Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story


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The Unexpected Blessings

Last week, I encountered an unexpected and expensive computer issue. It bummed me out for a few days. I was frustrated with the situation, myself, and the cost of the repair. 2013 has been a tough year for many reasons and this computer issue was another brick in the tower of setbacks.

Luckily, I married a pretty awesome guy who took it in stride. He talked me through it and said we will be fine and that we are blessed. He is right.

We have the money to pay for unexpected expenses. We have friends and family who support us, even if we disagree with them or we are grumpy. We have the freedom in our lives to allow me to pursue my dream of writing.

We are blessed.

Going into Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to look at the blessings in your life. I know it’s cliche, but that’s okay. If you are reading this blog, the chances are you have more than you will ever need in this life. Be grateful. You are blessed.

 


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Doubt, Uncertainty And Moments of Renewal

I go through stretches of my life where questions and doubts seep into my heart and mind. The stretch can be a day, a week or a couple months. I doubt my vocational choices. I question my future goals. I am unsure of my direction and calling.

These stretches of doubt plagued me for years, but gradually I realized these times of doubt and uncertainty were normal. We all live in a grey area from time to time. We wrestle with the mundane routine of our lives and we are unsure of the future.

So when I find myself in the midst of these rough patches, I learned to search for hints of God’s presence. I hope for a moment of transcendence. And only when I begin looking, will the moment appear.

With the end of summer and the transition to a new season, the uncertainty arose again. Am I ready for another year of youth ministry? Is this still my calling? Am I in the right place? The questions circled and I began to look for a moment to guide me.

Amidst the uncertainty, Forest Hill Church kicked off the program year on Sunday morning with the return of the children’s, youth, and adult education programs on Sunday mornings before worship.

For the first six weeks, I lead Sunday morning youth with the sixth and seventh graders. I start the year off with the youngest of the youth group because sixth grade is the first year of youth group. I want to begin a good relationship with the youth from the start. Across the hall, two fabulous adults lead the older youth class.

Eleven youth were present for my class and we had a great morning. We played some games, learned about God’s creation and got to know one another better. Across the hall, seven youth began a study of the Gospel of John.

Eighteen youth were present Sunday morning- the highest number I’ve seen on a Sunday morning since I started at Forest Hill. When I left church after worship, the feelings of doubt were fleeing from my heart.

Sunday evening marked the start of Converge’s second year. Last summer, an idea was placed in my head. It was a little crazy, tons of work, but had the potential to be amazing. The idea was a monthly ecumenical worship service for teens- a time and place for youth to gather together as one body to worship God together. The idea turned into what is now known as Converge which meets monthly on the second Sunday at 7pm in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Some of the denominations represented at Converge are Presbyterian, United Methodist, Baptist, and Lutheran.

After taking the summer off, we hoped Converge would start the year with good attendance and energy. The spring was rough for Converge attendance and I was concerned for it’s future. But, on Sunday night, over ninety youth and adults came to Converge. The energy and excitement in the room was palpable. God was moving. Any uncertainty left in my heart disappeared.

Tuesday evening, I drove over to Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights. Church of the Saviour opens it’s doors on Tuesday nights for basketball open gyms, hosted by First Baptist. It’s a little confusing, but these two churches are working together (as they do with Converge) to provide a safe and fun place for teens to play basketball on Tuesday evenings.

I went to the basketball open gym to check out the ministry and to play some hoops. I love playing basketball, so I jumped in the games. It was so much fun to play. More importantly, I witnessed relationships develop with the teens and adults present. I can’t wait to see where the ministry goes and how God works through a ball and a hoop.

After these few days, I am reminded life is ironic. A week ago, my motivation was fading. This week, I am excited and enthusiastic about the youth ministry opportunities ahead.

I know doubt and uncertainty is normal and sometimes it can be beneficial. Doubt may lead us to a new path, a greater calling. But, doubt can also be our minds getting the best of us. Our uncertainty can be an excuse to be selfish, to be lazy or to give up. Those moments of doubt are not beneficial.

