Parenting

Seeking the Speed of Soul

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While Dallas Willard is correct in saying that “reality is what you run into when you’re wrong,”[1] sometimes it feels more like a sneak attack than a running into. In our current season of life, life looks like busyness. I have studied the dangers of busyness, written about the dangers of busyness and professed never to fall into the camp of busyness, but here we are. I confess, we are busy.

“However,” I argue with myself, “these things we are doing are good.” Soccer-good. Orchestra- good. Seminary-good. School-good. Track- good. Piano- good. Violin- good. Worship team- good. Community-good. Spiritual direction- good. Goats- good.

All- good.

The sneak attack came one Tuesday evening as I sat to center down and engage in Ignatian Examen of my soul.

“For what was I most grateful today?” Like looking for lost keys, I began rummaging around my memory for the events of the day. I had a hard time coming up with concrete details for a solid something. Sure I was grateful for my kids, but what specifically for today? What did we do today?

Perhaps a different question, “For what was I least grateful today?” I could always go for the finitude of the human person, but maybe there was something deeper going on?

Next question, “When did I most connect with God and others, or myself?”

And there it was. Busyness, good or bad aside, lacks the power to connect. I couldn’t answer any of the questions; because although I was there physically my other bits were absent- in fact we might say I wasn’t even aware that my body was having a Tuesday.

The parts of us are interconnected, influencing each other and guided by our spirit connected to the Spirit. In the state of busyness, these parts disconnect and go on autopilot. While we can be thankful that breathing is on autopilot, we can easily slip from present to absent. My body can show up, but the rest is out to lunch or more accurately on to the next task or managing my To Do list.

In the past I’ve had a great desire to find hard and fast rules of simplicity. I’ve had trouble nailing down those that don’t lead me into legalism when it comes to time, until the sneak attack.

Perhaps presence is a good thermostat for busyness.

Today, the number of items on my list is determined by my capacity to show up to them. Really show up with all my parts.

I am present at my daughter’s soccer game in body, feeling the grass under my feet the sun on my face and using my voice to cheer her on. I am present in mind and heart as I listen when a parent tells of their struggle with the school system. I am present to the Spirit as she whispers in the wind her great love for every child on the field.

Perhaps this is the speed of the soul.

May the peace and pace of Christ guide us.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=66

Making Space for Questions

Mother and Daughter

Kids question, too. Last night when I was putting one of my people to bed she said, "Mom, are you afraid of death?" and then she jumped right into, "How do we know, I mean really know, there is the one, true, God."

I know these answers like the back of my hand. I have spent the better part of four decades asking them myself. Seeking the answers my heart longs for in Scripture and nature, through prayer, in the lives and writings of many who have gone before me.

My knee jerk, mothering reaction is to step in- fill the space as quickly as possible. But this is her relationship with God, these are her questions. I am reminded of Jesus' parables, "they're like truth burritos," one child told me. The truth of God and the Kingdom wrapped in a story that opens when we seek it out; we have to want it. Questions can be the doorway.

Questions, even from children, come from longing and can lead to seeking and finding. Jiffy quick answers shut down longing. I don't want that. I want her to hunger and thirst for the truth. The Spirit who loves her so much, prompts me, "Listen to her. Show her how to look for me. I will give her the answers."

So I make a space for her to think about her questions...

1. Tell me about a time when you have felt God near. (She tells about being afraid and the comfort she felt after asking God for help.)

2. Tell me about a time when you saw something so beautiful you had to stop and look at it. (She tells about watching horses run through a field playing together.)

3. Tell me about a time when someone was so kind you couldn't believe it. (She tells about her Grandfather teaching her to drive the tractor. Which was news to me! Grandparents!)

Then I gave her a few pointers... ways to connect.

We talk about reading the stories of Jesus and listening for God to speak. I encourage her to ask God about death. We agree to both ask and see what he has to say about it.

After an hour of laying in bed with her and listening, I realize this will be an ongoing conversation we have. The Blessed Trinity, her and myself listening, questioning and learning together.

 

The Contemplative Zombie Killer

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I am a contemplative. It's not like a badge of honor, or a state to ascribe to. It's more like the way I connect with the Trinity and the world around me. I am a mother. It's not like a badge of honor, or a state to ascribe to. It's more like the way.... (Get where I'm going with this?) Are you sensing the tension? Yeah, me too. Contemplative prayer is a staple for me throughout the day. I  return my thoughts to God when doing mundane tasks, like laundry, or vacuuming. I don’t return to a formal prayer, but instead bring my heart and mind to as full of an awareness of the presence of God as I can stand. Centering prayer is a part of my morning and evening rhythm. I focus my heart and mind on the belovedness of the Trinity and the invitation into my own belovedness . It is a prayer of “being” not “doing.” I've got a monkey mind that runs from dawn to dusk, centering prayer calms that monkey and opens the space for a deeper relationship with God.

Although contemplatives do things, too.  I have often felt that action and contemplation go together and have found great joy in this. I think the key is to not separate the internal practices of contemplation from external acts of service. While on the surface they seem paradoxical, they actually are not. The internal connectivity of human spirit to Holy Spirit is what powers and directs the act of service. Without the internal contemplative attention the act of service becomes one of self service or loses the power to continue in the face of difficulty or suffering. Mother Teresa is an excellent example. Her inner posture of contemplation informed and powered her outward service.

I have experienced the inner contemplative posture powering my outward life and I wouldn't trade it for all the gold at The Franklin Mint. Until zombie killer games come into play. We have a Sabbath practice that looks like doing a bit of nothing, which I'm pretty fine with.

