Remember You Are Dust…

It has been forever since I’ve occupied this space with current thoughts and words from my pen.  A year to be exact…I have missed this quiet corner of the multiverse.  As a part of my Lenten journey this year, I have committed to sharing thoughts and reflections each day…bear with me…there are many bad habits to break. My life is so different now than when I first started this blog and I find myself with little time to write thoughts (I am so often sharing them through spoken word) and far too many “to do” piles on my desk.  So here we go…

“Remember you are dust…and to dust you shall return…”ash wed

The pastor speaks with hushed tones as he reaches toward me.  He brushes away wisps of hair that refuse to be confined by the barrette at my temple.  His hand sweeps warm across my forehead as the acrid scent of palm ash and musky smell of frankincense and myrrh mingle in my nostrils.

My Grandma always told me that prayers are a sweet aroma in heaven and I wonder if this is what it will smell like- life consumed completely by age and fire and the sweet perfume of holy gifts well spent.

The ashes feel strange on my forehead- not sticky, but not dry either. I ponder the words as the pastor speaks them over and over.

Over my head- middle aged and graying beneath vibrant hair color…

Over an elderly woman in a wheelchair, breath of life whirring from a portable green tank slung over the back of her chair…

Over the young mother with twin Tasmanian devils dashing between her legs and bumping off people like bumper cars…

Over the precious baby…just a few months old…crossing her eyes as the pastor crosses her forehead.

He speaks mortality over us as a blessing. The cross writ on our foreheads as a reminder to die to self and sin and to count our numbered minutes precious.

This is my first time receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday…coming new to experience a tradition not my own and I find the service profound and deeply moving.  I bear my commitment like a brand and sit in my car letting solemn moments pass as I seek God’s heart with my own… and confess that I have been struggling with my faith these last months. This is my mortal moment of reckoning and it  steals my breath and steels my heart and I find in surrender to Christ the freedom to be okay.

I think you are supposed to confess BEFORE you receive this ashy symbol, but I came to this place as a student, with a purely academic motive.  Not seeking God, but seeking an understanding of a faith tradition that has long felt shrouded in mystery.  I researched before I came. I knew the ashes were made from the burnt remains of last years’ palm fronds.  I knew that they are mixed with fragrant oils to dilute the acidity of the ash. I knew the phrases that would be spoken over me. I knew that this tradition has rich symbolism that draws people close to their own mortality and sinfulness. I knew this was the way many enter into the waiting of Lent. I knew everything there was to know and nothing at all…all at once.

I, being ever the student, had reached out to my friends in the clergy in the weeks leading up to this day.  I asked what Ash Wednesday meant to them and how it affected them. I planned a purely journalistic report based on history, research, their answers and my would be experience.  Their answers stunned me, awed me and, yet, in no way prepared me for the beauty of the imposition of ashes. Overwhelmingly, my friends spoke of the beauty of speaking out loud human mortality and the impact of repeating that process over people from all walks of life.

My new friend, Pastor Clint Schnekloth, tells me:  “As a pastor the most powerful part of the imposition of ashes is writing them on all the different foreheads, from heads at death’s door, to heads recently emerged from the womb. The range and texture of our mortality is a powerful, tangible thing.”

And my blog sister and fellow writer, Sara Miles, whose book, City of God, a friend gave me last year says, “Almost invariably, the people I give ashes to– parents, old ladies, gang kids, hipsters, day laborers, drunks– say “thank you.” I say it, too: touching strangers with such intimacy in public, admitting what we share (our mortality), feels like a gift, one that turns the lies of our culture upside down.”

My Yoda and spiritual director, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries, tells me that she believes “at the beginning of Lent, the imposition of ashes can be a meaningful, tangible way of expressing our commitment to die to sin so the Savior can live more fully in us.  It is a powerful reminder of our mortality to help us focus our lives on what is eternally significant.”

They were beautiful sentiments, really.  An indication that  serving a community as Pastor through these rituals comes with its own equally charged graces.  They gave me insight into their lives as leaders of church communities…but they didn’t prepare me for the moment ash touched head and contrition settled into soul. Neither for the sensation of solidarity as I glanced around at the 30 or so foreheads marked as mine…infant, child, adult and elder…all bearing the blessing of our death to sin. It was stunning, and powerful and I am forever changed by it.

