Category: For Families

Review: Experiencing God at Home (book + devotional)

Experiencing God was a big piece of my new-to-Christianity journey and I’m so thankful for the basic but powerful principles that I was taught through the Teen Experiencing God workbook. When we were going through our gazillion books before this latest move, I had a fun time looking through the workbook and seeing how I answered some of the questions.

The sons of the writers of Experiencing God have recently come out with several books in an “Experiencing God at Home” line. I reviewed a picture book, Sammy Experiences God,  awhile back that we really liked. The publishers also recently sent me the two other books: Experiencing God at Home and Experiencing God at Home: Day-By-Day  Family Devotional.

I was excited to review these books because I’m always on the lookout for resources that are going to help us guide our children in their spiritual development. I was reminded during a recent sermon given my our children’s minister that our kids are pushed to achieve in all areas of life, and that they often carry this “achievement’ attitude in the church and their spiritual formation. Sometimes we parents encourage this achievement mentality, even if we don’t intend to. So, I’ve been thinking about that lately, and am hoping to help my kids know that they don’t have to achieve for God or for me. He’s so not interested in that game. So, that’s kinda the lens through which I’m viewing spiritual development resources these days. Onto the reviews :).

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Experiencing God at Home is a book written about raising a family with kids and how to incorporate the 7 Experiencing God realities into daily family life. Tom and Richard Blackaby each have almost completely raised children and share that they have been wanting to write this book for awhile, but felt like they needed to wait a couple decades before doing so. They not only use experiences from their raising of a family, but also their experiences in their own home growing up. While the introduction to the book turned me off (throwing a bunch of discouraging statistics at the reader about the demise of our culture, etc.), the book itself had some great stories and lessons that were encouraging and thought-provoking.

It is obvious that these two men care much more about their child’s heart than about outward appearances of morality or righteousness. They strived to have a grace-filled home, which I think might be a key– because really, this grace is what makes the gospel good news. If not for grace, lots and lots of grace, we’d be just a moral people. I love reading the real stories of issues that they’ve dealt with and being relieved to find that they break some of the traditional parenting rules in exchange for fighting for more important ones (i.e. who cares if you make your bed but I do deeply care about you acting in love towards your brother/sister). I haven’t read quite all of it yet, but what I’ve read is quality and real. The only critique I would have is that it seems like everything has turned out so well for these two families. I could see that if a family is really struggling, it could be a bit annoying.

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The family devotional aims to help families experience God together through spending a bit of time each day reading and talking about Scripture together, and then providing an activity or thought for younger and older children to do or think about in their own personal quiet time. The devotions are set up without a date assigned, so you can start whenever you want. The devotions walk through Scripture in a chronological fashion, so you start by talking about creation, the exodus, etc etc until you end up in the New Testament. It also has some special day devotions (birthday, holidays, game days, etc.) in case you want to substitute in one of those for a special day.

One of the greatest things about this series is that it’s not about teaching kids about God or about the Bible. It’s about helping to guide them to God and to help them to recognize God’s activity in their very lives. Not only in my life as the parent, but in their kid-sized life. I love it, because during those days when doubt threatens to overwhelm my soul, I can remember the work of the Spirit in my life, which most often calms my doubt.

I think it’s important to note that this has the content of a full-size book, and while it’s the length of a full-size book, it’s small; it looks more like a gift book. The words are tiny, so if your eyesight isn’t that great, then this won’t work for you. You could get the kindle version instead. As for age of kids that this would work best for, I’d say that “younger children” means elementary school kids.

Overall, these are two books I’d recommend to a family looking for encouragement and wisdom in helping to guide children in their spiritual formation. If I had to choose one, I’d say go with the first one (Experiencing God at Home) as it is more principle-based and will provide more of a daily moment-by-moment foundation to work from.

Thanks so much to Shelton Interactive for giving me complimentary copies of these two books in exchange for an honest review. 🙂

Prayers for our Kids

Over at the parent blog I share with my friend Christina, we’re talking about creating spiritual practices with our children. This week we talked about prayer, and I wanted to share the prayers that we have written for our kids.