Recently I was convicted by two things. 1. I make my kids clean their room on the Sabbath. (Forgive me Lord, for my crappy example.) 2. Sabbath is celebration and celebration is not my strong suit.

My husband and children LOVE computer games. What is one way I could celebrate with them as an entrance into the Sabbath? (Get where I'm going with this?) As I lamented this conviction to a group of friends one said, "Yeah, you wouldn't want to be like Jesus and enter the world of your family and celebrate." Ok. I get it.

Not-so-secret service in my current season of life looks like starting the Sabbath by playing a zombie killer computer game with my children and husband. The real challenge for me is how to stay connected with God inwardly while engaging with my family in this manner outwardly.

I'm open for suggestions.

How do you connect your inner life with your outer?

How do you celebrate the Sabbath?

Rode Hard and Put Up Wet

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I find myself drawn to people who limp. You know the ones. Life has adjusted them to the reality that there are more questions than answers. They have that rode hard and put up wet look that comes from sleepless nights and pain that can’t be confined to tiny boxes. These folks are good companions for the long haul and in parenting you are going to need a few. While the previous fifty or so years of Christian education for families has worked really hard to give us formulas for raising children and forming families; these formulas didn’t work much of the time. And in some instances they caused great harm.

“Focus on the family good”[i] is just not where most of humanity lives.

Parenting can do a number on human beings. Besides all the selfless physical care that is involved, the fact that children mirror their parents’ faults and insecurities can upend us like nothing else. There are radical joys and times when naked mole rat is the best description.

Parenting has been for me the most spiritually formational element in my life. Parenting has brought me face to face with the unending love of Jesus. Parenting has exposed my selfishness, shortsightedness, and stubbornness, I thought I had hidden neatly away. I have learned to love way more than I thought I was capable of in the way of kindness, hope, patience, and gentleness.

These are hard fought and never expressed without my own limp. I’m a limper, wrestling with God in my own formation through parenting.  Limpers tend to walk in circles, going around the same topic over and over- relearning, deeper and deeper realities. Limpers are slow. We get nowhere fast and we’re usually a little lost. Oh, we’re in the right neighborhood, but we can’t keep up on the main highways.

On this parenting journey you’re going to need a few friends and my advice is to find a limper.

In fact, God chooses the limpers. “For the LORD has chosen Jacob [the Limper] for himself.”- Psalm 135:4a

You are in good company.

[i] This is not a discussion or critique on Focus on the Family. This is a reference to a certain style, perception and expectation of families.

On Suffering and Memories

A good friend of mine’s husband has been battling cancer for a while now. They are the kind of family that everyone loves, totally committed to God and such people of faith. During this journey they have seen amazing miracles when the doctors said such and such would happen and it didn’t and great seasons when it looked like all was well, then one day it wasn’t. Today is looks to be that he may be entering into his last days. Personally I cannot imagine what is going on in the heart and mind of my friend or her children, to be where you have to say goodbye to one of the closest person in your life… words fail me. The other day, the children and I were reading our daily Good Dirt devotional, it was in Mark 14 when Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed in full faith, “Father all things are possible for you, remove this cup from me.” And it stuck me, Jesus in all of his humanity and all of his godhood, he desired to be removed from suffering. He prayed this prayer over and over again that night and although this may not be a huge revelation for most, to me it was a comfort. Jesus was prefect and yet in his perfection he still longed to be free from suffering and pain. I long for the same, I long that my friends would be freed from suffering and pain and from the pain that separation brings. Yet, sin is in our world and with that pain, suffering and death come to.

So everyday since, as I daily pray for my friends, I look for ways to celebrate each day with my children. For life is short and we truly never know how many more days we have together. My daughter is currently obsessed with the story “Curious George goes camping” desiring it to be read daily and asking regularly when we get to go camping. For many days I said “maybe someday” thinking of when we could be in a place where poisons snakes and malaria carrying mosquitoes do not lurk in the night. But after this I thought we better make it today. So we put up a tent in the bedroom and pulled all the cushions off the couch, we roasted marshmallows over the stove using forks and stayed up late watching a movie. We took a night off and made some memories.

In that same day of devotions, we were asked, “What is something you pray for?” Well I pray for a long life so that my children will have a lifetime of memories with me to help them endure the separation that death brings, and I pray that the God of Peace would grant his peace upon my friend, her family and every other family like theirs who’s family members life was not long enough and they endure the pain of separation too soon. I pray that every day, we would remember that each day is about making memories and not about routines or schedules, about relationships and life with God above all else. Those are just some of the things I pray for.

Happily Ever After

© Dennis Jarvis. Used under Creatives Commons License. Sometimes the happenings of this world feel beyond what the heart can bear. A beloved comedian's tragic death. Reports of horrific conflict and genocide in the Middle East, with many of the victims children, their pictures transported thousands of miles across oceans to verify the reality of carnage. Closer to home, this moment, a family gathers at the deathbed of a dear husband, father and grandfather whose body succumbs to cancer, none ready to part with him.

Tragic pain. Heartrending loss. Inner and outer turmoil that the spirit in its purest place knows don't belong in this world, really. As parents we shudder and push through our days. As love-invaded friends of God we offer silent prayers framed with unspoken questions. And then a child's query breaks the silence.

"Why did he die? What happened?" And we have to find words somehow that are truthful and that teach.

