“You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 1:18-19)
First Ask Why by Shelly Wildman.
Though not an actual “devotional,” this book pushes parents to create a framework for how they can engage in faith growing experiences with their children. In the first pages, she describes her own beginning attempts to nurture her daughters’ faith. Some of those attempts went according to plan. Others ended in the frustration familiar to many parents who encounter the reality of intentional teaching among restless bodies. The story drew me in as I resonated deeply with her desire to reconcile God’s commands for parents and the reality of trying to implement a plan. Wildman proposes that asking “Why” we do what we do as families will lead to organic opportunities to for discipleship. It does not mean intentionality is forgotten but asking “why” pushes us to prioritize the ways a family uses their time, energy, and resources. There are a lot of “how to books” but families have different shapes and no one model can adequately help. As a parent myself, I found the information, grounded in scripture, practical. It felt as if a friend was sharing wisdom gained from experience. The questions at the end of each chapter challenge reflection and implementation.
Pray A to Z by Amelia Rhodes
This book transforms the way you see others in your community. If you are familiar with a prayer walk, this book takes that concept to the next level. Arranged in alphabetical order, each page offer a brief introduction to a topic of prayer including: alcoholism, cancer, divorce, depression, estranged relationships, law enforcement, Jehovah-Jireh, Truth, and Wisdom. Our family uses each topic as our weekly them of prayer. Something holy happens when you pray for those you randomly see in your daily interactions. God opens up our eyes and the Holy Spirit puts a nudge in our hearts as we encounter those for whom we pray.
No More Fear for Kids by Johanna Reardon
Finding a family devotional book that speaks in a language that draws kids in is challenging. “Fear” is a common issues children face. The stories that introduce each lesson contain elements of situations that children will most likely have experienced. Bullying, staying overnight away from home, and fears of earthly disasters are common sources of children’s fears. Rather than dismissing them with a scriptural platitude, the author confronts them head on. Questions are offered at the end of each lesson which help the family members engage with one another and gives them a chance to listen to one another. In addition, the scriptural support and prayer places hope in their hearts. In addition, a characteristic of God becomes the theme woven through the whole lesson. I wish I would have had this book when my children were younger. It’s aimed towards the 8-12 year age group.
The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook by Miranda abd Noah Threlfall-Holmes.
I picked up this little gem at a writing conference. The book stands out from traditional devotional books for kids/teens for two reasons: 1) It is written by a mom and her teen son. 2) Hands on application involves some really creative and culturally relevant methods of prayer. The introduction sets the premise: “This is not a book to teach teenagers about prayer. It is a book to encourage teenagers to try out prayer for themselves.” Each experiment includes an introduction (including its, the experiment itself, space for notes, and comments from other experimenters (including Noah). Ideas include creating a prayer space in a virtual world, bedroom door prayers, coloring the Bible, modelling a Bible passage using legos, and Nerf gun confession. Although this book is intended as an individual devotional book,it can easily be used as a family or youth group resource. http://teenageprayerexperiment.blogspot.com/p/running-prayer-experiment-workshop.html
The Bible Project https://thebibleproject.com/
The digital age is reality so it makes sense to incorporate Bible teaching venues into it. Founded in 2014 by friends Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, “The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. ” The videos fall under five categories: series, themes, word study, old testament and new testament. Compelling story telling and creative animation draws the audience to watch these short clips (most are under five minutes). My family has found this resource to provide a springboard for discussions that normally are challenging to initiate with your kids. (ie: hey, what do you think about praying the Shema? How about those Covenants?). You can watch these videos on the site as well as youtube. I guarantee your kids won’t be the only ones gaining Biblical knowledge.
His presence in the doorway, caught me off guard. Normally, I observed him shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. ” During my visits to my grandmother’s room in this assisted living facility, this elderly man and I routinely passed each other. Often, his facial expression spoke of anger and his sharp outbursts to others to “Move out of my way!” convinced me that avoidance might be best. In fact, he was known in my head as “cranky man.”
