(Part 3) Every Part of the Tree Matters
As the phone rang, I hastily wiped the sweat from my palms before reaching over to answer. Attempting to sound composed, I took a series of quick, deep breaths, but it felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. The call I had been dreading had finally arrived: my husband, Evan, was on his way home.
I had been pondering the same question in my mind ever since the incident: "Should I forewarn Evan about what happened, or let him discover what occurred on his own?" The element of surprise!
In our basement, we had this exquisite furniture set. The entire ensemble was crafted from sleek black upholstery and remained untouched by any stains. It was the epitome of comfort, surpassing any other furniture I had ever owned. I longed to showcase its beauty. As I sat upon it, the scent of fresh furniture filled the air. In reality, I lived in a home bustling with the energy of two playful toddlers, where nothing escaped the clutches of their sticky fingers.
There sat an old, brown, stained couch in the main living room, where the lovely furniture should be showcased. If you spent enough time on it, you might catch a hint of spilled milk, though the source remained elusive. It was made from a material that even water could stain. Naturally, I desired a change, but Evan, in his first year of residency, understandably had other priorities. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the couch in question was a bulky, back-breaking queen-sized sleeper sofa.
If you've ever had the joy of lugging around a sleeper sofa, you're probably aware of how needlessly heavy, bulky, and awkward they can be to handle. They're the bane of even the most experienced movers. Can a single person manage to carry one without any help? Unless there are exceptional circumstances at play, the answer is most likely a resounding no.
On that particular day, my mind pondered, "Cayela, how difficult could it possibly be to maneuver this sofa down the stairs?" Confidently, I replied, "Surely it can't be that challenging. It's a downward slope, and gravity is on our side." However, I failed to consider one crucial factor - the staircase of our antiquated duplex took an abrupt turn just six steps down, necessitating delicate navigation.
But my focus was fixed on the end goal. Our musty eyesore of a couch hidden away, replaced by welcoming and pleasant furniture. With determination, I gave the couch a few hearty pushes and, after about an hour, wedged it tightly between the walls. I couldn't move it back upstairs or in any direction. The word stuck would put it lightly. Even though the staircase was just a few feet from the front door, my brain whispered, "Who knows, Cayela. Maybe Evan won't even notice!"
As it turns out, he did take notice. He walked in, let out a deep sigh, and inquired about my intentions. "Did I truly believe that the couch would magically navigate the landing?" His tone wasn't raised; that's just not his style. However, he was visibly perturbed. He promptly fetched his toolbox and commenced the task of removing the couch from our staircase.
In the Bible, Luke 14:28-30 says:
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish."
You and your church may have the best ideas and a great end goal in sight, but without a team, foundation, and a plan to see it through, your family advocacy ministry could end up as stuck as our couch was, unable to move forward.
I have a set of coffee mugs in our home. One says, "He is the anchor," while the other states, "She is the sail." I cannot imagine a more fitting description of our marriage. Thriving and sustainable ministries require both aspects as well: a firm foundation and vision.
Visionary individuals are characterized by their creativity, inspiration, and problem-solving abilities, which make them valuable contributors. However, they may sometimes wrestle with an abundance of ideas, a tendency to grow bored easily, and a lack of interest in details.
Addressing a crisis may appear straightforward: identify the problem and propose a solution. However, it is akin to planting a tree for shade without considering the climate, soil quality, or weather conditions. Similarly, tackling complex issues like the child welfare system or adoption requires us to acknowledge that the solutions are neither simple nor swift.
It's tempting to overlook certain aspects of a family advocacy ministry, but just like a tree, every detail is crucial. Each component plays a vital role in creating a strong and impactful foundation.
The Big Picture
At this moment, you are likely getting ready or have already responded to the call to launch a Family Advocacy Ministry. As you have noticed, I am using the metaphor of a tree to help illustrate the process. However, wherever there are trees, there are also squirrels. If you're anything like me, you might find it tempting to chase after them.
You may be curious as to why I require such an assortment of components when my objective for our church is singular. However, this is precisely the essence of my argument. When we focus solely on accomplishing one objective, there is a risk of stopping there.
The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.
Having a holistic view enables collaboration towards a shared purpose, mission, and goals. It grants us insight into the patience required for a tree to grow and the significance of every component in its fruition.
We will break down every part in future chapters, but let us quickly understand each piece and why it matters.
We aim to plant or seed a Family Advocacy Ministry or better define the work we are already doing as a church.
In order for this ministry to flourish, prayer is vital. We will pray before our meetings, after our meetings, and even when we are not gathered. Why? Because it is through our communication with the Father that we both receive and share His guidance. Let your voice be heard, and allow yourself to listen to His divine wisdom.
We sow the seeds of discipleship in the fertile soil of hearts. Jesus urges us to spread his love, guiding others to uncover his true essence and fostering a deeper connection with him.
