posts from Leanne, remember to click “follow” in the corner of this site. 

Pastor Mom: Reflections on My Son’s Baptism and Life as a Mother in Ministry

It started when I was pregnant.  

I knew that when I had a baby, it was going to change the way I did my job as a pastor. I didn’t anticipate how much even being pregnant would impact the way I did ministry, mostly because I was very sick my entire pregnancy.  I had to preach sitting down.  I would attend meetings and have to lie down half way through them, saying: “Don’t mind me! Keep going!” as I continued the discussion while lying on the closest couch.  At our monthly ministerial, I would ask for prayer from a group of men who tried hard to be empathetic, but who had no idea what it was like to lead worship with morning sickness.

Then I had the baby – and the first maternity leave for our church to figure out. Then I had to return from maternity leave – and there was the first returning-from-maternity-leave to figure out.  

And then there were Sunday mornings with a clingy toddler.  Negotiating what to do if my son was upset in the nursery while I was preaching.  Managing night meetings around bedtime routines. 

Being a Pastor Mom was complicated.

My son got older, and I had another baby.   I was still learning to navigate the life of a pastor mom, and now the realities of what that meant were timed by two. There were more board meetings that had to be held at my house to compensate for bedtimes, more sermons written during fleeting nap times, more bodies to get out the door on a Sunday. There was more stress that I was messing everything up.

Actually looking like we are pretty put together on our way to church one Sunday. Probs why we took a picture…

Like other working parents, the struggle of a pastor mom has lots to do with schedules and work hours and fitting everything in. But it also has to do with what sometimes feels like the clash of one call with another.  

Parenting versus pastoring.  

Mom versus minister.

It’s been eleven years, and I still wrestle with the tension.    

I wonder, often, how my job makes my children feel about church, a place I want them to love, but also a place that often seems to take their mother away from them.  Will they love the place that makes them say: “You have to go to church AGAIN?” on a night that they hoped I would read another chapter of Harry Potter? Will they resent the place where they always have to show up early, and where they are always the last to leave? What is it like for them to have their MOM be the one who preaches the sermons they hear, and how do they process how others respond to that?  (Once, my son came home saying that his friends hadn’t believed him when he told them what I do: “Women aren’t priests,” his classmates had chided him).

Of course, there is also the unique guilt that comes with having a job that some Christians don’t even think I should do in the first place.  There is little empathy from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ about finding work/life balance as a woman pastor when they think I shouldn’t be a pastor anyway.  

And even among those who support my calling and role, there is often little understanding of the differences my life has from my male colleagues with wives at home.  No, I can’t do an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting – I drop my kids off at school. No, I can’t do a three day ministry retreat. We have no family close by and my husband works in Toronto. I have turned down countless ministry opportunities and speaking events because this is a season where my kids need my “yes” more than another conference does.  

I am burdened by the questions every pastor asks:  “Am I leading this church well? Have I portrayed God’s love to those who need it? Have I done all I can to present the hope of Christ?”

But the burden multiplies because there are two people in my church that I really want to hear that message: my children. I worry about every program. Every Sunday School lesson. Every aspect of youth group.  I worry as a pastor, and as a mom who, I feel, carries double the responsibility.

There are many days I wonder if I am short-changing everybody.  My kids. My church. My husband. Myself. God.

There are lots of hard times, times I second guess everything.

Times like: “I’m not allowed to visit you in hospital when you’re dying because of doctor’s orders and I wonder if you regret hiring a woman who is now pregnant.”

Times like: “Why are you out ANOTHER night, Mom?”

Times like: “All of us had such a great time at the conference you could not attend.”   

Times like: “Oh shoot I think I just started leaking breast milk while I was preaching.”  

Times like: “You finish the movie while I work on my sermon.”

Times like: “Sorry we can’t go away for the weekend because I work Sundays.”

Times like: “You’ll have to miss the baseball tournament unless someone else can drive you.”

And, always, times like:  “Is any of this worth it?”  

But this week I got to have one of those times when I knew that it was. This week, on a sunny Easter Sunday, I got to baptize the child that I had carried in my womb and in my heart, the child whose gestation had caused me to preach from a stool and whose presence forced me to change everything about my schedule and my life.  The child who first made me Pastor Mom.

This week, I got to stand by my son as he shared with his church family why he wanted to follow Jesus and get baptized.  I got to follow along with his notes as he read, ready to help him find his place if he got lost. Then I got to hold his hand as we stepped into the warm tank of water, white robes billowing around us.

j speaking
Photo Cred; Richard Evelyn

I also got to do something else special. We have a tradition in our church of letting those being baptized ask someone to stand in the water with them, someone that has been important to them on their faith journey.  For several weeks my son kept saying he couldn’t decide who should join him in the water. He finally explained that the reason was that he had SO MANY people he wanted with him.  He actually wanted all of his Sunday School teachers to be with him as he was baptized.

