SQUIRREL! (Or, Dealing With Distractions)

Wow. Keeping a five-year old’s attention is a chore. At least it is with our little dude.

We’ve been trying different ways to help him listen to Good Dirt devotions. Sometimes I start making things up during the reading to see if he notices (“then Peter got on a motorcycle and started doing wheelies!”) His sister thinks it’s hilarious, but usually it goes over his head. One night we tried offering him M&M’s if he could answer questions based on the reading. But mostly we just say stuff like “Are you paying attention?” “Stop squirming.” “Get off of your sister!” “What did I just say?”

I figured it would get better after he got into the habit of daily devotions, but alas, three months in we’re still dealing with distractions every night. Not unlike the dog from Up.

It’s hard to help everyone keep focused night after night. I might have a better attention span than a kindergartener, but I’m not immune to distractions (case in point: I’m writing this blog post while watching the Olympics, texting and playing a game on my smartphone). In fact, I think the distractions are what have derailed our family devotions in the past. After the excitement of Advent and Christmas, we tend to run out of gas after a month or so–then we get distracted with other things and the habit slips away.

Epiphany is also called Ordinary time. Carolyn has been learning a lot lately about finding God in the ordinary, but doing that takes discipline to avoid distractions. Because the ordinary seems so–well, ordinary. It’s easy to get caught up with distractions and miss the still-small voice. But God is patiently waiting to give us the gift of His presence if we’ll put down the phone, turn off the TV and listen.

And stop chasing the squirrel.

Immanuel, God Still With Us

God Dancing

During Advent, my 5-year-old son, Jon, drew this picture. As part of one of our Good Dirt devotionals, we asked the kids to draw what it looked like for Jesus to come to earth. “This is great, buddy!” I said. “I can see baby Jesus in the manger on the left. And who is that on the right?” Jon answered, “That’s God, dancing in the hay!”

His words have stuck with me ever since. I loved Jon’s view of God, just dancing away, as His son was born here on earth. We spent much of Advent talking about Matthew 1:23: “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” And in the weeks since then, I have thought about how Immanuel is not just for Christmas time. God is still with us. God is always with us.

On Christmas morning, celebrating the birth of Christ. God with us.

During visits with loved family members who don’t know God’s saving grace. God with us.

Waking up each morning, going to bed each evening. God with us.

When the doctor says, “It could be cancer.” God with us.

On a birthday, rejoicing in another year of life. God with us.

In every day, every moment, every laugh, every tear. God with us.

Last Christmas morning, we wanted to find a special way to remind ourselves that God is constantly with us. My husband suggested that every time we hear a beep–any beep, coming from anything–we all say, “God is with us!” Do you know how many times something beeps through out an average day? The phone, the computer, the car, the washer and dryer, the toys… so many beeps in this society. And every time: “God is with us!” I still think this (almost) every time I hear a beep. Our Good Dirt devotionals have kept God with us at the forefront of my mind, and I am so grateful. Because we need Immanuel all the time.



This Is My Command: Love One Another

January 5th was “Epiphany Eve,” the last day of Christmastide and the night before Epiphany (as a born-and-raised Baptist, this was my first year to ever take note of this). In Good Dirt, Ben and Lacy explain Epiphany is the season in which “we focus on the life of Jesus and how he lived in the Kingdom of God here on earth.” So it seemed appropriate that the Scripture for the day was a scene from the upper room—Jesus’ final hours teaching his disciples. Gone were the opaque parables and instead, a tender description of how God is intertwined in our lives.

The Vine and the Branches

I’ve always been moved by the intimate language Jesus uses with his disciples (and by proxy, us) in telling the story of the vine and the branches. He paints a picture of a life weaved with God’s Spirit—a life so interconnected with His that it is impossible to separate the two:

  • “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
  • “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”
  •  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
  • “Remain in my love.”
  • “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends.”
  • “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
  • “This is my command: Love each other.”

We are Jesus’ friends. He chose us. He has made us clean. We will bear fruit if we remain in Him—fruit that will last. And above all, Jesus says “love each other.”

Translating to Five-Year-Old Speak

So there we were, gathered around the table on Epiphany Eve—Carolyn and I with our eight year old and five year old. I’m lucky to get seven seconds of uninterrupted attention from the boy between pleas for him to finish his dinner. And I don’t feel like I can do this passage justice–the intimacy with God, Jesus’ final meal before the cross—it’s going to be lost on the kids. But then I remember the old Sunday school song:

This is my commandment
that you love one another
that your joy may be full!

So we sang it together—I jumped on the piano and plunked out a few chords. We sang loud verses, we sang quiet verses. We sang with just the boys, then just the girls. Our son went and grabbed flashlights to use as microphones, then our daughter did an interpretive dance. They had a blast–in fact, they even asked to do it again the next night.

Most importantly, they heard (and remembered) Jesus’ main point – “love one another.”

