Happily Ever After

© Dennis Jarvis. Used under Creatives Commons License.

© 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.

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The Biggest Piece

I was sitting at a baseball game for one of our boys last week and chatting with my mom, who had come to watch the game. She shared with me about a dream she’d had the night before. In the dream, she was with an extended family member of ours who has recently moved to another city, and they were visiting a church in the area. As they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper and my mom’s turn came, there were only crumbs left and she felt like she couldn’t partake.  We smiled at the odd course that dreams often take.

The next day, as our church celebrated the Lord’s Supper and I sat next to our 8-year-old, the  dish of unleavened bread came down our row. Just like he always does, Derrin took a few seconds to survey the contents and pick the largest piece he could find. This one was particularly big. (I wonder if the deacons do that on purpose for kids like Derrin?)

He proceeded to whisper, too loudly, about the really big piece he got, and then he did the same with the tray of grape juice cups. He picked the one most full and let me hold it to prevent a purple spill, which has happened one too many times. We ate the bread and drank from the cup. It was good. The bread of forgiveness. The cup of new life gained through Jesus’ suffering. A Good Friday celebration that comes to us again and again throughout the year. Solemn and sobering. Burden-lifting. Spirit renewing, even in the company of a squirmy, talkative child .

As many of us have reflected here at Good Dirt Families, it is the child who leads us. And the grandparent too. We want the biggest piece of Jesus we can get. We want to stop and survey the situation, and then choose carefully. We can’t help but tell the one next to us in a loud voice about what we’ve found.

No, crumbs won’t do. Being new and showing up only to find there’s not enough–that scenario just doesn’t fit the abundant life Jesus died to provide. How great to imagine each of us, like an 8-year-old, being intentional, selecting carefully  from this smorgasbord of life, eyeing Jesus, reaching for Him, and taking all we can get.  O Bread of Life, may it be so.

Gentle Whispers

Summer with kids screams the daily, material, ordinariness of life. In the prominence of all the ordinary, the tangible presses in on our moments and envelops our days as they spin into weeks and march toward Fall. Yes, we cherish the shining moments of  spectacular sunsets and interludes on the pavement viewing roly polies as they curl and uncurl. We triumph at a first ride on a two-wheeler and delight at a bouquet of dandelions.

But so many other moments during summer involve the weary obligation of cleaning up after a camping trip, chasing flies around the house,  spraying stained clothing. Hanging up wet towels and clothes, pulling weeds, intervening amid squabbles, mopping the floor one more time to find missed popsicle drips, removing splinters, applying sunscreen to squirming bodies, putting away bedding from last night’s sleepover, and buying yet another box of bandaids. Summertime is multi-tasking at its finest.

I find that in all the rush of nonstop ordinariness, I wonder if my kids are noticing God. I wonder if they’re sensing His presence in these days that for them are magical, glorious, sun-drenched times–but times where they seem quite focused on themselves. I wonder when that awareness of God and life underneath the surface of this one finds a regular  place in their living.

The other day we were reading Good Dirt in the morning, in the family room with sleeping bags and pillows. My neice had spent the night with our two younger boys. They were up (very) early and bursting with energy. We read Mark 2:13-22, about the calling of Levi and about putting new wine into new wineskins. And then we got out paper and made two columns: The Kingdom of Me and The Kingdom of God. I expected resistance, but each child labeled their columns and readily got to work describing what each column was like.

One of them wrote this:

Kingdom of Me–bad things happen. I get disiplend (sic)
Kingdom of God–Good things happen. God gets sad.

They didn’t miss a beat in understanding the difference between the two kingdoms.

Later I read something by Dallas Willard. He has a new book out titled A Dallas Willard Dictionary, where various spiritual formation terms are defined using excerpts from his various books. I read the definition of “Spiritual Reality.”

Spiritual reality is the hidden–because nonphysical–ultimate and powerful foundation of the visible, material and finite universe. It is the “where” of spiritual beings. It is the kingdom of God.

And this is the quote included with Willard’s definition:

The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events. They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes and eggs. But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently. And it appears both at the edges and in the middle of events and things in the so-called real world of the visible … . the tendency of life in Christ is progressively toward the inward word to the receptive heart. The aim is to move entirely into the hidden realm of spiritual reality …” (excerpted from Hearing God)

Once again, I knew that these kids have eyes to see underneath the surface of their days. They can hear the inward word, and by and large they have receptive hearts. These kids are living in the kingdom of God. Even in summertime.

The Real Beauty of It All

© Eric Kilby. Used under Creative Commons license.

© Eric Kilby. Used under Creative Commons license.

Every summer our family spends a week with extended family, where about 14 of us gather in one big cabin in a small, mountain town to play, sleep, and eat together. We watch hummingbirds from the kitchen window, walk many times a day down dirt roads to visit the lake, throw rocks in the river, and catch fish. It’s a slice of idyllic life and a time we look forward to all year.

This past week we spent the 4th of July together in this spot, and in the flurry of packing I forgot to include our copy of Good Dirt.

We have nine kids between the three families, ranging in age from 7 to 19. Several are teenagers, and last week as we got two or three days into the week some of them were needing to slow down and consider their words and their attitudes. It seemed apparent that even in idyllic locations we all need the Word and the Spirit of God to speak and guide our living. Even vacation days and cousin time need the breath of Life we get only from time with God.

So, Aunt B. pulled out my Bible and got the attention of the kids who were still having breakfast at the table and those who were in the adjacent family room, sprawled on couches and the floor. “Hey guys, it’s devotion time!”

With no Good Dirt, my mind turned to the letter of 2 Timothy, which was the book our church had been focusing on in a Bible reading plan we were doing together.

“Who knows who wrote the book of 2 Timothy? And who knows where he was when he wrote the book? Who was Timothy and why was Paul writing this letter?” We talked about all these background details and then read chapter 1.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

The little kids knew this verse. Where did they learn it? VBS last summer! It was the theme verse and they remembered. We all talked about how God’s Spirit supplies us with these important qualities–power, love, and self-discipline.

And then,

Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. [Yes, Paul was in prison and heading toward death, we had reviewed together.] Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

My sister and I broke into chorus of that hymn we’d grown up singing, containing that last verse, word for word. And then we read on to chapter 2:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. …

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be  instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  (2 Timothy 2:15-16, 20-21)

We talked about what it means to be holy, to belong to God and to live differently than some others in the world live.  And then we prayed together. One of the teens volunteered to lead us.

We probably spent fifteen minutes talking and reading. Not a real long time. But I realized something that morning. Because our immediate family has been reading the Bible and Good Dirt these last six months, that time with the kids felt easy and natural for me as a parent. I didn’t need Good Dirt to prompt the questions or set the agenda for our reading. And I wasn’t worried about what to do or say with the kids. It all flowed pretty easily.

I think that is the ultimate goal of Good Dirt. Lacy and Ben haven’t said it in so many words, but isn’t the best part of a devotional like this the way it helps us as families enter into God’s Word together and let God form us, most of all through the prompting of the Spirit? The way we learn to spend time in the Word and with Jesus together so much more readily and naturally, no matter where we are or who is with us?

Thank you, God, for the beauty you bring to our lives when your Word enters us and colors our days. Your beauty surpasses all.

 

Glad Places

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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.

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!

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 be neat 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.

Taking God on Vacation

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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.

© 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.