So on this particular day, I was startled when I spied him pausing in the doorway of my grandmother’s room. The door had been left open to the main hallway because my mother, sister, and I were cleaning out her room. A few hours earlier, we had laid her to rest. Her death brought an end to a deterioration of her health; culminating in a recent diagnosis of bone cancer. It was a day full of emotion, pondering and celebration. As we focused on going through the items during what was already a long day, “cranky man” wandered in to ask how things were going. I must admit that two thoughts came into my mind upon his greeting: 1) “It’s the cranky man who tells us to be quiet” 2) “I just want to finish”.
Ironically (and I’m convinced divinely appointed), my young son came running in the room which caused the conversation to turn to the energy of a 10 year old. Being polite, I asked our visitor where he grew up. To my surprise, he answered, “Chicago.” Well, of course, that drew me in. On top of that, he had been a pastor. Who knew that we shared two common elements in our stories? For the next hour, I was engaged in conversation with this man who I merely knew as my grandma’s neighbor.
I listened as Bob (no longer the “cranky man”) shared the most amazing story of his childhood. Placed in an orphanage as an infant, he was later adopted by a couple. His parents, both followers of Christ, added two more sons through adoption. As Bob told his story, his eyes conveyed the love he had for his father; a man whose life radiated Jesus.
Bob’s father was a physician and felt a tug to leave a potentially comfortable place in life to a small town in Illinois. The size of the town wasn’t an issue of adjustment. However, it didn’t believe in medicine! Despite the very real possibility of being ostracized from their new neighbors, moving plans proceeded. As a young boy, Bob wondered how the family would be treated. Would people befriend them?
Perhaps church would provide a place of welcome and refuge for this family of five. Boldly, they made their way to worship one Sunday. What would happen if anyone knew of his father’s occupation? Bob fearfully waited for reaction…..A man suddenly stood up; pointing at Bob’s father. News travels fast in small towns. The rumors of a physician coming to the town had been realized. The man; recognized. A demand to leave followed. Apparently, the perception of medicine was correlated to evil. Firmly, and bravely, this physician responded that his family was staying.
To three young boys, one had to wonder if they perceived that action as a blessing or a curse.
However, in telling me the story, his eyes lit up as he shared the courage his father showed in choosing to stay despite the church praying for him to leave. What would give his parents the courage to make such a choice? Where are they finding peace in this tension?
What Bob so powerfully witnessed was the hand of God moving beneath the scenes. This physician brought healing to wounds of the flesh but also restoration to wounds of the soul. The knees of three young boys ached from their nightly prayer routine. Patients names were added to other list. Sometimes, the prayers lasted an hour. Despite the admonition to keep the information confidential, the manifestation of the hand of God appeared before their eyes.
The transformation that took place in that town as a result of his father’s legacy continues to reap fruit. In fact, with tears in his eyes, Bob recounted the day his father died suddenly. The entire town shut down for the funeral.
The conversation morphed into lighter substance. We laughed about his rebellious antics which resulted in being kicked out of a prominent Christian college. We agreed that we would meet up again. How could I not? I longed to be blessed more from his gleanings!
In one hour, Bob let me into his soul.
How many other times have I tuned out such an encounter? What more of God’s character and works would I know if I learned to open my eyes and my ears to the nudges of the Holy Spirit? What blessings do we miss when we don’t tread in the places resided by the “least of these?”
I would have never imagined that the most profound moment of that day would come after my Grandma’s funeral. God is Good.
Sometimes, life leaves your brain full and your mouth empty.A season of life two years ago encompassed one of those times for me. The thing is-these seasons don’t just end with a nice and tidy resolution. They don’t leave us with an instant epiphany of profound theological insight. Rather, we are left with a reminder-:spiritual, physical, emotional- that we are humans wrestling with the realities of living in a place of in-between.
It is not yet Heaven.
The days of December 2013 quickly filled up with preparations for Christmas as well as doctor’s appointments. My eldest son became increasingly ill. A periodic problem with an upset stomach evolved into a daily issue. Watching your child feeling sick packs a punch to the stomach and the heart. The immediate desire is to fix it.
Yet, beginning in October, we sought an answer from many physicians and no one could fix it. How can that happen? We live near Chicago; a mecca of renowned and state-of-the art medical centers. A gold mine of wisdom on the complexities of the human body. Yet, each visit to a different specialist yielded more questions. We just wanted answers.