Today I came across a gingerbread house-shaped book my third grader wrote last spring in school. His class was studying fairy tales and had the chance to write one. Derrin titled his "The Rabbit Prince and the Bunny Queen." The story unfolds complete with magic wand, castle, and dungeon, and it ends this way:

The prince got the key and got the princess. They ran out of the palace. They got in love and got married! and they lived happily ever after!!!

I smile at a child's simple resolution to problems and his belief in uncomplicated happiness-ever-after. If only ...  And then I think about Bartimaeus, the blind man who Jesus healed. We read about him together with Good Dirt a few nights ago. Bartimaeus received his sight "and followed Jesus along the road, " according to the Gospel of Mark. He begged Jesus for mercy, received it, and then  followed the Savior. It wasn't complicated.

I'm not sure if Bartimaeus lived happily ever after, but in following Jesus he had what he needed most. The evil in the world certainly raged on--Jesus would soon be killed, and death eventually came to this follower, but a bigger reality encompassed Bartimaeus. His life was hidden not in a dungeon or a castle, but with God in Christ for each moment and into eternity. He couldn't be touched by a mean rat (as in Derrin's tale) or an act against himself, a sword or invading bodily cells. Following Jesus put a greater reality in place.

We still stand against evil and illness, yet as we do we seek more and more to know Jesus' mercy in our lives, as Bartimaeus did, and to speak His mercy and life to a hurting world.

Thank God for His Word. It straightens crooked and broken hearts. And as we weep with those who weep, it holds out the promise of lives hidden in Christ for ever after.

The Biggest Piece

I was sitting at a baseball game for one of our boys last week and chatting with my mom, who had come to watch the game. She shared with me about a dream she'd had the night before. In the dream, she was with an extended family member of ours who has recently moved to another city, and they were visiting a church in the area. As they were celebrating the Lord's Supper and my mom's turn came, there were only crumbs left and she felt like she couldn't partake.  We smiled at the odd course that dreams often take. The next day, as our church celebrated the Lord's Supper and I sat next to our 8-year-old, the  dish of unleavened bread came down our row. Just like he always does, Derrin took a few seconds to survey the contents and pick the largest piece he could find. This one was particularly big. (I wonder if the deacons do that on purpose for kids like Derrin?)

He proceeded to whisper, too loudly, about the really big piece he got, and then he did the same with the tray of grape juice cups. He picked the one most full and let me hold it to prevent a purple spill, which has happened one too many times. We ate the bread and drank from the cup. It was good. The bread of forgiveness. The cup of new life gained through Jesus' suffering. A Good Friday celebration that comes to us again and again throughout the year. Solemn and sobering. Burden-lifting. Spirit renewing, even in the company of a squirmy, talkative child .

As many of us have reflected here at Good Dirt Families, it is the child who leads us. And the grandparent too. We want the biggest piece of Jesus we can get. We want to stop and survey the situation, and then choose carefully. We can't help but tell the one next to us in a loud voice about what we've found.

No, crumbs won't do. Being new and showing up only to find there's not enough--that scenario just doesn't fit the abundant life Jesus died to provide. How great to imagine each of us, like an 8-year-old, being intentional, selecting carefully  from this smorgasbord of life, eyeing Jesus, reaching for Him, and taking all we can get.  O Bread of Life, may it be so.

When Summer Goes Better Than Expected

Two months ago, I was convinced I needed an amazing summer bucket list to get through the weeks ahead. I thought I would need special activities hidden away, a plan for each week, and plenty of discipline to survive the summer with both kids at home. And while there have certainly been challenges, there has also been... joy. Simple joy. I think I was worried about the kids being bored, and feeling like I needed a prepared response to that boredom. There are tons of "boredom buster" ideas on the internet for moms--just take a quick glance at Pinterest and you'll see a few hundred. And then there's the other side, the articles about why it's good for your kids to be bored and how we need to stop scheduling every moment of our kids' days. I knew my own opinion fell somewhere in the middle, wanting a balance of activity and boredom for all of us this summer. But even that can turn into "scheduling boredom" and over-thinking each day. Gradually I realized the answer was even simpler: just show up each morning.

The idea of being present in the moment is one I have been working on for a long time. (In fact, my very first blog post was on this same topic.) My tendency is to rush into the future, at least in my mind, always thinking about the next thing. I think being a mom fosters this type of thinking, as I'm constantly feeling the need to be one step ahead of my children. But I love this quote from James Bryan Smith:

"I had been thinking a lot about American 'hurry sickness,' always being in a rush, and the causes behind it. Hurriedness is an inner attitude that is not necessarily caused by out circumstances; boredom is one of its symptoms. The solution to the problem is counter-intuitive: being present where you are."

So this summer, whether we were at swim lessons, or Legoland, or our backyard, I have tried to be there. To not spend my time thinking about the next thing. To wake up each morning, figure out what needed to be done that day, and to know it was enough. To stop and see my children in all of their 5- and 8-year-old glory. I was created to be their mom, right now, in this place, for this summer. I'm relaxing into that more each day.

The summer list has been great, and we've done a lot of the things on it. And several things will remain undone as the summer comes to a close. I'm not one who likes to leave things unchecked on the to-do list, but I am giving myself permission this time. Because showing up each day has been more important than fitting it all in.

May you find joy in the showing up.