Well, being pastor mom gave me a little sway, and I told him that if that’s what he wanted, we could ask all of his teachers to come and stand around the tank with him. The Mom in me loved being able to give him this gift. The pastor in me loved being able to show the Sunday School teachers what a difference they’d made.

So this week,  I got to ask eleven years worth of my son’s Sunday School teachers to come and stand around a child they had taught as he was baptized. I got to see a dozen people step forward who taught my son God loved him, people who had held my son in nursery, people who had taught him as a shy preschooler, the particularly patient who had managed him in a class of rambunctious ten year olds. I got to see the tears glistening in their eyes as we stood together.   

Photo Cred: Richard Evelyn

And in that moment, I got to remember something –  it had never just been up to me, Pastor Mom. I am only one part of the family of God, living my role and calling, just as others live theirs.  This family of his has been, all together, all he needed.  I didn’t need to be anything other than Pastor Mom and what that meant for me. With the help of all those with me, and so many others, it had been enough.

Then I got to lean in and whisper in my son’s ear: “I love you,” right before I got to say:  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I got to lift him down under the water, and lift him back out again  into a new life in Christ, got to see him flick his too-long mohawk out of eyes, hear him catch his breath.  Got to see his smile. Got to hear the whole church cheer.  All of this I got as a pastor mom. 

after baptism

As I write this today, I think of one other struggle I had as a pastor mom – not having other pastor moms to talk to.  I think back to what I would have liked to have known in those early days as a pastor mom, how alone I sometimes felt, and how often I wanted to ask some other pastor mom if it would all be worth it.   

Today, I would say this, learned from my son’s baptism, to all my sister pastor-moms.

You are not alone.  As you live into your calling, trust that others are living into their calls too.  Together, as God’s church, you will show your child the fullness of the story of God.    

Yes, there will be many hard, tension-filled, uncertain days, but there will also be days like Easter Sunday 2019 was for me, days when you look to God, and know with every certainty: It was worth it.

“Room for Woe” – Why Churches Need Space for Sadness

This year during lent, I decided to preach a series that I called “Woe to Us.”  Lent is the season in the Church that leads up to Easter, and it is traditionally a time that Christians use to reflect on their need for Christ.  This lent, it felt fitting to preach about the ways that we need to say “woe to us.” In a world that often wants to hurry past sadness or discouragement, we decided to make room for woe. We named together the ways that we are like many of the people in the story of Jesus who made mistakes or didn’t live up to their own good intentions. 

woe cross
Our cross of woe that we created during lent

But I didn’t want this to just be about sermons and the spiritual woes we experience.  I also wanted to make space for real and honest lament of the many ways we feel pain. As a pastor, I look out at my congregation each Sunday, and I see a lot of woes. There are many people who are hurting, and I realize how often churches may not feel like safe places in the times of our greatest anguish.  Churches are usually full of happy songs, upbeat music, and stories of redemption. And sometimes – we’re not there.

Sometimes, we have a story where we haven’t seen the redemption yet

Sometimes we are hurting too much to find joy in the happy music on a Sunday morning.

Sometimes, we need room for woe.

I realized making room for woe meant making space for the real stories of woe in people’s lives, and so each Sunday I asked someone from our church to share a story of woe.  They had only one rule – they were not allowed to (quote): “Tidy it up with a nice Christian bow at the end.”

(You know the bow I mean, right? The “But-God-is-good-and-all-things-work-for-good-and-praise-God!” bow).

It’s not that I don’t believe God is good and not always working to redeem our lives.  It’s that sometimes we need space to let the sadness be, just as it is, before God and before others in our lives.  Sometimes we need room for woe.

I lined up two people to share our first two Sundays of lent. The first week someone talked about losses they had experienced during retirement and having to sell their home.  The next week a woman shared the raw pain of living in depression. After that, which was no surprise to me, I didn’t have to ask people to share anymore. People started volunteering to tell their story of woe.  Someone shared about struggling with being single in a church full of families, another about caring for her mom with Alzheimer’s. Another week we heard from someone who had experienced a sense of failure in their career and the next week someone talked about the grief of having recently losing a loved one.

I admit, it was painful some weeks, to just let the woe sit there.  To hear someone you love simply end a story by saying: “It’s really hard” – and sitting back down.  Sometimes it took lots of willpower not to jump up and start the “But God is good – all the time” chant.  I didn’t. It was time to make space for woe. 

And it was so very very beautiful when we did.

Each week, I would hear the gentle sighs and see the nods of people thinking: “Me too.”  I would physically feel the love in the room as someone shared and people stayed with them, every minute.  I would talk to those who shared after who said: “Thank you for letting me to do that.”

And after six weeks of woe, I have learned something: There is great power in making space for pain.  In fact, over the last number of years, I have come to believe this is one of the callings of the church. The Church SHOULD be a place where real, honest, lament can be expressed with no judgement and no need to rush to explain it all away. 

Sadly, this isn’t always the case.  We have not always made room for woe. We have been good at quick “God has a plan!” explanations – not so good at simply saying: “I share in your pain.”  