Asante

Our prayer for you, Asante, is that you will lovingly sacrifice yourself in obedience to Christ, to allow His Spirit to amplify the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. May you be a partner in the re-creation story, the healing of the nations, the redemption of mankind.

Colossians 3.12-14 are the verses we pray for him.

Aly

Our prayer for you, Alethea, is that the Spirit of Christ would so saturate your essence that wisdom, generosity, and kindness would perpetually wash your communities with a purifying love, creating pockets of the peace of the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.

Ephesians 4.1-3 are the verses we pray for her.

Ada

Our prayer for you, Ada, is that you would lift up the heads of the oppressed, suffering with them as an incarnation of our Savior. May your journey create opportunities for people to experience the setting right of brokenness to be completed in the world’s rebirth.

Matthew 5.5-9 are the verses we pray for her.

Review: Truth in the Tinsel

This advent season we used Truth in the Tinsel, written by Amanda White (you must visit her personal blog AND her momma blog). It was FANTASTIC. Everyday of Advent we read a part of the Christmas story, and then made an ornament to go with it. While I had most of the items lying around, I did have to buy some stuff, but that led me to fun aisles of JoAnn’s that I had never been in before- so win, win! 🙂

I liked that Asante could do pretty much every part of the ornaments. Aly had to have quite a bit of help, but I think that’s just because she isn’t mastered her cutting skills yet. Each day’s ornaments were unique- it wasn’t all cutting or all paper or all material. There were a lot of different mediums, exposing the kids to art material we hadn’t used before (i.e. flour/salt dough).

During the end of the season, we missed a couple days, simply because I wasn’t prepared and Jake wasn’t around to help with some of the ornaments that weren’t easy to make while Ada was needing my attention.

My suggestion is that if you didn’t do it this year, go buy the ebook right now (only $4.99), buy the stuff that you’ll need now and stow it away in your Christmas decorations box so that when Advent rolls around next year, you’ll have it all ready!

Here are all of our ornaments from this year!

Our No-Presents Christmas Celebration

This past Christmas we tried to experiment a little, in hopes of re-creating a meaningful, Christ-centered Christmas celebration. Because we are far from family this year, we had a little more flexibility in shaping our holiday season to be what we wanted- no more, no less. So, we decided to keep it simple.

When we woke up on Christmas morning, we waited to go downstairs until everyone was awake. Jake rushed down ahead of us to prepare. When the kids and I walked down the stairs, we heard a Christmas hymn playing. Sitting in the middle of our living room, we saw a baby, wrapped in a white cloth, lying in a “manger”. The room was still, except for the bouncing light from one lit candle placed near the manger. We quietly filed into the living room, kneeling around the baby. Words of “Emmanuel” and “Our King” filled the air. For a few minutes, all we could do was stare … my mind began drifting to what it would have been like to be there when Jesus was born. Our king came as a baby. A baby who relied completely on other people for his care. A helpless babe. Our king. Our Lord. What a strange way to come. What a beautiful way to come. After a few minutes, I read the Christmas story while we gazed at the babe.

While the family was lingering, I made cinnamon rolls. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus (complete with candles in each of our buns), and then got ready for our church gathering.

After the Christmas worship service, we came home, ate lunch, took naps, and then spent the rest of the afternoon/evening watching a Christmas movie and making Jesus ornaments out of a flour and salt dough.

It was a simple day, but filled with conversation about Jesus’ birth. Honestly, I was relieved at the end of the day because it wasn’t a let-down. The lack of presents didn’t take away from the day at all. In fact, it was fun and restful. The kids were so excited all day because it was Jesus’ birthday— not because they were going to get anything, but because they love Jesus and were excited it was a special day for Him.

Fast forward one week. New Years Day. Today was our day of presents and paper and bows and big surprises and lots of unpackaging of small playset parts. We were celebrating the new year in a way that looks forward to the hope of a new world, filled with fun and extravagance and gifts.

The kids did a great job of disconnecting presents from Christmas, even though everyone around them was doing presents on Christmas. They were happy to wait, because, as Asante said, “why would WE get presents on Jesus’ birthday?! It’s not our birthdays!”

Anyway, that was how our day went. We’re excited to be starting new traditions!

