Christmastide

Dirty Work and New Growth

sprout Kids never cease to surprise. Over Christmastide, the period of the twelve days of Christmas beginning December 25, our family had a time of sitting together and focusing for more than 30 minutes on both the spiritual parallels for the 12 Days of Christmas song and then on what spiritual disciplines are, why we practice them, and some discussion on a few specific disciplines.

We are using a book titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi (which you can download for free to use with your family or purchase in paperback from Amazon, with two  subsequent issues for upcoming parts of the church year available soon). The book has a brief family devotion for every day, centered around the theme of planting and growing--our souls, both kids and adults, are like plants that need good dirt and helpful conditions in order to grow and flourish with God. Each of the few steps in the daily devotion fills a planting metaphor: we till the soil with prayer, we plant the seed of God's Word by reading a noted Scripture passage, we water the soil by acting a story, drawing a picture, or talking about how God's Word applies to our lives, and later on we weed, considering how we applied or failed to apply these themes in our day.

Our family has taken easily to the Good Dirt format and we've experienced meaningful times of listening to God and each other. That day during Christmastide stands out because we'd had a few days of being in and out of the house, active with extended family and various activities of the Christmas season. We had not spent time in our Good Dirt devotions for three or four days and there was much good material we'd missed. On this day, we started by discovering what none of us had known:

"Some say that the words of the [Twelve Days of Christmas] song were secret code for people to remember their faith during times of persecution." ~ Good Dirt

For example, a partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens are the three virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love, and on it goes. This song with it's Christian faith parallels is a fun way to help kids review important, foundational themes of our faith.

The Christmastide period, being twelve days, also fits ideally for bringing into discussion each of the twelve spiritual disciplines (as identified by Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines are grouped by inner, outer, and corporate disciplines and include prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. They all will be re-visited throughout the coming year in Good Dirt.

I mentioned that kids never cease to surprise, and here is why. On this day during Christmas, we didn't set out to make up all of our lost ground in the devotional. We just started reading together and one thing led to another. Before we'd realized it, we had spent time on the song, talking about spiritual disciplines, and reviewing the first disciplines covered in the days we'd missed. And our boys tracked with us on every bit of it!

Our 8-year-old has been in perpetual motion since he was a toddler. He focuses just fine but cannot stop moving his body. Every Good Dirt session he is rolling on the floor, playing with a ball, walking around, or moving in some other sort of way. He learns and processes by moving;  it's just who he is. Our 14-year-old is a teenager. He's wonderful ... and also a little hormonal at times. Our middle guy at age 11 is on the quieter side. He usually ends up helping to re-direct his brothers.

Three personalities, three stages in childhood. So, the reality of sitting for such a long period together and discussing some pretty involved areas of theology and spiritual training is something I wouldn't have thought possible or advisable for us or anyone. Yet it became a time of fun and absorbing discussion and learning.

I've often thought about how much I have read and learned and experienced in my life with God and his people in the years I've lived, and how I want to share so much of that with my kids. A lot does come up in the living of life, often at the most unexpected moments. Yet, some of what I hope to share with them, like the spiritual disciplines and some of the more complex foundations of our faith, seems to stay on the periphery of our lives together, and though these do come into conversation at times, sometimes they do so without much framework or intentional commitment toward living out and practicing these habits and truths  in ongoing ways.

Good Dirt has begun to change that. I'm learning about my kids in the process. They are deep people. They can discuss and absorb spiritual ideas typically thought to be adult territory without missing a beat. They can venture deeper in their lives with God. We can do it together and learn from one another and God in simultaneous ways.

Getting dirty together has its benefits. Everything may not work, but sometimes the things we never would have tried become the soil for a brand new season of growth.

Have you experienced a similar time of spiritual growth with your children, where a surprising and unexpected route became a catalyst? Would it help your family to try out a resource like Good Dirt?

**You can follow various families blogging on their use of Good Dirt and its themes by subscribing for free here.

How Do You Communicate?

First Snow 115
First Snow 115

Welcome to the year 2014!

A new year either brings a wash of excitement and hope for what might be or an overwhelming list of what is yet unaccomplished.  I suppose it depends on which side of the bread you put the butter.  Apparently, I prefer my buttered bread scrambled, because this year has brought both to me and I'm still not sure which will take the upper hand.  I'm taking one day at a time.

