On Suffering and Memories

A good friend of mine’s husband has been battling cancer for a while now. They are the kind of family that everyone loves, totally committed to God and such people of faith. During this journey they have seen amazing miracles when the doctors said such and such would happen and it didn’t and great seasons when it looked like all was well, then one day it wasn’t. Today is looks to be that he may be entering into his last days. Personally I cannot imagine what is going on in the heart and mind of my friend or her children, to be where you have to say goodbye to one of the closest person in your life… words fail me.

The other day, the children and I were reading our daily Good Dirt devotional, it was in Mark 14 when Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed in full faith, “Father all things are possible for you, remove this cup from me.” And it stuck me, Jesus in all of his humanity and all of his godhood, he desired to be removed from suffering. He prayed this prayer over and over again that night and although this may not be a huge revelation for most, to me it was a comfort. Jesus was prefect and yet in his perfection he still longed to be free from suffering and pain. I long for the same, I long that my friends would be freed from suffering and pain and from the pain that separation brings. Yet, sin is in our world and with that pain, suffering and death come to.

So everyday since, as I daily pray for my friends, I look for ways to celebrate each day with my children. For life is short and we truly never know how many more days we have together. My daughter is currently obsessed with the story “Curious George goes camping” desiring it to be read daily and asking regularly when we get to go camping. For many days I said “maybe someday” thinking of when we could be in a place where poisons snakes and malaria carrying mosquitoes do not lurk in the night. But after this I thought we better make it today. So we put up a tent in the bedroom and pulled all the cushions off the couch, we roasted marshmallows over the stove using forks and stayed up late watching a movie. We took a night off and made some memories.

In that same day of devotions, we were asked, “What is something you pray for?” Well I pray for a long life so that my children will have a lifetime of memories with me to help them endure the separation that death brings, and I pray that the God of Peace would grant his peace upon my friend, her family and every other family like theirs who’s family members life was not long enough and they endure the pain of separation too soon. I pray that every day, we would remember that each day is about making memories and not about routines or schedules, about relationships and life with God above all else. Those are just some of the things I pray for.

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The Poison in Every Day

© Veronica Foale. Used under Creative Commons License.

© Veronica Foale. Used under Creative Commons License.

I’ve thought a lot about sin and how we define sin these days, especially with kids. I went through many hours of training with the organization Child Evangelism Fellowship, and we memorized a definition, with motions, for sin.

“Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad or breaks his rules.”

In my years of church and Bible club teaching, I’ve used the definition countless times in explaining and reminding kids as we talk about sin and salvation. But over time I’ve tweaked the definition to make it one I think will speak to kids even better … and will travel with them as they grow.

“Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad because I’m doing it my way instead of God’s way.”

We live in a Postmodern world where truth is thought to be relative and so right and wrong are simply matters of personal decision. Really, the words right and wrong don’t have much of a place in our culture anymore. And while most young children don’t have issues with understanding sin and their own wrong-doing, the world they live in will soon test their inborn convictions.

All of these realities came to mind as two of my boys and I read John 7, a passage where Jesus stays away from Judea because the Jews are looking for an opportunity to kill him. “The world … hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil” (v. 7). As we used our Good Dirt devotional we talked about why people don’t like admitting they are wrong. And we talked about the discipline of Confession, telling God the truth about ourselves.

We took some quiet moments to pray silently, each of us, confessing our sin to God and asking for forgiveness. It was good time. Often in the past I have prayed with the boys before bed and asked God to forgive “us” for our sin from the day, knowing that we can only ask forgiveness for our own selves, but hoping my boys will take to this prayer of confession and make it their own. How much better, though, to let the quiet give them a place to do it personally, right here and now.

How often we forget even to acknowledge sin and ask forgiveness. It’s so easy, on our own and with kids in prayer, to ask for things and thank God for blessings. We’re forgiven once and for all through Jesus’ death on the cross. But we still struggle with sin in this life. Paul talks about it often in his letters in the Bible. Without regular confession of sin, and the receiving of God’s forgiveness, our hearts can’t stay tender and humble, letting God be God.

I recently heard the author of a children’s Bible speak on the radio. Sally Lloyd Jones (The Jesus Storybook Bible) talked about how we can explain sin to children.

“It’s like running away and hiding and thinking you can be happy without God, but God knows there is no such thing.”

“It’s a poison that makes your heart sick, so it won’t work properly anymore.”

When Jesus came to walk the earth and live with people, he was all about the heart. Everything we do and are is an overflow of the heart, Jesus stressed again and again. The heart can’t be happy without God. And the heart can’t be healthy without God.

May we, and our kids, guard our hearts every day by telling on ourselves. We need the discipline of Confession. It will travel with us as we grow.

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.

Faith

Faith.  Such an important word in our home.  My oldest daughter’s first name, given because of the walk that God took me on while I was carrying her.  And it’s the overriding topic of discussion in the Daniels home during this Epiphany season.  It’s a simple concept…but so much harder to live out in daily life.

Mark 5 tells us of a dying girl’s father, Jairus.  There was no wavering in Jairus’ words when he said to Jesus, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (NIV)  He believed.  So he asked.  In the same way, the sick woman came to Jesus in a place that couldn’t have been easy for her to be.  The people were pressing around Jesus.  It was standing room only, so to speak.  Bleeding for 12 years, I picture her, pale and wan, desperate after having tried every healing ointment and potion that others could recommend.  And yet, day after day, the very source of her life continued to flow from her body.  There is nothing to suggest that these two people had any knowledge of each other but they had one very important thing in common.  A firm faith in Jesus.  They both believed that He was exactly who He said He was.  And they both believed that a touch from Him could restore life and health.

This is the faith I want to have.  This is the faith that I want to share with my daughters.  I want them to rest fully in the knowledge that one touch from their Savior will set things right.  Maybe not in the way that they think, but always in the way that they need.  I hope that they will take the desires of their hearts to Him and that they will allow Him to shape those desires so that their hearts more fully resemble His.  I long for this for myself.  To rest so fully in the capable hands of the Son of God that I can’t help but search for Him, even in a place that is uncomfortable.  I want to be the kind of person who calls to Jesus first before I seek answers and comfort elsewhere.

Jesus restored health in both the life of the sick woman and the life of Jairus’ daughter. The sick woman felt health and vitality return to her body immediately.  A child, who had been dead, stood up and walked around and then had something to eat.   And all it took was a touch.  And faith enough to seek Him.

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.

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.

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.

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.