helping kids grow spiritually

"Still Good" Saturday: Children Are Horrible Hiders

Still good saturday image

This blog in it's original form was posted at www.Renovare.org Confront a three year old with, “Did you eat the candy out of your brother’s Christmas stocking?” And you will likely get a, “No.”  But their bodies will tell the truth. Their eyes will look away, their shoulders will curve inwardly and some will fidget.

The Candle Light Christmas Eve service is one I would never miss. Rows and rows of children wiggling with fire is a delight to the eyes. (And frankly a bit of an adrenaline rush as I visually locate the fire extinguisher and count the exits.) Their excitement for Christmas morning cannot be hidden in their bodies. They simply can’t pull it off.

It’s why children dance in the worship service while adults try to contain them. We, adults, have learned to hide the joy of the Lord in our bodies, they have not… yet.

One of the ways we help children in their life with God, is by helping them to keep their parts connected. Mind/emotions/thoughts and feelings, connected to spirits/hearts and bodies.  There are many ways to foster this connection. Here are a few…

  • Acknowledge that bodies are good. We get lots of feedback from our culture saying that certain kinds of bodies are good and others are not. We, as followers of an Incarnate God, say, “No way.” All bodies are good. We even get feedback from some in the Christian community saying that bodies are bad. Granted often what we do with our bodies is destructive, but that usually comes from separating the body from the spirit. Turning a person into a thing. Bullying is an example of this. So is sexism and racism.
  • One of my greatest struggles, when my children were small, came in the form of confronting "The Public Tantrum."  The “I know you are upset, but we are in Target and you need to shape up,” said through clinched teeth while half the store has stopped and is staring. The mind/emotions are indeed upset and the body is simply living in sync.  As children grow older they do need to learn the appropriateness of, “there is a time and place for everything;” but forcing them to shut off emotion to satisfy my own embarrassment is not healthy for either of us. Each situation is different and each person is different, so it's hard to find one solution, but I think the place we start is by listening. Stopping and actively listening. Then we think,  how can I acknowledge emotions and help my child move them into appropriate expressions?
  • Help their experiences of God to flow into their bodies as well as their minds. When we experience God in all our parts we grow strong and balanced. Try assigning parts and acting out the miracles of Jesus. Try praying with your body.  Roy DeLeon’s book, Praying with the Body is a great place to start. Read Psalm 23 aloud, invite your children to act it out with their bodies.
  • Take frequent nature walks and name all the bodies you see, including the human ones. Pray simple prayers to thank God for his good creation.

How do you keep parts in sync? (Both yours and the people who leave their gum on your kitchen table.)

 

 

*An insightful book that talks about the parts of the person is Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart.

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.

"Still Good" Saturday : Quiet, Alone, Time with God

Still good saturday image

When I was a kid, my mom rarely cooked a meal on Saturday. First, it was our day to clean house and she was too tired to cook; and second there were leftovers in the fridge. Still, every Saturday my brother would ask what we were having to eat and my mother would reply, "Skip its." At this point both of us would head to the fridge and stare into that endless abyss paroozing over it's contents. Some items we ignored like macaroni and tomatoes and salmon patties. The first time around they are great! But reheated the macaroni turns to rubber, and the salmon has the smell and consistency of something the dog threw up.  Skip it. Some items we fought of over like meatloaf with corn. My Dad swears meatloaf is best on the third day. Slice it and put it on toasted bread and you'll think you're a king. Still good. Any soups and stews were considered still good.  Beans and cornbread were a staple of my childhood and we could eat them for a week. Never goes bad. Still good.  Add ketchup to the beans and honey to the cornbread and a whole new meal appears. Still good.