Gentle Whispers

Summer with kids screams the daily, material, ordinariness of life. In the prominence of all the ordinary, the tangible presses in on our moments and envelops our days as they spin into weeks and march toward Fall. Yes, we cherish the shining moments of  spectacular sunsets and interludes on the pavement viewing roly polies as they curl and uncurl. We triumph at a first ride on a two-wheeler and delight at a bouquet of dandelions. But so many other moments during summer involve the weary obligation of cleaning up after a camping trip, chasing flies around the house,  spraying stained clothing. Hanging up wet towels and clothes, pulling weeds, intervening amid squabbles, mopping the floor one more time to find missed popsicle drips, removing splinters, applying sunscreen to squirming bodies, putting away bedding from last night's sleepover, and buying yet another box of bandaids. Summertime is multi-tasking at its finest.

I find that in all the rush of nonstop ordinariness, I wonder if my kids are noticing God. I wonder if they're sensing His presence in these days that for them are magical, glorious, sun-drenched times--but times where they seem quite focused on themselves. I wonder when that awareness of God and life underneath the surface of this one finds a regular  place in their living.

The other day we were reading Good Dirt in the morning, in the family room with sleeping bags and pillows. My neice had spent the night with our two younger boys. They were up (very) early and bursting with energy. We read Mark 2:13-22, about the calling of Levi and about putting new wine into new wineskins. And then we got out paper and made two columns: The Kingdom of Me and The Kingdom of God. I expected resistance, but each child labeled their columns and readily got to work describing what each column was like.

One of them wrote this:

Kingdom of Me--bad things happen. I get disiplend (sic) Kingdom of God--Good things happen. God gets sad.

They didn't miss a beat in understanding the difference between the two kingdoms.

Later I read something by Dallas Willard. He has a new book out titled A Dallas Willard Dictionary, where various spiritual formation terms are defined using excerpts from his various books. I read the definition of "Spiritual Reality."

Spiritual reality is the hidden--because nonphysical--ultimate and powerful foundation of the visible, material and finite universe. It is the "where" of spiritual beings. It is the kingdom of God.

And this is the quote included with Willard's definition:

The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events. They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes and eggs. But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently. And it appears both at the edges and in the middle of events and things in the so-called real world of the visible … . the tendency of life in Christ is progressively toward the inward word to the receptive heart. The aim is to move entirely into the hidden realm of spiritual reality …” (excerpted from Hearing God)

Once again, I knew that these kids have eyes to see underneath the surface of their days. They can hear the inward word, and by and large they have receptive hearts. These kids are living in the kingdom of God. Even in summertime.

listen to the trail: behold a sermonless sermon

A child is a walking appetite. They devour with their eyes, they take with their hands wherever their little feet rush to carry them. If it fits in their mouth (nose, or ears) it goes in. The same is true of their hearts.

Devotions are to feed children with spiritual nutriment; to foster compassion, develop character and positive values. The Good Dirt devotional adds follow-up questions for children to ponder. The questions help children reflect upon themselves; upon their own emotional responses during the day. This helps my son. Picking out and naming the different colors of his emotional kaleidoscope is good for him.

In our family, devotions are a bedtime ritual. The nightly devotion involves dental hygiene, stories, cuddles, reflection and prayers. These nightly rituals are my wife’s creation. They are not my style. The practice of stopping the day to read scripture and pray feels unnatural to me.

As I am not from a Christian family, I do not have family traditions to incorporate into my son’s life. So I listened to my heart: when is the best time to commune with God? When is the best time to practice the devotional life with my son?

For me, the devotional life pulses in the solitude of a busy city crowd. The city bus, cafes and street benches foster the proper devotional space for me. Urbanscape, with its gray buildings and matching sky; where the city’s royalty parade past broken men sitting along metro stairs extending their hands—this is where faith, frustration and action take place. The devotional life needs daily life to make sense of its own faith-claims.

As a father, I have found the best place for shared devotions is outside, walking along a trail, at riverside, or near a pond. And there should be food, tuna sandwiches, apples and chips. We should carry tools too, pocket knives, compasses and flashlights. I carry one more item, a folded piece of paper with a psalm and a hymn.

Pic 1After catching tadpoles in the pond, my son and I sit together in the shade for lunch. I’ll pull out my creased piece of paper and read it to my boy while he brushes the mud off hands before he eats. We easily talk about Psalm 1 as there are many trees growing near the water. How exciting for a ring-neck pheasant to fly over while talking about the Creator, and to hear a cuckoo in the pines.

Along with a psalm, I carry a hymn. Hymns are the meat and gravy of faith’s music. Hymn writers give us simple labyrinths of the common and the glorious, to wander and meditate upon. My son needs to know these people and their stories. I want him to have so much respect for Fanny Crosby that he thinks she is the worship leader for G.I. Joe.

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Remember son, when I can’t be with you, carry a song of courage in your heart.

-Mark Liebenthal “plantingpennies”

Glad Places

IMG_1576 I've just returned home from bringing two of our boys to church camp for the week. Our other son is already away for a second week of training for a children's evangelism ministry he's taking part in this summer. And so, the house is quiet. We brought a neighbor boy and two neices along to camp, and all the way home as I drank in the blue Colorado sky with forests of evergreen and aspen, roadside streams and meadow flowers stretching mile after mile, I thought about each of the kids and each of their little personalities and passions, their gifts and their callings.

We read Good Dirt and the Bible this morning after final packing, and the passage we read from Luke 20 talked about a vineyard and unfaithful workers who mistreated all the  servants sent by the owner of the vineyard to bring back fruit. They even killed the owner's son.

"Instead of drawing the unfaithful workers, draw a picture of you working with God in his vineyard," Good Dirt instructed the boys. "How do you feel to be working with God? How does God feel to have you working with him."

And this drawing above is what my 8-year-old sketched very quickly. A big God and a small boy, working together in a vineyard, with God's response about how he feels to have Derrin working with him--an  imperfectly spelled "PERFECT!"