Tree roots serve as the steadfast foundation, nurturing the tree and fostering its growth. Similarly, a Family Advocacy Ministry's roots encompass purpose, awareness, church mission, leadership, collaboration, and identity. These foundational elements endure, even as your focus and endeavors evolve, always reminding you of your core existence.
The Trunk and Branches
The core of a family advocacy ministry lies in its branches and activities. Just as a tree can have multiple trunks, a ministry can have multiple areas of focus. However, it is crucial to choose and establish a solid foundation in one area before expanding to others. Your focus could be on expectant mothers, prevention, foster care, adoption, trafficking, or any other aspect related to the well-being of vulnerable children who are unable to protect themselves.
Once you have established your focus, you can expand it by offering activities and assigning specific roles or opportunities to those who are working alongside you. This creates a collaborative environment and enhances productivity.
During this phase, we have the opportunity to nurture and enhance the growth of the tree through dedicated care and effort. It is crucial to provide the tree with adequate watering, fertilization, pruning, and attention. Additionally, this phase involves the development of plans and strategies, effective communication, and the pursuit of both short-term and long-term goals. By doing so, we ensure the tree thrives and flourishes.
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Just as our lives depend on Jesus, so does a tree rely on the sun. Our work is not only born out of His grace but also sustained by it. Like a tree reaching for the sun, our work should always aim to direct ourselves and others back to Him, the source of all inspiration and purpose.
Why plant a tree?
During my time in sixth grade, our school organized a special Earth Day presentation. As part of this event, every sixth grader was given the opportunity to select a tree of their choice, completely free of charge. We were then instructed to bring the tree home and plant it ourselves. The teachers emphasized the importance of visualizing the perfect spot for our tree. Should it be nestled in a shaded area, or bathed in sunlight? It was crucial to carefully consider the location and select a tree that would thrive in its surroundings.
As I surveyed the surrounding trees, my heart skipped a beat. While others eagerly chose the largest and healthiest options, there was a lonely tree secluded in the corner. Despite the allure of the bigger and stronger ones, my intuition guided me towards the leafless and seemingly lifeless tree. However, the woman leading the discussion discouraged me, saying,
"Oh, honey. You don't want that tree."
She gave me a puzzled look and spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, almost with a slight southern drawl, "Honey, that tree is dead." The word "dead" was pronounced with two syllables. "Furthermore, I cannot even identify the type of tree it is or provide guidance on how to care for it. The label has fallen off. I highly recommend choosing a different one."
I would not be dissuaded.
Filled with pride, I vividly recall the day I brought the tree home, practically skipping up the front steps. As I presented it to my mother, her laughter echoed through the room. It seemed that no one, not even my own mother, believed in the potential of my tree. Nevertheless, undeterred, I carefully placed it on the windowsill, basking it in the warm sunlight, and nourished it with a generous sip of water. With unwavering determination, I vowed to nurture it to fruition.
As you drive by my home in the heart of Eureka, Kansas, you'll come across a remarkable tree that has withstood not one, but two encounters with tornadoes. This resilient tree has stood the test of time, existing long before my birth. However, if we reflect back to my sixth-grade Earth Day presentation, what became of the tree? Regrettably, it met the same fate as predicted by the lady—it perished.
Unfortunately, this story lacks the happy ending we had hoped for, and you might question why I would include it at all. The harsh reality is: feeling sorry for something is not enough.
While you may have volunteers who are moved by heartbreaking stories and compassion, your role is to guide them from emotions to action. It is crucial to have a well-thought-out plan.
Engaging in sporadic activities may seem fairly straightforward, so why bother with the endeavor of planting a tree? Planting a tree holds profound significance as we embrace the great commission and embody the great commandment to love God and others. A tree not only provides shelter and solace to those burdened by their current circumstances, but it also shields them from relentless gusts that may appear everlasting. Moreover, trees bestow beauty and elegance upon our communities, serving as a poignant reminder to the suffering and brokenhearted that they are cherished.
Trees have a remarkable ability to transform something lethal into the essence of vitality, much like how Jesus redeemed our sins and bestowed upon us eternal life.
Establishing a family advocacy ministry doesn't have to be a painstakingly slow endeavor, causing anguish for visionary and passionate advocates. It entails grasping the essence of family advocacy ministry, comprehending the purpose behind our work, and identifying the individuals who will join us on this journey before embarking on it ourselves.
Just as a tree needs a seed, roots, sun, and water, lasting family advocacy ministries require pastoral support, trauma awareness, teamwork, and collaboration. These elements bring about cultural changes in how we nurture and care for children and families in our communities. Imagine the transformative impact if multiple churches in your city embraced this approach, working together in unity. It would forever shape your child welfare system and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.
It is imperative to recognize and embrace the complexity of family advocacy ministry. It requires being aware and understanding that our work can be emotionally draining, yet immensely rewarding. We must also acknowledge the need for continual learning, recognizing that we are always growing and adapting as we navigate new challenges. As we step out in faith, trusting God will provide the resources necessary to equip us, we are reminded of the beauty in loving and caring for families in need.