Category Archives: HG Staff

The Power of Story

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

The Power of Story

“Once upon a time” … or “in a galaxy far far away” may be familiar tag lines of popular stories, which are very entertaining, but they don’t compare to the power of another kind of story.

A few years back, my wife and I prayerfully decided we wanted more children.  At this point, we already had three young daughters.  I really wanted to have a son but felt confident the genetic jackpot would land on female this next round.   I wasn’t sure I could handle being outnumbered 5 to 1. God placed a desire on our hearts to adopt, and we went from there.  We discovered our desire to adopt an African-American boy was well received.  Several months of paperwork and waiting followed, and then suddenly we got a call.  We drove through the night and arrived in Nashville.  The baby and birth mom were still at the hospital.  As soon as we saw this little one, we fell in love.  After spending some time with his birth mom, a bond began to form.  The following day we headed home.

My son loves to hear this story, especially the part about us falling in love with him and later when his sisters went gaga over him.  It reminds him of who he is and that he is part of our family.  His story merged with our story that day.  My wife has done a wonderful job of creating scrapbooks with photos from each year of our family’s existence.  The kids love to go through and talk about those times.

The power of our story is rooted in reminding us of our value, our importance, and our identity.  My children love to hear their birth stories as a milestone of their being part of our family.  God’s story is powerful in the same way.  The fall of man, the birth of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection all highlight his amazing love, but also our immeasurable value to the Father.  Sharing the God’s whole story during Easter is a great way to help kids merge their stories with his.

Another powerful story is our testimony.  Sharing how we became Christ followers, how our trajectory was diverted and our story merged fully with God’s gives our children insight into our hearts and a glimpse of being a part of a much bigger family – God’s family.  In a way, our testimony is our adoption story.  God adopted us, and when we embraced him as our Father, we became his children.

I encourage you to share stories during this Easter weekend.

  • Tell the story of each child’s birth or adoption (be sure to share what you felt)
  • Tell God’s whole story – the need for a savior, for a price to be paid, and his victory as well as what it means to us.
  • Tell your faith story and let your children know why you decided to follow Christ.
  • Talk about your faith story as your birth story/adoption story and how you are a child of God’s now.

The power of these stories is their ability to remind us of our identity, our value, and connect us.  Let your stories be told, retold, and continuing to be told a milestone.

A Colorful Village

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By Ruth Richmond, Associate Worship Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

God cares for us through the willing hands of people around us. It’s his design to accomplish his purposes in partnership with humans.  One stunningly beautiful result of this design is that the gifts, talents, faith and even the interests of the people that surround us swirl their colors into our lives. God uses others to help us discover talents and have experiences that reveal our own capacities for things like faith, love and strength.

I have a very colorful testimony not because I took a dramatic turn away from evil, but because all of my life willing Christians dipped, speckled, swirled, and buffed me. They enabled me to catch the light and reflect it in my own way so that I could bring prismatic light to dark places. I was shown my strength and was deeply, honestly connected to the love of God through the Christ followers around me.

My general trajectory was set by the age of six or eight because of the early influencers around me at church.  I wonder what I would be doing today if I’d had different people around me at church as a child?  Don’t you love looking back at your life and realizing a new thread of the narrative that God was weaving in all along the way? It’s a proof of His love that He works so much together for our good regardless of whether we will ever notice or thank Him.

Speaking of that, thank you God, for the rag-tag group of farmers and small town folk at the First Presbyterian Church in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. (Amen!)

Wow, God – thanks for Toots, who taught me about Jesus’ birthday and sang with us in pre-school. Thanks for Bessie, the quiet gray widow who took on the challenge of teaching rambunctious young grade schoolers!  (Amen!)

Thanks for the Pastor and his wife who began to lead the church when I was six. And that she started a choir for the children. Thanks that she was willing to stick with it even though we were squirrely. And thanks that she noticed I could always start a song in just about the right key, because then I noticed that about me, too, and started thinking of myself as musical. (Amen!)

Thank you for the local band teacher John, and his wife, Kay: Deeply passionate educators who joined our church and shared their interest in music contagiously. Thank you for the clarity of their love and for their obedience to leave us when you called them to minister at a school in the Philippines. (Amen!)

She (Kay) was my first and, therefore, my favorite piano teacher. My lessons were right after school. She prayed with me and had me memorize scripture verses. She taught me to play hymns and insisted that I sing them simultaneously. She taught me to write down musical thoughts on paper. I was eight when we started and thirteen when she left. By then, the path was level before me. At seventeen, I wrote my first five songs for piano, all in one sitting. At nineteen, I started working toward a music degree at Bethel College.

Now, I feel closest to God when I am writing musical thoughts on paper. I have worked for fifteen years singing, playing piano, and bringing music to this church. I have little kids of my own to share music with.  And, I’ve just been tasked with supporting and developing the worship area in Heroes Gate, so I have truly come full circle!”