Making room for woe doesn’t mean that we all need to do a “woe to us” series.  It can be as simple as letting someone share their story without jumping in too quickly with Christian platitudes. It can mean carving out time for lament in churches in the same way we do for celebrating.  However we do it – we need room for woe.

And remember that we can make this room because we know woe is not the end of the story.  We have been in lent, but Easter is coming. After six weeks of woe, I am so excited for this Sunday when we can celebrate the joy of the resurrection, and what that means for all our woes.   And I believe our joy this Sunday will be even fuller not because we have denied the woe, but because we have made space for it.

So, this Sunday, we will sing happy songs.  We will hug each other and say “He is risen!”  We will eat treats and laugh and celebrate. There will be joy because that is the hope of the resurrection.  We have spent some time in the tomb – but the tomb is not forever. And the darkness of the tomb only makes the light of resurrection shine brighter.

Big Easter Ideas for Little Churches

It’s one of my favourite times of year – Easter planning time!  A number of years ago, we decided that we wanted Easter to be the most memorable day of the year at MHBC, one that is remembered as a true day of celebration.  (Also, I am sort a “go big or go home” sort of personality, and let’s just say that when it comes to Easter: I never go home).

But every year as I start to brainstorm, the same thing happens as I browse the internet for some new ideas.  It seems, to me, that the ideas are either: 1. Not that interesting, or original (Example: “Do an egg hunt!”) or,  2. Completely unattainable for the average small church. The ideas are geared to mega churches with big budgets and we simply couldn’t do them.

This year I got to wondering if there were other small-ish churches like ours who might want some ideas for making Easter a big celebration just like us, and I thought I would share some of the things that we have done and invite you to steal any of these ideas that you like.  (Full disclaimer here: I know some of you have churches where these may not work – we are a pretty laid back place – but there are lots of simple things here that I think even the most formal church can incorporate).


As churches, we often decorate for Christmas, so why not Easter?  There can be a lot of impact when people walk into a place that has clearly been made special for a special day. Usually our decorating fits with themes that we have been following since lent.  

2018. Our theme that year was “who is he?” and you can see the words all around the church.
This was from 2017 when we had these huge flowers all over the church. It followed our lent series, which was about dying to ourselves, when each week we “buried” different symbols in large planters. Easter Sunday the planters were replaced with these huge flowers. I think it’s still my fave.
No theme here – just beautiful! 2016

Start with Joy

Start your service with joy and excitement!  Here are some simple things that we have done:

  • Covered windows  in black panel cloth on Good Friday, which we tore down at the start of the Easter service (this is a common practice for many churches at Easter).  One year, for each panel we had come down, we had someone say “He is Risen!” in a different language.
  • As the service started, someone at the back yelled: “I have good news!”  They then walked down the centre aisle reciting the Easter story, which they had memorized.
  • We placed a plastic egg under each chair, with a small chocolate egg inside each one and a slip of paper that either said “He is risen” or “He is risen indeed.”  At the start of the service, we invited people to open their eggs, enjoy a chocolate, and then find someone with the opposite message to them to share this traditional Easter greeting!

Skits and Children’s Stories

I have written more skits and puppet plays for Easter than I can count, and the goal of all of them is to get people feeling the joy of Easter Sunday.  Three examples:

  • A skit about a candy store that was selling “Easter chocolates” – only thing was the chocolates were actually traditional candy, but the “owners” (we actually used puppets for them) shared what made them Easter chocolates.  Example: An aero bar, because Jesus points the way to God, and Rolo bars, because the stone was ROLO-ed away. At the end of the service, we gave out all the chocolate bars
  • A skit featuring people trying out to be the Easter bunny.  Each of them had various skills they were sure would make them the perfect Easter bunny – the final test came when they had to answer WHY we celebrate Easter (turns out they needed the kids from church to help them answer that one!)
  • A skit with various super heros trying to figure out WHY THE TOMB WAS EMPTY.  It began with Batman and the Riddler, and gathered more heroes, each trying to answer the question (“Riddle me this Batman…why was the tomb empty?”).  It ended with me coming out as Wonder Woman. We did this for a children’s story, but, as you can imagine, the adults did some laughing too.
  • We invited a number of our children ahead of time to prepare a clean, appropriate joke.  Our youth pastor got up in a clown costume and asked them all to think of why she was dressed that way for Easter.  She explained an old tradition of telling jokes on Easter Monday, to remind everyone of the joke that was played on Satan when Jesus rose from the dead.  Then each of the kids shared their jokes, and everyone joined in the fun.
  • We got the kids to play a game of “What’s inside?”  We had a series of slides with pictures and asked the kids to  guess “what’s inside?”  (A bear cave, a nest, etc). The last slide was the tomb and of course the answer was – NOTHING!

(If you want the scripts for any of these, contact me!)


And by the way, for Easter – keep the kids in!  Having the whole family together makes the service special and exciting! It also means no teachers need to miss celebrating Easter, either. 