I will never forget the time my brother and I were peering into the frigid abyss and spotted leftover cherry cheese cake. This is a family favorite and finding it was like finding gold. My brother grabbed it and headed to the table, unfortunately the constitution of the pie pan gave way and the whole thing fell to the floor. We locked eyes for few seconds. Panic and sadness echoed between us. Our thoughts must have shot back to our previous task of cleaning the kitchen floor (it was Saturday) and we declared simultaneously, "Still good."  We scooped it up in the pan that now looked like a silver taco shell, took it to the table and ate it. Still good.

For the next few weeks we'll post some blogs that have previously been run over at www.Renovare.org. These are some "still good," topics that might be helpful to think about again.

 

Solitude: Quiet, Alone, Time with God

I’m sure it started with a smirky look and words with tone. But the fight was on. Two sibling daughters throwing down over a Lego. Yes, a Lego. I was upstairs buried alive by laundry, when the commotion filtered up to me through the floor. As I rounded the banister, in a mad dash to save the dueling darlings, or maybe just to see who would survive, I heard the crash of broken glass.

Getting to the bottom of this was going to be no picnic. It was a barrage of “she started it”s and “it wasn’t my fault”s. So I banished them to the outer regions of time-out. The little one, the instigator of all words with tone, snatched a book off the coffee table as she went sulking to jail.  It’s her favorite, a book of Psalms for children by Marie-Helen Delval, great stuff for the beginning reader. Usually there are no books in time-out, or anything fun, but this day I let it go.

After both girl folk had paid their debt to society and were let out of perpetual nothingness the little one said, “Wow- I needed that.” With my mouth agape, and an eldest sister eye roll, I questioned the why of that statement. “You know when you just need some quiet, alone, by yourself time with God, and you don’t get it- you can go crazy.”

My people went on their merry way and forgot all about that stray Lego. But as my days wind up and wind down and my looks get smirky and I use words with tone, I must admit her words stick. Without a regular dose of solitude, quiet, alone time with God- I do get crazy.

How about you? What are some ways you can carve out some quiet, alone, time with God for your littlest people?

How about some of that time for yourself?

 

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.

 

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.

Glad Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

God Always Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Fire is Fun or Minding the Light

candle

My favorite church service of the year is the Easter Vigil.  For those who don't know, the service is built around the movement from dark to light, the movement from death to life. It has hours (2 hours for us) of Scripture readings that trace "The story." Adam, Noah, Abraham, Issac.... you get the point, there is singing interspersed and responsive readings. All the while the building is moving from dark to light. The readings are done by candle light (candles that have been lit by the Christ candle) and each person in the congregation is holding a candle as well... for nearly 2 hours. For nearly 2 hours I sat by children with fire. After an hour and a half one gave up, but honestly its nothing to be ashamed of... she fought the good fight. There were several close calls, like the first time hot wax fell on her hand and she refused the urge to drop the candle into my lap. This is the child who has naturally curly hair and likes to wear it long and wild, and therefore we did slightly exude the smell of burnt hair, but only briefly.

Round about minute forty a sneezing fit nearly blew the light out. But no, she kept it safe and lit.

It was shining bright in the darkness making it possible for us to read and therefore pray with the rest of the congregation. That little light made it possible to worship and to hear "the story."

When she was too tired to hang on safely, I held it for her. She curled up next to me and slept, after making me promise to wake her for communion. It's her first communion after being recently baptized and this was a big deal for her.

Managing two candles and a fire friendly paper prayer booklet was a harrowing task. All my senses were focused on not burning the church down.  I had to mind the light.

Mind the Light is a Quaker phrase.  It means to pay attention to the light of Jesus within us, is it bright or dim? Is it going out, or setting our neighbor on fire? There are two ways to be a light to those around us, one is harmful and can leave permanent damage, the other shows the way, brings warmth.

This is what we're talking about these days. Minding the Light.

In the morning, How can I mind the light of Jesus today? (Bible reading, prayer, solitude, a walk outside, forgiving others, asking forgiveness, making space for mistakes)

In the evening, How did I mind the light of Jesus today?

So it's the evening of Easter Sunday. Jesus is the light, how are you minding it?

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.

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

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!)

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