In Their Own Words… or Pictures

There’s a lot of talk these days about children. How to raise children… how to educate children…. how to discipline children… how children develop their values and beliefs… how to get children to eat their peas… Lots of talk about children.

Over the last decade years, spiritual formation has become the buzz phrase in Christianity. It has found it’s home in material for children as well. Books and curriculum carry this label, whether they are formational or not. There are conferences for pastors, parents and children with this label.

Heck, I write the some of the books and teach at some of the conferences! It’s a hot topic.

There’s some good research out there; we’ve got loads to say and loads to learn. Though I think, we’re missing a voice? The voice of our children.

It’s time for us (adults) to do a bit more listening and less talking.

One of the most rewarding things I do is spiritual direction with children. I have the great honor of listening to children talk about their thoughts and feelings concerning God. They teach me so much.

For the next year on this blog we’d like to give voice and space to children. Their words. Their pictures. Since often images are more meaningful for them.

So we’re asking for your help. Do you have a child, or know a child, who would be willing to share their thoughts about God, through word or picture?

Whether it’s one time or once a month, we’d love to hear from children. Respond to this blog, or contact us over on our FB page.

https://www.facebook.com/gooddirtfamilies

Tomorrow’s blog post will be about how to invite children to express their thoughts about God.

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“Still Good” Saturday: Children Listening to God

This blog was originally posted at http://www.Renovare.org.

I have a singer. She is six, almost seven, wants a pocket knife, and sings constantly.  She shares a bedroom with her sister. And one day it was more than her sister could take. The overheard conversation went like this: Introverted sister who loves quiet: “Please just shut up for a few minutes. Can’t we have one morning that you don’t sing.” Not so introverted singer: “When I was a baby God sang to me, I remember. He taught me to sing. And I’m gonna sing.”

Is this true? Frankly, I don’t know, I wasn’t involved in the conversation. Does she sometimes sing just to irritate her sister, certainly. Does she believe that God really spoke through song to her, absolutely.  She says she knows it.  Through song she brought great comfort to her great-grandfather on his deathbed.  Through song she has helped our home embrace a tone of love and celebration.

It is my firm belief that children can and do hear from God.  Just like adults, children can learn to distinguish God’s voice from the many others that are clamoring for their attention.  We begin by understanding that we listen and speak to God because we are in a relationship with him. He is our Father and he interacts with us.

All aspects of God’s character come from love, because God is love.  God will never be rude or selfish or hateful, and he will never speak to us in this manner. Instead his voice will be patient, kind, not bragging or prideful, not rude or self-seeking, not easily irritated; keeping no record of wrongs; not delighting in evil but rejoicing with truth. (1 Cor. 13:4-7) The gospels are a huge help in knowing the character of God. God is Christ-like.

Another way we can distinguish the voice of God is through tone. We know our mother’s voice because of the tone, or the way it sounds. It is similar with God. We can learn to hear his tone. God’s tone leads and invites us, instead of driving or pushing us. He is quiet, not loud.  We can also know if we heard from God by the effects of what we heard. His words bring peace, love and joy, not anger, worry, or discouragement.  We will be more hopeful, not hopeless. Our faith will be increased. We will be more understanding of others, rather than hating others or thinking we are better than others.

Consider a silent listening prayer before dinner or quiet listening time before bed as spots in the day to cultivate listening. I love to hear what my children hear from God. After they share, we ask, does that sound like something God would say. Does it follow the tone of scripture, is the character like Christ? If so, we go with it.

In what ways are your children hearing from God?

By the way, much of the above material was borrowed from Dallas Willard’s Hearing God, and Jan Johnson’s Learning to Hear God, A Personal Retreat Guide. You didn’t think I figured this out on my own, did you?

“Still Good” Saturday: A Conversation with God-Children and Prayer

This blog in it’s original form was posted at http://www.Renovare.org

I’m not sure who learned the most. Really I’m sure, but let me have my dignity for just a moment.