Merciful Father,
we have sinned against heaven and before you.
We do not fully live as your sons and daughters.
We use your gifts to our own ends.
Forgive us and restore us,
that we may resist all that draws us away from you,
and be at peace with one another. Amen.

Surrendered Heart: Living Captivated

https://www.facebook.com/captivatingheartretreat/app_165292890192474

Surrendered Heart is the next step in the Captivating Heart Retreat Series. Stripped down, focused and intimate, this retreat is a weekend away with other women seeking deep healing and deep communion with God. Taught by Marilyn Hodgin, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries and Strings Attached’s own Cari Kaufman, we are incredibly excited about what God is inviting us to. Surrendered Heart takes place at St Scholastica Retreat Center in Ft Smith, Arkansas, May 13-15, 2016. For more information go to www.captivatingheart.com.  This event is designed for those ladies who have attended Captivating Heart or a similar Captivating based retreat or who have been through the Captivating:Heart to Heart DVD series.

Captivating Heart 2014 is almost here…and it is going to be awesome!

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Ya’ll, I can’t hardly wait! Captivating Heart this year is going to knock your socks off! God has taken this team down some new roads to some new experiences.  We hope to facilitate an amazing, life-changing encounter with the living Lord of lords in October and I. Can’t. Wait!

Would you come?

Oh….ladies…Jesus is tenderly inviting you….Would you say yes?

For all the details, hit the Captivating Heart site at www.captivatingheart.com/events.  Scholarships are available if finances are an issue, simply send and email requesting a scholarship application to captivatingheartretreat@gmail.com.

Guest Post- The Dirty Truth About Honoraria

I quite often get questions from ministry leaders about how to pay Christian speakers and what the host church’s responsibility in providing for guest speakers they bring in.  I, personally, speak on Love offering and have been provided for beautifully in that way.  However, I have also been a victim of the t-shirt/table centerpiece payment for my services.  The following post is a great look into the amount of work and time that goes into to preparing for a speaking engagement and the kind of thought we need to put into what it looks like to really honor the messengers of our God.

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The Dirty Truth About Honoraria

John Stackhouse

The way some Christian churches and other organizations pay their speakers, it makes me embarrassed to be a member of the same faith.

A friend of mine is a gifted staff worker with a well-known Christian organization on a university campus. He is married, with three young children, and works hard and long at his job. Frequently, he is asked to speak at churches’ youth retreats or special events sponsored by other groups. Rarely is he paid well for what is, in fact, overtime work — for audiences other than the one that pays his regular salary.

One weekend, he left his family to speak at a retreat for more than 100 young people, each of whom paid to go away to a well-furnished camp for three days. My friend gave four talks and participated in a question-and-answer session — a typical, and demanding, schedule. But his work didn’t end there, of course. Retreat speakers are “on call” all weekend: for impromptu counseling, offering advice over mealtimes, and modeling what they preach on the volleyball court or around the campfire. Make no mistake: There is very little relaxing in that role, however restful the retreat might be for everyone else.

So at the end of this tiring weekend, at the close of the Sunday luncheon, the leader of the group thanked him profusely at the front of the dining hall (he had gone over very well). Then he tossed the speaker a T-shirt emblazoned with the group’s logo while everyone clapped. It took my friend several minutes to realize that this shirt was his total payment for the weekend’s work. He got in his car, without even a check for gasoline, and headed back to his waiting family…. read the rest of the post here…

Five Minute Friday- Fly

 

On Fridays around these parts we stop, drop, and write.

For fun, for love of the sound of words, for play, for delight, for joy and celebration at the art of communication.

For only five short, bold, beautiful minutes. Unscripted and unedited. We just write without worrying if it’s just right or not.

Won’t you join us?

Here are the rules:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. Most importantly: leave a comment for the person who linked up before you – encouraging them in their writing!

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes on:

Today’s prompt is:  Fly

Ready? GO!

There is a moment when time stops just before I jump.  There is a split second, blink of the eye instant where doubt creeps in and I pray that my people see me, that they hear me and that they know me well enough to know that I am going for it. There is a moment when I wonder if my troupe will catch me…or not…and my launch into the air will be met with gravity and floor.