Re-creating Christmas

Christmas Day is only a week away. And to be honest, I’m not as excited about it as I normally am.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I like the lights all over peoples’ houses (I must say that I have seen more decorated houses/apts/row homes here in my neighborhood than anywhere else I have ever lived- it’s fantastic!!). I love gathering with extended family (boo- that’s not happening this year since we’re so far away). I LOVE Christmas music and ornaments and stockings and cookie exchanges.

But I also love presents. And this year, we won’t be opening presents on Christmas Day. Technically we didn’t open our gifts as a family on Christmas Day last year either, but we had family in town and we opened up gifts from them, so i guess it was still a pseudo-Christmas Day.

As I look forward to next Sunday, I’m not as excited as I normally am. The anticipation of three little ones opening their gifts and their eyes dancing with delight at the gifts I’ve carefully chosen is not there. Instead, we’re left with empty space to fill. How do we celebrate Christmas without a morning full of presents?

And really, my heart reaction has been an affirmation to me that this is the way we must go. I want Christmas to be a celebration of Jesus’ birth. While I suppose some can maintain this true worship through the giving and receiving of gifts, I don’t think I can. To think of Christmas without the tradition of gift-giving surrounding it leaves me feeling bored.

As we’ve been observing the season of Advent this year, I’ve been trying to focus on what Mary must have felt when she was round with child in her last month of pregnancy. Having been pregnant for so much of the last 4-5 years, I can vividly remember the thoughts and feelings that have gone along with month number 9. I’ve also trying to think through the meaning of Jesus coming as a baby- through a woman. What an honor that must have been for Mary. And for all women really. Finally, I’ve been longing for the Lord’s return, which is something I don’t naturally desire. I love life as I know it, and I love living here on earth. But, to remember that this is not my home, helps me to feel a bit more like a foreigner to this land, which is healthy for my soul.

So when I think about the consumerism and materialism that is emphasized during this season, I realize something has got to give in our traditions if I’m going to be able to take my eyes off of things or people, and onto Jesus, my Savior. I don’t want my kids to be excited to open gifts on Christmas Day. I don’t want them to go to sleep, wondering what they’ll get in the morning. I want them to be excited about Jesus’ birth. I want to create some family traditions to fill the day that are deeply meaningful and are as exciting as opening gifts. I want my kids to look forward to this feast day, without them feeling like they are missing out on something “cooler”.

This holiday season will not be without gifts, however. We’ve decided to open some gifts on New Years Day instead. My reasoning is that it helps the kids to be able to relate with their friends in participating in this cultural event, BUT, it helps separate (hopefully!), in their minds, Christmas and presents. I don’t think our solution is perfect (perhaps it still participates in the consumerism of the season?), but it’s a step in the right direction for us. [I’m not against giving gifts- one of our family’s values in generosity, and we love to be generous with our time, money (the little we have right now as students, haha), and our love. Gifts can communicate deep love to people. But in my mind, there’s a difference between giving a gift and materialism (I digress, that’s another post in itself)]. How hard is it to engage in culture, but at the same time, not get wrapped up in the distorted aspects of it?

So, this is our messy struggle towards re-creating this holiday to be one of rich worship for our family. Often we find ourselves feeling “weird” and “out of place” when we talk about these kind of things… it’s easy for others to judge our intentions and label us as kill-joys or uptight or Santa-haters. So, I’d love to hear if anyone else is thinking through this concept too!

Loving Other Children Well- in Real Time

Let me tell you some stories of people who have encouraged me in thinking about loving other children well.

Story 1: First, there’s Christi. Her and her family live in Kenya, and are probably one of the coolest family I’ve gotten to know up close and personal. There family is one marked by intentionality, hospitality, and deep love. Christi’s three children go to school with other Kenyan children, not the western schools that many of the other non-Kenyan go to (I must caveat this by saying that their youngest is “Kenyan”, for all intents and purpose- born there and lived his whole life there). She shared an example today about how, when her kids weren’t learning everything she felt like they should be learning there, she chose not to pull them out, but instead to leave them there, but go in and start helping in their classrooms so the other children could be better served as well.

