Family

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.

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.

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

A Summer of Serving

Summer 2011

With only 4 days of school left until summer, the excitement level at our house is running extremely high. I clearly remember that feeling as a child, with all of summer before you. No real commitments, just lots of lazy mornings and free time. Heavenly. As a mom, I’m still excited about summer--especially the part where all of us don’t have to be ready to leave the house by 8am each morning. But there is also a sense of trepidation, and any other mom with school-age children knows exactly what I mean. Because there will be no more alone time for 2 and a half months. There will be two children who become better at bickering by the day. There will be “I’m bored,” “I’m hungry,” and “He hit me!” And there will be a sense that every other “good mom” has daily creative art projects and science experiments and other Pinterest-inspired boredom-busters, all ready to go on day 1 of summer.

One of the internet’s favorite ways to deal with all of this is a summer bucket list. Mommy bloggers everywhere are creating chalkboards and signs and printables full of great summer ideas: Camp in the backyard. Have a water balloon fight. Make s'mores and smoothies. Play in the sprinklers. It’s a nice idea, as it gives you something to do when boredom sets in and helps you keep track of all that you hope to accomplish before the first day of school. We’ve made one every summer for the past few years, and plan to do it again this year.

And yet… One of my favorite parts of “Good Dirt” is the daily questions, when we have time to intentionally ask our children things like, “Where did you see God’s goodness and love today?” “How did God meet your needs?” “What did you do for others today?” It was that last question that got me thinking about our summer list. Every year we fill it with fun ideas that will grow us together as a family. That's wonderful, except it doesn’t teach my children much about serving others. That's when I remembered that somewhere, filed away in the back of my mind, was this list written by a local blogger. A Summer Service List, loaded with acts of service that help our children think outside of themselves and see the ways they can meet others needs right where they are. Things like:

  • Write letters to grandparents
  • Do your sibling's chores
  • Bring flowers to a friend
  • Surprise someone with a “just because” gift
  • Donate toys and clothes

This year our family will be adding in some service ideas to our summer list, so that it’s not just about us, but also about ways we can use what we have to love others. What about you? Does your family make a summer list? Any other service ideas to share?

Happy summer!

-Carolyn

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.”

A Life That's Cruciform

© JD Warrick, used under Creative Common License.
© JD Warrick, used under Creative Common License.

It's those bedtime questions that can require the very most we have to give.

I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll say one time that for parents, it's those moments we're tucking them in when kids are the most talkative. Don't rush through bedtime with your kids, he encouraged. They'll do anything to delay switching off the light. Talk to them. Listen to them. Take advantage of their open hearts and listening ears no matter how tired you are and no matter how ready you are to be done with parenting for the day.

Austin, my 11-year-old, asked this one as I was giving him a final kiss at the end of a trying day, to put it mildly. Our 8-year-old had been through two meltdowns, our high schooler had been home sick from school and then had gotten his braces tightened. We'd been to music lessons which meant a late dinner. The boys had been squabbling.  Fishing poles and line were spider-webbed around our family room in an effort to de-tangle. And Austin and I had just finished studying for a surprise test. It was time for bed.

"Mom, if Jesus asked God a question on the cross--'My God, why have you forsaken me?'--then how could Jesus and God be just one God?"

The Trinity. Who really understands it? And how do I talk about it, and Jesus' most difficult moment here on this earth, to a tired pre-teen when I am feeling on the edge of sanity myself? Many times we've talked about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as 3 persons in one God, like an apple or an egg or a pumpkin--all different parts of one whole. That's the best way for our human brains to grasp what we can't really get. And this is what I pulled from down deep on this night. "Because the Bible tells us that Jesus cried out to God, we know he was talking to his Father. But the Bible also tells us  that Jesus is God, and that the Lord our God is One. So, even though our minds have a hard time really understanding it, it's true. Someday we'll understand it much better."

Now that I'm rested and the fishing poles are put away, I'm thinking a little more coherently. Not about my words to Austin, but about this place of mystery in our lives. The way we all deal with the unknowing that is an undeniable part of our Christian faith. As parents, and as people in relationship with God, we want to nail down the answers. We want to figure it out and learn it so we can defend it, and more, so we can live in an inner place of comfort.

I'm reading a book that pokes at this tendency of ours to want neat and tidy answers. To beneat and tidy people. It's titled Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron and is the fictional story of a pastor who has a breakdown of sorts and travels to Italy to encounter Francis of Assisi in his millenia-old surroundings.

