Category: Spiritual Formation

The Most Dangerous Thing About My Life

the most dangerous thing about my life-- it's probably not what you think

It’s been awhile since I wrote a real post.

It’s easy for me to write about what we’re reading and what I’m loving and what we’re doing. Doing is easy in this stage of life. I wake up every morning and immediately the cogs are in motion. Most mornings I don’t even have to think about going from one thing to the next. I just look at my planner and it tells me what’s on the agenda for the day. All I have to do is, well, do it.

I’ve always been a doer. I remember calling my dad sometime last year and complaining about how much stuff I had to do. I was working for a non-profit a few hours a week, blogging for 3 blogs, running a household while the hubs was taking 12 hours of doctoral classes (+ teaching at 50% + a side job), and training for a half-marathon. Oh yeah, I also had a 1 year old and a 3 year old home with me all day. WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

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Prayers for our Children

With the school year just around the corner, the Graham Blanchard Mom Mentors are sharing some of the things we’re praying for our kiddos as they embark on new adventures.

Here’s what I’ve been praying for….

As three of my four kids head off to elementary school this month, my prayer for them remains the same as it has been all summer, that they would know how high and deep and wide God’s love is for them.

We desperately desire for them to fully know that when God created them, He made no mistakes.  We pray that they would know, deep in their bones, they are deeply loved by the God of the universe. We pray every day that through our actions, words, and attitudes, the kids would see the love of God shine through. We pray that our sometimes too-impatient attitudes and unthoughtful words would pale in the light of their knowledge of God’s great love for them.

I pray that they would know their identity and their worth as they interact with their peers, both good influences and bad influences. I pray that as they interact with teachers, the kids would know their identity and worthiness is not wrapped up in their ability to perform in the classroom.  And finally, I pray this understanding of how much they are loved will overflow out of their lives into the lives of those around them.

Check out some of the other moms are praying and maybe take a minute to share what you’re praying for your littles!

 

 

The Bible Project

I’ve been participating in the Journey through Scripture project this year, and over on our Facebook group, I’ve been sharing some resources as we read along (well, at least I was for awhile- whoops!). One of these is The Bible in Five by a guy named Tim Mackie. He used to be a teaching pastor at Blackhawk Church (before my time here), and he recorded these videos when our church was reading the Bible in a year together.

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He’s since moved to Portland and is a pastor at Door of Hope Church as well as a professor of biblical studies at Western Seminary. I caught wind that him and another guy, Jonathan Collins, have started The Bible Project.

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The Token in My Pocket

Summer vacation for us means that we’ll most likely find more of these little things lying around.

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Our kids are drawn to those penny-smashing machines like a bee is to a flower. The gears. The pictures to choose from. The huge hard-to-turn crank. The penny-in, penny-out magic never gets old. The kids will carry these smushed down pennies with them wherever they go- in the car, on their bikes, and sometimes even wrapped in their little hands as they fall asleep.

By the time fall comes, these pennies will be forgotten. Sometime in late August, I will gather them all up from under the couch cushions and behind beds, and put them in their memory boxes, small tokens of the fun we had together.

As 3 of the 4 kids bound off to school, however, their pockets will not be empty. With the new school year comes a need for a different kind of token. A reminder of home. A reminder that someone loves them. A reminder that they aren’t alone, even when they’re on the playground and may not know who to play with or what to do. In the morning, if they need it, I’ll slip a penny or a note or a small picture into their pocket or backpack, telling them that if they get sad or lonely, they can feel for it and think of me.

I carry a different kind of token. It’s not physical and it isn’t in my pocket. Instead, I carry it around in my heart, and I touch it to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of my purpose and my calling, especially when I feel bored or forgotten or insignificant in the mundane, day-to-day routine. While Scripture is not something to take out of context and use to make us feel good, sometimes choosing one verse of Scripture to hold onto (while knowing and understanding its place within the chapter, book, and whole story of Scripture) is incredibly powerful.

