children

In Their Own Words... or Pictures

Anwen's heaven

There's a lot of talk these days about children. How to raise children... how to educate children.... how to discipline children... how children develop their values and beliefs... how to get children to eat their peas... Lots of talk about children. Over the last decade years, spiritual formation has become the buzz phrase in Christianity. It has found it's home in material for children as well. Books and curriculum carry this label, whether they are formational or not. There are conferences for pastors, parents and children with this label.

Heck, I write the some of the books and teach at some of the conferences! It's a hot topic.

There's some good research out there; we've got loads to say and loads to learn. Though I think, we're missing a voice? The voice of our children.

It's time for us (adults) to do a bit more listening and less talking.

One of the most rewarding things I do is spiritual direction with children. I have the great honor of listening to children talk about their thoughts and feelings concerning God. They teach me so much.

For the next year on this blog we'd like to give voice and space to children. Their words. Their pictures. Since often images are more meaningful for them.

So we're asking for your help. Do you have a child, or know a child, who would be willing to share their thoughts about God, through word or picture?

Whether it's one time or once a month, we'd love to hear from children. Respond to this blog, or contact us over on our FB page.

https://www.facebook.com/gooddirtfamilies

Tomorrow's blog post will be about how to invite children to express their thoughts about God.

"Still Good" Saturday: Children Listening to God

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This blog was originally posted at www.Renovare.org. I have a singer. She is six, almost seven, wants a pocket knife, and sings constantly.  She shares a bedroom with her sister. And one day it was more than her sister could take. The overheard conversation went like this: Introverted sister who loves quiet: “Please just shut up for a few minutes. Can’t we have one morning that you don’t sing.” Not so introverted singer: “When I was a baby God sang to me, I remember. He taught me to sing. And I’m gonna sing.”

Is this true? Frankly, I don’t know, I wasn’t involved in the conversation. Does she sometimes sing just to irritate her sister, certainly. Does she believe that God really spoke through song to her, absolutely.  She says she knows it.  Through song she brought great comfort to her great-grandfather on his deathbed.  Through song she has helped our home embrace a tone of love and celebration.

It is my firm belief that children can and do hear from God.  Just like adults, children can learn to distinguish God’s voice from the many others that are clamoring for their attention.  We begin by understanding that we listen and speak to God because we are in a relationship with him. He is our Father and he interacts with us.

All aspects of God’s character come from love, because God is love.  God will never be rude or selfish or hateful, and he will never speak to us in this manner. Instead his voice will be patient, kind, not bragging or prideful, not rude or self-seeking, not easily irritated; keeping no record of wrongs; not delighting in evil but rejoicing with truth. (1 Cor. 13:4-7) The gospels are a huge help in knowing the character of God. God is Christ-like.

Another way we can distinguish the voice of God is through tone. We know our mother’s voice because of the tone, or the way it sounds. It is similar with God. We can learn to hear his tone. God’s tone leads and invites us, instead of driving or pushing us. He is quiet, not loud.  We can also know if we heard from God by the effects of what we heard. His words bring peace, love and joy, not anger, worry, or discouragement.  We will be more hopeful, not hopeless. Our faith will be increased. We will be more understanding of others, rather than hating others or thinking we are better than others.

Consider a silent listening prayer before dinner or quiet listening time before bed as spots in the day to cultivate listening. I love to hear what my children hear from God. After they share, we ask, does that sound like something God would say. Does it follow the tone of scripture, is the character like Christ? If so, we go with it.

In what ways are your children hearing from God?

By the way, much of the above material was borrowed from Dallas Willard’s Hearing God, and Jan Johnson’s Learning to Hear God, A Personal Retreat Guide. You didn’t think I figured this out on my own, did you?

"Still Good" Saturday: A Conversation with God-Children and Prayer

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This blog in it's original form was posted at www.Renovare.org I’m not sure who learned the most. Really I’m sure, but let me have my dignity for just a moment.

It was the first day of deer hunting season so I knew the church would be nearly vacant. I was right.  As I was gathering my wits for the Preschool Sunday School class, Jeffery meandered in, head hung low, frown draped across his face.

I mustered up a jolly, “Hello.”

And Jeffery shot back, “Guess it’s just me and you.”

This room is familiar to him and so am I. I see him every week.

