Good Dirt Sunday

 * This is an excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide and Pentecost
LENT
Lent is the season of the divine paradox: we must die to live. Nature echoes this paradox. Seeds must die to live. Stars die to birth galaxies. It is the way of creation, and we are created. While the other seasons of the church burst withlife, Lent brings us firmly to our deaths. As we observe Jesus’ walk toward his cross, we become aware of our own. As he said, we must die to live. Using our gardening metaphor, Lent is weed-pulling and tree-pruning. It is the decay of composted materials that will eventually enrich our soul soil. My (Lacy) gardening is a comedy of errors, except there’s not much laughing.
Two springs ago I decided I needed a strawberry garden. I hauled over goat manure to mix into the soil before planting my tiny new plants, some fifty of them. I painstakingly designed my watering system and dreamed of the mouth-watering delights that would soon be my reward.
Boy, was I wrong. The little plants did grow, but so did the hidden enemy: the not-so-decomposed alfalfa seed in the manure. My Mom always said manure was nothing but grass and water; now I knew she was right. Since the manure wasn’t fully composted, along with my precious strawberry plants I inadvertently planted alfalfa. Somewhat digested alfalfa, but alfalfa nonetheless. In an alfalfa field, alfalfa is good; in a strawberry garden, bad. I spent the remainder of the spring and summer and fall and until blessed winter came, pulling weeds. Everybody got a chance to pull weeds. Children, grandparents, visitors all took a turn in the strawberry garden. One hot summer afternoon I was pulling in this garden, which is flanked by an old St. Francis statue that  has been repainted by various children who seem to have gained their painting skills from the circus. I desperately wanted to burn the whole patch down, with fire or chemical. All this work for a few delights that I could buy from the grocery store didn’t seem worth the effort. I stared at St. Francis, giving him the stink eye, like all of this was his fault. He smiled his usual smile and continued to hold out the bread and wine.
I persistently pulled those weeds while my mind drifted to spiritual practices. The efforts that make our spirits strong and healthy are often like weed pulling. Confession, fasting, simplicity, submission are just a few that came to mind that afternoon. Eventually I began a routine of confession each time I stepped into that weedy holy ground. This confession was a conversation with God in which I could tell the truth about myself and tell the truth about God.
This is Lent.
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Full Circle

We’ve come full circle with the Good Dirt devotionals. It was a little bit exciting to read that final entry of the year and look forward to waking up in the morning to our Advent Wreath and new book!

Thank you, Lacy & Ben for this year’s challenge to walk with you through the devotional readings with our family and for holding us to the enriching dialogue of walking the Kingdom Way.

Happy Waiting!

Tamara

What are your markers?

I like to think of the Seasons of the Church as an opportunity to mark our lives by the life of Jesus. Everyone marks their lives by something.

Often as parents we mark our lives by the developmental stages of our children. Or we might mark our lives by a joyful and traumatic events. For one year, what would it look like to mark your life by the life of Jesus?

Our children are still going to develop, we will still have joy and trauma, but what would it look like to step back and see these markings within the vision of the life of Jesus?

Advent starts Sunday November 30th. You can purchase Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany here.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Dirt-Advent-Christmastide-Epiphany/dp/1482697459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415985946&sr=8-1&keywords=good+dirt

It can also be downloaded for free on our web site.

Here’s an excerpt from Good Dirt…

“In this devotional we are immersing our lives in the life of Jesus by celebrating the Seasons of the Church. Another way to say it is that we are marking our lives by the life of Jesus. The Christian Church began formally celebrating Easter as early as 325AD, and even before that Israel had seasons of fasting and feasting to mark their story with God throughout the ages. There is a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. 

The seasons follow a pattern of preparation, celebration, and then living out what we have prepared for and celebrated. In Advent we prepare for God with us, at Christmastide we celebrate God with us, and during Epiphany we step into a life with God. In Lent we prepare for our own death and the death of Jesus, at Eastertide we celebrate that he died, is risen and us with him, and during Pentecost and Kingdomtide we live out his resurrection and ours.

We are meant to live seasonally. Who can feast all the time without becoming a glutton? Who can fast or mourn all the time without losing their mind? When our days lose the gift of thankfulness and celebration we become a depressed and dying people. As the physical seasons set the rhythm of the earth, so the church seasons can set our rhythm to the rhythm of Christ.”

So how about it?

One last word from Carlo Carretto, “To have found God, to have experienced him in the intimacy of our being, to have lived even for one hour in the fire of his Trinity and the bliss of his Unity clearly makes us say: ‘Now I understand. You alone are enough for me.'”

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.

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.

A Reminder in the Ordinary days

I have come to believe that children exists not for the purpose of becoming adults but rather for the purpose of reminding adults how to be childlike. Let me illustrate. Several weeks ago my husband shared with our mission community about the importance of remembering Emmanuel, God with us. It was a short sermon, mostly challenging us on how we live out every day in this awareness of God being with us. Later we were discussing what this means to us and my six year old shared that it’s like sometimes when he is sick, he forgets. He forgets that God is with him in that moment. Such simplicity and yet so powerful truth there.

As we enter into the ordinary days, the days of the calendar that is not full of celebrations or holy days to remind us, it’s so easy to forget. It’s too easy to think of Emmanuel as the phrase of Christmastide and not of the everyday. This is where children come in handy, see my three year old does not forget easily. She is very sharp and that message on Emmanuel was powerfully embedded in her heart. Sometimes as a punishment, I will make her go sit in her room “all by herself” for which since she heard this message, she replies, “Not by myself mom, because Jesus is always with me.” What do you say to that? Or when the stuff animal needed to stay home from the car trip, “Oh mom, your right it’s okay that Coco stays, because Jesus is with him too.” Most of all through I have been taught by my little girl how the full belief in this truth truly does cast out all fear. Last week, while she was playing outside with her friend, I lost sight of them for a few minutes, but being confident that they were in the area didn’t worry too much about it. Later when she came inside she was telling me a story about her going to the school, which we have on the campus but is a good 500 yards from our house down a little path through the bush, so I figured that she was using her imagination for a good story. At lunch I learned from one of the students that she did indeed walk the entire distant in the bush to visit them at school, and when the student told her that it wasn’t safe for her to come out there alone she simply said “I wasn’t alone, Jesus was with me.”

As much as I abhor the thought of my three year old tromping through the bush by herself, I am so thankful that she knows no fear. I love the fact that she isn’t unaware of the danger but rather confident of the constant presence of Jesus, so there is no fear in that danger. I have been so challenged by her complete confidence and rest assurance every day that Jesus is with her. Through Good Dirt, we aren’t just trying to teach our children how to have a family devotion or a daily quiet time, through those things are good, we are trying to teach them how to make God apart of their everyday, every moment of life. Yet, who would have known that instead they would be teaching me these very things. That moment when I am scared or unsure, how easy it is to forget Emmanuel, yet, this beautiful princess in my sight is a constant reminder that indeed God is with us.

Glad Places

IMG_1576

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.

 

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

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.