This month over at the Graham Blanchard blog, the Mom Mentors and I are sharing some of those tokens that we hold onto during our current season of life. We live in very different spaces and places, but we all have found that holding onto certain passages of Scripture helps us to persevere, find joy, be reminded of our calling, or simply keep our head above the crashing waves. Here’s what I shared, but please feel free to go on over and read more of the others’ if you want. 🙂

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:31.

I’ve been a stay at home or work from home mom for nearly 8 years (with a 1 year exception), and sometimes I feel, well, tired of being at home all the time! On occasion I am tempted to believe that my work caring for kiddos at home is not as Kingdom-building as some other things I could be doing if I was working outside the home. It’s during these seasons that I hold on to this verse, which reminds me that God asks me to glorify Him in WHATEVER I’m doing, even in those tasks that feel quite mundane. This verse also brings my attention back to the overarching call on my life to be a whole-life worshipper, and reminds me that I can do that ANYWHERE, especially in my own home.  So, when that feeling of restlessness begins to saturate my mind, this verse and ones like it helps me to regain perspective and patience.

What’s the passage or verse of Scripture in your pocket this season? 

Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines with Kids (+Free Printable)

Spiritual disciplines are fantastic and frightening.

They are fantastic because they are often a really great way to help me connect with God. Whether it be through prayer, reading the Scriptures, practicing generosity, journaling, walking a labyrinth, WHATEVER, these are places and times when I’m being intentional about slowing down and focusing on what God is doing around me and inside of me. It’s a time for me to listen and/or to enter into the Kingdom of God living that I might not naturally do on my own.

Spiritual disciplines are also frightening because when I engage in them, I’m giving up control. While I can decide when and what to do, I can’t decide what God’s going to say, how He’s going to move, or even if I’m going to sense His presence at all. Especially at the beginning, it’s sometimes frightening to be vulnerable, even when it’s with our Abba.

When I became a parent, I settled it in my mind that I would help my kids practice developmentally appropriate spiritual disciplines early. By practicing and learning how to connect with God on their own, I’m hoping that these disciplines will give space for God to create markers in their faith where the kids “know that they know they have heard from God.”

A good friend of mine is the teaching pastor at Catalyst Community Church in Rowlett, Texas, and he recently invited me to help make a spiritual disciplines guide for kids. What can we do as parents to help our kids practice the disciplines? 

Spiritual Disciplines with Kids

The result of this collaborative project is this helpful sheet that we’re sharing with you. Feel free to download it, print it, share it, whatever!

 

Top 8 Reasons the Justice Conference Was Fantastic

Jake and I celebrated 10 years of marriage this past weekend by heading to the Windy City for The Justice Conference 2015. We had a fantastic time! Here’s why:

1. Chicago

I LOVE Chicago. Great people, great artists, great ideas. We stayed at the HI Chicago and it was a GREAT experience. I was a little unsure about hosteling, but now I wonder if I’ll ever NOT do it, given the option. The accommodations were clean, the people were friendly and interesting, and the location was PERFECT. We literally walked across the street to go to the conference.

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2. The Auditorium Theater

The Justice Conference took place in the Auditorium Theater- it is GORGEOUS! Every seat was a good one, and I thought it was so cool that some people could watch it all from little side boxes- ha (excuse Jake’s blurry face in the pic below, and look at those seats- so romantic :))! For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Auditorium Theater is just a couple block walk from Lake Michigan, and very near Millennium Park, which was a great place to walk around during the breaks.

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3.  The Expo

Across the street from the Auditorium, they had an Expo with a bunch of organizations and publishers represented. I was like a kid in the candy store with all of those publishers in ONE PLACE and selling books at a discounted price. IVP took most of my money (thank you very much!). A couple organizations represented that we particularly enjoyed talking with:

Plough Publishers: A publishing house from upstate New York, the woman at the table were so fantastic to talk with. This group has a deep commitment to resources that encourage people to put their faith in action, specifically in the areas of peacemaking, forgiveness, christian discipleship, the valuing of children, environmental consciousness, etc. As a bonus, they were giving away free books (I think the only one there at the conference doing so!).