My experience proves that when it comes to kids, it “takes a village”. A village full of willing, loving adults. Not because kids are difficult, but because they’re curious and clear: Ready to have the color and love of their village swirled into them.

I’m going to use this blog to give a little pitch! I am currently looking for accomplished musicians who can support the kids’ worship time in Heroes Gate. The village is forming now. If Woodland Hills is your church, please seek God about joining me and then contact me at rrichmond@whchurch.org.

Community

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By Paula Bowlby, Early Childhood Associate Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Today I was thinking back to my when my kids were in elementary school. Each of them in 4th grade had a unit in Social Studies where they learned about neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities, states and so on. I have been thinking about community and the definitions of community. In elementary school, community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” We as parents have the opportunity to instill a different type of community in our kids. Community defined as, “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

In the Bible, we have several examples of community. In Hebrews, we are encouraged to meet together and encourage each other. In Galatians, we are called to bear each other’s burdens. We are created to be communal people, doing life together, praying for each other, helping each other and being together. Community is a beautiful thing.

The story of my life would be very different without my community. My “core” group of friends and family have been through thick and thin with me. They pray for me, they love me and they encourage me. Kingdom happens in community; Jesus is there. He moves in community. He uses us to encourage others and visa versa.

As part of my job, I have the privilege to participate in many types of community. In a church our size, it is sometimes hard to connect. I thought today I would take the opportunity to share with you a few places where you might meet a friend or find community.

Sunday mornings

Try sitting in the same spot each week. According to some of our reliable regulars, by sitting in the same spot, they have met and made friends. Some of the “neighbors” in the seats next to them now feel like their community and their church.

Volunteering is a great way to meet and establish community. For me, when I started coming to Woodland Hills, I met some of my very best friends this way.

Tuesdays

Morning Meet-Up meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays here at Woodland Hills. It is a time when parents meet with their preschoolers and have a time of fellowship and playtime. Check out their Facebook page or consider even joining the Facebook group.

Cultivate is in session on Tuesday evenings and new classes are starting soon. Come to a class and meet people in a smaller setting. Free childcare is provided.

Thursdays-

The Refuge is a wonderful community that meets on Thursday evenings. The meal starts at 6, worship at 6:30 and teaching time around 7 pm. There are several break outs to check out at 7:30. Free childcare is provided.

Being a healthy, connected parent is a gift to your children. To help your children develop community for themselves, I suggest a couple simple steps:

  • Attending the same service regularly
  • Be on time! It is hard for kids to walk in to a group and to have missed out on something or to walk into a large group because they are late.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be excited for them to go to class and to be with friends. Help them connect to their leaders and kids in the room. Your excitement will be contagious.
  • Be bold and connect with a parent of a child the same age as yours in the Gathering Area or the hallway. Maybe meet for lunch or a playdate.

Community is wonderful. If you or your child is having a hard time finding community, seek us out. We are happy to be of assistance and are here to help. Check out our website for activities that are happening at Woodland Hills.

Parenting When Life Hits the Fan

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Parenting can be tricky even in the best of times. Parenting can be challenging, exhausting, and often frustrating, but it is also worthwhile, life enhancing, and remarkable. There are highs and lows over the long haul of being a parent. We may have 3 healthy kids one moment, and the next; we have 3 vomit-spewing volcanoes. You may experience a blissful vacation together as a family only to find it ruined on the car ride home with bickering and whining, sometimes even among the kids. Typically, family life doesn’t have many dramatic highs and lows; it is subtler with bumps and small updrafts.

Yet, there are families that experience a life changing moment that can only be defined as crappy (albeit in more mature language). I’m not talking about Blair Walsh missing an easy field goal in a playoff game or even cell phones falling into the toilet. Think worse!

For my family, October 7th, 2005 was our life changing moment. I was on the roof of my friend’s house helping to redo the roof. We worked into the dark, which upon 20/20 hindsight was a really dumb idea no matter how much you want to get done. I took one wrong step and found myself falling, then suddenly on the ground in a lot of pain. I was quickly rushed to HCMC by ambulance. My friend had to make a very difficult and painful call informing my wife that I was hurt pretty bad. Backstory: we had just had our third child five weeks before, meaning we had 3 kids under the age of 3 years living at home, and I was the primary breadwinner.

My wife rounded up a bunch of friends, our small group, and her parents. The doctors informed her that I had broken two vertebrae in my lower back. There was concern that my spinal cord had been damaged, even though the CT scan didn’t show any obvious issues. I underwent surgery the next day. Over 10 hours, the doctors repaired my vertebrae using hardware. I spent 2 weeks recovering from the surgery at HCMC and then was moved to Abbot Northwestern. Over the next 10 weeks, I had to relearn how to function without half of my body. I was officially pronounced a complete paraplegic, meaning that no feeling or movement would return below my waist.

