Dirty Work and New Growth

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© Veronica Foale, used under Creative Commons License.

Kids never cease to surprise. Over Christmastide, the period of the twelve days of Christmas beginning December 25, our family had a time of sitting together and focusing for more than 30 minutes on both the spiritual parallels for the 12 Days of Christmas song and then on what spiritual disciplines are, why we practice them, and some discussion on a few specific disciplines.

We are using a book titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi (which you can download for free to use with your family or purchase in paperback from Amazon, with two  subsequent issues for upcoming parts of the church year available soon). The book has a brief family devotion for every day, centered around the theme of planting and growing–our souls, both kids and adults, are like plants that need good dirt and helpful conditions in order to grow and flourish with God. Each of the few steps in the daily devotion fills a planting metaphor: we till the soil with prayer, we plant the seed of God’s Word by reading a noted Scripture passage, we water the soil by acting a story, drawing a picture, or talking about how God’s Word applies to our lives, and later on we weed, considering how we applied or failed to apply these themes in our day.

Our family has taken easily to the Good Dirt format and we’ve experienced meaningful times of listening to God and each other. That day during Christmastide stands out because we’d had a few days of being in and out of the house, active with extended family and various activities of the Christmas season. We had not spent time in our Good Dirt devotions for three or four days and there was much good material we’d missed. On this day, we started by discovering what none of us had known:

“Some say that the words of the [Twelve Days of Christmas] song were secret code for people to remember their faith during times of persecution.” ~ Good Dirt

For example, a partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens are the three virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love, and on it goes. This song with it’s Christian faith parallels is a fun way to help kids review important, foundational themes of our faith.

The Christmastide period, being twelve days, also fits ideally for bringing into discussion each of the twelve spiritual disciplines (as identified by Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines are grouped by inner, outer, and corporate disciplines and include prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. They all will be re-visited throughout the coming year in Good Dirt.

I mentioned that kids never cease to surprise, and here is why. On this day during Christmas, we didn’t set out to make up all of our lost ground in the devotional. We just started reading together and one thing led to another. Before we’d realized it, we had spent time on the song, talking about spiritual disciplines, and reviewing the first disciplines covered in the days we’d missed. And our boys tracked with us on every bit of it!

Our 8-year-old has been in perpetual motion since he was a toddler. He focuses just fine but cannot stop moving his body. Every Good Dirt session he is rolling on the floor, playing with a ball, walking around, or moving in some other sort of way. He learns and processes by moving;  it’s just who he is. Our 14-year-old is a teenager. He’s wonderful … and also a little hormonal at times. Our middle guy at age 11 is on the quieter side. He usually ends up helping to re-direct his brothers.

Three personalities, three stages in childhood. So, the reality of sitting for such a long period together and discussing some pretty involved areas of theology and spiritual training is something I wouldn’t have thought possible or advisable for us or anyone. Yet it became a time of fun and absorbing discussion and learning.

I’ve often thought about how much I have read and learned and experienced in my life with God and his people in the years I’ve lived, and how I want to share so much of that with my kids. A lot does come up in the living of life, often at the most unexpected moments. Yet, some of what I hope to share with them, like the spiritual disciplines and some of the more complex foundations of our faith, seems to stay on the periphery of our lives together, and though these do come into conversation at times, sometimes they do so without much framework or intentional commitment toward living out and practicing these habits and truths  in ongoing ways.

Good Dirt has begun to change that. I’m learning about my kids in the process. They are deep people. They can discuss and absorb spiritual ideas typically thought to be adult territory without missing a beat. They can venture deeper in their lives with God. We can do it together and learn from one another and God in simultaneous ways.

Getting dirty together has its benefits. Everything may not work, but sometimes the things we never would have tried become the soil for a brand new season of growth.

Have you experienced a similar time of spiritual growth with your children, where a surprising and unexpected route became a catalyst? Would it help your family to try out a resource like Good Dirt?

**You can follow various families blogging on their use of Good Dirt and its themes by subscribing for free here.

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Faith like a child

This is our second year celebrating advent and preparing ourselves for Christmas in our spirits not just in buying gifts. I was unsure at first how much of it my small children would get. I mean seriously how much can a five year old understand, the answer is more than I can know. My five year old son is always amazing me with this depth of connection with God already. As my husband asked him what he knew about Jesus he spoke such a clear gospel message that I wondered how I could have ever thought he wouldn’t get advent. His response for what he is most thankful from Jesus for today was, “His peace”. Indeed his peace is so true. In the last four weeks, peace has come to rest in our house, we chose to do the weeding section of the devotional right before bed and although in the beginning it was a bit hard to keep their attention, our children have never gone to bed with such ease or peace. Very rarely do they bicker or complain at bed time. It has also been a sweet time of them each cuddling up to mom or dad as we discuss how God was apart of our day. We finish each night with a prayer time, starting with our two year old and ending with dad. I can tell you nothing eases a hard days worth of work like hearing your two year old pray a blessing over you from heaven.