In talking with a few priests who are hosting him, the pastor begins to see his own unknowing, his own brokenness, with new eyes.

"You'll never be able to speak into their souls unless you speak the truth about your own wounds," one of the priest says. "They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."

And then the priest says, "Do you know how Simon Tugwell described Franciscanism? He called it 'the radically unprotected life,' a life that's cruciform in shape. ... Maybe living the unprotected life is what it means to be a Christian."

That night with Austin and a house full of tangle--it was the right night for a question without a good answer. It was the right night to remember Jesus' agony in relationship with his Father. And, perhaps my weary attempt was what it needed to be. The mystery of God, the cries of our suffering Servant, and the untidiness of me--they're things my kids need to see. And that image of the cross, I hope it comes to mind every time I'm spent and need to share just a little more of myself.

*The TAU cross shape in the photo above is the one that Francis of Assisi used in all his writings, minus the head. He painted it on the walls and doors of places he stayed and used it as his only signature. The TAU is a letter in both the Hebrew and Greek alphabets and has long been used as a sign of the cross. This stained glass is found in the St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Sacramento, CA.

Rhythm

Rhythm, if there is something that I know it’s that some of us have rhythm naturally and some of us don’t. One of my favorite things of living in West Africa is the dancing, and maybe that’s cliché but it’s true. There is something so beautiful watching Africans dancing and every tribe or region has its very own dance. The music doesn’t matter, most often there isn’t any music, only the drums and that’s all that matters, the rhythm. Last week our campus celebrated the graduation of the discipleship training school and part of the celebration was dancing. In one particular dance, the African men would do the dance out front and then the women, both sets completely on time and amazingly agile. There were three non-Africans with them, whites to be specific, and they too joined in the dance. But it was quite a different dance. Not because they intended on doing a different dance but something in them couldn’t quite find the rhythm. They had fun and everyone cheered for them but the rhythm just wasn’t there.

In Good Dirt, we talk about setting up a rhythm to doing the devotional with our children. Trying to set a rhythm to it and work it into our daily lives. Although we are four months into it, I have struggled over and over again to do a set rhythm and I have finally thrown my hands up in defeat. I can’t seem to get the attention of my children to do it more than once a day, actually that once a day is a challenge by itself. As I wonder if I am the only white girl who can’t find the rhythm in this figurative dance (because I am always that white girl in the real dancing around here) I realize that I am trying to dance my own families dance to someone else’s drum beat. Our family isn’t the formal type, we are not very good at specific set traditions; we are more the spontaneous, flexible family type. So I have had to come up with our own rhythm, starting with getting my two year old on my lap and getting her to ask Jesus to focus her heart, her mind, her eyes, her ears, and all of her on him, while pointing to each body part as she does it. Wow, it has worked wonders in getting her to engage in reading time. I have started to try to simply incorporate our talking to God throughout the day as I remember. It’s starting to look a bit more like a beautiful dance with God. I finally see it, it’s not a sloppy movement of good intentions, but rather a rhythm of dancing with God in the everyday sloppiness of our lives. Maybe I will only have to be the rhythm-less white girl in the actually dancing. Here is to each family finding their rhythm of dancing with God.

Taking God on Vacation

IMG_1383 A friend once asked, "Do you pray with your kids at breakfast? Why not?" We talked about it and I didn't have a good reason for why not, other than that breakfast was a less formal meal around our house and often we didn't all eat at the same time. I'd never thought about it before.

In similar fashion, I asked myself another question a few  years ago as we prepared for a big family getaway. "Do we take God on vacation? Why not? Does it make any sense to break from family devotions, time in God's Word, prayer, when we're seeing spectacular places in creation and having times of quiet and refreshing that are ideal for turning us toward God?"

So I decided on that trip to be intentional. "What will make the time most meaningful, and how can I plan for what's really important so that it doesn't get lost in all that's urgent in prepping for the trip?"

I decided that since we'd be spending many hours in the car on the way to the Grand Canyon, there would be ample time for looking to God, reading his Word together, and talking about what we were reading. Why wouldn't we do this when we were planning all sorts of other ways to pass the time in the car to avoid whining and fighting and wiggles?

We brought along Meet the Bible and every day on the road we made devotions our first pastime as we traveled the highway toward our next stop. Grammy (my mom) was with us on that trip, and the time having devotions together turned out to be not just meaningful and not just God-focused, but a time we won't forget. Grammy shared stories from her life as we all talked about the Scriptures. The kids listened and responded to her and asked questions about the stories. They didn't complain, didn't think any of it strange, and the presence of God permeated the trip in a way that felt natural, that felt good.