My reaction: I love this because Christi and her husband came up with a creative idea to love their kids (make sure they got the education they needed) AND to love other kids (teach them and make sure they get the education they need too). Well, some may say, I can’t do that here in America. Maybe not. But, you may be able to volunteer in your child’s classroom if your children are in public school.

Story 2: While in Columbia, MO, we sent Asante to a preschool a few mornings a week so he could get some interaction with other kids. Little did we know what a HUGE blessing this family would have on us– we were able to get to know the husband and wife who own and work in it, along with their fun and lovely family (5 kids!). For them, there entire life is wrapped up in kids— they spend themselves not only caring for their own family and the unique needs (there have been various issues, including medical that have been really trying for them), but also the needs of the kids in their preschool and the kids on the husband’s baseball team. For this family, they eagerly take other children into their lives and heart, and give them time that they could be spending with their children in their own home. Why? Because they love others deeply. She recently commented on how she felt like she was neglecting her kids because of the energy she was needing to give to some troubled kids in their lives, but was put at peace when one of her children suggested that they pray for the troubled kids during their evening prayers.

My reaction: This family has found a way to make a living loving other kids and in turn, their entire families. God is using them to reach kids with the gospel and all that in entails. They are blessed because they have been able to care for and teach kids in ways that their parents couldn’t. I love how this family has creatively figured out a way to love others besides their children. It fits them, their interests and their giftings.

There are many more I could tell, but these are just 2 examples of what it looks like to redefine family, and to love other children well. For each family, God asks us to do different things. There is no cookie cutter answer.

I think a life lived like this looks like a.) including our kids in whatever we’re doing, b.) making sure our children know they are deeply loved by us and by the Father, c.) that we are loving others because God has asked us to.

A few days ago I was talking to Asante (3 years old) about the fact that some kids don’t have parents, or they do have parents, but there parents can’t, for some reason or another, take care of them as well as they should. I asked Asante what we could do to help others. He said that maybe we should just ask them to live with us. I replied by saying that that would mean them having less attention from me and daddy, and that they would have to share their toys and clothes with any new kids who come into our family. Asante said after some long time of thinking to himself, “Well, I think it would be hard, but if you have to give your attention to the new kid, I could try and find something else to do during those times. I will know that you love me even if you’re giving your attention to someone else.”

I can’t help but think that if our children are raised with the sense that we have a responsibility to love and care for not only the technical orphans, but also the practical orphans (kids whose parents don’t care, or can’t care, or are unable to give them the opportunities to live well), then it becomes a natural thing. Isn’t it a natural thing for a parent and a child to welcome another kid into the family? Isn’t it natural that the parent has to sacrifice some of the opportunities of the other kids for the new child? Of course. So what if that new child is a foster child- is it right for us to sacrifice as a family to welcome in a foster child? How about an adopted child? How about a kid down the street whose parents are gone all the time working minimum-wage jobs, just trying to make ends meet? Or the kid who has angry parents who don’t know how to love themselves, much less another human being?

I just think another world is possible. I have to.

What if Jesus didn’t mean “family” the way that the church defines it?

Many middle-class, American churches tend to make one of their goals to share the gospel through reaching families. And this is good. We know stories of from around the world of one person from the family hearing the message of salvation, and bringing it home to their whole family, where everyone decides to follow Jesus. We also know how influential parents are on the faith development of their children (check out Christian Smith and Patricia Snell’s research in the book Souls in Transition). When our kids got dedicated (for my methodist friends, this is kinda like infant baptism but without the water), the church presented us with some awesome kid bibles because, they said, we were our child’s first evangelist. I wholeheartedly agree and am so thankful for this declaration. Finally, I love how some churches are moving towards integrated sunday school curriculum, and multi-generational sunday school so that parents and children can learn together, and have discussions later on over lunch about the lesson (check out Orange– a great family ministry).

BUT, could it be that, in other ways, the church has placed too much emphasis on the nuclear family? In the Scriptures, what does Jesus say, if anything, about the notion of nuclear family?

