In Their Own Words… or Pictures

itop brain

“This is what my brain looks like when there are too many emotions and sounds and my brain gets a glitch it in and shuts down.”

“And this is what my brain looks like when God (in yellow) comes in and tells me it’s OK and to be still. His eyes say, ‘Peace.'”

itop brain2

-Nathaniel, a highly articulate 11 year old who lives with Aspergers




Good Dirt Sunday

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide 

Till: Jesus, we are all ears. We are listening to you! Help us to listen with our ears and our hearts. Help us obey, so we can be students who learn to be just like our teacher. Help us to be like you.

Plant:Mark 3:31–4:9


Draw it: Create a picture of the plants in each of the four soils: the hard road, the gravel, the weeds, and the good earth. Which of these plants is most like you?

Apply it: Jesus tells us that the people who are his students are as close to him as family. How does it make you feel to know you’re in God’s family? What is one way you could act like Jesus’ family today?

Weed: Tell about a happy or sad thing that happened today. When did you have an opportunity to act like Jesus’ family today? Remember that you are a precious child of God and nothing can change that.

Making Space for Questions

Kids question, too.

Last night when I was putting one of my people to bed she said, “Mom, are you afraid of death?” and then she jumped right into, “How do we know, I mean really know, there is the one, true, God.”

I know these answers like the back of my hand. I have spent the better part of four decades asking them myself. Seeking the answers my heart longs for in Scripture and nature, through prayer, in the lives and writings of many who have gone before me.

My knee jerk, mothering reaction is to step in- fill the space as quickly as possible. But this is her relationship with God, these are her questions. I am reminded of Jesus’ parables, “they’re like truth burritos,” one child told me. The truth of God and the Kingdom wrapped in a story that opens when we seek it out; we have to want it. Questions can be the doorway.

Questions, even from children, come from longing and can lead to seeking and finding. Jiffy quick answers shut down longing. I don’t want that. I want her to hunger and thirst for the truth. The Spirit who loves her so much, prompts me, “Listen to her. Show her how to look for me. I will give her the answers.”

So I make a space for her to think about her questions…

1. Tell me about a time when you have felt God near. (She tells about being afraid and the comfort she felt after asking God for help.)

2. Tell me about a time when you saw something so beautiful you had to stop and look at it. (She tells about watching horses run through a field playing together.)

3. Tell me about a time when someone was so kind you couldn’t believe it. (She tells about her Grandfather teaching her to drive the tractor. Which was news to me! Grandparents!)

Then I gave her a few pointers… ways to connect.

We talk about reading the stories of Jesus and listening for God to speak. I encourage her to ask God about death. We agree to both ask and see what he has to say about it.

After an hour of laying in bed with her and listening, I realize this will be an ongoing conversation we have. The Blessed Trinity, her and myself listening, questioning and learning together.


Good Dirt Sunday

Excerpt taken from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide 

Till: Jesus, you are with us and it’s a time to celebrate. Help us learn that you are better than anything we give up.

Plant:Mark 2:18-22

Enter it: In this passage, Jesus talks about fasting—giving up food or something else in order to focus on God. While he was here, his disciples didn’t fast because it was a celebration! What would it be like if you went to a birthday party, but refused to eat cake and acted really sad? How would the birthday person feel about that?

Apply it: Talk about what you have chosen to give up during this season of Lent. How can your fast (or your cravings or habits) remind you to look for Jesus today? (Or, if you are taking Sundays off of the fast,how can enjoying this thing today remind you to rejoice in Jesus?)

Weed: How did your fast help you look for Jesus today? Or, if you are taking Sundays off of the fast, how did today remind you to rejoice in Jesus?

Ash Wednesday: Excerpt from Good Dirt

Devotional excerpt taken from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide 

Ash Wednesday

God, you made us, and you know: we’re made from dust, we return to dust. Thank you for being compassionate to us in our weakness, and accepting us in Jesus.

Plant:Luke 18:9-14

Play it: Encourage children to act out the parable Jesus tells in today’s reading. This will help them visualize what Jesus is teaching.

Enter it: In this story, there are two men: one whose prayer focuses on his own goodness, and one who just asks God for forgiveness. Jesus says that the second man, who asked for mercy, was made right with God, and not the other. Why do you think that is?

Apply it: God forgives us when we confess our sins. (Read 1 John 1:9). What would it look like today if you trusted God and admitted when you are wrong, instead of hiding mistakes?


Weed: Lead your family in a time of confession at the end of the day. Where did you fall short of loving God and loving others? Be sure to thank God for his forgiveness. Then reflect: What was it like today, admitting mistakes instead of hiding them? How was it hard? How did it change your attitude?

Prayer, Fasting and Giving with Children

We are not suggesting you fast from your children or give them away. (Tempting though it may be on some days.) Instead here are a few suggestions, a few practices to engage with children during Lent. A few suggestions from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide on celebrating Lent, at home, family style.

The Big Three: Prayer, Fasting, Giving

Prayer begins in the heart.

Family Altar or Prayer Corner: Cover a small table with a purple cloth,. Arrange on it a cross, or a family Bible, maybe a small shallow box with sand in it, where children can draw their prayers to God, maybe a family prayer journal.  Choose a Christ candle to place in the center. (Battery powered candles are wonderful for the not yet fire worthy.)

Invite children to light the Christ candle in the morning or evening, or when you are reading the Bible as a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the World. This is the light of Advent that continued through Christmastide and Epiphany–and still shines on in Lent. Invite family members to visit the Altar at least once a day during Lent.