With the 12th day of Christmas upon us, our celebratory routine will change.  School times change, focus changes, work schedules even change. The only thing that won't change is our rhythm of devotion.  I have been 'good' at sticking to the rhythm we established, but I've swung back and forth between feeling at peace with these times together versus feeling like it's all in vain.  It can be hard with an energetic 4 yr old.  I feel like I tell him to respect people -while they're praying- more often than I tell him about the God -to Whom- we pray.  It bothers me.  I'm not a resolution kind of person - if I falter one little bit I give in completely, so I don't set myself up anymore.  But I do have an ongoing hope that has hit the fire this winter.  I want to point my son to Jesus.  And if our conversations, prayers and readings will do that, I will carry on.  If they're getting in the way, though, I need to change my method of communication.

And talking about communication, here are some ways in which my son communicates:

1)  We've been talking about how Jesus takes care of us and looking for things throughout the day that can remind us of that.  I always ask Kaiser for his input, so I let him come up with a suggestion of what 'thing' or 'action' might trigger his memory.  He didn't have to think long before he suggested burping.  Yes, burping.  And being a mother who doesn't often have a better suggestion...... we went with it.  Interestingly enough, he and I burp enough throughout one day to be reminded of Jesus' care -a lot-!  You know, it works.  And since God was the one Who came up with the idea of burping in the first place, I really can't tell my son that it's not polite.  It really helps to live in a country where you don't have to say 'excuse me' after such action, too.  Instead, we say, "Thank you, Jesus, for taking care of me!"

2.) We ruminated on Psalm 23 recently and walked through the Psalm's journey in our imagination.  In case anyone was wondering, Kaiser can use his imagination with his eyes open.  And, indeed, there was the Lord walking beside him through the valley of death.  After we'd gone through the Psalm's journey a few times, I asked him what his favourite part was.

Any guesses?

It was His 'bo' staff.

Bo Staff
Bo Staff

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It comforts me.

So with our imaginations in high gear, we press on seeking and searching.....looking for even a glimpse of Him.  We cherish hope and stand against fear - together.  My kind husband, curious son, and I.

-Tamara

Light for the New Year, Light for the Neighborhood

Used under Creative Commons License.
Used under Creative Commons License.

Part of Anne Lamott's story  has stayed with me like a persistent whisper even years after reading her memoir Traveling Mercies. A few families in her childhood opened their lives and gave her a sense of God and his Word and life with him. Her own parents didn't believe, yet in a 1960's San Francisco culture of drugs and alcohol Anne was drawn to God. She experienced life with the believing families of various friends and her own sense of a living, personal God took root.

We Quinns live in a busy suburb here in Colorado, surrounded by houses next door, behind, and across the street. Mormons live behind us, several Hindu families from India are down the street, and a mix of other Christian and unbelieving households live all around. Our culture doesn't mirror Lamott's of the '60s, but we have our own demons to be sure. We've walked with neighbors through deaths on each side of our home, one a suicide and one a father with Cystic Fibrosis. We feel the weight of materialism, strained marriages, self- and entertainment-focused living, career pressures.  Our street has seen a baby born to an unwed 19-year-old, teenagers crawling out of upstairs windows at night, a marriage happen between singles who shared a back fence, divorce, and lots of pet-sitting, lawn-mowing, house-siting, even a dog swap!

We love the people who share this little piece of Colorado with us. We've gotten to know many of them and we spend considerable time with some. I pray for neighbors almost daily as I walk for exercise, we pray for them at family meal times, and we try to follow the Spirit's moving to share the with-God life as we try and live it. We Quinns are so flawed ... we fumble all the time in loving each other and others ... we're so much on the journey ourselves. But somehow--I think it's like the mustard seed that Jesus' preached--God's presence takes hold and He enters lives.

New Year's Eve each year we get together with the family across the street. Fondue, games, and ringing in the New Year has become a tradition all the kids relish, and this year we added some Good Dirt! Our neighbor kids didn't understand about "family devotion time" so we talked about it when they came early before dinner. After the long meal around pots and platters of food, we read about Service and talked about what a spiritual discipline is. Our 8-year-old has trouble transferring that word discipline into the "good" category, so we all went round some more together on the concept, and then our teenager read about Jesus, the Light of the world. Our neighbor parents jumped in with ideas on when we might need Jesus' light in our lives. All the kids agreed that when they're afraid of monsters, Jesus' light is a good thing, and sometimes when they're at school they really need the light of Christ for help.

Those minutes of sitting together focused on Jesus were a bright spot New Year's Eve; Jesus' light indeed filled our time together. I hope these kinds of moments continue to fill our year. I want to thank Lacy and Ben for writing Good Dirt, for putting together this blogging community, and for overseeing the process as we all journey together. Jesus' light is reaching our family in warm, daily ways. And it's reaching our neighborhood family, too. We'll never be anyone's salvation. But Jesus the Savior might be. Yes, come Lord Jesus.

"Whoever follows me ... will have the light of life." John 7:12

One Word for 2014

What's your word for 2014?

