small steps

small steps

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Ten years ago today I began my journey in full time student ministry. I graduated from college on a Saturday, celebrated Mother's Day with my mom & grandmothers on Sunday and on Monday I began life as a youth director. I have never looked back.

These ten years have looked much different than 21-year-old, Steph envisioned and dreamed--but I would not trade them for anything. Every student, 42 weeks of mission trips and weeks at camp, every budget meeting, every sleepless night spent worrying, all add up to such a tremendous gift.

Two years of full time ministry in Hillsdale, Michigan, two years in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and now six years in Indianapolis, Indiana have brought hundreds of students into my life that have truly changed my heart by their love and their willingness to let me witness their walk with Jesus.

There has been sacrifice, tears, heartbreak and pain along the way but God has remained so faithful. He has never wavered in all of the ways He reminds me of His perfect timing, protection and love. After these first 10 years, here is my list of lessons that stand out the most. If you're reading this blog you have been apart of this journey with me...thank you!

In no particular order...

-The greatest ministry tool to a student ministry is a group of loving and selfless adult volunteers who love Jesus. The dozens of adult leaders I have had the chance to work with over these 10 years are my true heroes. Ya'll truly are the student ministry glue.

-Working as a ministry team is truly better than being on your own. Joe Garrison taught me this and I'll forever be thankful that God orchestrated such a lesson.

-Teenagers have the most beautiful spirits. Over the past 10 years, again and again, I am in awe of the ways that teenagers teach me so much about beauty, selflessness and love. Our culture has it pegged wrong. It has been a gift to be on the receiving end of such goodness.

-I have no regrets in the hours I have spent in baseball bleachers, soccer fields, orchestra concerts, cross country meets, etc.--partnering with families and witnessing teens shine their lights outside of the local church are some of the sweetest memories I'll carry with me always.

-Finding time to sabbath is a must.

-Obedience is hard but worth it. I know this will be an on-going life lesson--but wow...what a testimony of God's grace through my meager efforts to be obedient to Him. I am thankful for His protection every step of the way.

-The best youth directors are parents. The longer I am exposed to full time ministry the more I am passionate about equipping families to lead their kids spiritually. It's been an honor to witness teens and their parents grow in their relationships with Jesus together...I will never grow tired of this.

-No matter how many times I try, I never order the right amount of pizza. It's always either not quite enough or way too much...and yes, I've used the pizza calculator app.

-Forgiveness is so important.

-Extra sticks of deodorant on mission trips is always worth the money.

-Surround a ministry with leaders who love you & hold you accountable. I have been richly blessed to work with some rock star senior pastors as well other church leaders and friends who have been incredible teachers and mentors.

-Ministry is so much sweeter without ego.

-It is okay to fail. I have had some crazy ministry fails over the past 10 years...tie dying t-shirts with bleach, messy games with cottage cheese, a fundraiser no one attended, weekly is okay to fail. The important thing is to own it, learn from it & start again.

-Every student's story matters.

-I cannot be everything to everyone.
I saved this one for last. When I knew God was calling me into student ministry my prayer was, "Lord, help me to be a leader that never makes it about's about you." As I have prayed that prayer over and over again, I have also had to learn that I cannot make everyone happy with every decision. I cannot physically be everywhere for every student all the time. My job as a leader is to help equip others to come along side me to help reach as many students in the name of Jesus as possible. It is okay if someone does not like me as long as I have done all I can to make sure there is someone near that student who can be the love of Christ to them. All I can do is try to love everyone the best I can as Jesus calls us to love one another...and when I get right back up and try again.

What a beautiful 10 years. Thank you, God.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Things in the way...

I recently was sitting with a crying student who had been deeply hurt by a friend...or someone who she had considered a friend. "I just wish I was an adult and had friendships that were easier." Listening to the pain in her voice and her sobs broke my heart. I could not bring myself to tell her how adult friendships are not always easier...that at times the drama feels worse than middle school. Why is that? Why do we allow our pride, selfishness, insecurity, stubbornness to get in the way?

I was texting with a dear friend about the competition game and the popularity trap we often find ourselves on the fringe of--comparing relationships, success and lives. Feelings of entitlement stemmed with relationships not based on grace or forgiveness, sensitivity and love. Again, why do we too easily cling so deeply to silly things that just get in the way?