It was the first day of deer hunting season so I knew the church would be nearly vacant. I was right.  As I was gathering my wits for the Preschool Sunday School class, Jeffery meandered in, head hung low, frown draped across his face.

I mustered up a jolly, “Hello.”

And Jeffery shot back, “Guess it’s just me and you.”

This room is familiar to him and so am I. I see him every week.

“Well Jeffery, should we start by talking with God?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t know how.”

“Talking to God is just like talking to me. You can do it anytime or anywhere…. Bla, bla, bla…”

Jeffery had long since tuned me out and began playing with the glue and the glitter. Frankly I had tuned me out. Talking about prayer is like talking about eating ice cream or riding a roller coaster, words pale in comparison to the real thing.

Finally, I quit talking and watched Jeffery. He had opened the Beginners Bible to the story of Noah. “Read this to me he said.”

So I did.

“Let’s make some art.” He said.

So we did.

We found every color of glitter and paint we could imagine. We made the most sparkly rainbow ever. The best detail was the angel beside the rainbow, a big beautiful brown angel with yellow wings and just behind the brown I could see kind eyes and a huge red smile.

I said, “Your angel, he’s smiling.”

“The angel is wearing God’s smile.” He said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“He told me.” Jeffery said while adding a last splash of gold glitter.

I suppressed the urge for one more teaching lecture how listening to God is prayer, and how art can also be prayer.

Instead I picked up the green glitter and prayed.

This weekend break out the art supplies with your littlest people, maybe read a Bible story, or how about Psalm 150… then pray. Don’t use words…

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.

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.

Sabbath Moments

Our pastor is doing a series about the 10 commandments this summer. Our children’s curriculum is following that series so the entire family hears the same thing each week. A few weeks ago was our turn to teach the kids. We even got to choose which commandment we wanted to teach on. We thought teaching the Sabbath would be easy…but to children? As we thought about it…do no work…rest…take time to do nothing and reflect…we thought about our kids…WHO DO NOTHING! Haha… don’t take that the wrong way. Our kids have and do chores. They have animals that they care for. They maintain their own rooms. They do things for our elderly grandparents. But not without being asked. Not without direction to do so. If we let our kids just go for a day they will find random devices to play on or jump on the trampoline for hours or draw/write in their rooms or just plain play/waste the day away. It irritated me that I was thinking my kids whole lives are Sabbath!

So we thought and pondered some more.  This is not a direction given to adults only. My kids have relationships with God so it is as much for them as for me. So what did we learn in trying to teach kids about keeping a Sabbath?

1. It does not have to be a certain day.

2. Kids are great Sabbath keepers. They are not bound up in the busy busy American lifestyle. They live to relax and recharge.

3. I need to watch and learn from them…there is a time for everything. A time to play, a time to dance, a time to clean, a time to let it go!

4. During certain times of the year Sabbath moments are all we can get. My kids are busy during school and more relaxed in the summer…my schedule is always full but I can find a moment to redirect my thoughts to Jesus.

5. Sabbath is not just a relax and do no work day. It is a set aside (holy) time to reflect on Jesus and HIS work and worth in our lives.

6. Kids know how to relax but need to be trained (as we all do) to be intentional about focusing on Jesus.

7. Some of my favorite Sabbath moments are…

a. Late afternoon (almost) every day Mike and I sit down together and have a glass of something and just be…if only for a few minutes.

b. I love to hang out laundry. I have been known to work from the outside in on my round clothesline. It is peaceful and smells like Jesus in the middle of that circle

c. Music…dancing with my people…pretending we are the band…singing in the kitchen

d. Mowing the lawn

e. Going to the mountains, beach, forest, canyon, lake, anywhere natural where again you can smell Jesus and see just how creative he is

f. Just that 5 minutes before we fall asleep.

I could go on and on because this taught us to look for and appreciate those moments. Those moments where we can make it an intentional Sabbath. We want to teach our kids that “down time” can be productive in our relationship with Jesus and to the kingdom of God.  So Happy Sabbath Friday!