“Well Jeffery, should we start by talking with God?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t know how.”

“Talking to God is just like talking to me. You can do it anytime or anywhere…. Bla, bla, bla…”

Jeffery had long since tuned me out and began playing with the glue and the glitter. Frankly I had tuned me out. Talking about prayer is like talking about eating ice cream or riding a roller coaster, words pale in comparison to the real thing.

Finally, I quit talking and watched Jeffery. He had opened the Beginners Bible to the story of Noah. “Read this to me he said.”

So I did.

“Let’s make some art.” He said.

So we did.

We found every color of glitter and paint we could imagine. We made the most sparkly rainbow ever. The best detail was the angel beside the rainbow, a big beautiful brown angel with yellow wings and just behind the brown I could see kind eyes and a huge red smile.

I said, “Your angel, he’s smiling.”

“The angel is wearing God’s smile.” He said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“He told me.” Jeffery said while adding a last splash of gold glitter.

I suppressed the urge for one more teaching lecture how listening to God is prayer, and how art can also be prayer.

Instead I picked up the green glitter and prayed.

This weekend break out the art supplies with your littlest people, maybe read a Bible story, or how about Psalm 150… then pray. Don’t use words…

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.

Sabbath Moments

Our pastor is doing a series about the 10 commandments this summer. Our children's curriculum is following that series so the entire family hears the same thing each week. A few weeks ago was our turn to teach the kids. We even got to choose which commandment we wanted to teach on. We thought teaching the Sabbath would be easy...but to children? As we thought about it...do no work...rest...take time to do nothing and reflect...we thought about our kids...WHO DO NOTHING! Haha... don't take that the wrong way. Our kids have and do chores. They have animals that they care for. They maintain their own rooms. They do things for our elderly grandparents. But not without being asked. Not without direction to do so. If we let our kids just go for a day they will find random devices to play on or jump on the trampoline for hours or draw/write in their rooms or just plain play/waste the day away. It irritated me that I was thinking my kids whole lives are Sabbath! So we thought and pondered some more.  This is not a direction given to adults only. My kids have relationships with God so it is as much for them as for me. So what did we learn in trying to teach kids about keeping a Sabbath?

1. It does not have to be a certain day.

2. Kids are great Sabbath keepers. They are not bound up in the busy busy American lifestyle. They live to relax and recharge.

3. I need to watch and learn from them...there is a time for everything. A time to play, a time to dance, a time to clean, a time to let it go!

4. During certain times of the year Sabbath moments are all we can get. My kids are busy during school and more relaxed in the summer...my schedule is always full but I can find a moment to redirect my thoughts to Jesus.

5. Sabbath is not just a relax and do no work day. It is a set aside (holy) time to reflect on Jesus and HIS work and worth in our lives.

6. Kids know how to relax but need to be trained (as we all do) to be intentional about focusing on Jesus.

7. Some of my favorite Sabbath moments are...

a. Late afternoon (almost) every day Mike and I sit down together and have a glass of something and just be...if only for a few minutes.

b. I love to hang out laundry. I have been known to work from the outside in on my round clothesline. It is peaceful and smells like Jesus in the middle of that circle

c. Music...dancing with my people...pretending we are the band...singing in the kitchen

d. Mowing the lawn

e. Going to the mountains, beach, forest, canyon, lake, anywhere natural where again you can smell Jesus and see just how creative he is

f. Just that 5 minutes before we fall asleep.

I could go on and on because this taught us to look for and appreciate those moments. Those moments where we can make it an intentional Sabbath. We want to teach our kids that "down time" can be productive in our relationship with Jesus and to the kingdom of God.  So Happy Sabbath Friday!

 

Rain on Me

Beginning Fall 2011 092

Here in Western Colorado rain is a big deal. I live at 7,800 ft above sea level; I live in high desert. Pinion Pines, Prickly Pear and Sagebrush dot our landscape. Most of our moisture comes in the form of snow in the winter... and in the form of rain in late July and early August. After the dog days of June and July, hot and dry, fire fears, and sun burns; rain is life. Today as I packed up my things to go and listen to children, I could smell the rain coming. It's like the sagebrush let off their sweetest smells in anticipation. The cats burrowed in the hay, the goats bedded down. All the earth knew rain was coming and prepared accordingly. The horses were feeling it too, they ran the length of the fence to show me so.