But it’s just a moment….because in this world- as it is in the world of improv…you have to trust that when you jump, you will be caught.  And because I was born without wings or a superpower and my cape is dirty and in the wash :), when I jump, the only way I can fly is on the hands and strength of the people I trust to catch me.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to "fly" the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump).  It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to “fly” the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump). It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

STOP!

Back on the Wagon…for when you’ve been away too long.

It’s been too long since I’ve haunted these pages.  I am sorry.  I do have reasons…good ones…but I promised consistency, didn’t I? And I love this place here that we’ve created together.  A place where I can turn raw sentiment into flowery words; where I can share the things God is teaching me;  where I can ask hard questions and maybe sometimes get answers, but most times just get support. Most of all, a place, where you can find these things too (I hope).  But I haven’t been around much lately….I kind of fell off the wagon, eh?

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This is the wagon I hopped on…Captivating Heart 2013

This year’s Captivating Heart was the best yet.  Sixty women from 5 states joined us in Oklahoma for our second year.  We’ve already begun to plan our third- perhaps two events next year.  And, what I’ve found is that there is “Administrative Leader Cari” and “Creative Writer Cari”, but they don’t tend to inhabit the same time and space well.

I did have moments when God’s beauty was just so breathtaking that I wanted to pick up my pen and write…

Like this one…

All photo credits - Brandi Jones

All photo credits – Brandi Jones

and this one…

Photo credit Brandi Jones

Photo credit Brandi Jones

I have long wanted to capture in words what my heart has been learning in real time, but the words don’t come…and the time is short…and I’m real sorry ’bout that.  Now that I am exiting this very busy speaking season, I hope to experience a flurry of writing! I hope to regail you with wise (and maybe even some funny) stories.  So stay tuned…there is so much more to come!

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

 

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013

 

 

What’s going on ’round here?

Oh my! Has it really been over a month since I posted?  So much for that commitment to consistency, eh? Can you ever forgive me?

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I have been crazy busy preparing for Captivating Heart 2013.  What you haven’t heard about it? You absolutely MUST join us on Oct 11-13 at New Life Ranch…it is going to be amazing! You can read about what IT is, over here at www.captivatingheart.com.

Or better yet, why don’t you read what Jamie has to say about it over here.

I promise someday soon I will get back to regular posts, but it probably won’t be until mid-October!

Grace and Peace,

What Ya Been Up To Lately?

Life is zooming by at the speed of light (or faster at times it seems!) Can you believe that it is already mid-March?  As we head into Spring Break, I just wanted to take a day and let you know what kind of (good) trouble we’ve been getting ourselves into here at Strings Attached.

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Many of you know that is often feast or famine….and this year is no different! I will have seasons with no engagements and then times when I am speaking somewhere new every week.  Now that I am teaching family caregivers of folks with Alzheimer’s and other dementias at Home Instead Senior Care, I find myself perpetually in the preparation cycle for the next presentation.  I am currently neck deep in one of those feast seasons and speaking nearly every weekend in March and April.  I still have dates available in summer and early fall! Go to the Contact us tab to request a date!

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Planning for our big conference, Captivating Heart is underway and running smoothly! You should come this year! Last year’s event was a phenomenal experience and we can’t wait to do it again! Registration is open and space is limited, so register today and don’t miss out!
Go to www.captivatingheart.com for more details.

In preparation for Captivating Heart we a couple of events coming up to raise both awareness and funds, and can’t wait to tell you about them!

Princess Warrior Games- Sunday, May 19, 2013  2 pm – 5 pm

Don’t let the name throw you, this one is open to warriors of all types, but we specifically want to celebrate the Princess Warrior in all of us daughters of the King.

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Strings Attached has partnered with Modern Mission Outdoor Laser Tag (think paintball without the pain!) for a Sunday afternoon full of embracing your inner warrior! Several missions will be run with an all-Princess game at 3pm.  This event is open to the entire family and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon! You must purchase your tickets in advance for this event and space will fill up quickly! Get your tickets today!

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2nd Annual Ladies’ Garden Party- Saturday, June 8, 2013  10 am -12 pm

We had so much fun last year, we’re doing it again!
IMG_4116So maybe taking out opposing forces on the battlefield isn’t your thing….perhaps you are more dresses and tiaras kind of gal. Or maybe you are like me and like to hold your pinky up when you drink tea one week and shoot at folks another….this event is for you.