Micah Challenge: I have come to really love this organization. I reviewed a book they just put out a few months ago, which was a must-have because it was SO PRACTICAL. So sure, perhaps we aren’t going to lobby in Congress or go to Palestine, but there are so many things that we can do in our daily lives that help make the world more just. I had a great discussion with a guy at the booth who explained about some legislature that Congress passed several years ago that isn’t being followed yet. It was a fascinating to hear about the process of going to Obama’s office, talking to his staff, giving signatures, etc. This is an organization making things happen in the name of Jesus.

4. Diversity of Speakers

I have been to quite a few conferences, and despite peoples’ (so-called) best efforts, I can almost guarantee that there will be 90% white men speaking, with 1 token woman (normally being interviewed), and 1 token minority. This conference was different. People from all different backgrounds were speaking or being interviewed on stage and IT WAS SO REFRESHING. I have a whole new group of amazing men and women to learn from and follow on social media. I feel sad that I’m just hearing about them now! Just to name a few: Eugene Cho, Soong-Chan Rah, Austin Channing, Rev Traci Blackmon, and Gabriel Salguero.

5. Worship (through music and poetry) Sessions

We were led in worship by a wide variety of people– Micah Bournes, Malcolm London, David Crowder, Rend Collective and a fantastic worship band (David Bailey, Angie Wong, and a few others– those of you who were there- help me out!). We even sang a song in Spanish and Urdu which I thought was really meaningful. I’d love to do that more often!

6. Hard Conversations

The topic of racial inequality and white privilege (or white supremacy) was a big topic discussed, preached on, and expressed through poetry and art. I learned a lot, was able to confront some of my own biases, and was reminded how much I’m unaware of a reality that exists for so many people. My toes got stepped on a little, and while I didnt agree with every word said about it, it was a great chance to listen and learn from people from different perspectives.

7. A Like-Minded Community

While I’m sure we were all different in a lot of ways, we all love Jesus and feel a deep commitment to loving our neighbors, both here and far, in ways that cause us to suffer and to sacrifice. As Dr. Cornel West said, “To love is to learn how to die.” It was great to be reminded that there are many others who see the essentialness of justice to the Gospel, and who aren’t so caught up in pursuing the American Dream that they lose sight of the call to love the marginalized. It reminds me that I’m not crazy. A girl needs that reminder every now and then.

8. Amena Brown Owen

If I ever have a conference (I mean, just pretend with me), this lady is at the top of my list to ask to host. Amena is a beautiful woman who is real, funny, and a little bit sassy. She was the perfect host for this conference!!

My main takeaway from this conference is that my necessary next step is to get serious about surrounding myself with other voices, voices that aren’t white men and women. I bought a couple books there that will start me in on the process, but I’m also subscribing to a few new blogs (and unsubscribing to others). In a week we’ll be having our next Racial Bridges study here in Madison, which is where the real life community discussion and movement is happening. I’ve learned a lot over the past couple years and commit to learning more from others who don’t look or sound or worship like me.

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If you’re interested about next year’s conference, check out their website or follow Justice Conference on FB And Twitter.

 

When God meets you while reading your child a book about monsters

We read hundreds of picture books in a month. I pay attention the first 20 or 30 times that I read, but then after that, I tend to zone out and think about other things (please tell me I’m not the only one!). When I reach the end of the book, I have the same feeling that I get when I drive home on autopilot, surprised to see that I’m puling into our parking spot.

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So, a few days ago Ada and I snuggled up on the couch, and I began to read a book called Marilyn’s Monster. I began reading, knowing nothing about the book and wasn’t really expecting much.

Some of at the kids in Marilyn’s class had monsters. It was the latest thing. Marilyn didn’t have a monster. Not yet. You couldn’t just go out and get one. Your monster had to find you. That’s just the way it worked.

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Some of the kids woke up to have their monsters beside them, others on the playground or in the middle of class. One by one, her classmates got their monsters.

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Marilyn began to get a bit restless and kinda-sorta began looking for hers, while trying to act as if she absolutely was not looking. Her friends were having so much fun with their monsters, and she wanted to experience that same thing.

Her parents tried to assure her that the monster would come, just to give it time.

Marilyn wondered if the monster got lost. Or saw her from afar and decided he didn’t want to be her monster after all. That was definitely it, she thought, so she began to do and be exactly what she thought a monster would want in a playmate. Neat, proper, kind… perfect.