On Christmas night after the chaos ended, we sat around the tree reading the story of Jesus’ birth. Once we were finished, Ezekiel lead the family in acting out the story, with his baby brother playing the part of Jesus. It was beautiful, to be lead by our children in remembering what Christmas is all about. You can have faith and find faith for yourself but you can also pass it on to your children and this devotional is helping us as parents do that. On Christmas morning our son couldn’t find his first gift and was very upset about making the whole house look for it. Then we reminded him to pray, to ask Jesus for his help, about ten minutes later it was found and he learned that he could trust God to help him in his time of need. I may not have a wealth of money to pass down to him but if I can give him the full understanding of God’s love for him, my life is worth it.
The blessing is that no matter how old you are there is no limit to God’s word impacting us. The day we read of the last supper and how Peter denied Christ, Joseph was reminded how weak we are, no matter how Godly you think you are or how strong in the Lord, it’s impossible to serve Him without His help.
It’s beautiful to look back at this last month and see how much we as individuals and family has grown together and in the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Good Dirt Families community!

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

—W.H. Auden, “Christmas Oratorio”

Pondering All These Things

© macinate, used under Creative Commons License.

© macinate, used under Creative Commons License.

How is it that amid all the bustle and keeping of commitments during this season, a mother can be deep in thought about the future and the present and the shape of her kids’ spirits? It makes me smile to realize that the pondering I’m doing is not really so odd. There was another mother who pondered the child she held and the shape of his future and his spirit.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

Mary pondered Jesus’ life on the day of his birth, and all these years later as we look back on that humble yet glorious day, I feel in the best of company doing some pondering at Christmas over three boys and the way the Spirit of Christ is forming and shaping their futures.

Are they growing more and more in their sense that God is life and life is God? Do they get that what matters most is a life lived daily with God? Are they learning to be still inside and listen to the voice of the Spirit? Are they learning to live and grow in community with the people of God? Are they learning to choose the hard way  sometimes rather than the easy way or the attractive way or the natural way because sometimes it’s the road more difficult that brings life?

Mary pondered how the particulars would play out for this Savior babe. She considered how it would be that the Child born of her loins would mean eternity for every soul to ever live.

And I ponder how this Christ Child will day by day, year by year draw my children into an ever-deepening life with himself, Immanuel, God-with-us. As we focus with our boys on Jesus’ birth, I think along with Mary about all Jesus means to me and to them.  It’s the story of Jesus that I ponder as I consider my kids’ stories and how they will live into–and out of– this story of Christ.

Christmas and pondering. The season of the Story gives us mothers and fathers a lot to think about.

Informal Advent

Living the Seasons of the Church is new to us.  Neither Mike nor I grew up knowing anything about Advent or its meaning.  My family had an advent calendar growing up but I just thought it was a candy countdown to presents. I still have that one… however I don’t use it any longer. I used to put a candy in it when it was just Isabella, then Quinn came along and doesn’t like a lot of candy so Isabella would eat his too. Then I just got frustrated that we had just finished our bowl of Halloween candy and this was not about candy and I didn’t like counting down to presents anyway. It seemed so hollow.

Over the past couple of years we have learned about the Seasons more. We are still newbies but love the intentionality of it. I love the history and that we are participating in something that believers have used for centuries. Mike likes the non ritualistic aspect of Advent. He is enjoying the tool of the remembering. He has always been averse to the Christmas holiday being so over rated.  We don’t have the traditional wreath with the pastel colors. We have a 5 candle stand with 4 white and 1 red. It sits on Kadins royal blue Superman cape. It reminds us not only that Jesus satisfies tradition but is constant with the times too…plus he is Superman!

Our family hasn’t been able to get the tempo of doing our readings in the morning. Our daughter leaves for school before our youngest is even up. So our daily rhythm begins with Mike taking her to the bus stop and praying with her individually.  As the boys get up, our days go many directions but we know we will be together in the evenings.

My favorite thing is the anticipation of knowing that we will sit down as a family. Just last night our big girl said “Daddy during our bible study will you rub my neck?”  Kadin our 4 year old not only lit the candle by himself at 11:00 am (I know! SCARY… we had a talk!) but also asked if we would pray for his cut finger at our night prayer time. Quinn is our most scheduled and loves that he is the candle lighter each time.

We are not rigid people. We find ritual restricting. We don’t eat at scheduled times, we don’t hardly ever show up anywhere on time, we don’t have strict timetables for work as we work for ourselves. But learning to live this season is breath to our lungs. Our family has struggled through some very hard times recently and the anticipation that tonight I will sit with my most beloved people and Jesus will be there too makes me smile.

The Many Voices of Christmas

© Luke Saagi, used under Creative Commons License.

© Luke Saagi, used under Creative Commons License.

What’s not to like about Christmas? It’s a wonderful season. The music and good cheer, bright lights and parties, secrets and stories and sentiment. It’s a magical time for children, and a time that as parents we love for our children’s sake even as we cherish quietly, and with them, the focal point of the whole celebration–the coming of Jesus to our lives.

This will be our fourteenth Christmas with children, and as I think back on the years and look toward another celebration this month, its the voices of Christmas that come flooding to mind. The voices that have spoken into our choices about what and how to celebrate…

“What if Christmas, [Grinch] thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Three gifts for each child–Gold, something they will value and treasure. Frankincense, a gift to help them meet with God. Myrrh, something to anoint and care for their body.