Well, spring break has just ended, and another family vacation. This one quite different from that Grand Canyon road trip. This time we flew to Florida to watch our high-schooler perform at Disney with his school band and choir. Devotions didn't work on the airplane, but Good Dirt and a small Bible were tucked into my carry-on and we pulled them out at the hotel. Yep, spread across hotel beds we read and talked together. I have to say-- it beat Direct TV hands down.

And once again, sitting with God and turning to the Spirit in a land of magic, dreams, and wishes helped anchor us in the Kingdom that is true, dreams that are God-given and wishes that are prayers offered not just on our own behalf but for a world in need of the God of hope.

Taking God on vacation needn't look the same for every family. We didn't get our devotion time in every day, and maybe your family time with God will take on a new and different rhythm from your time at home. Maybe you won't use a book. You might speak Scripture from memory. You might focus your family time on prayer. Or on journaling individually.

God will guide as you plan for vacation. His yoke is easy and his burden is light (i.e. not legalistic!). Ask for the Spirit to light the way to a plan that's just right for your family's next getaway. Then, when I bump into you and ask, "Do you take God on vacation?" you can tell me about all the ways you got away from home while getting closer to God in the face of new vistas and inspiring surroundings. I can't wait to hear all about it!

The Poison in Every Day

© Veronica Foale. Used under Creative Commons License. I've thought a lot about sin and how we define sin these days, especially with kids. I went through many hours of training with the organization Child Evangelism Fellowship, and we memorized a definition, with motions, for sin.

"Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad or breaks his rules."

In my years of church and Bible club teaching, I've used the definition countless times in explaining and reminding kids as we talk about sin and salvation. But over time I've tweaked the definition to make it one I think will speak to kids even better ... and will travel with them as they grow.

"Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad because I'm doing it my way instead of God's way."

We live in a Postmodern world where truth is thought to be relative and so right and wrong are simply matters of personal decision. Really, the words right and wrong don't have much of a place in our culture anymore. And while most young children don't have issues with understanding sin and their own wrong-doing, the world they live in will soon test their inborn convictions.

All of these realities came to mind as two of my boys and I read John 7, a passage where Jesus stays away from Judea because the Jews are looking for an opportunity to kill him. "The world ... hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil" (v. 7). As we used our Good Dirt devotional we talked about why people don't like admitting they are wrong. And we talked about the discipline of Confession, telling God the truth about ourselves.

We took some quiet moments to pray silently, each of us, confessing our sin to God and asking for forgiveness. It was good time. Often in the past I have prayed with the boys before bed and asked God to forgive "us" for our sin from the day, knowing that we can only ask forgiveness for our own selves, but hoping my boys will take to this prayer of confession and make it their own. How much better, though, to let the quiet give them a place to do it personally, right here and now.

How often we forget even to acknowledge sin and ask forgiveness. It's so easy, on our own and with kids in prayer, to ask for things and thank God for blessings. We're forgiven once and for all through Jesus' death on the cross. But we still struggle with sin in this life. Paul talks about it often in his letters in the Bible. Without regular confession of sin, and the receiving of God's forgiveness, our hearts can't stay tender and humble, letting God be God.

I recently heard the author of a children's Bible speak on the radio. Sally Lloyd Jones (The Jesus Storybook Bible) talked about how we can explain sin to children.

"It's like running away and hiding and thinking you can be happy without God, but God knows there is no such thing."

"It's a poison that makes your heart sick, so it won't work properly anymore."

When Jesus came to walk the earth and live with people, he was all about the heart. Everything we do and are is an overflow of the heart, Jesus stressed again and again. The heart can't be happy without God. And the heart can't be healthy without God.

May we, and our kids, guard our hearts every day by telling on ourselves. We need the discipline of Confession. It will travel with us as we grow.

Going for Gold

© Jon Wick, used under Creative Commons License. Olympic season and the Quinns are taking in some winter sports in Russia these days! We're rooting not only for the USA but also for Norway, Switzerland, and the Ukraine. Our high-schooler is part of a competition in his Global Community class and his threesome bid for these countries in their class Olympics. They chose well; we've celebrated more than a few golds.

It's fun to watch these exotic winter games and witness the amazing victories, along with the crushing upsets, injuries, and nerve-wracked sub-par performances. As we do, though, the mom in me can't help but ask questions that span far beyond Russia. It's these questions that run deep and wide, but that really circle back to the heart of each one of us and what it is that we're really striving after.