Through my life, I learned to keep my eyes and ears open when I find myself lost. I seek God’s presence in big and small moments to remind, refresh, and renew. God is present. But, if you aren’t looking, you may miss the moment to erase your doubts.

 

 

Did you like this post? If so, I encourage you to share it with a friend, post it on Facebook or Twitter.

If you want to read more about transformational moments, check out my book When Light Hits the Path.


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Phase 3 of the Whirlwind Summer: Cherokee, North Carolina

On Saturday July 14th, I returned home from my final youth ministry trip of the summer. After six straight weeks of craziness alternating travel and planning, it’s good to be home. But, it was a great six weeks of new experiences for the Forest Hill Youth. This post will focus on the third trip, the senior high mission trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. If you missed the earlier posts, read here about Camp Aldersgate and here about Mid High Mission Week.

Where did we serve?

We spent the week in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. Our work days were spent on the Cherokee reservation and our nights at Western Carolina University. The mountains were a beautiful backdrop for the week.

What work did we do?

Most of our group spent the week painting the exterior of two houses. One small group travelled to another site to paint the interior of a house. I also worked with a small group to finish the vinyl siding on a house.

What did we do for fun?

We went whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River and hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday. During our free time during the week, our group played tons of card games and frisbee.

What did we learn?

The Majesty of God’s Creation

I may speak for myself here, but I loved being in the mountains every day. The towering mountains remind me of the majesty and sovereignty of our God. When you work with teenagers, it’s comforting to be reminded that God is control, not me.

The Culture of the Cherokee Nation

On Wednesday night, we went to the outdoor theater to experience the show Unto these Hills. On Thursday, we explored the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a living history of the Cherokee Nation. Our group enjoyed both experiences and learned about the Cherokee Nation, past and present. The Cherokee are an intriguing people with a rich history.

To Be Invisible Workers for God

This trip was much different than last year’s mission trip. Last year most of our mission work was relationship driven, while this year the work was task driven. On the main worksite, our group had no interaction with the homeowners. On the two side projects, we did have some time to talk with the homeowners. However, overall there was very little interaction with those we were working for. We didn’t know much or sometimes anything about these families. And so this week, we learned how mission work doesn’t have to be relationship driven. Sometimes God calls us to do our best work to simply get the job done and we accept that God will take care of the rest.

What’s Next for Kristen?

For the next two weeks, I will be home catching up on sleep, reading, writing and time with Brian, the pug, family and friends. In August, Brian and I take our final trip of the summer to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for vacation with his family. In the next few weeks, I will get back into writing gear and hope to update you on the projects I am lining up. Until then, happy summer!!

 


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Phase 2 of the Whirlwind Summer – Camp Aldersgate

Tomorrow I leave for my third and final youth trip of the summer. But, I haven’t left yet and so, it’s time to squeeze in a post about my second summer youth trip- Camp Aldersgate.

Camp Aldersgate is a United Methodist camp on Leesville Lake, near Carrollton, Ohio. For over thirty years, Mayfield Church’s youth group (my husband’s church) takes over the camp for a week in early summer. This year, I invited the youth from Forest Hill Church to join Mayfield for the week.

56 middle and high school students gathered at Camp Aldersgate during the week of June 24. The morning started off with worship before participating in games, workshops and breakout sessions. Each afternoon campers had free time to relax, and enjoy the lakefront activities. The evening campfire consisted of silly songs and skits, worship, prayer, and a lesson.

The week was awesome. The worship and lessons each morning and evening were powerful and our campers were transformed. So I’ve sat around all week trying to figure out how to put that in words. Here’s what I came up with.

Three Lessons from Aldersgate

1. Go with the Flow – Camp is all about flexibility. There are many things out of my control as a leader. I can’t predict the weather or relationships. I don’t know whether the campers will be receptive to certain lessons, breakouts or worship music. But, I can learn, adapt and not stress over things I can’t control.