I was surprised to observe that there just isn’t a ton one way or the other (I mean, how many family-oriented sermons have you sat through, right?). Jesus upholds the idea of marriage (Hebrews 13:4), and especially for the context in which they were living, children would have probably be assumed. I’m comfortable saying that Jesus is happy for people to marry and have kids (although we do have the warning from Paul that marrying [and I would include having kids, but Paul doesn’t] will leave us with divided attention (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

However, Jesus does say some things that would make us question some of our thoughts on the responsibilities of family.

  • He talks about how we must hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children for the sake of the gospel (Luke 14.26).
  • When Jesus calls one of the disciples and he replies that he needs to go bury his father (i.e. stick around and do what he needs to do to take care of his responsibilities to his father until and after he dies), Jesus told him no, that he needed to let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8.21-22)
  • Jesus assured his disciples that there were eternal rewards for the sacrifices they were making for the gospel- material and familial (Mark 10.29-31).

What to make of all of this? We each have to wrestle and pray through these Scriptures, and through God’s desires for us and the community for which we are a part, but Will O’Brien in “Family Values” offers his ideas about what all this might mean:

In God’s reign, all persons are God’s precious children. We are all sisters and brothers. Everyone deserves the fullness of our love, the intentionality of our concern and care. We treat everyone has our family. Social or cultural systems that mediate against this vision are opposed to the reign of God, and we must, as disciples, defy them. I am afraid that much of the church, in its insistence on family values, is upholding the very social and cultural systems Jesus railed against. Family values are preached and practiced in the United States today means a boundary line between those for whom we are responsible and those for whom we are not; those worthy of our love and those not worthy.

Finally, as I reflect on God in His role of Father to Jesus, I see His incredibly deep and perfect love for Him. Isn’t it the kind of love that we as parents aim for and bask in ourselves as God’s children? Yet, the Father sacrificed His one and only Son (i.e. ask a parent whose only child has died to help you understand a portion of the significance of the “one and only” part)….so that we may live. We were not His biological child. We were adopted into the family of God. In God’s eyes, we are a sister and brother of Jesus. As we parent, how can we begin to justify creating boundaries of responsibility for our child only? The example of God as parent tells us to do something very differently. If God would have said that His only responsibility was to provide the best for His child only, we would be in seriously bad shape.

Thank you God, for grace. For not caring only about Jesus, but for all of humanity. For calling me your daughter. For taking responsibility for me too. Help me to see ways that I can do that for others. Give me a deep love for other children I come into contact with everyday….and give me and Jake the courage and wisdom to put ourselves and our children in places where we can interact meaningfully with others, especially with those who have no parents or have parents who can’t or don’t love them well.

The Sacrifices We Make

What would you give up for your child?

If you’re like most parents, you would pretty much give up anything- your money (ha, which you do), your sleep (ditto), your health, your opportunities. We spend time, money, and energy making sure that our kids have the opportunities they need to grow and become all that they can be. For the past several weeks I’ve been spending all three of those things creating developmentally appropriate activities to do with each kid to help them to reach some goals we’ve set for them by the end of the year. Some of those nights I would have much rather been reading, writing or scrapbooking, but, that’s what a mom will do.

But here’s a trickier question- what would you give up for someone else’s child?

I remember Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that he told his congregation during a big back-to-school clothes/shoes/supplies drive to buy the same quality of clothes or shoes or school supplies that they would buy for their own child. If you shop at Walmart, buy clothes from walmart for the drive. If you shop at Gap Kids, buy from Gap Kids. If you normally spend $100 on a pair of shoes for your kid, buy a $100 pair of shoes for the drive. I wonder what the congregation actually did, because you see, it’s hard to sacrifice for someone else’s child.

This is the question that the editors of Conspire offer in “Our Children, Our Souls.”

In a world that insists that resources are scarce, where the playing field is fractured with structured and intentional inequality, children force us to confront directly this question: ‘Who am I willing to sacrifice so that my own live well?’

This question haunts me.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, it should probably haunt you as well.

Are you willing to give up some of your time for other children? Are you willing to give up a little money for other children? Are you willing to give up a little energy and hard work for other children?

Are you willing to give up some of your children’s opportunities in order to create good for other children? If giving up “best” for your child meant moving another child from “bad” to “good”, would you do it?