Make Music Special

I said that sometimes those big musical numbers you see online seem like too much.  But you can make music special at Easter in other ways. A few of our faves were:

  • White Flag, by Chris Tomlin:  As the song progressed, we had more and more people come out carrying white flags to wave.  At the end a large white flag came down the centre aisle. Then we gave everyone small pieces of white cloth to wave their own flag (the service ending with white streamers being thrown off the loft) – it was a powerful experience!
  • You’re Beautiful, by Phil Wickham:  We had a small choir come down the centre aisle to sing the “ohs” in the background.  At the end, when it sings about arriving on the heavenly shore, we had kids run down the aisles with streamers.  I still get teary when I think about it.
  • Christ Is Risen from the Dead, by Matt Maher:   There is a spoken word online, which we got someone to incorporate into the song

Creative Sermons

Last year I asked people to save me their LOSING roll up the rim coffee cups from Tim Horton’s (so this is one just for Canadians!).  Ahead of time I turned them into a large cross. I talked about the ways we experience disappointment in life – like rolling up a Tim Horton’s cup and losing – again.  I shared how the disciples must have been so disappointed when the thought that Jesus had basically said: “Play again.” Then I talked about what the cross means and how Jesus takes all those disappointments there. The disciples though they had lost with Jesus – but turns out when the stone was rolled away – they had won!


Another year I talked about the way we leave flowers at graves when people die.  I brought in 200 carnations, and laid them across the front of the church. At the end of the sermon, I invited people to come and PICK UP a flower, as a reminder that DEATH HAS NOT WON.  Simple, but powerful.

Another year, we made a large sign that said “King of the Jews” (like the sign that was placed on the cross).  People then came up and added their name to the sign, symbolizing he was king of THEM.


Throw Stuff. Drop Stuff. Wave Stuff.

We have:

  • Given out “poppers” (available at Party City) to each of the kids to explode at the end of the service (why not everyone? Just because they were expensive.  If I had time to order them in bulk, I would have had some for all! Note: Consult custodian before giving out 50 poppers full of confetti.  They appreciate that).
  • Thrown streamers from our loft at the end of the service.
  • Done balloon drops (if you don’t have a height to throw balloons from, just tossing out balloons as people bounce them around works great too!)
  • Dropped small Jesuses attached to parachutes that say He is Risen!  (Even I admit these were a bit much but they were so HILARIOUS we could not even resist!)
  • Another year, people had a chance to take hymns from old hymnals that were ready to be tossed, and created flags from them with straws and tape.  We talked about God turning old things into new. We waved the flags.



(Let me say, that if you usually don’t do things like this, a simple throwing of balloons at the end of the service can be a huge and special memory!)

After Party

Celebrate together as a church family after the service.  Things we have done in this time include:

  • Bringing in a cotton candy machine
  • Had special treats prepared by our hospitality team
  • Face painting for the kids
  • Balloons animals for the kids
  • We always have a special spot where people can take photos with their family or friends

Listen, I know some of you are going to say.  This doesn’t sound very REVERENT. This sounds very SILLY.  But I like the saying “the medium is the message.” Jesus is alive!  He rose from the DEAD! The world has CHANGED!! Why shouldn’t we celebrate and have fun on Easter?  To me, the celebration embodies the joy of the greatest message of all time. And these celebrations can happen in churches of any size.


Here are some ideas of things we have done for Holy Week services.

  • Created a large painting as a church using the handprints of everyone from the church to make a “crown”  (thank you to the pastor that I now forget that told me this idea years ago).  We painted a large canvas a simple purple ahead of time, and then had brown paint (and hand wipes) which people dipped their hand in, before adding their print to to a circle on the canvas to create a crown.  We added the words “king of kings.”  This was for Palm Sunday.  We still use this piece of art! 
  • Taking a day and night during Holy Week to “cleanse the Temple.”  I had handouts for each person that came in with a reflective reading about Jesus cleansing the temple.  Then we had a list of jobs needed around the church. Throughout the night people took time to reflect as they literally “cleansed the temple.”  (Bonus: the church was cleaner for Easter! Downside: I was left cleaning the fridge. It was THE MOST DISGUSTING EXPERIENCE EVER. There was milk that was so curdled I needed to use a knife to cut it up to get it down the sink.  When I was done, I declared: “It is finished.”)
  • We had stations set up on Maundy Thursday following a potluck that were family friendly. They included:  a station with dolls and bins of water, where people could “wash the feet” of the dolls as they remembered the story of Jesus washing feet, a station with a small plastic stool, on which people could write examples of injustices that made them angry and then “turn the table” as they flipped over the stool, a “garden” station with a cup where people could write on small pieces of paper things they wished they didn’t have to deal with in the cup, as they reflected on Jesus’ prayer in the garden
  • For Good Friday, we have had various versions of hikes and walks.  We have met for church wide hikes, where we each take turns carrying a small wooden cross as we remember what Jesus did for us.  We also have met prior to the Good Friday service for a quiet prayer walk around our neighbourhood, ending at the Good Friday service. 