I arrived at my destination and set up my things, invited a child in and listened, Holy Listening.

Rain. Rain was on the lips of the children. "What is it about the rain?" I asked.

"It's like what new feels like," said one.

"It's like God's says 'shhh. I've got something to say,'" said another.

"I like to play outside when it's raining. Have you felt it on your face?" asked a boy.

"Well yes, when I arrived." I said.

"No, not like that. When it's on your face and your just there to catch it," he replied.

Humm... when was the last time I stood out in the rain just to catch it. Just to hush up and hear God's whisper through water, to feel with my skin what new feels like.

Tonight.

Teeth brushed, drinks given, I asked my own children, "Where did you see God today?"

"In the rain," they both said.

"Today when I was going to the garden and it started to rain. It was soft and strange, but made me feel clean," says the one who hates to bathe. (I wanted to ask, so was this a good thing?)

"It's like this, Mom. Rain is like how God wants to help us be like Jesus. It's strange because, well, people are mostly dry. We know rain keeps us alive and we know we need it to keep clean, but it's so foreign and God knows it so he gives it to us in little bits."

 

And a little child shall lead them... I think I'll go sit outside, I hear thunder.

*Just in case you are wondering... the children gave me permission to use their words.

 

"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

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

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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.”

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!

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!

What's a Hypocrite?

I don't think we've had this particular discussion before with the boys. It was verses from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) and questions in Good Dirt that got their wheels turning and, before we'd even finished the Scripture reading our 8-year-old was interrupting with, "What's a hypocrite? ... What's a hypocrite?" They couldn't really identify with Jesus' examples of blowing trumpets when giving money in church, or praying really loud on street corners, or fasting from food with troubled faces. So, the challenge was to bring hypocrisy to a kid's level.

"It's doing things so that other people will think you're a really good Christian, but you don't mean them in your heart. It's caring more about what other people think of you than what God thinks of you."

Well, that description seemed to satisfy. Except that our two younger boys haven't reached the place in life quite yet where they would conceive of doing good deeds to impress other people. It's not a motivation that resonates a whole lot with them. What you see is what you get.

However, as I've thought a little more on this, I've realized that we adults can sometimes use subtle ways of encouraging hypocrisy in our kids before they even really understand what they--and we-- are doing. For awhile our Christian school used a popular behavior program called Positive Behavior Management, where instead of focusing primarily on giving consequences for unacceptable behavior, teachers focused on praising and rewarding good and appropriate behavior. It was a big hit with the kids and it really did make a difference in the overall demeanor of the student body in classrooms and on the playground.  The kids rose to the occasion and loved being singled out for doing good things.

I wouldn't throw out this program completely. Encouraging kids is always good. Noticing the things they do right is biblical--the apostle Paul praised churches and individuals in his letters of exhortation. Praising those around us is part of loving them. The rub comes, though, when we consider what is motivating our kids to be "good," day in and day out, as they play with friends, serve their teachers and neighbors, and as they live as members of families in our homes.

That is what we ended up talking about this night where hypocrisy became our new vocabulary word. And Good Dirt helped us come to the crux of the issue with these words,

Today, Jesus is teaching us that because it is God whom we really need--not other people's approval--we don't need to act, perform, or pretend to be good to impress others. Let's practice that today by doing an act of secret service! Try not to be caught! Do something nice for someone else--maybe clean up after them when they're not looking, or make something nice for them, or do a chore for them--without telling anyone. Do it so only God sees!

That night our boys prayed, "Lord, help us not to be hypocrites. Help us not to have hypROCKrisy. Help us to do something in secret. Amen" The next night, again, they prayed for help in doing something secret--they'd forgotten. This may be an ongoing prayer. I don't think doing things in secret comes so naturally. It will be a good daily prayer for us all.

***You can get the next issue of Good Dirt by clicking on the title here and downloading for free, or you can order through Amazon. It's titled Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families

Prayer, Fasting, and Giving with Children

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We are not suggesting you fast from your children or give them away. (Tempting though it may be on some days.) Instead here are a few suggestions, a few practices to engage with children during Lent. A few suggestions from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide on celebrating Lent, at home, family style. The Big Three: Prayer, Fasting, Giving

Prayer begins in the heart.