After waiting and waiting and waiting, one day she got angry and decided she didn’t want to be  perfect and she wouldnt wait a second longer! Instead, she would just go look for him, even though that’s not how it was supposed to be. She looked for him at the library, under the bridge in the park, and in the woods, but no sign of her monster. She finally ended up in a big field and screamed at the top of her lungs:

where are you

And then, very softly, she heard a voice say,

here.

She followed that small, quiet, but awfully clear, voice and she found her monster, up in a tree.

As I was reading, I was overcome with emotion, because I thought to myself- I can relate to her. Off and on over the past several years, I’ve felt that way about God. I see the happy clappy, I love Jesus, He gives me big wet kisses Christians, and I feel myself waiting. Waiting to feel that way again. Waiting to hear His voice clearly. Waiting to have the warm snuggly easy relationship with him, free of cares and full of presence. Waiting for my monster.

I keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

Then I try to make myself better and more “presentable” to Him, thinking if I can do more good things, then maybe I’ll get those fuzzies back. More Bible studies. more worship songs, more giving, more serving.

Then I get angry and say, forget it. You can take me as me or don’t take me at all! I try and go find Him underneath new prayer techniques, refreshed journaling resolve, in the pages of my Bible reading plan, or on a jog through a scenic path. And then, still with that ache in my heart, I go to that huge, empty field, look up at the sky and yell,

WHERE ARE YOU??????

And then, very softly, I sometimes hear a small quiet, and oddly clear voice say,

here.

The journey of the soul is much messier than I ever imagined it would be.

When Your Child Asks Hard Questions about the Bible

Just the other day, the kids and I were eating dinner when the topic of the destination of the unevangelized came up. Of course, it didn’t come up in those words, but more like, “Mom, what happens to people who haven’t heard of God or Jesus before missionaries come to tell them God’s good news?”

If this topic hasn’t come up around your dinner table or while snuggled close to your kids at bedtime, then another one has. What happens to the baby that was miscarried? Why did the earthquake happen and kill so many people? Why does God allow people to do bad things to people because of the color of their skin? What will heaven be like?

As parents, we expect these questions to come, yet often feel the sense of surprise when they do. We have some general idea of how we answer the questions for ourselves, but when talking to our child about it, the ideas sometimes seem foggy, or the explanations “not enough”. We long for our child to have assurance of God’s great love for them, and also know that cutting off those questions, and that precious dialogue, may eventually be hurtful to their faith journey.

All that to be said, parenting is hard. Wading through tough questions about faith is hard. We need wise resources from people who have walked through it before us.

bible story handbook

One book that I’m reading through right now is called The Bible Story Handbook, written by Dr. John and Kim Walton. Married for many years and having raised three children themselves, John and Kim offer a theological sound, critical way at looking at the Scriptures that will allow us to teach our kids the intended messages of the Scriptures.

It’s tempting to read a passage of Scripture and then immediately figure out a way to connect it to our life. I mean, isn’t that what the Bible is for?

Well… maybe not exactly.

If a preacher or teacher is going to do a “leadership study”, you can pretty much guess what book of the Bible she or he is going to use… Nehemiah. But, the Waltons argue, leadership is not what Scripture is teaching in this passage. It’s not what the text is intending to teach, and “only the things that Scripture intends to teach carry the authority of the text.”

So, then, when we teach about Noah and the ark with all of the animals, what is the intended message of the Scriptures in that story? What do we teach our children about the story of Abraham? of David’s life? the creation of the world?

We are definitely good intentioned; at least I am. I want my children to find themselves in the Scriptures- to connect to them, to feel like the Bible is “applicable to their lives”. But all too often we pop the Scriptures of of their redemptive historical context only to make it into a nice packaged story with a good takeaway for our kids. The should be honest, obey, feed the poor,  be humble– things like that.

So if we’re not to just dive into the Scriptures to figure out how we should live, what should we do with them? The Waltons recommend first and foremost being careful to ask ourselves- what is the intended message of this passage of Scripture? What was the author trying to convey? Most of the time, it’s teaching about WHO GOD IS, not what we should do. They go on to say, “We want our students to be conformed to the image of Christ and their behavior to have been embraced as a way to imitate God. We accomplish this by helping them know God better, not by telling them that they should obey because Abraham obeyed.”