My wife was amazing through all of this. With support from church staff, small group members, friends, and family she was able to spend time with me everyday. My kids also visited me often, especially my new baby daughter, since she was dependent on my wife for food. People provided meals, lots and lots of prayer, cards, money, and even modified my home so it was ready for my return.

The next phase of recovery was 2 months of living at home and learning how to function in that environment while recovering from the surgery. Notice, I haven’t mentioned learning how to parent from a wheelchair yet. My wife was a single parent for 4 months while I focused on recovery. Even still, after I returned to work, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and my emotions were all over the place, so I still wasn’t very helpful in the parenting department. My kids were great! They were a huge motivation for me to get out of the hospital and to continue even when everything really seemed to suck.

Over the next year, my wife continued to care for the kids and for me. My independence was growing, but doctor and therapy appointments took a lot of time. Strangely enough, those moments away together gave us a lot of time to connect and process together while other people cared for our kids. People continued to bless us throughout the next year by cleaning our house, doing lawn work, making meals, babysitting, and even organizing a hugely successful fundraiser.

As life’s new rhythms began to emerge, we had to deal with a new kind of healing process.   I began to mourn the loss of who I was with legs. Being in the wheelchair changed how I operated in my job, in my giftings, in my parenting, and in my marriage. Depression and frustration took us into another season of crap.

Over time, we began to realize a few things that helped us. When you are laid bare from pain, suffering, or grief, your core identity is viewable. My identity as a priceless and loved child of God continued to shine through all of the garbage moments. My kids, our friends, and people around us continued to see this part of me even when I was so distracted by the hardships that I couldn’t see it. Being surrounded by a community of love, lifted in prayer constantly, and cared for reflected God’s love back into my life over and over again until I couldn’t deny that God was bringing good out of this crappy situation.

Struggling reminds us also that we need God. My wife and I relied heavily upon God during those two years of hardship. I was often still and had the opportunity to hear God’s voice directly and through others. Whether I was experiencing a high or a low, I could feel God’s presence throughout. I knew without a doubt that His love was real and discovered that even though He didn’t stop me from getting hurt or fully heal me, He was trustworthy.

Over time, I was able to become fully engage and equal in the parenting department.   I worried for a time that my kids would be damaged from my time of healing, but, instead, I think they have a perspective that few kids experience. They’ve seen me at my worst and how I relied upon God and others. They’ve seen how valuable having a solid relationship with God can be in a person’s life and how important it is to establish loving relationships with other believers. They benefited from the love of others and were able to bask in all kinds of attention during those two years, even if my attention waned at times. We also share a unique family identity together that unifies us. Each of my children has also learned that every family member is a needed and important part of this family, whether 2 years old or 45.

Life will have moments that give you a face full of pain. Being solidly connected to our Heavenly Father is vital to recovery and to restoration of normalcy to family life. Your kids will benefit from your relationship to the Creator as your core identity transforms to reflect a loving and trustworthy God who is actively involved in your life and with you no matter what is happening in life.

Rocking Around the Christmas Tree

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

I love Christmas music. Seriously. I’ve been listening to it since before Thanksgiving. There’s just something about holiday songs that bring out the little kid in me. I get giddy and want to sing along and dance about and eat tons of sugary treats. Maybe that’s just me, but I do believe there’s something special about Christmas music. Our auditory senses are plugged directly into our memory banks, and a single strain of music can bring back images and feelings from long ago. And there’s something about sharing that music that draws us together. We gather our friends and family to sing carols around the piano or our neighborhood. We sit on the couch and chime along with Bing Crosby as he wishes for a white Christmas. We play it in the background of most all of our holiday activities, and it somehow makes the time brighter and more festive.

When I was a kid, we had a Disney Christmas record I would listen to over and over until it drove my mother crazy. I loved singing along with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and the rest of the crew as they sang all my favorite Christmas songs. I can still picture the album cover: A street bathed in blue light with all the Disney characters in their scarves and hats, sheet music in their mittens paws as they stood beneath the glow of a festively wreathed streetlamp. Just the memory of it makes me want to listen to it again. We’d play it while decorating our tree, baking cookies, or opening presents. But I think my favorite Christmas music tradition involves my Uncle Doug.