These are the things I think about as I play and love and dream with my three precious little children. I want the best for them something fierce. But as I pray for God to break my heart for the things that break His, I’m beginning to realize that while He entrusted these children to my care, I would be failing Him and them if I just did what I could to give them the best opportunities in life. He wants them to care deeply for others. He wants them to learn to love kids who are really different from them in all kinds of ways. He wants them to fight injustice and dream of ways to show compassion for those on the margins, even if they don’t recognize what that means. You see, sometimes what I think is best isn’t what God thinks is best.

Father, give me wisdom and courage to raise these children in ways that would love you and love others. Help me to love others, not only as I love myself, but also as I love my children.

Entertainment and Hospitality- Can They Co-exist?

Today I came across a post in Out of Ur about the clash between the church’s values of entertainment and hospitality. In the article, a church asked a family to leave their service on Easter Sunday because their 12-year-old son with cerebral palsy made a loud noise after the opening prayer. In the comments, a visitor to the church (in 2009) also was asked to remove their 2-year-old after she made a few loud noises after the singing was over. The church did this because the wanted to provide a distraction-free environment for the congregation to worship in.

I understand this to an extent. I get that it IS distracting when a baby is crying in the service. Or a kid is talking loudly. Or a teenager is laughing.

Then I think about how the disciples were mad when some little children were approaching Jesus- Get them away! Jesus got ticked and rebuked the disciples- Let them come to Me.

As we think about our church’s worship services, we MUST think through our values. Is it our value to entertain people? SHOULD we have the value of entertainment? What happens when we turn a worship service into a show? How is this value supported in Scripture? What values do we teach our congregants when we remove people who are not conforming to the right behavior?

And we also must ask- what is the option for this family with a 12-year-old son with cerebral palsy? The church has no special needs ministry, nor do they want one (or so it seems from the blog post), so the 12-year-old has no class to go to AND the 12-year-old is not welcome in the worship gathering. It seems like the only option is for them to be in a different part of the church, watching the church service. From my experience with small children in a similar situation, this makes the family not want to attend a worship service at all (and participation is out of the question).

WHAT in the world are we doing, American church? It is not our job to provide a slick show to convince people to come to Christ. We are NOT competing with television or movies. If we are not making space and WELCOMING those who are on the edges of our society, we are not being the Kingdom of God. We are putting on  a musical and verbal show that gives off a putrid smell before Him.

I think some churches have some serious re-evaluating of policies to do. Let’s talk about it– what are your thoughts? Can entertainment and hospitality co-exist? Should they co-exist? What are some alternative practices to this situation?

What is Vision?

Good question, right? We think about companies having vision statements, but we don’t often think about having personal or family vision statements ourselves. Andy Stanley says that “visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be” (17).  What keeps you up at night? What do you find yourself daydreaming about? What is it that creates in you a holy discontent– that thing, maybe injustice, that you see and feel like you MUST do something about? “Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo” (17).

Some things to remember when thinking about our visions…

….they always begin as a concern about something. What has grabbed your attention? What are those things that God has been bringing back into your mind again and again?

…the vision’s end is never us, but God. I know, sounds cliche, but I think it’s important to remember. It’s not about fame, money, or significance. It’s about advancing God’s Kingdom and bringing Him glory.

…just because we have a vision doesn’t mean we should immediately advance on it. Sometimes God needs us to wait for one reason or another. It’s helpful for me to think about this through the image of pregnancy. Just as a baby doesn’t have a high chance of survival when s/he is born 3 months early, neither does our vision. Allow God to do the work He needs to do to mature it in us.

How do we know if our vision is from God or from ourselves?

1. “A God-ordained vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative.” If we don’t follow through with our vision, we’ll feel like we’re being disobedient.

2. “A God-ordained vision will be in line with what God is up to in the world.”

So, here are the reflection questions for this stage in the experiment. Jake and I will be working through them over the next month or so.

**In one sentence, describe your vision for the following areas of your life- career, family, ministry.

**Are you living with a tension between what is and what should be? Do you have a holy discontent? If so, what is it that bothers you and how do you think it should be?

**How does your vision line up to what God is already doing in the world?

[thanks to Andy Stanley’s book, Visioneering, for these great thoughts and questions]