So, after this and much more (the introduction in itself is worth getting the book; I feel like I’m not really doing it justice), the Waltons go through the entire Bible and lay out lesson guidelines for parents or teachers to use when teaching on the various passages of Scriptures. They include:

  • a lesson focus
  • a lesson application
  • a short paragraph on the biblical context
  • interpretational issues in the story (this part is EXCELLENT. It will help with some of those tough questions that will come up if a child is thinking closely about the text)
  • Background information: Information about different parts of the story or words/images used that will help in gaining a fuller understanding of the message of the author
  • Mistakes to Avoid: a list of ways in which the passage of scripture is perhaps inaccurately taught to kids.

Another interesting thing that Waltons bring up is that it’s better to not teach your child a passage of Scripture than teach them the wrong thing about it. For example, one day their son came home from church and talked about how he learned about Cain and Abel in his class. Interested, they asked a few questions and learned that the lesson learned that day was “God created our bodies”. And while no one is going to argue that that is not a true statement, it’s not at all what the story of Cain and Abel teaches (acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices, murder of a brother, etc.). Most likely the teachers didn’t know how to teach this difficult passage to preschool children, so just tried to grasp at straws. There are passages of Scriptures that are inappropriate for young children to read. Skip them. Come back to them when they are older and you can teach them about it in an honest way.

Not only is this book helpful when teaching children, but it’s helpful to us as adults too. If we’ve grown up in the Church World, it can be hard to tease out the difference between what the Scripture says and what we may have been inaccurately taught about it.

Of course, as with any book, you read it and test it, but so far it appears to be an excellent resource. I HIGHLY recommend it to all parents!

 

Thanks to Crossway for a review ecopy of this book!!

Book Review: Brave Girls, Faithful Friends (90 Day Devotional)

Like every other kid alive in the universe, Aly is slowly and steadily getting older. It’s both wonderful and terrifying.

She’s a voracious reader and while she definitely prefers fiction, she has also been getting interested in reading about the Bible and how it applies to her life. I’m careful when it comes to devotionals in general, but especially for kids. I want to be sure that the devotional is a.) developmentally appropriate, b.) faithful to Scripture, and c.) does not heavily rely on gendered stereotypes.

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Brave Girls: Faithful Friends: A 90-Day Devotional is a new one in the Tommy Nelson’s Brave Girls series. I was immediately curious just by looking at the cover: 5 girls with a variety of ethnicities that are friends. The tagline of “brave girls” was also appealing to me; it’s sometimes hard to find something not labeled with “God’s princess” or “Daughter of a King” for this age group. While not horrible taglines, there is such thing as too much of a good (or neutral) thing.

This devotional is set within the context of friendship. At the beginning, kids take time considering what a good friend is, and how God desires to be their best friend. The next section focuses on stories of friends in Scripture, and then they move on to tips on being a good friend, but with examples connected to animals (i.e. kittens have to learn to hunt, etc. from their momma, and also parents have things to teach girls about friendship). In subsequent sections, girls learn about how to make friends, what to do when friendships get tricky, being friends with their families, and finally a short section of “quizzes” and word searches.

I would say that this devotional is heavy on friendship, light on Scripture, but not in a bad way. This devotional is no replacement for Scripture reading, but I think it’s a great way to teach young girls about friendships in a healthy way. Especially for kids who don’t know a ton of Scripture, some of the devotionals could be a bit confusing (i.e. one is about Ruth and it jumps right into the story and offers no Scriptural reference), but I think if a parent is there to answer any questions, it’ll be fine.

While the devotional is probably a wee bit mature for Aly, there’s no doubt that within a year or two she’ll be the perfect age.

Overall, I recommend it. Friendship is a topic elementary girls don’t get tired of, and to connect it with a book that points girls towards God’s love for them- sounds like a great combination.

Thanks, Booklook Bloggers, for the complimentary book in exchange for an honest review!