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

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Rhythm

Rhythm, if there is something that I know it’s that some of us have rhythm naturally and some of us don’t.

One of my favorite things of living in West Africa is the dancing, and maybe that’s cliché but it’s true. There is something so beautiful watching Africans dancing and every tribe or region has its very own dance. The music doesn’t matter, most often there isn’t any music, only the drums and that’s all that matters, the rhythm. Last week our campus celebrated the graduation of the discipleship training school and part of the celebration was dancing. In one particular dance, the African men would do the dance out front and then the women, both sets completely on time and amazingly agile. There were three non-Africans with them, whites to be specific, and they too joined in the dance. But it was quite a different dance. Not because they intended on doing a different dance but something in them couldn’t quite find the rhythm. They had fun and everyone cheered for them but the rhythm just wasn’t there.

In Good Dirt, we talk about setting up a rhythm to doing the devotional with our children. Trying to set a rhythm to it and work it into our daily lives. Although we are four months into it, I have struggled over and over again to do a set rhythm and I have finally thrown my hands up in defeat. I can’t seem to get the attention of my children to do it more than once a day, actually that once a day is a challenge by itself. As I wonder if I am the only white girl who can’t find the rhythm in this figurative dance (because I am always that white girl in the real dancing around here) I realize that I am trying to dance my own families dance to someone else’s drum beat. Our family isn’t the formal type, we are not very good at specific set traditions; we are more the spontaneous, flexible family type. So I have had to come up with our own rhythm, starting with getting my two year old on my lap and getting her to ask Jesus to focus her heart, her mind, her eyes, her ears, and all of her on him, while pointing to each body part as she does it. Wow, it has worked wonders in getting her to engage in reading time. I have started to try to simply incorporate our talking to God throughout the day as I remember. It’s starting to look a bit more like a beautiful dance with God. I finally see it, it’s not a sloppy movement of good intentions, but rather a rhythm of dancing with God in the everyday sloppiness of our lives. Maybe I will only have to be the rhythm-less white girl in the actually dancing. Here is to each family finding their rhythm of dancing with God.

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 Opportunity of Night

Nights can be tough for children. The “If I should die before I wake,” sorts of prayers aren’t really helping things. Seriously.

Nights, specifically right before bed, open the space for deep conversations and rich solitude. As a parent I view 8:30 as the finish line to freedom and I fight the urge to rush our end of the day conversations and prayers. Gone are the days when they can’t read the prayers and therefore don’t know I skipped the middle.

Now they read and lead the prayers, good stuff for sure, but it takes longer.

For Lent, I’m practicing slow bedtime. Long conversations and lingering prayers. I’m convinced (or I wouldn’t be doing it) that this time prepares the space for solitude which is quiet, alone, private time with God.

Here’s the Evening Prayer we’re using this season.

Child-Like Friendship with God: Evening Prayer

Together in BOLD and Italicized

May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen

Luke 18:16-17

But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

A time of silence to review the day. (This is where you might ask your “Weed” questions from Good Dirt.)

Psalm 131

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up.

My eyes are not raised too high for thee.

I do not think on things to great or marvelous

Or matters too difficult for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul

Like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord make me dwell in safety.

The Lord’s Prayer

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Lord, you now have set us free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be. Amen.

 

*Pieced together from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours and Shane Clairborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer

Light for the New Year, Light for the Neighborhood

Used under Creative Commons License.

Used under Creative Commons License.

Part of Anne Lamott’s story  has stayed with me like a persistent whisper even years after reading her memoir Traveling Mercies. A few families in her childhood opened their lives and gave her a sense of God and his Word and life with him. Her own parents didn’t believe, yet in a 1960’s San Francisco culture of drugs and alcohol Anne was drawn to God. She experienced life with the believing families of various friends and her own sense of a living, personal God took root.

We Quinns live in a busy suburb here in Colorado, surrounded by houses next door, behind, and across the street. Mormons live behind us, several Hindu families from India are down the street, and a mix of other Christian and unbelieving households live all around. Our culture doesn’t mirror Lamott’s of the ’60s, but we have our own demons to be sure. We’ve walked with neighbors through deaths on each side of our home, one a suicide and one a father with Cystic Fibrosis. We feel the weight of materialism, strained marriages, self- and entertainment-focused living, career pressures.  Our street has seen a baby born to an unwed 19-year-old, teenagers crawling out of upstairs windows at night, a marriage happen between singles who shared a back fence, divorce, and lots of pet-sitting, lawn-mowing, house-siting, even a dog swap!