As I drove today I thought about my own process as a girl and young woman of learning who I was and learning how my growing passion for God could best be lived out in this life He'd given me. I remember road trip vacations as a child when we listened to a couple cassette tapes of country music over and over and over to pass the time--and how I realized later that this style of music, though my parents' favorite, definitively  was not "me." I remember my dad's encouragement toward the study of law as I entered college, and how I wrestled with his prompting but determined I wasn't created for this profession. Just two random examples, but they remind me that my kids, and each child I know and love, is created to meet God in particular ways and to work alongside God in ways fitting so rightly for him or her.

I pray this week that my two boys at camp, and my teenager sharing the Gospel with kids, will keep learning who they are and how they can best meet God. I pray they experience ways of loving God and worshiping him where they're at this week that fit who they are. And I pray they learn just a little more about how God has formed each of them to work with him in his vineyard.

Jesus talked so often about bearing fruit, about loving in action with God's love. I know my kids pretty well, but God knows them intimately in a way I never will fully know them. I pray that Mike and I can be parents and aunt and uncle and neighbors who will help the kids in our lives to pursue their passions along with God in the way Frederick Buechner described:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

I pray they pursue a life where they know God is smiling as he works alongside them, even in them, and where they sense him whispering something along the lines of  "Perfect!" as they are glad together.

 

Spring has sprung!

This has been a trying season! We are small business owners and winter is never easy in that area. Mike and I are both dreamers and see that grass is greener elsewhere. We feel safe and together in our little living room or kitchen and just doing our thing, Cooking, eating, playing games, doing our family "bible study". Sometimes outside of our walls the world is overwhelming.  Quinn is our rock, unwavering in his goals and dedication to his passions. Kadin is our comic relief, always a light! Isabella is our up/down/all around girl, quick witted and sweet. We wonder if our "crazy" is affecting them. We wonder if they will learn about God or know Him. Sometimes we even forget to pray for them that they will grow in their Christ-likeness. One of our mottos for parenting is "what is walked is caught what is taught is not." What are they catching? Then fear creeps in and accusation that we are bad parents etc etc etc. However, 4 times in the past week I have been blown away by my kids and reminded why we do Good Dirt.

1. Quinn heard about a friend that was sick and said to me "We need to pray for her!" I agreed and he said "NOW!" So we stopped doing our daily chores and prayed.

2. Kadin told me that during a birthday party at our house with 10 kids they stopped in the middle of the orchard in the middle of the game to pray for a friend that had broken his leg. I was amazed and blessed by their faith! Their instant faith in these situations.

3. Quinn said he would like to be baptized. Us not sure that he understands asked him why and what it means to him. He responded that "It is when you are poured into the water and blessed because Jesus loves you and you want to love Jesus." Yet again I am blessed by his simple and profound understanding of God.

4. When we picked up Isabella from a week at camp and were asking about her time, she of course talked of the friends she connected with. This can be difficult for her. I probed further and asked what did God speak to her. She said that God wants her to be humble. That it will help her have better friends and keep them and to share about Jesus more and better.

These are things I attribute to our Good Dirt devotions. The training of our minds to look for opportunities to pray and see God in everyday life. These are the things we teach our kids (despite our "squirrel" tendencies) and they in turn demonstrate and teach us.

"I want my chore to be nothing"

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My conversation with my Kadin (4 years old) went like this... Kadin..."Why do I always have to empty the silverware from the dishwasher?"

Me..."Because it's your chore."

Kadin..."But I think I want my chore to be nothing. I want to just get to watch movies all day."

Me..."But that doesn't make you a better person or help you learn to be a good man."

Then I hear God's gentle whisper..."Do you hear yourself? Do you hear that sometimes you have to join in and do not just watch and let others do for you?"

WOW! I love when God speaks and I KNOW it. I have been pondering all day and actually for several days if what I have been hearing is God or me. There is a need at our church for youth leaders. I am not volunteering for that as I lead 3 youth already and am satisfied with my role. However, I have been questioning a quickening in my spirit that says I have something to say to the teen group. I thought maybe I was just feeling the need to be needed, or involved, or to feel important. But hearing this bit from the mouth of my boy and feeling a nudge from Jesus, I remember that I am not insignificant in his kingdom either. Just as my asking Kadin to help with chores, with his much older and experienced siblings, can be a pain and time consuming for me, it is worthwhile as it teaches him and makes him know that I love him and care about his future self.  God asks me sometimes to step out of my "I want my chore to be nothing" comfort zone and do... for my own sake.

1 Corinthians 10 says, " Forget about self-confidence...cultivate God-confidence...He wants us, all or nothing...The point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well." (the Message) I also am reading 'Generous Orthodoxy' by Brian McClaren and have had an epiphany of sorts as he discusses "personal" salvation and how sometimes it becomes all too personal and not enough relational. Jesus saves me and asks that I share that salvation with others. Not for my glory but for his. My chore of "nothing" just leapt to everything. In everything I do I want to share, show, relate Jesus and his love and salvation so that others can know him too.

I am still unsettled on how worthy I am to speak to the youth group. I feel like I am not educated enough, or exciting enough, or spiritual enough to have anything of value to say. But I also know that sometimes God asks me to do something for my own growth just as I ask Kadin to put the silverware away.

