Just Like a Snowflake

© Julie Falk. Used under Creative Commons License

© Julie Falk. Used under Creative Commons License

This week we reach the mid-point of Epiphany, and this morning two of my boys and I had a fitting conversation on the way to school. First, I will backtrack.

We started off Ephiphany in early January talking about Jesus, the Light of the World. This season of Epiphany (between Christmastide and Lent) is focused on just that–Jesus revealed to us as Savior, Messiah, Light of the World. And as we have basked in the glow of Jesus during this season, we have also considered how he calls us to let our light shine before others. Our family has prayed many prayers thanking Jesus for being the Light and asking him to shine his light in our lives. I wrote a blog about how we even entered into discussions of Jesus, the Light, with our neighbors one night.

The family and neighbor time has been meaningful, though devotional. We don’t often know how the talk will translate into the rest of life. And then last week my 8-year-old came home from school with a paper from Bible class asking what he could do to help another who was hurting. His answer, in a 3rd grader’s block print, was to

“share the light with them.”

And then this morning on the way to school, after a weekend of Colorado snow and cold, this same 8-year-old asks, “Mom, why does the snow sparkle?”

“Well, snowflakes are little ice crystals, and when light shines on water or ice it reflects back to us and sparkles.”

And then Derrin’s response, “Why  doesn’t dirty snow sparkle?”

Hmmm… Teaching moment appears, despite early morning and a Monday. “Dirt fills up the snowflake so that light can’t shine through it. It’s kind of like sin, huh? When we’re filled with sin we can’t shine Jesus’ light. But when Jesus’ life is living in us it clears away the dirt so that we can shine just like a clean snowflake. ”

The car gets quiet and we ride alongside banks of clean, sparkling snow and also dull, dirty roadside slush.  I think about how God brings truth to life again and again in our lives. His Word is living and active–with a house full of people of many ages and backgrounds, at a 3rd grader’s desk, in a car on an almost-tardy morning. And God lives through his Word, through Jesus’ life in us, differently every time and for each person. Kind of like a snowflake. No two are the same. Every time, every one, new and unique.

An Epiphany of shining moments.  An Epiphany of Light.

Dirty Work and New Growth

sprout

© 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.

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

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.

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.

Meet the Quinns: An Unlikely Journey

quinn

We’re an unlikely family. Mike and I married after being single for quite a few years, and then we waited a few more years to have kids. As two introverts who are very content reading the evening away, we’d have laughed you out of town if you’d told us we had three lively boys in our future.

Well, laughter happened over a baby in the Bible. It seems that baby surprises are more common than not when God is on the move. And so here we are, fourteen years later and still wondering how in the world you parent boys, how you keep a household running and clean and fun and meaningful as the world presses in on all sides and the culture won’t pipe down about what we need to do, watch, buy, see, and be.

It’s hard to parent day in and day out. Hard to keep up with children’s changing stages and capabilities. Hard to know when to let it be hard and enforce anyway, and when to let up and let them own their choices. And hard to stay connected personally with God while also teaching and guiding our kids in spiritual growth.

The parable of the soils is one of my long-time favorites. I’ve known Jesus since I was small and for many years I’ve carried with me the mental image of good dirt, of green things growing and thriving in dark, wet soil. It’s a metaphor that’s always worked for me and it’s been the focus of my prayers for people I’ve loved. Being dirty is pretty common around our house. Being good dirt, though, isn’t a given, for me or for my kids. I hope it will be true for us, nonetheless.

And so, this Good Dirt adventure is one Mike and I are eager to enter and live out together with our kids. Helping them to understand the spiritual disciplines, letting them experience how the choices in our days make us who we are in God, helping them to see that words and habits and attitudes of the heart matter a lot, that our life with God is worth more than anything else in this life. This is what we’re seeking. This is the quest for the Good Dirt.

An unlikely journey? Maybe. But unlikely journeys are always part of the story when God is on the move. We’re looking forward to embarking on the Good Dirt adventure together with you.