 

Rain on Me

Here in Western Colorado rain is a big deal. I live at 7,800 ft above sea level; I live in high desert. Pinion Pines, Prickly Pear and Sagebrush dot our landscape. Most of our moisture comes in the form of snow in the winter… and in the form of rain in late July and early August.

After the dog days of June and July, hot and dry, fire fears, and sun burns; rain is life. Today as I packed up my things to go and listen to children, I could smell the rain coming. It’s like the sagebrush let off their sweetest smells in anticipation. The cats burrowed in the hay, the goats bedded down. All the earth knew rain was coming and prepared accordingly. The horses were feeling it too, they ran the length of the fence to show me so.

I arrived at my destination and set up my things, invited a child in and listened, Holy Listening.

Rain. Rain was on the lips of the children. “What is it about the rain?” I asked.

“It’s like what new feels like,” said one.

“It’s like God’s says ‘shhh. I’ve got something to say,'” said another.

“I like to play outside when it’s raining. Have you felt it on your face?” asked a boy.

“Well yes, when I arrived.” I said.

“No, not like that. When it’s on your face and your just there to catch it,” he replied.

Humm… when was the last time I stood out in the rain just to catch it. Just to hush up and hear God’s whisper through water, to feel with my skin what new feels like.

Tonight.

Teeth brushed, drinks given, I asked my own children, “Where did you see God today?”

“In the rain,” they both said.

“Today when I was going to the garden and it started to rain. It was soft and strange, but made me feel clean,” says the one who hates to bathe. (I wanted to ask, so was this a good thing?)

“It’s like this, Mom. Rain is like how God wants to help us be like Jesus. It’s strange because, well, people are mostly dry. We know rain keeps us alive and we know we need it to keep clean, but it’s so foreign and God knows it so he gives it to us in little bits.”

 

And a little child shall lead them… I think I’ll go sit outside, I hear thunder.

*Just in case you are wondering… the children gave me permission to use their words.

 

“I want my chore to be nothing”

My conversation with my Kadin (4 years old) went like this…

Kadin…”Why do I always have to empty the silverware from the dishwasher?”

Me…”Because it’s your chore.”

Kadin…”But I think I want my chore to be nothing. I want to just get to watch movies all day.”

Me…”But that doesn’t make you a better person or help you learn to be a good man.”

Then I hear God’s gentle whisper…”Do you hear yourself? Do you hear that sometimes you have to join in and do not just watch and let others do for you?”

WOW! I love when God speaks and I KNOW it. I have been pondering all day and actually for several days if what I have been hearing is God or me. There is a need at our church for youth leaders. I am not volunteering for that as I lead 3 youth already and am satisfied with my role. However, I have been questioning a quickening in my spirit that says I have something to say to the teen group. I thought maybe I was just feeling the need to be needed, or involved, or to feel important. But hearing this bit from the mouth of my boy and feeling a nudge from Jesus, I remember that I am not insignificant in his kingdom either. Just as my asking Kadin to help with chores, with his much older and experienced siblings, can be a pain and time consuming for me, it is worthwhile as it teaches him and makes him know that I love him and care about his future self.  God asks me sometimes to step out of my “I want my chore to be nothing” comfort zone and do… for my own sake.

1 Corinthians 10 says, ” Forget about self-confidence…cultivate God-confidence…He wants us, all or nothing…The point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.” (the Message) I also am reading ‘Generous Orthodoxy’ by Brian McClaren and have had an epiphany of sorts as he discusses “personal” salvation and how sometimes it becomes all too personal and not enough relational. Jesus saves me and asks that I share that salvation with others. Not for my glory but for his. My chore of “nothing” just leapt to everything. In everything I do I want to share, show, relate Jesus and his love and salvation so that others can know him too.