Since I was tiny, my Uncle Doug – a Kindergarten teacher – has been bringing his guitar every year to Christmas get-togethers on my dad’s side of the family. It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas, and it’s probably the one Sayles family tradition that does not change each year aside from the oyster stew (don’t ask me why that one is – I don’t touch the stuff). He seems to like to wait until about three-fourths of the way through our time. Then, when he deems the time is right, he sneaks out and grabs his guitar case. As soon as he pulls out that guitar, we all know what’s coming. He’ll strum a minute, tune up the strings, and then – whoosh! – off we go! From Rudolph and Jingle Bells to Silent Night and The First Noel, he knows them all by heart, and so do we. The littlest ones dance around as he serenades them with Frosty the Snowman or Elvis’s Blue Christmas. Even those who aren’t into the singing itself love to come and just be in the room. There’s something special about that time when we’re gathered as a family around a single instrument and all singing the same words. It’s a time of uniting as a family, of bonding together once again.

Music is a powerful gift from God. It’s something that reaches deep into our souls, touches our hearts, and draws us toward something beyond ourselves. It unites us as we share in it together. Many of the traditional Christmas carols have beautiful lyrics that transcend the centuries and speak amazing truths about Christ and what His birth meant for all humanity. Even just reading the lyrics without the music can stir the soul. So the next time your favorite carol plays, take a moment to sing it. Really sing it. Allow the joy of the season to fill your heart, brighten your soul, and draw you closer to your family, your friends, and your Savior.

Letter to Myself as a Young Mom

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

For a while, there was the fad – write a letter to your 16 year old self. I never wrote the letter, but I did ponder the question more than once as I read others’. I had the thought, “Why not write a letter to myself as a young mom? Maybe my kids will read it someday, and maybe I could help others through my experiences.” My thought was if I am going to go through something, I may as well learn something from it and hopefully help others. So, here is my letter to my younger self.

Dear Me,

I hope you are enjoying every bit of being a young mother. I know you are hearing, “Enjoy every moment,” over and over. Listen to that gentle reminder- you won’t regret it. When you are told, “They grow up so fast!” believe it. Take time for the little things. Who cares if the house is messy- the mess will still be there later so have fun, laugh and enjoy the moment while you can. You will never regret it.

You are going to make mistakes – it is okay. Mistakes help you grow and learn. Your kids will make mistakes too, love them through it. Teach through example that mistakes are okay and how to overcome them. Say you are sorry and admit you were wrong.  It goes a long way relationally.

Taking care of you is not being selfish. It is important to have self-care to make you the best parent you can be. Your kids are watching, and they are learning how to do self-care from you and that you are important. Your kids feel sad and confused when you do not advocate for yourself, so teach them how to advocate in a loving way.

Live in community. Have a good support system of friends and family. You will need them. Going through the trials and tribulations of life is not something that is meant to be done alone. God puts people in your life to walk through life with you and visa versa. Community is a beautiful thing.

Lastly, life will not turn out at all how you had planned. You will feel pain, you will feel joy, and everything in between. You will be alright. God is walking with you in each and every moment. He will speak to you but you need to be listening. You are loved and you can do this! It is going to be wonderful! All the sleepless nights from birth to college and beyond are so worth it! You will sit with your kids and the love you feel will almost hurt it is so intense. So now, as the craziness of life seems a little overwhelming, choose to be content. You are blessed and loved. Do your best to show His love to your kids, be their example and their cheerleader. You’ve got this, He is with you.

Love you, girl!

Your 46 year old self

Staff Bio: Teresa Sayles

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On a cold winter day in a small town along the Minnesota/South Dakota border, Teresa Sayles was born. Gifted (or cursed?) with a vivid imagination, she spent countless hours pretending and creating stories – Sometimes with the help of friends and siblings and sometimes all on her own…when the others got tired of dealing with her. She attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, where she received a degree in history with a minor in theatre arts. She spent her college summers working at Trout Lake Camp near Brainerd where she also did a full-year internship following graduation. Then, it was off to the “big city” and an exciting new job at Woodland Hills Church. For her first year, Teresa served as the Children’s Ministry’s Elementary Small Group Coordinator (say that fast three times!), but they soon realized she was not good at math and kept giving the wrong amounts of cotton balls, pipe cleaners, and glue sticks to the groups, so they shifted her over to the Large Group area, where she could create and tell stories and avoid math to her heart’s content. Teresa now oversees the weekly lessons in the Story Fort and Clubhouse and writes the lesson curriculum for toddlers through 4th grade. Her favorite part of her job (aside from easy access to fruit snacks) is getting to know the kids on Sundays and helping them know God’s love as they discover their place in His amazing story. She recently went on her “dream vacation” to Ireland and hopes to go back someday…someday…If she had a million dollars, she would probably faint because she never wins anything. But upon waking, she would probably buy that cozy cottage in Ireland she’s always dreamed of along with a vat of Dramamine for the flights to and fro. Something few people know about Teresa is she can often be found on her day off providing the voice for a cartoon character named Clara. Seriously, she does.

As you can tell, our creative Teresa wrote most of her own bio with a few additions from me. Teresa has been at Woodland almost 10 years, and we are blessed to have her here.