Several years ago, I came across the concept of choosing one word at the beginning of a new year. I actually discovered it in the world of scrapbooking--something I had time for before our second child arrived. Ali Edwards describes it well:

"A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow...  I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January – a word that I can focus on, meditate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life... It can be something tangible or intangible. It could be a thought or a feeling or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you... One little word can have big meaning in your life if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities."

Ms. Edwards speaks from a secular viewpoint, and at first I dismissed the concept as too "New Age" for me. But then it occurred to me to ask God for my word, instead of creating one for myself. The idea was to allow God to show me what He had for me in the coming year, not just choose a word that I wanted to will into being. I discovered that when I take some time in December to slow down and be alone with God, He reveals a word for me. Sometimes it makes sense immediately--something I need to learn or increase in my life, something that God wants to remind me of on a daily basis through the coming year. Other times it takes a while for the word to make sense, and I may get through much of the year before realizing what God really meant. My past words have included surrender (during a time when I needed to submit to all that God had for me instead of fighting it),  thrive (when Jesus was reminding me that He came so we could have abundant life), hope (at a time when my soul needed an anchor), and abide (for this past year, as I learned to take one day at a time with Jesus).

This past month I have been asking God for a word for 2014, and one kept coming to mind. (That's usually how it works for me: God puts one word in my head over and over again until I finally get it!) My word for 2014? Sanctuary. It doesn't fully make sense to me yet--as I mentioned, sometimes these things take time. But I can see how it fits in a few different ways...

In December of 2012, I lost my part-time teaching job due to budget cuts. It was a difficult time for me, as I struggled with what to do next. I loved teaching. But I also loved having time with my young children, and couldn't find a part-time job that would allow me that. So I eventually embraced being a homemaker for the last year. (I know, I know, the politically correct term is "stay-at-home mom." But I actually like "homemaker" so much better. I'm not just a mom who happens to stay at home. I am intentionally making a home for my family. See the difference? But I digress...) As I look at the year ahead, God may a have a new job for me and I am open to that. But for now, I continue to be a homemaker, and I want our home to be a sanctuary for our family. A safe place for all of us to retreat to when the world feels scary. A place for us to love and share and find refuge. A place where we read God's word together, eat meals together, work together, play together. A sanctuary.

I also know that God had been calling me closer to his heart recently. Through our daily family devotionals with Good Dirt, through a discipleship class at our church, and through prayer, God is inviting me to know Him better. One definition of sanctuary is "the holiest part of a sacred place" and I know God is beckoning me to come closer, to allow myself to know the Holy of Holies. I confess, choosing this word scares me a little. Most of the time, people need a sanctuary because they require a haven in a time of trouble. But Jesus told us that in this world, we will have trouble, and I want to remember that true sanctuary is only found in my Savior.

What's your word for 2014? One year, I didn't sense a single word being given to me, but rather a verse for the year (Psalm 63:7-8). Perhaps that is true of you, that you have a specific verse that resonates with you instead. Either way, I invite you to share your word or verse with us here and, more importantly, to share it with your family. Speak of what God is doing in your life and where He is leading you in the coming year. Show your children that God is real and active and continuing to teach you through your entire life. God has so much awaiting us in 2014. Let's embrace it as a family.

~Carolyn

Faith like a child

This is our second year celebrating advent and preparing ourselves for Christmas in our spirits not just in buying gifts. I was unsure at first how much of it my small children would get. I mean seriously how much can a five year old understand, the answer is more than I can know. My five year old son is always amazing me with this depth of connection with God already. As my husband asked him what he knew about Jesus he spoke such a clear gospel message that I wondered how I could have ever thought he wouldn't get advent. His response for what he is most thankful from Jesus for today was, "His peace". Indeed his peace is so true. In the last four weeks, peace has come to rest in our house, we chose to do the weeding section of the devotional right before bed and although in the beginning it was a bit hard to keep their attention, our children have never gone to bed with such ease or peace. Very rarely do they bicker or complain at bed time. It has also been a sweet time of them each cuddling up to mom or dad as we discuss how God was apart of our day. We finish each night with a prayer time, starting with our two year old and ending with dad. I can tell you nothing eases a hard days worth of work like hearing your two year old pray a blessing over you from heaven. On Christmas night after the chaos ended, we sat around the tree reading the story of Jesus' birth. Once we were finished, Ezekiel lead the family in acting out the story, with his baby brother playing the part of Jesus. It was beautiful, to be lead by our children in remembering what Christmas is all about. You can have faith and find faith for yourself but you can also pass it on to your children and this devotional is helping us as parents do that. On Christmas morning our son couldn't find his first gift and was very upset about making the whole house look for it. Then we reminded him to pray, to ask Jesus for his help, about ten minutes later it was found and he learned that he could trust God to help him in his time of need. I may not have a wealth of money to pass down to him but if I can give him the full understanding of God's love for him, my life is worth it. The blessing is that no matter how old you are there is no limit to God's word impacting us. The day we read of the last supper and how Peter denied Christ, Joseph was reminded how weak we are, no matter how Godly you think you are or how strong in the Lord, it's impossible to serve Him without His help. It's beautiful to look back at this last month and see how much we as individuals and family has grown together and in the Lord.