Join us for morning tea in the garden with the ladies. ..crumpets, delicate tea cups, ummm….cupcakes….a silent auction full of lovely items and an opportunity to dress in your prettiest sundress and hat and enjoy the company of other ladies.  Tickets must be purchased in advance, so get yours today!
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And much more…

We have a couple of other events in the planning stages…stay tuned for more information about those, but until then, get your tickets today for these great fundraising events!

Do you want to donate to the Captivating Heart Retreat, but can’t make one of our awesome fundraisers?  No worries…you can donate through paypal just by clicking here.  Every little bit helps to make Captivating Heart better!

I hoping to be back on schedule with consistent posts coming in the next couple of weeks….this month has been NUTS! (but no worries, I’ll keep ya updated along the way!)

Grace and Peace,

How Idea Gardens Changed the Way I Write

I have a confession to make.

I don’t write everyday and I am horribly unorganized.  

That’s two confessions isn’t it?

For a long time I thought that made me a bad writer…or at the least a bad blogger…because blogging is about consistency right?  What I found is that lots of writers and bloggers struggle with this.

So back in November, I spoke at a conference called the State of Now conference. While I was there I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow writer/blogger/speaker, Simon Salt.  Simon challenged these two confessions and wagered that if I would commit to writing everyday and organizing my posts into series that I would be able to increase the consistency of my posts.  I listened skeptically, but came home and put some of his suggestions in play.  I also began to do research into how to better plan out my posts and found a marvelous site called productiveflourishing.com that has changed the way I organize and structure my writing.

So how does a writer who works three days a week, has two pre-teen children, is a very active speaker and worship leader and has only a few hours a week to manage two blogs find time to post three times a week on one blog and once a week on another?

Well, first I must admit, I am no expert at this practice, but I want to share with you what has worked for me.

As a writer who does not prolifically churn out words, it is sometimes difficult to “be inspired” to write on the days that I have time.  I find most often that my inspiration to write comes in my daily life as I stumble across truths that break over me like a dawning sunrise or something profound and otherworldly stumbles out my friends’ or my own mouth by accident. These are the times that I want to sit and write, but unfortunately, my life didn’t come with a remote control with a pause button.  Did yours? I wonder if amazon.com carries those?

However, I am blessed to live in an age of technology where I have the ability to jot down simple ideas and take them wherever I go. I call this my “idea garden.”
planting seeds
I keep my idea garden on Google Drive because I can create documents and eventually turn those into blog posts that I then move to a folder called “Posts written”…it’s like my online back-up of my writing.

The backbone of my idea garden comes from this post from Productive Flourishing (I am a big fan of their blog planner sheets- I’ll write more about those later).

So the logistics look like this:

I have created a folder called “Idea Garden” in my google drive account.  Whenever I have a thought about a good blog post- even if it’s just a title- I will create a new document in that folder under that title.  If I have thoughts or quotes that sparked the idea, I will jot those down as notes.  Each week, I spend an hour “watering the seeds” of my idea garden.

Sometimes, a post just flows out of the initial idea immediately.  Sometimes the seed germinates in the garden for a while. Either way, this is a way for me to capture and save inspiration even when it comes at a time when I can’t immediately stop and write.  I just take a couple of seconds to jot it down in my idea garden and I don’t have to worry about losing the thought.

This practice alone has really transformed my blogging from inconsistent to mostly consistent. I think if you give it a try, it will help you too!

What about you? Do you use an idea garden?

My Top Five Picks: Get-to-Know-You Activities

Most often when I am asked for help in planning events for women’s ministries (did you know that I did that? See the “Contact Us: Pick My Brain” tab for more information), I am asked for ideas for icebreakers or games that help us get-to know each other.  I actually divide these into two categories because I think icebreakersare really games or activities that loosen us up and help get conversations started and what I call “get-to-know-yous” are activities that help me learn more about you and, in some cases, take the conversation deeper….it is in these activities that team-building begins to take place.

So I’ve shared with you my top five icebreakers and mixers, but I thought I might share with you some of these deeper activities. Some of these came from my own mind, others came from ideas from pinterest, and a couple of these came from a great resource by Group.com called Icebreakers Galore. I’d love for you guys to share your resources with me! Feel free to drop a comment!