May we know God’s kingdom here on earth as we love one another—that our joy may be full.

One Word for 2014

What’s your word for 2014?

Several years ago, I came across the concept of choosing one word at the beginning of a new year. I actually discovered it in the world of scrapbooking–something I had time for before our second child arrived. Ali Edwards describes it well:

“A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow…  I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January – a word that I can focus on, meditate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life… It can be something tangible or intangible. It could be a thought or a feeling or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you… One little word can have big meaning in your life if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities.”

Ms. Edwards speaks from a secular viewpoint, and at first I dismissed the concept as too “New Age” for me. But then it occurred to me to ask God for my word, instead of creating one for myself. The idea was to allow God to show me what He had for me in the coming year, not just choose a word that I wanted to will into being. I discovered that when I take some time in December to slow down and be alone with God, He reveals a word for me. Sometimes it makes sense immediately–something I need to learn or increase in my life, something that God wants to remind me of on a daily basis through the coming year. Other times it takes a while for the word to make sense, and I may get through much of the year before realizing what God really meant. My past words have included surrender (during a time when I needed to submit to all that God had for me instead of fighting it),  thrive (when Jesus was reminding me that He came so we could have abundant life), hope (at a time when my soul needed an anchor), and abide (for this past year, as I learned to take one day at a time with Jesus).

This past month I have been asking God for a word for 2014, and one kept coming to mind. (That’s usually how it works for me: God puts one word in my head over and over again until I finally get it!) My word for 2014? Sanctuary. It doesn’t fully make sense to me yet–as I mentioned, sometimes these things take time. But I can see how it fits in a few different ways…

In December of 2012, I lost my part-time teaching job due to budget cuts. It was a difficult time for me, as I struggled with what to do next. I loved teaching. But I also loved having time with my young children, and couldn’t find a part-time job that would allow me that. So I eventually embraced being a homemaker for the last year. (I know, I know, the politically correct term is “stay-at-home mom.” But I actually like “homemaker” so much better. I’m not just a mom who happens to stay at home. I am intentionally making a home for my family. See the difference? But I digress…) As I look at the year ahead, God may a have a new job for me and I am open to that. But for now, I continue to be a homemaker, and I want our home to be a sanctuary for our family. A safe place for all of us to retreat to when the world feels scary. A place for us to love and share and find refuge. A place where we read God’s word together, eat meals together, work together, play together. A sanctuary.

I also know that God had been calling me closer to his heart recently. Through our daily family devotionals with Good Dirt, through a discipleship class at our church, and through prayer, God is inviting me to know Him better. One definition of sanctuary is “the holiest part of a sacred place” and I know God is beckoning me to come closer, to allow myself to know the Holy of Holies. I confess, choosing this word scares me a little. Most of the time, people need a sanctuary because they require a haven in a time of trouble. But Jesus told us that in this world, we will have trouble, and I want to remember that true sanctuary is only found in my Savior.

What’s your word for 2014? One year, I didn’t sense a single word being given to me, but rather a verse for the year (Psalm 63:7-8). Perhaps that is true of you, that you have a specific verse that resonates with you instead. Either way, I invite you to share your word or verse with us here and, more importantly, to share it with your family. Speak of what God is doing in your life and where He is leading you in the coming year. Show your children that God is real and active and continuing to teach you through your entire life. God has so much awaiting us in 2014. Let’s embrace it as a family.



From Gary:

We’re one of those families that eats dinner together pretty much every night.  And since that’s the most calm, consistent daily time as a family, we figured dinnertime would be the best time for Good Dirt devotions.

Then comes the first week of Advent, and suddenly half our dinners are spent apart.

It could be coincidence. This is a busy time of year, after all. But it just might be something more. It might be Resistance.

Cover from "Do the Work", http://amzn.com/1936719010

Cover from “Do the Work”, http://amzn.com/1936719010

I recently read a business book called Do the Work that talks about Resistance. And while the author was speaking primarily in non-spiritual terms, I was struck by the universal experience.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.

It’s safe to say that Satan is not a fan of Christian parents seeking to teach their children the way of the Lord. And in just two weeks time, I’ve already felt Resistance pushing back on me–being too tired, being distracted, or just straight up forgetting.

And yet, in our first week of Advent, we shared one of the sweetest moments together as a family. On the second morning as we were rushing about trying to get out the door on time, our daughter reminded us about the Good Dirt “tilling” message. So we gathered, standing in the family room, and read together. As we wrapped up, Carolyn suggested we pray for our day–and the four of us stood in a circle, holding hands, each taking a turn with short, simple prayer.

It was a brief moment–but it was a holy moment. And it’s moments like that for which we continue to fight Resistance.

Slowing Down for Advent

from Carolyn:

If you’re like me, you’ve heard this message a hundred times before. In fact, you may have even considered skipping this post because you already know what it’s going to say–and, ironically, you don’t have time to read it anyway.