Sin creeps in and masks the simple beauty of loving well.

In ten years of full time student ministry, loving others well has been one of the truest and most beautiful gifts my students teach me and remind me over and over and over.

This generation of The Church is filled with brokenness and arguments over preaching styles, programming methods, carpet colors, office hour schedules, tax many things simply get in the way.

This morning before our confirmation service I watched 11, 7th graders huddle together and vow to pray over one another--to love one another well--to support each other--to have each others back. They did not check and see who went to what school or who had the deepest friendship history. They simply made the decision to follow Christ's example of loving all and loving all fully and extend that to each other. I'll never forget it. The gift of pushing everything out of the way to love others well.

On Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Peace...Round Two.

For the past six years a part of my yearly faith journey has been to pick a word to funnel through my relationship with God for the upcoming 365 days. In past years my focus word was often a word that came to my heart right away. The timing was clear and I could almost sense what God wanted to teach me through my special word. Last December in 2014, as I began to pray about what was coming in 2015, I kept sensing the word peace. The first several times it came to my heart, I avoided it but in the end it was clear that this was my focus really seek God's peace and rest for any and all circumstances. The verse I have tied to this word this year comes from Jesus speaking from the gospel of John, Chapter 16: "that in me you may have peace." I have prayed for my heart to truly find rest and trust in the peace that can only come from a life built within surrender to Christ.

2015 has been a year full of change. A year full of unexpected. A year full of unknown. With that has also come much opportunity to trust and surrender in knowing only God can provide and protect in the ways I long for most. There have been countless joys and blessings every step of the way. These 12 months have made me realize that this is not just a calendar year focus for me. This is a season where I must continue to seek the peace of Christ and allow it to be my focus and filter. My worn Mudlove band may need to be changed to withstand another year on my wrist but the word will remain the same...for now...for this season.

"You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,    because they trust in you." Isaiah 26:3

Friday, December 11, 2015

Waiting & Expecting

Being raised in the church, feeling called to full time ministry at a young age and working in a local church for the past ten Christmas seasons has meant that Advent has always been on my radar.

We usually start thinking about it in our curriculum and calendar planning late summer. I love the Christmas story in the Gospels. I often study it again in July because I am always drawn to God’s use of those unexpected players in the arrival of His Son. I love the shepherds and their casted out, dirty job that was used in such a bold way to share the news of Jesus in the world. I love the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph as young people seeking to be obedient. It is not lost on me that Jesus entered the world in a humble and beautiful way and that God seeks to use each of us in humble and beautiful ways.

If I’m honest with myself, Advent has never been a season of waiting or expecting for me beyond my own busy calendar and ministry schedule. I have always held on to the fact that I love the story. It’s the heart of the season. Emmanuel, God is with us. But to really grasp the knowledge that these weeks before Christmas are to be a time of clinging to my Father for His hope---between the Christmas parties, open houses, musical performances, it never crossed my mind, mainly because I did not leave space or room for its meaning to do so.

The weeks of Advent this year have been heart changing. In the past month, my entire focus and heart shift has been about waiting, expecting and trusting God to show up with His hope. Instead of loving the Christmas story of how Jesus came I find myself feeling like I can relate to those who lived out that first Christmas. The sense that in the midst of what feels scary and impossible all I can do is cling to my God and wait for His timing. To trust in my Father who WILL show up always.

This is not a post saying to cancel your Christmas parties or clear your calendar. What a joy each of those events can bring and add this season. This is a post simply saying that this year I truly get it. The waiting and expecting have broken my heart as I seek the Hope that is to come. In the countless of times that await me when I do not understand or when I fill up my days with busy again I am clinging to the Hope that my Father will remind me. He will remind me that in the waiting He is with me and I can continue to expect Him to show up in the best ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

Thank you for all your continued prayers for my sister in law, Amanda! We are so thankful for such an amazing team of prayer warriors!! To follow Amanda and Andrew's family blog you can read at:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Along the Road

Today is my sweet mother's birthday and as my thoughts have turned to her throughout this day, my heart has also continually been reminded of one of the stories I  have always loved hearing her share.