Ghosting Church

What I find myself asking is: “How many more times do I message them?”

Maybe they don’t want to hear from me…

Maybe I am making them feel overwhelmed, or guilty…

Maybe they are just busy and I’m doing more harm than good…


I want them to know I’ve missed them…

I don’t want them to think they are unimportant…

If I don’t write them, they might say: “Nobody even noticed I was gone.”

So, almost always, I write again, or phone, or send a card:  

“Haven’t seen you in a while!”

“Hope things are well!”

“Would you like a visit?”

Some people write back, but lots don’t.  Sometimes it takes many months before I have to admit it: We’ve been ghosted.

“Ghosting” is a word that came into vogue in the past few years in the dating world. It refers to when you are in contact with someone a lot, or even go out with them a few times, and instead of breaking up with you or ending the relationship clearly, they simply drop out of sight. They don’t write. They don’t call. They don’t respond to messages.  They “ghost.” And you never quite know why.

And it hurts.

You wonder:  Did I do something wrong?  Is something the matter with me? Did I mean so little to them?  

It might seem funny to apply this dating concept to churches, but long before “ghosting” became a thing in the dating world, it was happening in church communities.  I’ve been pastoring for nearly fourteen years, and our church has been “ghosted” more times than I can count. People come for a while, sometimes a long while, and then we just …never hear from them again.

I admit there are people that have fallen through the cracks, people I haven’t written, that I didn’t notice were gone until the damage was done. I regret it, deeply.  But there are those that I HAVE noticed. Those that I’ve sent message after message. Those I’ve called. Those I’ve asked over and over if everything is okay only to be met with silence.  

There are even times that people have TOLD me everything is all right, only for me to run into them later at another church that they have started attending. Then they confess…”Well, actually we just really needed something different,” or “we weren’t happy with the children’s ministry” or “I’ve been meaning to talk to you….but I didn’t get to it.”  

The thing is, I am never upset that people feel they need to be somewhere else – but, if I’m honest, I’m hurt when they don’t talk to us about it.  When they ghost. When they disappear instead of talk.  And I have heard pastor after pastor share the same hurt: Why didn’t they talk to us??? 

Now I get why it happens.  Sometimes, we didn’t mean to do it.  We kind of drifted away, and there was no intention to do leave early on.  Sometimes, we think it will be easier if we slip away discreetly. Sometimes, there are very painful reasons that we are leaving, and we don’t feel we actually CAN talk to church leadership safely.  I get it.

And I also implore you, if you are someone who is part of a church and you think that ghosting is the easiest way to depart, please reconsider. There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason is: 

It hurts.

I have had people ghost that I have baptized, visited, prayed for, wept with, had at my home.  People that I loved.  Let me say on behalf of many pastors like me that when people you have genuinely loved ghost you, it is painful.  I’m sorry my skin isn’t thicker, but it always hurts, even after fourteen years. I punish myself over it. I ask if I did something wrong. I feel like a failure.  I lament the things that I must have messed up.

It hurts the church, too.  People say: “Where did so and so go?” or “I thought we were friends” or “Did we do something wrong?”  They wonder, and they feel they have let the person down. Sometimes, of course, they have. And sometimes they haven’t – but how can they know which it is?

But let me also say this – ghosting will hurt you, too. I totally get that it seems easier to just fade away. No fuss. No drama. No hard feelings.  But it just doesn’t work that way.

When I was a young adult and going away to school in another province, it meant hard good-byes for me every time I was heading off for another term.  I started trying to skip them. I would say to everyone I saw: “I’m sure I’ll see you again! We’ll say good-bye then!” Sometimes, I was three hours away from a flight saying: “We’ll say good-bye NEXT time I see you!”  I thought it would help!

It never did.

It took me a few years to realize that avoiding good-byes did more harm than good.  Avoiding the sadness didn’t help me at all – it just made me feel disjointed, out of sorts and regretful.

The same is true in all our relationships, and the same is true in churches. How we end things matters.

Good good-byes are important and healing.  If you loved your church community, love them as you leave by leaving well.  If you are struggling with your church community, love the people of God and those who will come after you by giving the church a chance to deal with the problems you have seen.  (And don’t forget – sometimes the problems you have felt may have been misunderstandings, miscommunications or any number of things that COULD be cleared up with an honest conversation.  Give your community a chance to make it right before you decide that they are all wrong).

I know it may not work out – you may try to mend things that can’t be fixed, and you will still need to leave in the end.  But, even then, you will be glad you had the peace of knowing: you did all you could.

So if you are reading this and you are ready to leave a church, I implore you: Don’t ghost.  Say good-bye well. Let them send you off, pray for you, bless you. Have the hard conversation if you need to.  Tie up the loose ends. End well so that you can begin again well.