Is it gold medals and physical accomplishments my kids look to as the height of success? Does the personal training and dedication of these athletes mirror, for my kids--and, yes, for us parents--the training we do on the inside of us in our life with Jesus? Does the single-focused living these athletes must embrace point us toward single-focused lives where Christ is Coach and Trainer and we choose a run with Him that is for a lifetime, no turning back and in pursuit of a prize that doesn't wear out?

Or does the glory dwell just here, in Sochi and in the athletic accomplishments on snow and ice?

God's timing is good. On a Friday night we open Good Dirt and read from Mark 10. Two disciples are asking Jesus about receiving places of honor next to him someday in glory. Jesus proceeds to turn glory upside-down as he answers. "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. "

So, we talk about serving, about using our bodies for others and getting nothing in return. We talk about seeing the needs of other people and thinking about how we can meet those needs. We talk about praying. And we ponder the question, "How can you choose not to get your way?"

The next morning, this mom continues her own pondering. I'm banking on the fact that God's Word is alive and active. The words of Jesus take on a life inside my kids that no skier slaloming down a hill can ever do.

And then, before climbing out of bed I flip on a light, prop my pillows and read these words from Dallas Willard:

But Christ-likeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace. The resources for it are not human, but come from the interactive presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who place their confidence in Christ, as well as from the spiritual treasures stored in the body of Christ's people upon the earth. Therefore it is not formation of the spirit or inner being of the individual that we have in mind, but also formation by the Spirit of God and by the spiritual riches of Christ's continuing incarnation in his people, past and present--including, most prominently, the treasures of his written and spoken word. ~ The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, pp. 105-106

Thank you, God, for speaking into the Olympics. Thank you, Jesus, for speaking with your life and truth into this family and into this global community of people who need, more than anything, your gift of grace.

Just Like a Snowflake

© Julie Falk. Used under Creative Commons License This week we reach the mid-point of Epiphany, and this morning two of my boys and I had a fitting conversation on the way to school. First, I will backtrack.

We started off Ephiphany in early January talking about Jesus, the Light of the World. This season of Epiphany (between Christmastide and Lent) is focused on just that--Jesus revealed to us as Savior, Messiah, Light of the World. And as we have basked in the glow of Jesus during this season, we have also considered how he calls us to let our light shine before others. Our family has prayed many prayers thanking Jesus for being the Light and asking him to shine his light in our lives. I wrote a blog about how we even entered into discussions of Jesus, the Light, with our neighbors one night.

The family and neighbor time has been meaningful, though devotional. We don't often know how the talk will translate into the rest of life. And then last week my 8-year-old came home from school with a paper from Bible class asking what he could do to help another who was hurting. His answer, in a 3rd grader's block print, was to

"share the light with them."

And then this morning on the way to school, after a weekend of Colorado snow and cold, this same 8-year-old asks, "Mom, why does the snow sparkle?"

"Well, snowflakes are little ice crystals, and when light shines on water or ice it reflects back to us and sparkles."

And then Derrin's response, "Why  doesn't dirty snow sparkle?"

Hmmm... Teaching moment appears, despite early morning and a Monday. "Dirt fills up the snowflake so that light can't shine through it. It's kind of like sin, huh? When we're filled with sin we can't shine Jesus' light. But when Jesus' life is living in us it clears away the dirt so that we can shine just like a clean snowflake. "

The car gets quiet and we ride alongside banks of clean, sparkling snow and also dull, dirty roadside slush.  I think about how God brings truth to life again and again in our lives. His Word is living and active--with a house full of people of many ages and backgrounds, at a 3rd grader's desk, in a car on an almost-tardy morning. And God lives through his Word, through Jesus' life in us, differently every time and for each person. Kind of like a snowflake. No two are the same. Every time, every one, new and unique.

An Epiphany of shining moments.  An Epiphany of Light.

From the Mouths of Babes

My boys want to share their thoughts about this season and our Good Dirt readings. Please remember that Kadin is 4 and Quinn has a very hard time verbalizing his thoughts and feelings. That being said.... I type their words... Kadin: We talk to each other and about Jesus. We hug each other and we love each other. I know that Jesus is the best Jesus. I like that we have a great time in our Bible study. I like to draw the pictures. I draw my shepherd pictures. I like to pray for my Tt (aunt) that she has a great night sleep and that Rilynn (cousin) will have a sleep over again at our house. I like when Daddy prays for me. My favorite is the kids Bible. My favorite story is about Jesus when he talks to persons and heals persons. I like that we have a great time every night. I miss it when we don't do it.  We pray for each other and I like to pray for Daddy. That's all!