 

Routines of the Heart

Teeth are brushed, we’ve all gone potty and we’ve read through, “My Crayons Talk” and “Dr. Dog” twice already. As I lean back against the headboard of the bed, Kaiser turns to me expectantly and says, “I’m ready, Mom.” I ask what he’s ready for. “For telling you when I felt happy or sad today. Can you read it?” This is the first time he’s asked for our Good Dirt reading and I smile at the thought. It’s wonderful when a good routine is embraced. Our culture talks a lot about breaking out of the routine, the mundane. But the Kingdom of God is furthered by the small things – often the things found in routine.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine expresses repentant responses.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine develops a rhythm of forgiveness.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine nurtures grateful hearts.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine challenges us to choose joy despite dire circumstances.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine demands that we remember.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine builds courage.

This routine isn’t the time of day we wash the dishes and clean the house or feed the chickens. It’s not the time we set aside for hobbies or visiting friends. It’s not the time we set on our alarm clock for waking up the next morning. And yet it’s in all those things. Kingdom routine is set in the heart and is the regularity of reaching for God. Looking toward Him. Longing for Him. Worshiping and glorifying Him. Crying out to Him and talking with Him.

Without this routine, we won’t develop any of the characteristics of those who walk the Kingdom Way. When we aren’t walking the Kingdom Way, this routine cannot be established and we will wallow in the shallowness of simply filling our time.

If this heart routine is fed and watered by sitting down at the end of the day with my son to read the Scriptures, quiet ourselves before God and let him tell me when he felt happy or sad today……well then, we have a good routine.

-Tamara

God Always Answers

Last week as we read Good Dirt and focused on the passage from Luke 11 where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray with what later has come to be known as the Lord's prayer, we talked with the boys at some length about how God always answers prayer. We've talked about it many times, but again there was some argument. "Well, God doesn't always answer prayer, like if you ask to become a millionaire. God might not answer that prayer," offered one of the boys.

And then we talked about how God may answer by saying, "No, I know what is good for you and I want to give you my best. I am not going to make you a millionaire but I will make you rich in other ways that will bring you much more joy."

And then we talked about how as we grow closer to God we begin wanting what He wants for us more than what we in our limited understanding can want for ourselves. We begin to have God's desires for our life rather than our own desires.

And then we talked about how Jesus taught his followers to pray for their everyday, usual needs. Our prayers don't have to be complicated. They can be simple. And we talked about what some of those everyday needs are. The boys reviewed the ways we pray from day to day--asking for help on a test at school, asking for healing from illness, asking for guidance in making a decision.

And after that time together and as the week proceeded, I began to think about how in parenting, with all the changing of our kids' stages of life and with all the challenges we have in knowing how to parent a child who is different from us, with all the waiting of months or years to know whether the decisions we are making now in parenting our kids are going to end up being the right ones to help guide and mature them--with all these unknowns it's a big comfort to remember that God always answers our prayers.

Mike and I got a glimpse of it twice this week with our teenager. An issue we have prayed about for years and not known if we were deciding rightly in the way we have gently but firmly kept him involved in something he didn't want to be doing has come full circle. He has suddenly embraced it and is seeking further involvement on his own and it's meeting a  place of passion inside of him. Another issue as well, he has embraced after some off and on complaining and resistance.

There has been much comfort not in feeling like "we were right" but in the realization that yes, God answered all those prayers, day by day, about how to guide him. In the end, it doesn't matter so much whether Collin stays involved in these particular areas or not. What matters is that we've tried to put our need before God and then follow the ways God seemed to be leading. The rest is up to God and He will take our child where He wants him to go over the course of his life if Collin learns to follow daily the leading of the Spirit as he places his needs before God.

"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." Thank you for teaching us to pray, God. And thank you that you always answer.

Ordinary Time is just so... Ordinary

Learning to Ride a Bike on a Dirt Road 009

During the summer these words bellow from the porches and couches of millions of homes in America: “I’m bored.” Every kid in the free world, having prayed fervently for school to end, is now proclaiming that the day of perpetual boredom is here. In our culture the tendency is to fill up the summer with camps, classes, and distractions of every shape and color. What would happen if we halted our planning and pondered the wisdom of Kingdomtide, or as it is traditionally called, Ordinary Time?

What is ordinary? Oatmeal for breakfast is ordinary. Laundry, the sun coming up, rain, reading to my kids, mowing the lawn, feeding the chickens, making the bed, napping on Sunday—all ordinary. Without these ordinary actions, our lives lose a sense of rhythm. In fact, without the ordinary we don’t grow, not physically or spiritually. There is nothing fancy or fabulous about a meal of beans and cornbread, except that it sustains our bodies, and thousands of people eat it every day. It is an ordinary meal that does extraordinary things. The fact that the sun comes up every day is an ordinary event most of us ignore, but without it nothing could live.  Jesus was so fond of teaching out of ordinariness, over dinner, in a wheat field. He taught the foundational truths of the universe out of an ordinary body, using ordinary words, to ordinary people.

For six seasons now, we (Lacy and Ben and you!) have looked forward and backward; we’ve celebrated and mourned. Now, during Kingdomtide, we settle in: we find our stride. For 29 full weeks we all have the chance to establish a family rhythm that will grow us and ours.

Many families practice the spiritual discipline of vacation during Kingdomtide, but for most vacation is just one week in the midst of 29 weeks of ordinary. The other 28 weeks are the lazy days of summer, complete with marshmallow roasting, watermelon seed spitting, and bike riding. We intermingle these sorts of activities with the open space of unscheduled time. For children and for their adults, this is the season of rhythms to build a life on.