I am still unsettled on how worthy I am to speak to the youth group. I feel like I am not educated enough, or exciting enough, or spiritual enough to have anything of value to say. But I also know that sometimes God asks me to do something for my own growth just as I ask Kadin to put the silverware away.

 

Routines of the Heart

Teeth are brushed, we’ve all gone potty and we’ve read through, “My Crayons Talk” and “Dr. Dog” twice already. As I lean back against the headboard of the bed, Kaiser turns to me expectantly and says, “I’m ready, Mom.” I ask what he’s ready for. “For telling you when I felt happy or sad today. Can you read it?” This is the first time he’s asked for our Good Dirt reading and I smile at the thought.

It’s wonderful when a good routine is embraced. Our culture talks a lot about breaking out of the routine, the mundane. But the Kingdom of God is furthered by the small things – often the things found in routine.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine expresses repentant responses.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine develops a rhythm of forgiveness.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine nurtures grateful hearts.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine challenges us to choose joy despite dire circumstances.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine demands that we remember.

When we are living the Kingdom Way, our routine builds courage.

This routine isn’t the time of day we wash the dishes and clean the house or feed the chickens. It’s not the time we set aside for hobbies or visiting friends. It’s not the time we set on our alarm clock for waking up the next morning. And yet it’s in all those things. Kingdom routine is set in the heart and is the regularity of reaching for God. Looking toward Him. Longing for Him. Worshiping and glorifying Him. Crying out to Him and talking with Him.

Without this routine, we won’t develop any of the characteristics of those who walk the Kingdom Way. When we aren’t walking the Kingdom Way, this routine cannot be established and we will wallow in the shallowness of simply filling our time.

If this heart routine is fed and watered by sitting down at the end of the day with my son to read the Scriptures, quiet ourselves before God and let him tell me when he felt happy or sad today……well then, we have a good routine.

-Tamara

A Summer of Serving

With only 4 days of school left until summer, the excitement level at our house is running extremely high. I clearly remember that feeling as a child, with all of summer before you. No real commitments, just lots of lazy mornings and free time. Heavenly.

As a mom, I’m still excited about summer–especially the part where all of us don’t have to be ready to leave the house by 8am each morning. But there is also a sense of trepidation, and any other mom with school-age children knows exactly what I mean. Because there will be no more alone time for 2 and a half months. There will be two children who become better at bickering by the day. There will be “I’m bored,” “I’m hungry,” and “He hit me!” And there will be a sense that every other “good mom” has daily creative art projects and science experiments and other Pinterest-inspired boredom-busters, all ready to go on day 1 of summer.

One of the internet’s favorite ways to deal with all of this is a summer bucket list. Mommy bloggers everywhere are creating chalkboards and signs and printables full of great summer ideas: Camp in the backyard. Have a water balloon fight. Make s’mores and smoothies. Play in the sprinklers. It’s a nice idea, as it gives you something to do when boredom sets in and helps you keep track of all that you hope to accomplish before the first day of school. We’ve made one every summer for the past few years, and plan to do it again this year.

And yet… One of my favorite parts of “Good Dirt” is the daily questions, when we have time to intentionally ask our children things like, “Where did you see God’s goodness and love today?” “How did God meet your needs?” “What did you do for others today?” It was that last question that got me thinking about our summer list. Every year we fill it with fun ideas that will grow us together as a family. That’s wonderful, except it doesn’t teach my children much about serving others. That’s when I remembered that somewhere, filed away in the back of my mind, was this list written by a local blogger. A Summer Service List, loaded with acts of service that help our children think outside of themselves and see the ways they can meet others needs right where they are. Things like:

  • Write letters to grandparents
  • Do your sibling’s chores
  • Bring flowers to a friend
  • Surprise someone with a “just because” gift
  • Donate toys and clothes

This year our family will be adding in some service ideas to our summer list, so that it’s not just about us, but also about ways we can use what we have to love others. What about you? Does your family make a summer list? Any other service ideas to share?

Happy summer!

-Carolyn