“Slow down and enjoy the Christmas season. Eliminate the non-essentials. Remember the ‘real reason’ you’re celebrating. Take the time to enjoy it.”

And, also if you’re like me, you’ve agreed with it a hundred times and then returned to life at a fast pace anyway. Because there are so many things to do this time of year–and they’re all really good things. What am I going to eliminate? The tree decorating? Never. The shopping for gifts? My 5- and 8-year-old children would be heartbroken. The Christmas cookies? Sacrilege. But I’ve learned that when I hear a message repeatedly, it’s generally God trying to get my attention. So I made the decision that this year would be different. This year I truly would slow down and savor the moments. And then yesterday happened.

Mind you, this was only day 2 of the “holiday season”–and that’s if you go by the after-Thanksgiving-we-can-start-listening-to-Christmas-music rule. The season doesn’t even start until today if you’re only counting Advent. But there I was, rushing around the house yesterday like a mad woman. My parents were coming over last night to help us decorate the Christmas tree, as they do every year. I was fairly convinced that every single one of our 10 boxes of Christmas decorations needed to be unpacked and perfectly placed before their arrival. And the house needed to be completely cleaned. And the perfect gingerbread dessert needed to be cooking when they arrived–absolutely delicious while also being gluten-free, of course. Oh, and the kids should be wearing coordinating holiday outfits, so that they would look adorable in the pictures… Did I mention I’m a perfectionist?

At about 2:30 in the afternoon, my husband arrived home after being gone for most of the day. It only took about 2 minutes with me before I saw the look on his face. The look that said, “Who took my wife and replaced her with this crazy, stressed-out woman?” And, being the brilliant man that he is, he said, “Do you need a hug?” He didn’t tell me to chill out, or point out all of the things that didn’t really need to be perfect for our evening. He just made me stop and be still for a moment. My commitment to slow down this season came back to my mind and I started making a mental checklist of what was truly “required” for the evening. Only 3 things remained: put up the Christmas tree (because it’s hard to have a tree-trimming party without it); clean the bathroom (because, let’s face it, a dirty guest bathroom is just gross); and feed the family dinner. Everything else was nice, but far from necessary. And certainly not worth the price of my sanity. So the dessert became cookies from a box. The unpacked boxes of Christmas decorations got shoved into the bedroom. The kids wore their jammies instead of non-existent holiday outfits. And a more sane wife hosted our little gathering.

I have a feeling this lesson is one I will be returning back to again and again over the next month–not to mention the next few years. But my heart is fully convinced it is worth it. In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith writes, “Why is eliminating hurry from our lives so crucial? When we eliminate hurry we become present, or more specifically, present to the present moment in all of its glory… In short, we ‘show up’ and experience the fullness of life. And that includes, not least of all, being present to God. If I am to live well as a Christian, I need to be constantly connected to God. Hurry is not part of a well-lived life.”

Above all, I want to experience a well-lived life, and hurry does not bring about the person I want to be. So here’s to an Advent season full of lingering, and slowing, and long hugs. May yours be blessed.

Meet the Weyels: A family figuring it out together


We’re the Weyel family. I’m Gary, and I get the privilege of introducing our clan.

My wife, Carolyn, and I met in college and married shortly thereafter. We’re one of the fortunate few who have been able to stay in our little university town on the Central Coast of California.  San Luis Obispo has been named one of the happiest places on Earth, which is one of the first things you’ll probably hear if you meet anyone from our city. I’m sure it makes us  all insufferable, especially when we talk to our Midwestern friends in the dead of winter (“20 below? Really? It’s sunny and 72 degrees here today!”).

We have two children—our daughter is eight and our son is five. There was a time when our eldest was the easy one, but things have pretty much evened out now. They’re good kids who like going to the library on Saturday, visiting their cousins, and singing silly songs.

Why Choose Good Dirt for Families?

Carolyn and I were both raised in Christian homes and attending church every Sunday. While my family has a  faith tradition rooted in American evangelicalism and Carolyn’s family is Lutheran, much of our world view was shaped by our time together at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in college.

We’ve had a few fits and starts with family devotions at our house. To be honest, most of it has to do with laziness on my part, but I’ve also struggled with finding material that is appropriate and teachable to kids with a three-year age difference and vastly different maturity levels. Plus, finding a time we can consistently meet has also been difficult.

Despite the roadblocks, we really want to have time together as a family in God’s Word. The Good Dirt family devotion is a way for us to call out our lame excuses and commit publicly to a year of family devotions. Or at least to TRYING to have family devotions for a full year. Because I know there are going to be days when I’m in a bad mood, or the kids are fighting, or we really need to be somewhere else, or whatever. But we’re going to try–we’re going to show up and do it wrong and feel uncomfortable sometimes and that’s OK, because we’re in it together.