When my mom was in her twenties she was driving down the road out in the country and her car broke down. This is at a time before any cell phones or car phones. She found herself outside on this country road wondering if she should start walking for help and debating what to do. All of the sudden, she looked up the road and there was my grandfather driving down the road in his truck. They had not communicated that day about where she was going, he just happened to be headed in the right direction at the right time just when she needed a rescuer. I have always loved hearing that story because of the beauty of the timing. I am also a girl who really has a soft spot for her grandfather and this story always made him all the more the hero to me, knowing how he swept in and was there to help his own daughter just when she needed him.

I love to marvel in the beauty of how much this story reminds me of God's desire to meet us absolutely wherever we are at...the broken down moments and all the meetings along the way. God always knows where we are headed before we do and what we need before we need it. What joy comes when we allow ourselves to look up and see that He is right there to meet us wherever we are headed.

The longer I continue on this journey of full time student  ministry the greater this becomes the prayer of my heart for my students. For them to know this great love that God has for them and His desire to meet them each along the road. To rescue them. To give them hope. To fill them with peace. As I enter my 10th fall as a youth director, I am praying for the wisdom and heart to know how to direct these precious teenagers that cross my path towards their Father who is waiting with open arms.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


 On this Maundy Thursday, I have found myself thinking a lot about the way this Holy Week rolls around each year. How these days are different. How they all build upon one another to lead up to Sunday. We celebrate them similarly each calendar year yet they are set apart for a reason. There is a sacredness in walking through these days leading up to the victory of all victories.

Can I just confess that this year my heart and life need this set apart Holy Week. I am desperate for the reminder of the victory and to wrap myself around the truth of  the ultimate gift of selflessness and love given by Jesus. I am overwhelmed by the conversation and the tension and the stuff that just gets in the way of  rejoicing in this victory daily.

I need these days that are set apart. That are holy. That allow me to remember that before He suffered on the cross He knelt down and washed the feet of the ones who had served with him and done life with him. He washed their feet and He knew what was coming.

I know there have been years when I have let this week become all too full and I have lost track of the need for it. The holiness of it. This year in my own desperateness for it I am praying to know how to truly set it apart in my heart so that the message of the victory lingers through the long weeks and months to come.

That the victory that comes through the Resurrection is so present in my life, in my calling, in my love for others that I do not even have to speak of it--it lives through my actions and my words and my life. Oh, I am sure that I will fail along the way but how thankful I am for the grace and the chance in this moment I can choose to find holiness in the One who claims the victory for all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My joys.

I'm sitting in front of my computer working on a seminary paper and a text message pops up from one of my volunteer youth leaders. We talk a moment about the students they are pouring into and how proud we are of the way these students have grown. I am suddenly flooded with emotion as I remember the first moment I saw their sweet faces nearly five years ago. They were just middle school students and now in just a few months they will graduate high school. My joys.

The first group of 5th graders I ever led in "tween bible study" are now half way through their freshman year and have found their confidence and stride in the halls of their high school and when I look at the group on a particular programming day I can't tell who is a freshman and who is a senior because they are all meshed together in one big card game or crammed in our window seat booth eating breakfast. My sweet joys.

The fifth graders who just six months ago were hesistant and shy in coming over to the student ministry building now run into programming on Friday nights yelling "I love it here!" They pull in their friends by the hand to meet us and show them around like they own the place. My amazing joys.

The throwback Thursdays of Instagram and the Facebook flash backs pop up pictures of these years that have passed in a blink. There are faces of students who weren't here when we first began as youth directors but are now so rooted in this ministry just because they were brought by a friend one single time and it was their home. I do not even remember what ministry was like without them in it and I do not even want to remember it without them. My precious joys.

Every student. Each a joy. The introverts and the extroverts. The athletes, the musicians, the artists. The ones that love video games, legos building, reading and every interest in between. The ones I see every week, the ones who pop in every other month and the ones I have yet to meet. All a gift. Each and every one a joy.

Some nights, like tonight the tears stream down and my heart overflows because I cannot even put into words what their young lives mean to me. I cannot even begin to describe the honor and the gift it is to know them and know their sweet families. For all we have shared together, the memories, the mountain tops and the valleys too. What a gift. What a joy.

And then there are those days when the joy is hard to find because it's buried under paperwork or drama or politics. But God is faithful when we trust Him with the joy He has given us. He sends us reminders. He knows when we need those nudges in the forms of text messages and smiles. This full time ministry life is so different. Forever changing. Forever moving. But oh, the joy. My joy. Thanks be to God.