As the people of God, I believe we can do better for ourselves and each other than what bad dating practices allow us.  Let’s let ghosting die. 

Please click “follow” on this page to keep getting notifications and updates.

“Marriages That Preach” – A Sermon About Marriage, Submission and Women in the Church

This weekend I was asked to share about Ephesians 5: 21- 33 as a guest preacher at a church called The Meeting House, based in Ontario, Canada.  They have been doing a series called “Her Story,” about making space for women’s voices in the church.  (I recommend checking out all the links to the sermons in this series, and the “After Party Podcast” with exceptional Bible scholar Dr. Cynthia Long-Westfall).  I had a chance this week to dig into one of those “prohibitive passages” that sometimes get tossed at us as women leaders…Example: “How can you be a pastor if you are supposed to submit to men?”  Well, here is my 36 minute answer.

My last post (“When You’re a Woman Pastor and You’re Over It Already”) struck a cord with a lot of people. I wish I could give all the amazing women pastors who have commented and shared stories here a high five and a hug.  I am so proud to call you all sisters.   This sermon fits in well with the theme of why we can “keep working!”

If you enjoyed this post or others, click “follow” on this page to get notifications of future pieces. 

When You’re a Woman Pastor and You’re Over It Already

I have learned not to get de-railed on a Sunday morning when someone walks out after they realize I am the pastor of the church.

Once a woman showed up a few minutes before the service and explained she was new to the city, wanted to find a church, etc.  She was very excited because we were “right around the corner” from her.  She told me a bit about her church background, and I had an inkling that she might have an issue with a woman pastor.  I welcomed her warmly and subtly mentioned that I was the Lead Pastor. I saw her face fall, briefly, before she forced herself back into a smile. To her credit, she tried to be discreet. “You know?” she said, “I’m…um…just going to go home. I just remembered something.”  She didn’t come back.

A few months ago it happened again.  A young man showed up, very friendly, “looking for a church.” We had a lovely talk as he found a place to sit.  He stayed most of the service, until I got up to preach. The look of shock on his face was far from discreet this time around.  He looked to his left, and to his right, stood up in the middle of my opening paragraph and quite literally BOLTED to the door.  Like, I mean bolted. His body was sort of bent over in a pointy shape as he took several giant steps out, stopping for nothing.

Sometimes people ask me what I do in those moments. My answer is simple: I preach anyway.  I keep going. I do what I’ve been called to do.

There has been a lot of talk online in my circles in the last couple of weeks about women pastors and the things we face.  This week on Twitter, for example, someone compared women pastors to sex offenders! (That was a new one!) “Wow,” my husband said when I told him, “What did you do?”

“Well,” I said, “I kept working.”  

I have been in my role as a Lead Pastor of a church for 14 years now, and in those 14 years I have lost count of the number of “how-can-you-do-what-you-do-don’t-you-take-the-Bible-seriously?’ comments I have received.  Yes, it is annoying. Yes, it makes wrong assumptions about me. Yes, I want to defend myself.

But, what do I do?

I keep working.

And then every few weeks there seems to be another social media flurry when some leader (or, just as often, some random dude with 32 followers on Twitter) says that women shouldn’t teach in a seminary or that women pastors are an abomination or that our disregard for Scripture is akin to men who dish out abuse.  What do I do in those moments?

I keep working.

I visit someone sick.  I go to the board meeting. I lead the Bible Study. I preach the sermon.

I keep doing what God has called me to do.  

At one time in my life, I couldn’t tell you exactly when, it became so obvious to me that the only life I could lead that would be God’s plan for me was one where I was a pastor. Sometimes I laugh when people talk about women pastors as if we have taken some lucrative, enviable job with sinister motives to increase our own power.


My people, I would have been delighted if God called me to just about anything else (though I’m sure glad God didn’t).  It isn’t actually fun for us women pastors to have to defend ourselves all the time, online or in person. We don’t enjoy wondering if we are going to get into debate when we arrive at a pastors event, if we will be ignored, looked down on, chastised.  It would be nice not having certain people assume that we just don’t take the Bible as seriously as they do.

But at some point, to even be a woman in ministry, you decide that you have to listen to God’s voice above all the others. And you follow, and you pastor.  And you keep following THAT voice, day after day – even when an inane Twitter debate could easily deter you.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear the feedback of others, or that I don’t consider those with a different understanding of the Bible than me on these matters to not be my brothers and sisters in Christ.  It’s that, and I say this with all the love in the world:


I have stuff to do.  I have a call to live.  I have a church to pastor.  (And children to raise and meals to cook and sleep to get and friends to love).  I know, already, that not everyone agrees with me and what I do. And it’s okay – I know who has called me.

So if you are a woman pastor who feels over it just like me, I feel you.  It sucks. Now, let’s turn off our phones, open our Bibles, and keep working.  God’s got stuff for us to do.

A few pics of me doing what I do – one also does not preach in order to get a flattering picture of one’s self. Clearly.