We love the people who share this little piece of Colorado with us. We’ve gotten to know many of them and we spend considerable time with some. I pray for neighbors almost daily as I walk for exercise, we pray for them at family meal times, and we try to follow the Spirit’s moving to share the with-God life as we try and live it. We Quinns are so flawed … we fumble all the time in loving each other and others … we’re so much on the journey ourselves. But somehow–I think it’s like the mustard seed that Jesus’ preached–God’s presence takes hold and He enters lives.

New Year’s Eve each year we get together with the family across the street. Fondue, games, and ringing in the New Year has become a tradition all the kids relish, and this year we added some Good Dirt! Our neighbor kids didn’t understand about “family devotion time” so we talked about it when they came early before dinner. After the long meal around pots and platters of food, we read about Service and talked about what a spiritual discipline is. Our 8-year-old has trouble transferring that word discipline into the “good” category, so we all went round some more together on the concept, and then our teenager read about Jesus, the Light of the world. Our neighbor parents jumped in with ideas on when we might need Jesus’ light in our lives. All the kids agreed that when they’re afraid of monsters, Jesus’ light is a good thing, and sometimes when they’re at school they really need the light of Christ for help.

Those minutes of sitting together focused on Jesus were a bright spot New Year’s Eve; Jesus’ light indeed filled our time together. I hope these kinds of moments continue to fill our year. I want to thank Lacy and Ben for writing Good Dirt, for putting together this blogging community, and for overseeing the process as we all journey together. Jesus’ light is reaching our family in warm, daily ways. And it’s reaching our neighborhood family, too. We’ll never be anyone’s salvation. But Jesus the Savior might be. Yes, come Lord Jesus.

“Whoever follows me … will have the light of life.” John 7:12

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.

Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving

Folded up in the back of my recipe box are greasy sheets of notebook paper filled with Mike’s scrawling. Homemade stuffing. How to make turkey gravy. How to stuff the turkey. How to make a pie crust. All written during numerous phone calls with his mom between Denver and Chicago. They’re from our first years of marriage, and those greasy pages have guided us through many a Thanksgiving production over the years.

Early on, Mike’s parents came for the holiday about every other year; eventually they moved here. My mom and extended family have always come, and year by year a baby or two joined the mix–a child of ours, a new cousin. For so many years the cooking happened in-between nursing and diaper changes, naps and play breaks. We set up assembly lines of bread and vegetable chopping, onion-simmering, turkey-cleaning. Grandparents came a day early for food prep, and year by year the boys began to grasp that Thanksgiving is all about lots of commotion, good smells, plans with family, hours of play time with cousins, games and sitting close with grandparents, and sometimes new, friendly faces.

If I’m honest, there have been tiring days and weeks getting ready for these gatherings. We’ve had plenty of cooking fiascos. Just last year the foil turkey pan was gouged with a knife and I found turkey juice and oil days later seeped down inside the cupboard. But it’s also gotten a little easier over time. The recipes have become so familiar we don’t have to pull them out and follow the steps. The boys help with food and place cards. It’s become a traditional, anticipated season.

Not so in my own childhood. Holiday traditions took a turn when my parents split up and each year became a different combination of here and there and what and how. We gave up on tradition and, without saying it in so many words, simply accepted each holiday for what it brought and who we were with. Now, two of my siblings and one of Mike’s also face this reality of back and forth with kids and ex-spouses. Once again, we all have learned to take the day as it comes.

When I think about Thanksgiving as a parent and as a moderately accomplished Thanksgiving chef who accepts any and all help, I come back to those gravy-stained recipes and realize that family love and grace, shared together and with others, is what holidays are meant to be in the spirit of Jesus. Tradition is wonderful when it fits. When that recipe doesn’t work, flexing with one another and appreciating each hour for what it brings is really what it means to be grateful. No doubt all our families are stained and worn in one way or another. It’s in unfolding those grease-covered pages of our lives and partaking together in whatever the day holds that we really live out with our kids the meaning of Thanksgiving.