Waiting

The middle candle of the Advent wreath sits waiting. The boys watch it, asking which day they can light it. Is Christmas Eve too soon? Yes, too soon; too soon for Advent. Like the boys, we parents want that light to be lit, now, in their hearts. And in the world we are sending them out into, still too young. Light shining in darkness. Are they ready for that? Advent is a time for preparation. Chistmas...gifts, and cards, and baking. Are we preparing for the right thing? We make time to look at the words of the prophets, the work of John the Baptist, Mary, fitting in the candles (one more every week). So much to prepare for as Christmas approaches, as they approach the world.

I told the boys the story of my baptism, as Lent turned into Easter. It was during a late-night service called Easter Vigil. On Good Friday the church was darkened and closed, to be kept silent in remembrance-and preparation. Then, as Saturday turned into Sunday, the priest entered holding a candle high, the only source of illumination in the church, and calling out "the Light of the World!"

Advent and Lent aren't so far apart, really. But neither Christmas nor Easter is the end of the story, and we remind the boys that we are again waiting, just like the prophets and Wise Men, John the Baptist, and all the others we read about during Advent. We're waiting with those last few words in the Bible on our lips: Come, Lord Jesus.

Waiting and Presents

As we have watched the kids these past weeks staring longingly at their gifts under the tree my anticipation grows as I want them to have the items we have chosen for them.  I am not only a Black Friday shopper but a Black Friday decorator too... so we gaze expectantly at those packages for a full month. Very often over this month I waned to give them their special toy or gift card or gadget... but I waited. I have come very close at times to decide to celebrate Hanukah or Tuesday or my mother in laws birthday because those all fall in the middle somewhere. Thankfully my husband is much stronger than I am or at least more sadistic as he thinks it is entertaining to watch them "suffer." They wait with the anticipation of the gift and I wait with the anticipation of knowing the gift will be a great joy to them. I wonder if God the Father felt that way. Knowing the world needed and desired salvation and watching them needing HIM so badly. But timing!... That is key. We mark the day on a calendar and make our kids wait in expectation that we will give them what they asked for... God waited for the perfect timing too.  His timing was written in prophecy ages earlier. HIS gift is the best gift... in the best timing...and has my name on it! and each of my loved ones and yours and anyone who says they "want" it. How crazy is that! When our 4 year old Kadin looked at our 12 year old Quinn's gift and said "I want that!" It did not matter... he didn't get it... didn't even get a share.  But the gift of Jesus there is enough for us all... and it looks a bit different in my heart than in others.

This month I have been meditating on the verse in Isaiah 9:6-7... For to us a CHILD is born... he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace... the ZEAL of the Lord will accomplish this.  That's the gift! The fierce determination of Father God wants to give me this! This BABY fulfills all these things. So badly He wants me to have this gift that He made His son the deliverer. I love a lot of people and would give my own life for many of them... but not one single person in this world would I give my son for. That's a crazy good gift.

It was wonderful watching my family open their presents today... I hope God feels the same as we unwrap HIS glorious mysteries of Jesus.

A Twelve Day Party

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If you are just now joining Good Dirt families, Welcome! You are not late to the party, you are just in time.  In fact, welcome to one of the most holy seasons of the year, Christmastide. During Christmastide we celebrate the "pinch me I'm dreaming" miracle of God entering humanity, God wading into joy and pain.

During Christmastide we are engaging in the 12 Classical Spiritual Disciplines Richard Foster writes about in Celebration of Discipline. However in Good Dirt, we engage in them family style. You can still pick up a devotional at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1482697459/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

Or you can download it for free at http://www.scribd.com/doc/178534327/Good-Dirt-Advent-Christmastide-Epiphany-Volume-1.

Join us in the next 11, nearly 10 days as we enter the open space of a life with God through prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

If these feel overwhelming and not so child friendly check out our child friendly definitions. http://gooddirtfamilies.com/tools-for-tilling/

Happy Christmastide!

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from the Good Dirt Families community!

He is the Way. Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness; You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth. Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety; You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life. Love Him in the World of the Flesh; And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

—W.H. Auden, "Christmas Oratorio"