Quinn: Every night we pray for blessings and forgiveness and our ability to know Jesus. I like to pray for Lacy and Easton and Grandma Nonie and our neighbors and believing. I like to draw pictures of what you're saying of the stories. My favorite picture I have drawn is of the Jesus giving the woman a loaf of bread. I like this picture because that lady was grateful and she said thank you to Jesus for the loaf of bread. I am always grateful! I am grateful for friends, pets, toys, clothes, bed, food, water, lions, movies and video games, parents, family, wood for our stove, ipods, funny youtube videos, Max (the dachshund), real trains, giggle fits and our home/farm. (truly he can keep going but my fingers are not fast enough). I love to light the candles every night... OH YEAH! I learned about Jesus how he is a good man and our King. How he made our world very good. I have learned how He loves us by how He made us and how He gave everything for us. I like when we do our (Good Dirt) Bible study after dinner because we want to learn more about Jesus and it helps us know Jesus better.

I am beyond blessed listening and talking to these two precious boys. They are my heart and soul! Just a minute ago I was frustrated with Quinn and his difficulty getting his schoolwork finished and with Kadin for not finishing his room chores. Now I am humbled and honored to just be able to talk with them.

They remind me why Jesus liked to spend his time with the children. They are profound and simple and fun.

How often do we adults just make things too difficult... to detailed... to big... to complicated. I think now all of my concerns of this life I will just take to my kids and let them answer with their perfect faith. (PS... Isabella is not here. She is on a "date" with her daddy. That makes me love him even more!)

Seeing for the first time...again

I find it interesting that the word smothering is only one additional letter from mothering, which is exactly how mothering feels like some days; smothering. Now please hear my heart, I love my children and I am so thankful for the privilege of motherhood but a woman does need to be able to use the restroom without interruptions or visitors! Reading through the book of Mark with my children has been eye opening to me; I have always read the gospels through so quickly that I didn't take time to ponder the flow of Jesus’ life. Reading it in small batches each day, expounding on the small points so that my five year old understands it, makes me really understand it too. And much to my delight, I see Jesus constantly surrounded by crowds of people, so much so that He and his disciples cannot even eat! That brings comfort to this mommy who is often crying out, “Can’t I just eat please?”  The beauty of it for me, is that I see Jesus never got frustrated with the crowds, he didn’t yell at them to just leave him alone, He patiently taught them and healed them. Now I acknowledge that Jesus is fully God (and human) and perfect, both of which I am not (thank goodness!) but he is my example and I think I have realized his secret.

He knew that his earthly ministry was limited to three short years. He knew that the hearts in those crowds were desperate for his life, his teachings, his hope and those were the only years He had to show it to them. His years on this earth were limited and most of all, he was teaching his disciples the most important things so that when His time was finished they would know how to go and spread his life to the world.

Thankfully God has given me the same opportunity. Every day I am smothered by mothering, yet I realize that these are short years indeed and every time that my daughter calls “Mommy look!” I need to stop and look, because that only lasts a few short years. Some days feel like they will never end but the years do fly by. I know too, that each day I have the privilege to walk in such a way that when my children leave my house and live on their own, they will know the way to walk.

I want them to know that each day, we can’t do it by ourselves, we need God each day. I love how my son loves to hear the scripture reading each day, he gets excited when he knows what Jesus is doing, like a miracle. The scriptures are alive and breathing to him, and I remember in that moment that yes, they are truly amazing. These stories can grow stale after years of hearing or being taught about them, but when I see my son hear the story for the first time, I feel the awe once again and breathe a small thank you to God for his everlasting power. Jesus was God, yet fully man, and thankfully one that in those moments of my day, that I feel like I can never get a little time to myself, he whispers in my heart, “I know darling, I have been there too. Just hold on, it will be over before you know it.”

This is the God that I have given my life over to, the one that is always with me, who understands because he was a man, tempted just like me, and knows how it feels to be smothered and yet chose to die to yourself and delight in those smothering you. He is Immanuel who has come for each of us.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

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.

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

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!