Emergency room doctors ruled out some things But nothing made him better. Daily, he made the trek to school with virtually nothing in his stomach except a bit of protein shake. Sometimes, he couldn’t gather the stamina to make it to school. My husband and I worried. The school pressured. The bills mounted.
We prayed. Friends prayed. Strangers prayed. But there were no answers.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV).
Embracing the peace of Christ in the midst of uncertainty challenged me.
Finally, after many tests and procedures, a diagnosis was reached. Whew! Finally a name and a course of treatment. Finally, an answer! Medicine would bring healing and resolve the problem. I grabbed hold of the answer and felt a sense of relief; control; no uncertainty. How easy is it to acknowledge the “peace that passes all understanding” when circumstances line up according to our expectations?
But would that peace permeate if the circumstances change? The events of the next day confronted me with that question.
Following dinner, upon preparing to study for finals, he fell to the couch and began to seize. Never having witnessed a seizure, it was the most terrifying moment of my life. The limp look of his body; the lifeless look in his eyes, will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Those five minutes led me to a profound realization as my mind grasped to acknowledge the surreal reality spinning around me: there are many things I can control-but death may not be one of them.
Fortunately, he came out of the seizure, was quickly rushed to the hospital, and the scans came out clear. But, more questions arose...and yet no answers. In my frustration, I hesitated to let go of what I thought to be a resolution. I didn’t want to believe that our lives were once more catapulted into the abyss. How do you embrace the peace that transcends all understanding when God’s movement does not align with Earthly expectation?
As we dealt with the uncertainty in his health, we attempted to proceed with the rhythms of life. That wrenching moment rewound in my mind in the midst of my days. Ambulance sounds caused shivers down my back. Yet, I attempted to let Jesus, not me, guard my heart.
The dark, frigid winter painted an appropriate backdrop to the events and feelings over those next several months. While we continued to hold on to the glimmer of light held out for us through scriptural promises, the realities of living in the “not yet” continued to speak into our lives. How does one live in the truth of new life in the resurrection, yet, face the reality of destruction and death of the things of this world?
My heart and my mind bear the scars of living in a kingdom that is both now and not yet. But I am keenly aware that I am not the only one. In one way or another, all of us feel that paradox. Circumstances may differ. Our expectations and God’s answers may or may not merge. Yet, the testimony and scars of others bear witness to the peace that Christ offers, while living in a kingdom that unfolds toward completion.
It’s the peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, who had given up everything for him. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLV).
Eventually, the winter season yielded to the brighter, warmer days of spring; not just meteorologically, but symbolically as well. My son’s health improved. I am aware that I am bound to encounter those seasons of restlessness again. They too are promises of Jesus. But He also imparts a peace that “transcends all understanding” as we navigate through them.
The ways that God speaks into our lives constantly amaze me.
Sometimes it’s loud and blatant .
Other times, the voice comes as a whisper or a gentle nudging.
And often, it comes in the midst of an ordinary moment. Unexpected. Like a burning bush appearing among the familiar landscape.
One day, as I waited at an intersection for the light to change, I glanced up at the Target across the road. I was just passing time. Yet, my eyes connected to a sign advertising the need for overnight stockers. For some reason, the sign resonated with me.
Why? I have no idea. My husband was working. My days and nights were filled with the schedules and activity that result from having three small children.
The Holy Spirit was nudging through the most ordinary circumstances
As the light turned to green, the thoughts were packed into the back of my mind and I proceeded down the road and onto my day.
Two years later, I found myself listening to my husband share the devastating news that his company would be closing a few months later. A peace “that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7 )” permeated my heart as we talked over a coffee date about the plans for our immediate future. A few months provided a bit of cushion but still….what if he doesn’t find a job? Do we sell our house? So many questions surfaced.
And did I mention Christmas was right around the corner? I had a college degree as well as an M.Div. but I had left my pastoral position to enter a season of staying home with our children. Now what?
As we talked, my mind had not forgotten the nudge about the Target sign I had seen two years earlier. The job would entail nights at work and sleep during the day. How does one do that with a two year old? Ironically, my husband’s company did not have a current space for him to work from so he was given the opportunity to work from home.
God affirmed what had been revealed two years earlier. A new season for me was emerging.