2. The Power of Community – The success of a week of camp rides on the group. Will the campers mesh well? Will they make new friendships? This week was a success because the group came together.

3. God is Alive – With our everyday routines and schedules, we can forget the presence of God is real and active in our world. The week at Aldersgate reminds us God is alive and God is constantly working in us and through us.

There is so much more to say about Aldersgate, but I leave tomorrow for NC. It’s been a whirlwind of a week and a summer so far, but a great whirlwind. I will report on the mission trip when I return!


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Lessons from a Week with Middle Schoolers

Last week was Mid High Mission Week, a new endeavor for the youth ministry at Forest Hill Church. During the week, a group of twelve middle school youth participated in a variety of mission projects during the week. To cap the weekend off, the group went on a weekend retreat near Peek’n Peak Resort in New York.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect for the week. It wasn’t easy to find mission work for the group because many organizations have age restrictions. And middle schoolers.. well.. I love them, but they are a challenge. But, as the week progressed, I witnessed our youth doing amazing work and I found myself being renewed and reminded of the power of God’s love.

The Mission Work

We started our week at 8am at our home base, Forest Hill Church. Our youth prepared and served a pancake breakfast for our regular visitors to the food pantry at Forest Hill Church. This project was designed by our middle school group during Sunday School in the spring. They wanted to do an outreach to meet this group of people where they are. We had around fifteen people come for the free breakfast. The youth were excellent chefs and the food was excellent. More importantly, our youth noticed how happy and thankful people were for a free breakfast and for youth willing to serve them.

On Wednesday, we travelled to the Christopher Home in Rocky River to host Family Promise. Family Promise is an organization dedicated to helping homeless families find long-term housing. In the interim, Family Promise provides housing through a network of host churches. Our group was responsible for providing dinner for three families and being evening activity hosts.

The highlight of the evening at Family Promise was the epic game of kickball after dinner. The FHC youth played with the families including the moms and teenager kids staying at Family Promise. The families and kids were able to forget about all the stress in their lives and have fun. Before we left, one of the teenager kids at Family Promise told us this was the most fun he has had in months.

Thursday morning our group travelled a few miles up the road to Medwish International. MedWish collects, sorts and redistributes donated and excess medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and clinics in developing countries. After a long tutorial, our youth jumped right into the sorting. They worked hard and asked questions to ensure they were sorting correctly so that these medical supplies could get to a needed destination.

Thursday afternoon, the youth returned to Forest Hill to help in Abundance Acres. Abundance Acres is FHC’s vegetable garden and the harvest is donated to FHC’s food pantry. The youth quickly drilled the compost bins together before helping in some other areas of the garden.

Friday afternoon, the youth capped off mission week with a trip to Judson Park, a retirement community, to participate in poetry hour. The youth brought their favorite poems to share with the residents and listened as the residents recited poems of their own.

We capped off the week with a retreat. We hiked, swam, shared in daily devotions and played capture the flag, werewolf and many other games. The weekend was full of fun and laughter, a great way to end the week.

What did I learn this week?

Life is Better when We Get Along

I was so impressed with the group dynamics of the middle schoolers. All the youth got along, but it was more than being friendly. They looked out for each other and made sure everyone was included. This was especially true on the retreat when they shared food together and played games. The more I reflected on the group dynamic, the more I realized how special it was – and not just for middle schoolers, but for any group of people with different backgrounds and interests. They accepted each other’s differences for the betterment of the group.

The Power of Presence

Much of our mission work centered on our youth being present to people. Our youth cooked breakfast, dinner, and completed other tasks, but the most important facet throughout the week was showing up. The youth took time to volunteer and to make people smile when they needed it most. Our group was present to those in need. Often I am overwhelmed when I think about tackling the problems of hunger, homelessness, and inadequate health care. But this week, I was reminded being present can make a big difference in people’s lives.