Sinter Klaus Day, Dec. 6. A first gift to each child in celebration of the caring bishop who provided dowry’s for girls without one.

A birthday cake for Jesus on December 25.

Cub scout giving of gifts to needy families. Operation Christmas Child gift boxes. Gifts to men and women  serving far away in the military. Gifts to orphans  in Africa and others at risk worldwide.

Advent wreath lighting and reflection.

Epiphany remembrance and observance.

Creative and tasty gifts for neighbors.

Crafty holiday touches throughout the house.

Meal traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and Christmas lunch.

Caroling in nursing homes.

Gingerbread houses and cookie exchanges.

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.”

Oh, the list goes on. Each of us with many voices, many choices before us each year as we hurtle from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s. And laid back as we might be, surely we all have to squelch just the vaguest inclination toward a “Bah, humbug” as we spend our December days determined to remember the reason for the season and to keep the meaning the main thing as we live out all the ways of doing that.

Just last week I heard on the radio that many years ago, Christmas was not even celebrated. The church celebrated Easter in a big way, but because birthdays were not celebrated overall, the birth of Jesus just was not a church holy day. The thought. No Christmas, compared to ChristmasofToday. It’s a startling dichotomy.

An article by Eugene Petersen tells the story of his family’s Christmas when he was eight. Eugene’s mother had found  a passage in Jeremiah that seemed to speak against the tradition of Christmas trees, and so that year, much to his own and his neighbors’ chagrine, his family had no tree.  He reflects back now:

Mother, thank you …  for providing me with a taste of the humiliation that comes from pursuing a passionate conviction in Christ. Thank you for introducing into my spirit a seed of discontent with all cultural displays of religion, a seed that has since grown tree-sized. Thank you for being relaxed in grace and reckless enough to risk a mistake. Thank you for being scornful of caution and careless of opinion. Thank you for training me in discernments that in adult years have been a shield against the seduction of culture-religion. Thank you for the courage to give me Jesus without tinsel, embarrassing as it was for me (and also for you?). Thank you for taking away the Christmas tree the winter I was eight years old. And thank you for giving it back the next year.

I don’t know that we ever settle into an easy, contented Christmas rhythm. Much as we would like to, the good and the tradition and the holy are so intermingled that, without tossing away the holiday and stepping back a few hundred years, we can’t escape the cacophony of voices and choices year by year.

For me, one voice helps bring perspective each time I feel I’ve failed or fallen irreparably behind. Funny, it’s Scrooge again, but later in the story: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Each day, all year, is a celebration of Jesus’ life come to change mine. Each day is the time to spend meaningful moments with family, to care for another in need, to offer a thought-filled gift, to meet God in his Word over the light of a candle. It’s a wonderful season, and all the more when we let Christmas illumine each day of our lives.

Do As You Can…Not as You Can’t*

Sitting at dinner one night, my family was unusually quiet and no one would make eye contact with me.  They don’t call me 007 for nothing so I picked up on this right away.“Ok, what’s going on?” I demanded.  A barrage of “You tell her,”  “No, you tell her,” and “I’m not telling her,” filled the room.

Finally a confession was made. “I said we’d make cookies for the orchestra concert.”And a second confession, “We’re in charge of the department Christmas party this year.”  I don’t do well when I’m over-scheduled and everyone at the table knew it.  My mostly sane mother persona takes the last train to Clarksville. My family was afraid the train whistle was coming.

There is a danger in busyness and especially busyness in “spiritual activities.” There is a danger in Good Dirt.  In Good Dirt there are lots of activities that we, list makers will want to check off in order to feel good about ourselves. That is a serious danger. Checking things off in Good Dirt will not make you holy. God will not love you or your children more. (As if he could love you more than he already does…seriously.) Turning Good Dirt into a legalistic checklist of behaviors and activities to manipulate your family or God will make you crazy… or your family crazy and then you will start looking like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with eleven thousand twinkly lights, cutting off the newel post, and burning down your Christmas tree. (OK. Maybe not all that.)

Actually it’s more serious than that. Making a “to do” list out of a spiritual tools can lead two ways.

  1. Failure, we don’t measure up and then we think God doesn’t approve of us. His love or approval doesn’t hinge on what you’re doing.
  2. Success, you get all the things on the “to do” list checked off. Now, you are really hard to live with. Pride. You and yours are so holy because you have done x,y, and z. God is interested in who you are becoming, not how many religious practices you accomplish.

Ben and I have this really wonderful friend named Jan Johnson*. She has been telling us the same thing for years now,

“Do as you can, not as you can’t.”  

When you take a look at Good Dirt and you see a list of things to do, do them if you can. Do them if you think they will draw you and your people closer to Jesus. Choose a few, (few as in one or two) do those… linger over them, spend time talking to one another, open up the space for God to move.

The point is not a holy list of “have-tos.”

The point is to become more fully the person God has created us to be and that happens when we have the open space to really connect with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and our family.