Within weeks, I donned the red shirt and displayed my new title: Target employee.
Though the schedule often left my body exhausted, my spirit felt renewed. The job allowed for adult conversation, a means of providing financially for my family and even opportunities to look at merchandise without being yanked away by bored children.
In addition, my eyes and my heart were opened up to the life situations for many who live “under the radar.” Many people with whom I worked alongside, shared stories of broken dreams and desperation.
A wife became ill, and though retired, her husband resumed employment in order to pay bills. Two corporate executives lost their jobs in a mass lay off. Now, one worked the night shift. Many single moms worked with me. Unlike myself, they navigated sleeping in between transporting kids to school and managing other household tasks.
College students who juggled work with school also became colleagues. Here we were, an eclectic group to be sure, but serving together for one purpose. And I felt honored to be invited into their narratives.
In January, my husband found a new job which meant my job at Target was no longer necessary. I was happy to be done but a bit sad that this season was over. I was well aware that, while I had the option to leave the job, others did not have such a choice.I left with their stories imprinted on my heart and pondered how I could help others in similar situations.
Like Esther, my life entered a new season-for a divine purpose. One, that she hesitantly embraced as it came about unexpectedly and took her out of her comfort zone. But Mordecai exhorted, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Ultimately this season reminded me that our calling is wherever God leads us. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace.
When have you been ordained to “such a time as this?”
Once upon a time, (which didn’t seem so long ago), my husband and I snuggled and watched “our” shows together after putting the kids to bed.
Truthfully, we watched about a half an hour of shows before we feel asleep too.
There was a pretty clear line between the content of the shows that our kids found entertaining and what we enjoyed. Dora, Diego, Wordgirl are fascinating….to a preschooler. But growing older, non animated characters and talking animals no longer hold our attention. (although, I still find my self belting out “We Did It!” at unexpected moments of conquest).
Our kids were not just plopped in front of a tv as a babysitter (most of the time..). I would usually try to fold laundry or accomplish some other small task while watching television with them. The goal was 1) to know the actual content before their eyes and ears and 2) find ways to engage them in conversation from the subject. I’m sure you are familiar with the subject matter-kindness, respect, friendship, wonder of nature, understanding your emotions. These topics are core values for most families-they are tenets of our society. And they reflect basic characteristics which, we as image bears, “wear” as God’s children.
The infusion of God’s word into our hearts and minds comes about both through intentional discussion as well as those teaching moments that occur in the daily moments of life as a family. One way to engage your older kids/teens in conversation about the intersection of faith and choices? Watching tv together.
The idea really isn’t as unrealistic as you may think. Because, there isn’t just a one size (or show) fits all method.
So what to do?
There are three questions that you may be asking:
1)How do you decide what’s appropriate? What you choose to watch is a decision based on your family’s dynamics.. What we feel comfortable letting our kids watch may not suit your family’s comfort level. There are so many factors that affect your decision. I trust that you are seeking discernment from the Holy Spirit in your parenting journey.
2) How would I ever get my teen to watch tv with me? Getting teens to watch a show with you may be like pulling teeth. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t need to be planned. Teaching moments often come through unexpected moments. We are fortunate because our one tv is in the living room- the gathering space where our kids hang out with their electronic devices. Yes, they do watch some shows on their laptops but they prefer the big screen. I know their favorites. Become familiar with a few. Catch a couple episodes with them. (It’s a great time to “pay bills” or “fold laundry” in front of the screen). When I notice that they are engaged in a segment of a show, I can utilize a few bytes for discussion at the time or later.
3)What could I say to my child that will elicit an actual response (not an eyeroll)? Sometimes nothing. Stories can speak for themselves. One of the shows my kids like is “The Middle.” The plots speak lessons for themselves. Who hasn’t wanted to crawl in a hole after experiencing something thoroughly embarrassing at school? Yet, everyone must face the choice in how to respond to those moments. Another one that my daughter and I used to enjoy is “Girl Meets World.” Yes, it can be a bit cheesy but the lessons are significant and address character in a way that hits home.
Take advantage of historical presentations
For our family, the miniseries “Roots” provided a visual account of slavery in a way that no verbal description could match. Admittedly, the graphic events were difficult to watch. But this is history and the events were real. The discussions that took place were initiated through my kids’ observations. Furthermore, we could engage them in identifying the effects of those events today.