We might think that the rhythms and lessons of ordinariness will just meander their way into our homes—and maybe this used to be so.  But in a culture built on desire and distraction, ordinariness is endangered. Building a life on the rhythms of ordinariness takes intention and attention. We will have to intend to walk slowly with our kids to the mailbox while stopping and looking at every bug that passes by. We will have to think to grab a stick and play pirate with the neighbor kids. We will have to watch for the teachable moments of forgiveness when siblings quarrel. We will have to be determined to teach the time-honored skill of pancake flipping infused with thankfulness. We will need to plan to lie in the backyard and teach the names of the constellations, or make up our own. During the ordinary routines of eating and sleeping, rest and work, moments will slip up on us that are golden for teaching the way of Jesus. It is our job to lessen the distractions so we will recognize these moments when they come our way. If we do this, our TV’s will grow dusty, our schedule will look empty, and when people ask what our big plans are for the summer, we will say with a knowing smile, “Oh nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Forgive the Russians? But Dad!

We have a set bedtime ritual for our son: one more last wrestling match, teeth brushing, story time, devotions, prayer, lights-out; followed by an hour of chatting, cuddling and escape attempts. We get a new stack of books each week, along with books I borrow from the school I teach at and the books we own. There is no shortage of printed words here. At bedtime, our son gets to pick two books for his story time. Last night he picked G.I. Joe comics.

In one issue*, the Joes are tasked with recovering a spy plane that crashed in Afghanistan. While on their way, they are intercepted by Oktober Guard, the Russian special mission team. A battle ensues and the Joes win the day with cunning ingenuity.

During our devotions, we read Jesus’ words about forgiving our enemies. My son looked confused.

“Even the bad guys with red stars?”

“Jesus thinks so.”

“But they’re the bad guys!”

The interesting part is that we have never explained what forgiveness is, but he inherently knows that it entails being generous with our enemies; we have to give a part of ourselves to malefactors.

It is a mistake for me to ever think family devotions are for my family. Nightly devotions with my son are not for him, they are for me. I am the convict; the one who is convicted. I need to hear the words of Jesus again.

Repentance and devotions make the parent and child partners in their devotional life, daily renewing their bond. Repentance is a sign of new life. Repentance is the pulse of faith. Devotions coupled with repentance make theology vibrant, keeping it safe from academics and in the realm of daily experiments in grace, prayer and obedience.

We aspire to find peace with God in an active devotional life. But we are not always able to discern between peace and complacency, and healing and mending—this does not matter until young faith asks questions of our devotions.

If we do not find healing in God, no matter the price, our children might not. If we have allowed other elements to mend us, such the passing of time, sex, or booze, then we have been nurtured by vice. This is idolatry.

Devotions with children remind adults to refocus their lives and practice the basics. Devotions give us a second chance to do a few things better.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

devoted1

By: Mark Liebenthal

*G.I. Joe A Great American Hero, Vol. 1 issue 6, “To Fail is to Conquer…To Succeed is to Die!”

Monster Trucks and Moments That Matter

Me and my little five-year-old dude had some father/son bonding this weekend over monster trucks and motocross. It was awesome. Here's the proof:

http://youtu.be/IczPbQnohVI

I had some concerns that it would be not awesome, however. Jon has had sensory processing issues in the past--loud noises in particular have been known to set him off. So as you can imagine, a monster truck show may be problematic. In fact, his inability to deal with sensory issues has kept us from doing a lot of things together over the years--going swimming together, visiting the beach--those kind of typically fun activities ended up being miserable.

But things have been changing over the past year at our house. The boy who didn't want to even put on his swimsuit last summer was outside this week on a slip n' slide having the time of his life. And that same boy--the one who covered his ears for an hour during a Christmas parade because a fire engine honked its horn--took out his earplugs as two monster trucks raced head to head 75 yards away, declaring it the "coolest ever."

And it really was the coolest ever. Sure, the monster trucks and motorcycles were cool, but getting to enjoy them with my son? It was one of those moments I'd dreamed of since becoming the father of a little boy.

So many of our stories with children seem to carry the refrain, "..if you'd told me a year ago we'd be doing X, I would've said no way." Life is incremental--it's easy to miss the change when your dealing with the day to day. I see it happen in our daily Good Dirt devotions--from day to day, it can sometimes seem like nothing is getting through, until seemingly out of the blue one of the kids will echo back a truth from Scripture. But in reality, it's not out of the blue--it's a truth internalized through consistent communication, all those little moments that can seem like they don't matter at the time.

But those moments matter. Just like monster trucks.

Life on the Road

Used under Creative Commons License. I'm guessing that most parents who are following Jesus and helping their kids to live with him struggle in the same way I do. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about who and what is most influentially forming my three kids. When I say "forming," I mean forming them spiritually in a way that affects their identity, their passions, their understanding of living and being in this world, their view of God and what He means in their life.

With our youngest child being close to 9 years old and our oldest at 15, immersed in high school life, they are at ages where home, parents, and church are a big influence, but peers, media, and pretty much all of life outside our front door also play a big role in who they are becoming. Many times I have, in my mind, whisked my kids to a remote jungle or a country home far from civilization where all the competing influences would take a much more distant and manageable role in who they are becoming. You can probably relate.

God, though, through the Holy Spirit's whispers in response to my thoughts, has affirmed again and again that the Quinns are where He's placed us as a family and we are to choose carefully within this context how we will influence our kids' formation day by day and year by year.