Dear Youth Pastor…

I did your job once and remember it well.  I was 22 when I started and had energy like I could only wish for now.  I was willing to do anything to give my youth a good time, even if that meant climbing on the church roof to watch fireworks on Canada Day or suggesting we all walk to 7-11 in our pajamas at 3 in the morning at a sleepover.  Waivers? What waivers?

One year I had planned a youth retreat out of town that required a long drive on a bus on an isolated highway.  The weekend it was planned, there was a terrible snow storm settling in for Friday night, and parent after parent called to suggest we postpone it. I didn’t see the big deal.  The youth were excited and I didn’t want to let them down. I mean, accidents are very rare and we could drive slowly.

When some parents finally said they would keep their kids home whether it was cancelled or not, I relented and postponed the retreat to a later date, but I was totally frustrated.  Why did parents have to be so PARANOID? Why couldn’t they just RELAX and let their kids have some fun?  Didn’t they see the life-changing potential of this weekend?  Didn’t they TRUST me? Didn’t they care about their kids’ faith?   

The questions came up again and again as I vented to friends or other youth leaders during my two years as a youth pastor:

Why is that parent not willing to send their child to camp? It will be amazing!

Why won’t they let their kid do the mission trip overseas??  Missions trips are life changing!

Why do they seem so anxious about everything? Why do they ask so many questions?  Why do they have to hover as the bus drives away whenever we go somewhere? Why can’t they just CHILL OUT?

These seemed like very reasonable questions to me.

But now – I’m a parent, and this weekend, I am sending my eleven year old son on his first youth retreat.  On a bus.

And it is three hours away.

And it is supposed to snow.

And I am so sorry, beloved youth pastor, to have asked you every question I was ever asked.  Plus a few more. (I am also sorry, in advance, for lingering at the bus and also for how many texts I will send “just to see how things are going.”).

But this is what I want to say to you, since I didn’t understand it then.  

It’s not because I don’t trust you.

It’s not because I don’t want my kid to have fun.

It’s not because I don’t, more than anything, care about my child’s faith.

It is about some other things, that I didn’t understand back then.

It’s about me learning to share my child’s faith journey for the first time.  

Up until now, all this stuff was the stuff I did with my child.  Now, I realize, you are taking a role that marks a real change for me.  I am thankful for you and I know my child needs more than his parents to teach him about God, but it is also hard to hand him over on a bus and not be going with him. Not to be the one he is asking about his faith questions.  Not to hear where he is struggling.  Not to be part of the fun stories and memories. To share this journey with you is a big change. Important, but hard.

It’s about this happening faster than I was ready for.

Youth pastor, I feel like it was yesterday that I nursed my child in my arms. I know that you see the already-very-grown-up boy that is ready for things like packing his own suitcase and moshing to worship songs, but I can’t help but still see him as the child that needed me to cut up his chicken fingers and sang along to Veggie Tales in his car seat.  This all came faster than I expected, and it’s still a bit jarring.

And it’s about this being just plain HARD.

This child is part of my heart.  And his faith is the thing that I long for most for him.  It is hard to trust someone else with this important task, to invite you in, to remember that it is not about trusting you – but trusting God.

(It is also hard not to worry about driving in bad weather, I now realize. Sorry very-reasonable-parents of my youth group…)

So, dear youth pastor, please be patient with me and my questions.  Send me a text once in a while. Tell me the good stories….tell me the bad ones.  Keep letting me be part of this and feel like we are doing this together. Remember that we are a team, and that  the mere fact that I am handing my most loved and precious gift over to you for this weekend is BECAUSE I trust you – even if all my questions seem to say otherwise.

(Also, please check the snow tires on the bus and for the love of all that is sacred make sure the bus driver doesn’t speed and also remind my kid to change his underwear).

And, one more thing, before I sign off –

Thank you.

The 12 “No”s of Christmas


I totally love Christmas, but let me cut right to the chase: Christmas can be emotionally draining, physically exhausting and financially stressful. It is a time that we can feel pulled in every direction, even by people that we care about. 

That’s why I think we all need reminders that there is space for “no” at Christmas, and  I’ve decided to write about it.  Please embrace these “no”s on whatever day of Christmas they are needed.  

No to Gifts We Can’t Afford (or are just plain unreasonable)

I get it.  When our kids ask for something, we don’t want to let them down.  It’s especially hard if they answer: “But can’t SANTA get it?” No.  This year, our daughter wanted a gift that was well over our budget. When she pulled the Santa card, I simply said that in our house we aren’t allowed to ask Santa for such big gifts.  Parents, YOU CAN SAY NO. Setting limits is one of our jobs, even at Christmas.

This applies to lots of areas. A few years ago, a friend of mine was complaining about the high cost of stockings. I was surprised to think of stockings as something costly. I said: “We only spend about $20 on stockings.”  She was stunned. Her stockings had always included things like DVDs, books, and even jewelry, usually costing up to $100. I told her our stockings are things we need – socks, underwear, or new markers.  And that we don’t always “fill” them! She was excited to learn she could say “no” to $100 stockings!