Prayer Box: Take a 3×5 index card box and write prayers from the Bible, or from saints, or beautiful pieces of poetry on the card and place them in the box. Read one each evening before bed, or at the dinner table. Try prayers from This is What I Pray Today by Phyllis Tickle or Prayers for Each and Every Day by Sophie Piper.

Fasting begins in our bodies.

Fasting from Meat:Traditionally many folks fast meat on Fridays and they will also choose some other vice to give up for 40 days. If this works for you and your people, go for it.

Fasting from Superfluous Foods: Others I know have fasted eating out for 40 days, still others have fasted sugar, or chocolate, soda.

Fasting from Technology: For children giving up nutritional food is not an option, but giving up TV, or video games, or texting is certainly a good choice.

Fasting is not popular in our culture. To deny myself something I want will sound strange to others, but it is imminently important that we and our children learn to tell our bodies, “No.” Letting our bodies and our desires run our lives will destroy us. Fasting is directly related to prayer. We will need strength beyond ourselves to die to our wills. The will is loud, and irritating; only the peace of God can quiet it.

Fasting is directly related to prayer. In fasting we teach our wills to ignore our mere desires and focus on our true needs. But the will is loud, and irritating, and is the habit of responding to the body’s wants. We need strength beyond our own to die to our desires and retrain our wills. Only the peace of God can quiet  the will long enough for it to learn.

Giving begins with others.

Giving begins right where we are. We look to our families and see where we take instead of give. We make the effort to overcome our natural pet peeves. We do something nice for someone who irritates us.

Giving Money: We choose to eat simple meals, or to fast junk food, and send the extra grocery money to someone else. There are many great organizations that truly give life to others.

Giving Time: We fast our favorite TV show and instead pack the family up and visit the local nursing home.

Giving Attention: We give up always having to talk about ourselves and give the gift of listening.

 Let us know how it goes.

The Formational Power of Nature, Part 2


Children come hardwired for wonder. “Children are born with certain values intact—namely their sense of wonder and their affinity for nature.”[1] One reason is that the abstract difference between ordinary and profound is not a distinction a child can usually make. Therefore all experiences can be loaded with wonder. Rachel Carson noticed this in her walks with her nephew: “Many children delight in the small and inconspicuous.”[2] Nature is loaded with sensory experiences. Through nature God becomes present to touch, smell, sight, sound, and sometimes taste. John Calvin called nature “the theater of God’s glory.” Further, children will respond to wonder with their own bodies. They will jump or scream, run and play.[4] Through nature children are invited into a full body conversation with God.


When adults are giving the opportunity to talk about their childhood experiences they will often recall an instance in which they felt “at one” with the “ebb and flow” that surrounded them.[5] Far from the typical view of children as self focused, these experiences bring children well beyond the boundaries of self and into the relational space of creation and Creator. Rather than leaving the self behind and forcing an either/or choice, nature brings along the self and expands it to a sense of larger belonging.[6] Human beings are beings of place. Rooting in Earth as place helps to widen human focus, to extend beyond themselves.[7] The Genesis account of creation reminds us that human beings are created from earth and will return to earth (Gen. 3:19).


Experiences of nature make the space for mystery.[8] Mystery acknowledges the end of the human range of knowing and is essential. Children find great mystery in the process of birth, growth, and death.[9] Children find all three of these processes fascinating and completely out of range of their power to control or influence. While children have not reached Piaget’s stage of formal operations, they possess the humility necessary to understand their limitations. The great sorrow children often express at the death of a pet is a notion of the unity they feel with the animal, and also an expression of their powerlessness to change the outcome. Children are able to embrace the mystery in death. Humility and endless curiosity enables them to be comfortable pondering the depths of what they do not know. The mystery children find in nature contains both wonder and union, all of which can give them an experience of the Creator who longs to connect with them.

What Now?

These aspects of spiritual formation cannot be directly taught. They must be experienced. However adults can aid by modeling awareness. Asking open ended questions and processing experiences aloud are formative tools; as is making the space and time for children to simply be in creation, communing with the Creator, without adult involvement. For some, these experiences will stand alone as anchors to Someone larger than themselves in whom they can trust, but do not know. In Christian spiritual formation these gifts from nature provide a pool of experiential knowledge that can be drawn upon in later stages of religious education.


Wonder, union and mystery are a part of adult formation as well. If we want to continue to grow into Christlikeness, these three will be a regular part of our lives. In what ways do you engage wonder, union and mystery?


A few resources that informed my thinking. I hope they are helpful for you too.

 [1]. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow, “Values,” in Ecological Literacy, Kindle Electronic Edition: Introduction to Values, Location 993.

[2]. Rachel Carson and Nick Kelsh, The Sense of Wonder (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998), 52.

 [3]. Brunner, Butler, and Swoboda, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology, 88.

[4]. Rebecca M. Nye, “Convergence with Children’s Theory of the Mind?,” in Being Human: The Case of Religion, Vol. 2. Psychological Studies on Spiritual and Religious Development, ed. K. Helmut Reich, Fritz K. Oser, W. George Scarlett (Lengerich, Germany: Pabst Science Publishers, 1999), 67.

[5]. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 3, Location 1122.

 [6]. Ibid., Chapter 7, Location 2090.

[7]. David W. Orr, “Place and Pedagogy”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1724.

[8]. Malcolm Margolin, “Indian Pedagogy: A Look at Traditional California Indian Teaching Techniques”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1433.

[9]. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 7, Location 2177.

[10]. Ibid., Chapter 6, Location 1963.