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go? Growing up in the Catholic Church, following the seasons of the church is a very familiar routine for me. I have memories of lighting an Advent Wreath with my mother, but not with my whole family gathered. The wreath was displayed more as a symbol of the season, part of the regular Christmas decorations my mom so meticulously put out each year, than as an element of discipleship. But I also remember that it wasn't a family event to sit by the wreath, light a candle, and read a devotional. My husband Steve's background is Nazarene, and while he was familiar with the names of the church seasons, there was nothing like an Advent wreath in his home growing up. Christmas, when God came among us, was pretty much a stand alone holy day. In the early years of our marriage, we weren't attending church and therefore not following any calendar other than the usual 12 month one. After a search we began attending a  United Methodist church, which retains more or less a liturgical heritage, and I wanted to again display an Advent wreath. This was several years into our marriage and I recalled, then, that we had actually received an Advent candle holder as a wedding gift. I remember thinking when I first opened it that it was a beautiful 4-candle holder, but at the time had no idea what it was for other than a pretty centerpiece that went with no furniture that we owned. It turned out to be a providential gift.

Wreath

As our children grew older, I wanted to begin taking time out of the day to study the Bible with them using devotionals. Our church gave out different ones during the year with special ones for Advent and for several years I took them graciously and brought them home just to be lost in the abyss of our house. By and by, each year we managed to do  a little bit more of the readings during Advent - our percentage of pages actually read increased. I think the first year it was Sundays only, just to light the additional candle (we were reminded to do so that morning at church). And then life would move forward, back into the regular hectic routine, with God again pushed to the background until His day came by again. But, each year at Advent we added to the time we set aside to read and discuss a bit of scripture. It's been a frustrating process, trying to fit in family devotional time, not the least because of our difficulty of actually being able to spend time together before rushing to the next event or blessed bedtime.

Advent really has become the consistent time we can sit together and talk about the Bible, reviewing the promises of God leading up to our Savior's birth and our own responses  to Jesus. Over the decade that Steve and I have been introducing our sons to God through the different sit-down devotionals, we've reached the point where the boys now will usually respond to the questions in the readings with appropriate examples. Better still, they'll add other bits from the Bible that relate to what the daily reading is. Though only our eldest has taken on a proper Bible translation to read (illustrated versions are highly popular with all three), it warms the heart and lowers parental anxiety to know that a foundation based on God revealed in the Bible has started to form in each of them. I can only think God has taken those fitfully crowded times we've spent together with His word and made it His time.

Do As You Can…Not as You Can’t*

Sitting at dinner one night, my family was unusually quiet and no one would make eye contact with me.  They don’t call me 007 for nothing so I picked up on this right away.“Ok, what’s going on?” I demanded.  A barrage of “You tell her,”  “No, you tell her,” and “I’m not telling her,” filled the room. Finally a confession was made. “I said we’d make cookies for the orchestra concert.”And a second confession, “We’re in charge of the department Christmas party this year.”  I don’t do well when I’m over-scheduled and everyone at the table knew it.  My mostly sane mother persona takes the last train to Clarksville. My family was afraid the train whistle was coming.

There is a danger in busyness and especially busyness in “spiritual activities.” There is a danger in Good Dirt.  In Good Dirt there are lots of activities that we, list makers will want to check off in order to feel good about ourselves. That is a serious danger. Checking things off in Good Dirt will not make you holy. God will not love you or your children more. (As if he could love you more than he already does…seriously.) Turning Good Dirt into a legalistic checklist of behaviors and activities to manipulate your family or God will make you crazy… or your family crazy and then you will start looking like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with eleven thousand twinkly lights, cutting off the newel post, and burning down your Christmas tree. (OK. Maybe not all that.)

Actually it’s more serious than that. Making a “to do” list out of a spiritual tools can lead two ways.

  1. Failure, we don’t measure up and then we think God doesn't approve of us. His love or approval doesn't hinge on what you’re doing.
  2. Success, you get all the things on the “to do” list checked off. Now, you are really hard to live with. Pride. You and yours are so holy because you have done x,y, and z. God is interested in who you are becoming, not how many religious practices you accomplish.

Ben and I have this really wonderful friend named Jan Johnson*. She has been telling us the same thing for years now,

“Do as you can, not as you can’t.”  

When you take a look at Good Dirt and you see a list of things to do, do them if you can. Do them if you think they will draw you and your people closer to Jesus. Choose a few, (few as in one or two) do those… linger over them, spend time talking to one another, open up the space for God to move.

The point is not a holy list of “have-tos.”

The point is to become more fully the person God has created us to be and that happens when we have the open space to really connect with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and our family.