Without further ado, my top five get-to-know-yous:

One Unique Thing:

 

Supplies:  Slips of paper and writing utensils

paper

Hand out a slip of paper and writing utensil to each guest.  Ask them to write one unique thing about themselves on the paper (something that most people don’t know.) Put the papers in a basket and draw three out periodically throughout the evening. Read the unique thing out loud and ask the group to try to guess whose paper it is.  Ask the person who wrote it to tell you more about the story in front of the group (if they are willing.)

Common Bonds:

Supplies:  None needed (except for a little patience and the ability to command the room: )

This game is a great way to get your group up and moving around and to move people into groups that they wouldn’t normally sort themselves in. It also gives an opportunity to share bits and pieces of our story with one another.

Just as a warning- this game requires a pretty big area of to work in and whoever is leading this exercise needs to be able to wrangle the group back to attention when it’s time to move on to the next group of questions.

Before starting this game, explain that you will be calling out a category and then division within each category.  Each person will go the category division that best fits her. Once everyone is in her division, you will read a question and everyone will take turns answering that question within her group. When they are finished, they should all raise their hands to let you know that they are ready to move.

You can choose your own categories, divisions and questions, but here are some examples:

Cat 1: Birth Order:  The divisions are oldest, middles, youngest and onlys (tell them where each group will meet)

Q: Describe the member of your family you are most like. Why?

Cat 2: How long have you lived here?  Divisions: whole life, half of my life, less than a quarter of my life, I’m new here

Q: What do you remember about the day you moved here?

Cat 3:  What do you like to do in your free time?  Division: read, time with friends, go shopping , watch tv

Q: What’s your favorite hobby?

Cat 4:  Vacation destination:  home, sunny beach, mountains, chocolate factory

Q: What’s your favorite vacation location?

This is a great activity for forming more of those simple connections that bond us together, and a great follow up activity to “Me, too.”  Ask a couple of the ladies to share things they have learned that they didn’t know before.

Pass the Beans:

Sharing our hidden talents...

Sharing our hidden talents…

Supplies: 15 dried beans for each participant

Everyone has a special talent  and unique experiences, but sometimes they are hidden, so no one else knows about them. The goal of this game is to reveal those gifts to the rest of the group.

Ask women to form groups of five, and then have each group sit in a circle. Give each person 15 beans. Explain that the girls are to try and collect beans by describing their unique experiences or abilities. For example, a woman might tell about running in a marathon, being able to recite all the books of the Bible, or her passion for painting with watercolors. Whatever activity they describe must be absolutely true.

After someone shares an activity, each lady who has never done that must give the person who shared one bean.  Have participants take turns listing their unique experiences and abilities until each person has shared 10 activities.
After everyone has shared at least 10 activities, ask women to report how many beans they’ve collected. Then ask for volunteers to share interesting activities they heard about and encourage those that have done that activity to share more about their stories.

The purpose of these next two games is to go deeper into our stories with one another.  These should definitely fall later in your program, after women have had some time to get to know each other a bit.

Deeper Questions:

Supplies:  Chairs and tables

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This exercise is best done in groups of less than ten(5-8 is the perfect range) sitting in circles or at circle tables. Be sure to have tissues handy as this can sometimes get emotional.

Have the ladies sit in a circle (or around a table) and go around the group answering these questions one at time.  Allow about 2-3 min for each woman or more as time allows.  Don’t rush these, there are beautiful stories here.

1.  What is your happiest memory from your childhood?
2.  What is the one thing you will never compromise or can’t live without?
3.  What is your biggest fear?

The Hot Seat:

Supplies: Chairs

This is another activity that really encourages depth in sharing. This activity is best done in smaller groups of 5-8.

Sit in a circle around an empty chair. Ask for a volunteer to sit in the “Hot Seat.”  Ask them to tell about a time in the last week that she experienced the presence of God.  Then ask others to sit in the hot seat and share.  Make up your own questions or use some of these:

1.  Tell us about a time last week you roared with laughter?
2.  What was the topic of the last serious discussion you had with someone close to you?
3.  In what way did you come to the aid of someone last week?

You don’t necessarily have to come up with your own questions. Let the group come up with questions to answer.  Start with a few that are guided and then move to group suggestions.