  • Family Altar or Prayer Corner: Cover a small table with a purple cloth,. Arrange on it a cross, or a family Bible, maybe a small shallow box with sand in it, where children can draw their prayers to God, maybe a family prayer journal.  Choose a Christ candle to place in the center. (Battery powered candles are wonderful for the not yet fire worthy.) Invite children to light the Christ candle in the morning or evening, or when you are reading the Bible as a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the World. This is the light of Advent that continued through Christmastide and Epiphany--and still shines on in Lent. Invite family members to visit the Altar at least once a day during Lent.
  • Prayer Box: Take a 3x5 index card box and write prayers from the Bible, or from saints, or beautiful pieces of poetry on the card and place them in the box. Read one each evening before bed, or at the dinner table. Try prayers from This is What I Pray Today by Phyllis Tickle or Prayers for Each and Every Day by Sophie Piper.

Fasting begins in our bodies.

  • Fasting from Meat:Traditionally many folks fast meat on Fridays and they will also choose some other vice to give up for 40 days. If this works for you and your people, go for it.
  • Fasting from Superfluous Foods: Others I know have fasted eating out for 40 days, still others have fasted sugar, or chocolate, soda.
  • Fasting from Technology: For children giving up nutritional food is not an option, but giving up TV, or video games, or texting is certainly a good choice.

Fasting is not popular in our culture. To deny myself something I want will sound strange to others, but it is imminently important that we and our children learn to tell our bodies, “No.” Letting our bodies and our desires run our lives will destroy us. Fasting is directly related to prayer. We will need strength beyond ourselves to die to our wills. The will is loud, and irritating; only the peace of God can quiet it.

Fasting is directly related to prayer. In fasting we teach our wills to ignore our mere desires and focus on our true needs. But the will is loud, and irritating, and is the habit of responding to the body's wants. We need strength beyond our own to die to our desires and retrain our wills. Only the peace of God can quiet  the will long enough for it to learn.

Giving begins with others.

Giving begins right where we are. We look to our families and see where we take instead of give. We make the effort to overcome our natural pet peeves. We do something nice for someone who irritates us.

  • Giving Money: We choose to eat simple meals, or to fast junk food, and send the extra grocery money to someone else. There are many great organizations that truly give life to others.
  • Giving Time: We fast our favorite TV show and instead pack the family up and visit the local nursing home.
  • Giving Attention: We give up always having to talk about ourselves and give the gift of listening.

 Let us know how it goes.

The Eyes to See

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Often in Good Dirt we asked reflective questions. These are great for children beginning in about late 2nd grade depending on the child, but any earlier and it goes something like this... On Mark 10:32-45, "What has the Son of Man come to do? How can you serve others today?"

After asking this young children will often look at you with a blank stare, or if you've got a budding comic on your hands it might be more like, "I think he's come to eat dinner with us. And Legos are my favorite."

For children under the age of roughly eight, the beauty of the Seasons of the Church are in the ritual. ("Rhythm" if you are not Catholic.) It's the daily opening of the Bible and quietly listening to the same stories that will seep in over time, over years. The reflective questions are of little help.  The questions will help the older children and certainly the adults, but the younger folks don't quite have the language to express what they know is true. Their knowledge of the subject is limited.

I know you're thinking, "Just what do they know?"  They know that goodness is something they want. No kid wants bad stuff. None. In my years of teaching I never saw a kid who wanted to be bad. Yes, there were many who couldn't find their way to goodness, but they always wanted it.  Goodness is a characteristic of God.

They know that truth is good. They may not always tell the truth, but they always want the truth told to them. No child likes deceit.  Truth is a characteristic of God.

They will always stop and wonder at beauty. Children under the age of eight will still follow a butterfly around the yard just to catch a glimpse of it's beauty. They will pick the petals of a rose to feel the beauty in their fingers. Beauty is a characteristic of God.

So how do we teach them the language they need? How do we help them connect with the goodness, truth and beauty of God?

When you tuck them in for the night ask,

"When did you see something good today?" Then remind them that God is good.

What made you happy or sad today? (This is telling the truth about themselves. This is the first truth we learn.)

What did you see today that was beautiful?

Don't choose all of these. and don't look for a specific answer. Let them simply work their knowledge of God into language. It's a bit like when they first learned to talk. Lots of babbling, many mispronunciations, joyful laughter and celebration.

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!)