The show “Timeless” (NBC) provides a fantastic opportunity for interaction. Set within the context of time-travel, the characters go back in time to various events in order to alter details which are seen as “destructive.” The twist is that the characters’ present lives are unknowingly affected by the outcomes as they are changed-and sometimes the tragedy still happens but differently. In the midst of it all, they are fighting against an antagonist who is seeking to destroy America by showing up at the same events and bringing about greater catastrophe. Not only does the show give you a real life glimpse into the complexities surrounding the events but the viewer is challenged to wrestle with the ways history impacts the present.
Though the values portrayed on some shows differ from those that we have instilled in our now older children, there is a point where kids must realize values, struggles, injustices, tragedies and consequences of choices in the world around them. The characters and stories emulate real life. Relationships are complicated, we all make choices we regret, tragedy can occur at any moment. How do you respond?
Engaging with our kids about these “glimpses” of the world around us offers opportunity to reinforce where hope is found, why following Christ impacts our choices, and how God’s Word navigates us through the wind-y paths of life.
It’s a modern context of the conversations between parents and kids that took place long ago:
” 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
What conversations popped up as a result of your recent viewing?
You might be surprised when I tell you that one of the sections of the newspaper that I glance over is the obituary section. What?! When I have this time to myself (which is precious), why would I spend a minute reading death notices about people I have never met?
Well, for a few reasons. I actually do come across the unfortunate news that someone I once knew has passed on. Beyond that fact, certain notices draw me in and remind me of that which we, in our culture, like to avoid: the reality that we are mortal. Everyone. Our families friends, and ourselves. At any moment, our lives may be affected in a very real way by the reality of death. Glancing over the obituaries reminds me to evaluate my priorities.
One of the rewards (probably not the right term) is learning about my companions on this journey called life. In those few words that represent a miniscule of someone’s life (and may not be fully representational of their whole character), I learn a lot about people. These are not descriptions of those who made headlines. Rather, these quick biographies belong to those with whom we interact and encounter in the daily rhythms of life. Sometimes, I am inspired to be a better version of myself; a more accurate image bearer of my Creator as I learn from them. Such was the case this past week.
As my eyes focused in on the tribute to her life, her career achievements jumped out at me. Margaret was a doctor who pioneered treatments for persons affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder in the 1970’s. Of course my heart skipped a beat because I am an advocate for families affected by autism and other mental health disorders. I’m always interested in those individuals who are seeking to make the world better for all of us by making new strides in this field of medicine.
It is particularly inspiring to know of persons who choose to work in a field that is a filled with cultural stigma; one that doesn’t result in immediate answers and demands a passion against the odds. And in the 70’s?
My gut reaction was, “Wow!” That woman joins the ranks of many people -both men and women; both prominent and behind the scenes-that put rubber to the road. They follow their passion to wherever it takes them.
The thing about courage is that the more we practice it, the more it shapes all areas of our lives. And that’s where the next few words seemed to jump out at me.
“She jumped fearlessly into pools deep in caves”
Anyone who has jumped into a pool spontaneously knows there is an element of mystery combined with freedom once that leap is made. The water’s possible chill may shock at impact. Your stomach flutters as gravity takes it’s course. Yet there’s something to be said for knowing the refreshment that is brought will be worth the experience. I(side note: I am not advocating for jumping into water without any swimming skills and not being aware of it’s depth/or elements) To jump into pools in caves sounds both scary yet enticing. Plunging your physical and emotional being into something so beautiful, majestic, and yet unknown takes courage.
Courage that manifests itself in every part of your life
If you can take great leaps into these amazing physical creations by our God, surely you learn to not let fear become a blockade. You see the other places that you are called to leap into-and you do it. You do it because you know that, in the end, the experience will be worth it. For you and for those in your circles.
That is why, after reading Margaret’s brief summary of her life, I said to myself,
“I want to be known for jumping fearlessly into pools in caves!”
We just must embrace it. We must believe it.
What about you? What fears are holding you back from seeking fully the passions that God has placed on your heart?
Let’s commit to working on this together. Share your stories. We all need encouragement to take leaps sometimes, right?