Good Dirt. It has been a good and powerful family guide into God's Word and life with Him on this daily journey. Last week we focused with the kids on Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the boys drew pictures that they used for a few nights.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and you have seen him."  ~ John 14:6-7

The boys were instructed to draw a road, because Jesus described himself as the road to God. "With his whole life he showed us how to live a life with God." And then they were told to write on the road some of the ways Jesus showed us how to live a life with God on the road. For three nights we read from Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, talked about it, and wrote on the pictures.

It was on Night 3 that I realized something. On this night we read these word from Jesus' prayer. He is "not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:9). Here is what he said:

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

On Night 3 as we began to talk about that very-religious-sounding word sanctify, I realized that God is so "with me" on this hard road of parenting and of yearning for my kids to be formed by God and not by the world. Of all things, just a day or two earlier I had heard a radio preacher talking about sanctification. Being sanctified, he had said, is being "set apart." His words had stuck with me, and that night with the boys this definition was ready and helped to frame our conversation. It gave us a picture of who we are as people who want Jesus as our Life. We are different. We are chosen. We, indeed, are ones who are set apart, belonging to God.

When I was a teenager and going through family crisis, a friend gave me Oswald Chambers' devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest. I dove into this classic book that focuses so deeply on sanctification. I underlined like crazy and I prayed a lot that God would work out this process of sanctifying my life for Him. Chambers is more wordy when he talks about sanctification, but just like the shorter definition, he gets to the heart of what God does in us, if we allow it.

"In sanctification the regenerated soul deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ, and identifies himself entirely with God's interest in other men [and women!]."

And, "Are we prepared for what sanctification will cost? It will cost an intense narrowing of all our interests on earth, and an immense broadening of all our interests in God. Sanctification means intense concentration on God's point of view. It means every power of body, soul and spirit chained and kept for God's purpose only. Are we prepared for God to do in us all that He separated us for? ... Sanctification means being made one with Jesus so that the disposition that ruled Him will rule us. Are we prepared for what it will cost? It will cost everything that is not of God in us."  

Sobering words. They give me pause, once again, as I consider my own life.

This idea of being set apart, though, isn't too big or too incomprehensible for my kids. Even on a night when they are a little distracted, are trying to fidget with each other, and one is dissatisfied with his drawing, I know they get it. I know they can understand that it's really special to be set apart. And that God deserves all of us.

So today, and again tomorrow, we enter another day seeking to live it all, and give it all, for Jesus, for we are "not of this world." And we're also not doing any of it without God's help.

***Parent friends and readers--It is a comfort and much-appreciated joy to walk this road of parenting with you, in community with you through the writing at this site. We are all in different places with God and with our kids as we parent. If you sense Jesus drawing you to come to know Him as you read here, know that you and your children, too, are chosen by God to belong to Him. You and your kids can come to know God by praying simple prayers to God together and by reading the Bible together, listening to God speak to you. Any of us who are writing here would love to correspond with you, just as a follower of Jesus who lives near you would also love to do. Reach out--we  need each other as we journey with God!

Sync the Biz, Mark

Saints are the worst kind of Christian, with their stained glass skirts, pretentious beards and mute faces. Saints are glorified victims, not good role models. Parent pointing up at stained glass martyrdom (saint in cauldron of hot oil). To child: here’s what you have to look forward to if you follow Jesus.  Child retreats.

Besides, saints are typically representative of European Christianity—or, failed enterprise. Does anyone know the patron saint of empty cathedrals? Hagiography makes for interesting comic books, but it doesn’t make men dutiful. The saints are dead.

Recently, I have been reading Confessions. I was hoping it would be more than holy brooding. Saint Augustine, whom I now call St. Angst, thought too much. He should have played more baseball—played baseball, not contemplated it. He needed to stomp on a colony of ants to relieve his existential stress. All of the brooding writers in the world, including Augustine, Solomon, a Kempis, Dickenson, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Marx, needed one thing: to have gone fishing with their dad.

As pater-americana, I must ask, what is the proper kind of hero for a boy? What the saints lack, Greek heroes abound in. What Greek heroes lack, the saints profess. I think I’ll just leave the icons on Mount Olympus and take my child by the hand. What has Athens and Jerusalem to do with Colorado?

I strongly dislike the illusion that paper communicates truth; that reading the right passages makes the right kind of man. It cannot. Good men are made by innumerable, mundane daily interactions, embedded in a commitment to deny one’s self, with a complete reliance on grace—in the face of a murderous world, twenty-four hours a day without reprieve.

A man must see his life as a unique duty to perform; as a job only he can do, and if he doesn’t, his family is lost. He must rise in the morning. He must pray. He must pack his burdens and carry them.

From my interest in military history, I wonder about the fathers and sons who built and served on two particular World War Two battleships, the Yamato and the Bismarck. The Japanese Yamato was the largest battleship ever built. Her contemporary, the German-built Bismarck, was just as fearsome in its profile and purpose.

Both vessels carried the hopes and ambitions of its people. Both vessels proved to be irrelevant in battle. The Yamato was sunk before she could rule the seas, and the Bismarck was scuttled, also without fulfilling its purpose.

It is given for one man to build a battleship, and for one man to sink it. What kind of devotional life best prepares a boy’s soul for a godly life while serving ones’ country? What kind of devotional life makes a man to shine while serving such futility?

The answer must be found somewhere in his father’s faithful hand; in the seeds of his words. If his father walks the long walk and prays the long prayer, then a boy’s devotional book is in his father’s boot prints. He reads it while following his father through the market, along the river and returning home.

The saints are dead; battleships are dead. I want one thing from the devotional life: for my son to love God despite his father’s desire for him to love God. Let it be in my hands as an apple, shared by God and the boy he loaned to me.

Mark Liebenthal

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