Is the family “secret Santa” limit out of budget? You can say no.

Is the gift your child wants a piece of junk you don’t want to buy? You can say no.

Are you going to have to go in debt to afford a certain kind of Christmas? YOU CAN SAY NO.

No to Over- Giving

I LOVE buying my kids gifts at Christmas time.  It’s hard to resist sometimes, as I picture their excited faces on Christmas morning.  But here is a little tactic that has helped me keep giving under control. When I picture Christmas morning and it makes me want to buy ONE MORE THING so badly, I pause, and I picture January.  I picture that EXACT gift on a Tuesday in January. Where is it? Is it on a shelf somewhere? Has it been forgotten? Is it just added to a toy pile somewhere? This gives me pause and helps me avoid getting sucked into buying “just one more thing.”

No to Food you Don’t Want

“But I made these JUST FOR YOU!”  It seems like everyone has a reason to make you eat one more cookie.  If you want to, great. But if you are done eating, if you are full, if you want to eat healthy, if you don’t LIKE cookies (or pie, or turkey, or ham or candy canes) – you can say no.  (*Note: As someone frequently accused of “aggressive hospitality, I will also work on saying “no” to begging you to eat more of my food). 


No to Endless Visits

I see a lot of people struggling in what I call the “Christmas sandwich generation,” quite common with people my age.  This is when people are still expected to do EVERY family tradition they did while growing up, even though they now have children of their own. They go to grandma’s on Christmas Eve, Great Aunt Sue’s for Christmas breakfast, hubby’s dad’s for lunch and Mom’s mom for dinner.  It’s even more tricky with people from blended families.

Here’s the thing – at some point, no one can do it all, and we shouldn’t be expected to. (Remember that in order for your MOM to have started the tradition of Christmas breakfast at her house, at some point she STOPPED going to HER mother’s).  I know it will be hard, but yes- you can say no endless visiting and say “yes” to days in pajamas!

No to “But All the Other Kids….”

Every other kid has an Elf on the Shelf.  Every other kid goes to the Santa Clause Parade.  Every other kid gets a new Christmas dress. Etc. Etc. Etc.  It doesn’t matter. Your family can do exactly what YOUR family can manage.  

No to “But It’s Tradition!”

If you have kids, you’ll hear this all the time.  You do something once, and for the next 10 years they’ll ask to do it again and whine “But it’s tradition!!!!” Traditions can be fun, but sometimes you start something you don’t want to do again.  If you can’t manage something this year, for whatever reason, it’s okay to say “no,” even if a tradition is broken.

Now this is where you might be saying.  “This is too much! You don’t know my family!  I’ll never be able to say no to these things!” That’s where the next one comes in.

No to Guilt

Do you need to say no to something this Christmas? You can do so – and you DON’T have to feel guilty about it.  This is true, even for the especially hard ones, like the ones I am about to share…

No to Having to Love Christmas

Not everyone loves Christmas.  Some people find Christmas hard.  Maybe you are grieving. Maybe you are going through a hard time.  You don’t have to love Christmas. If you’re sad, you can be sad. You don’t have to put on a happy face.  You don’t have to celebrate. You can be what you need to be.


No to Making OTHERS Love Christmas

It’s not our job to fix Christmas for everyone who is struggling.  Give space to those who need it to be sad. This is especially true of people newly grieving.  If they need to skip a party, or step back from an event, let them.

No to Boundary Crossing

This is a sad one to have to address but it’s important.  Sometimes being with family for some people means being in a room with their abuser. Let me say this clearly:  You do NOT have to visit/kiss/hug/thank your abuser EVEN IF IT’S CHRISTMAS.  You are allowed to say no.

This also applies to your kids.  Please don’t make your children kiss or hug someone they don’t want to hug.  Say “no” to telling kids they can’t control their own bodies. In our house, we give three options: “Fist bump, high five or hug?”  We can say “no” to having anyone cross someone else’s physical boundaries. 


No to Emotional Manipulation

I know what’s going to happen when you say “no” to some of these things.

“But this could be Grandma’s last Christmas!”

“Don’t you care about tradition?”

“Everyone will be so disappointed if you don’t come!”

It’s hard, I know.  It’s hard to feel responsible for someone else enjoying Christmas. AND – it’s not your job.  You can say no.

This “no” works both ways – we need to be able to hear when people say no without trying to manipulate them into doing what we want.  It’s hard when our loved ones make decisions that change things for us – but we can respect their “no” and show them love by doing so.

No to ____________

This is your fill-in-the-blank for whatever you need.

No to sending Christmas cards, if it’s too overwhelming.

No to throwing a party, if it’s more than you can manage.

No to Christmas baking, if time is running short.

No to french hens and turtle doves and partridges in a tree if you don’t feel like getting stuck with a house full of birds.


Say no, my friends.  Every day that you need to. 

And have a very merry boundary-full Christmas!