Storyformed Kids


In a conversation with my daughter last night, I have come to the awareness that we know little what to do with our emotions as those who follow Christ.  Of course, she is 13 and I do expect a little (OK…a lot) of irrationality, she also voiced an ideology that I think runs rampant among us.  Even if we don’t say it out loud, we – in the depths of our souls – believe it.

The conversation (translation::argument) began when I told both of my kids the time of night had come to read.  She complained of “not having anything to read” (translation::I don’t want to) to which I suggested she read a portion of the Scriptures.  This began a whining session full of thirteen year old rebuttal as to why she did not want to do that.  She didn’t like the fact that I had TOLD her to…it didn’t feel authentic.  She doesn’t like to read her Bible very much…and isn’t that just being a hypocrite toward God when she does?  She didn’t FEEL like it…and since God knows her heart anyway, it wouldn’t “count”!  (Please don’t judge her harshly….she is a great kid and honestly, I am sure I have thought many of those things, but just don’t have enough honesty to say them out loud.)

After the snow flurry of emotion subsided a little, I tried to logically reason with her.  Bad mistake!!  I just go more of the same rhetoric from before.  Then God opened my eyes and let me catch a glimpse into what (perhaps) He sees.  What I saw was a beautiful, young woman on the precipice of a new place in her spiritual formation (in being formed by His story).  Up to this point (and still all around her) she had received the message that God is awesome, and fun, and amazing, and He talks to you, and He makes you feel good, and answers your prayers and when we are full of good emotion we worship Him…..

Now, many of those things are true, but when that is how we view God, we begin to love God for what He gives us – the fun, emotion, good feelings, answered prayer, etc.  At that place in our spiritual formation, we love God for pleasure’s sake.  And I don’t think that is inherently bad.  When we are new believers (or young in our faith), God feeds us just like a mother nurses her baby.  I explained to her that just like when an infant cries, her mother responds to her with gentle caresses, something to eat, taking care of her every need…so God does that in our early life with Him.  He does this because He knows this moves the soul toward spiritual things because of the pleasure we get from them.  It moves us into the process of being formed by His story, but then something switches inside us.  Sure, we know the spiritual pleasures are given to us from God, but the pleasures become the goal of what we think our relationship with God is all about.

Both my thirteen year old and I laughed at the idea that she would still be breastfed at her age…in fact, she wrinkled her face up and used the term “That’s gross!!”  We talked about all the other food she now enjoyed but only because she had to give up the first infant pleasure.  We also talked about all the food she doesn’t enjoy, but knows she needs to eat in order to stay healthy.  I reminded her that God loves us so much that He will not leave us to get caught in our pleasure seeking faith, but brings about a discontentedness in order to move us away from loving Him for pleasure’s sake.  (What a great risk on His part!)

Instead, it feels as though He begins to pull away.  He doesn’t give the feelings as much any more, nor does it seem like He answers prayer like He once did.  What was once fun and happy-slappy-clappy, becomes boring, dull and dry.  And in it all, He works to grow our soul to abandon loving Him for pleasure’s sake, and learn to love Him for love’s sake.  This is a love based on a real relationship between two persons (with all the good, bad and ugly) and involves a letting go of the key barometer being pleasurable feelings.  I explained that it is like a mom who takes care of her baby.  That baby does not always give her pleasure, and in fact, many times brings the absolute opposite of it, but she loves that baby anyway because she CHOOSES to.

We went on to talk about how it is not “being a hypocrite” or being “inauthentic” to read our Bible, pray or worship when we don’t feel like it.  It is actually entering the next place in the formation process; it is choosing God even when the feelings (pleasures) aren’t there.

And then I was reminded of one of my favorite books in the Bible…the book of Psalms.  The poetry and imagery are often as raw as that discussion with my thirteen year old.  The feelings abound…God is questioned…He is accused of having left and taking His pleasures with Him.  But each psalmist comes back to a solitary conviction….despite the feelings (which God is big enough to handle, by the way!), it is always good and right to worship God for Who He is and to pursue Him for love’s sake.

That is the journey my thirteen year old is on….she must, at some point, make peace with the psalmists.

Just wrote this post yesterday on my business blog…what our family will be practicing for Lent.  It is an exercise in thanksgiving….inspired by a book I am currently reading.

May we all learn to see the wonder before us and give thanks for the small gifts that God gives!!

 

 

As I look about me for evidence of Christ playing in ten thousand places, today it came in the form of a Skype call and our cats….

My little niece who was adopted from China 5 years ago is struggling with what many abandoned children struggle with – a gap in their story.  She has no history prior to being adopted at 10 months (save a few little snippets from the orphanage), and her amazing parents are struggling alongside her with what to say.  As her mom put it, “when she comes to me to ask these hard, hard questions, I can only give her empty hands…but I can also offer open arms.”  It is a time of confusion and frustration for everyone involved.  (And my little niece is only 6!)

However, today she called us via Skype to wish my daughter a happy birthday.  As they were talking, she and her sisters noticed our cats running around in the background.  One of her sisters asked, “Which one is the daddy?”  I had to explain to her that the cats were brothers and that we had adopted them into our family after someone else had taken care of them for a little while.

A few moments later our little niece whispered something in her mom’s ear.  Later I came to find out that she had told her mom that she thought maybe the cats understood her and what she is going through.  After all they were adopted from an orphanage…just like her!

(I love how the Lord sends us tender mercies in whatever form He wishes…even cats.)

One of the things we made this year for Easter is our Easter chain.

Our kids wrote down 50 things – some playful, others celebratory, and others are service projects – on little strips of colorful paper.  We then made them into a chain.

Our chain now hangs above the door in our kitchen and we get to remove one of the links each morning.  I then “post” that link somewhere visible for everyone to see, so they won’t forget what we are supposed to do that day.  Of course, there are some links that take more planning than others.  If we open one of them, we will then plan it out as a family and get it on the calendar to do.

We are hoping that this is a good tool to keep us in the season of Easter and to remind us to keep on celebrating for an entire 50 days!!

Well, it is Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season has officially begun.  AND once again, I feel like I just need one more week before I’ll be ready.   Not sure what is wrong with me this year…I have lots of good ideas to write about but my times on the computer often get interrupted (like right now the phone is ringing!) and then I lose my concentration.  However, since I didn’t pick up the ringing phone, I have a few moments of quiet and just thought I’d share a few things we are going to do as a family to observe this Lenten season together:

During a conversation around our breakfast table, we discussed Lent and the stories or images that are often associated with it.  From these stories we decided to form some activities that our family will engage in during the next 40 days.

1.  Prayer – this is a no brainer, but prayer is at the very heart of Lent.  We ask God to “create in us a clean heart”, to help us see ourselves and Him ever more clearly, and to deepen our union with Him.  Because of this, we are going to set up a little prayer space in our house.  It will be a corner with a little table, a candle, a prayer book, a bible and whatever else our kids decide to add to it.  Both of them struggle with prayer (they think it is boring!) so there may be some unconventional items in our prayer space.  However, the point is to create a space that reminds us to pray and helps take us further into our prayer practice.

2.  Tie-Dye – As we talked about the imagery of Lent being the dying to self and Easter being the risen to new life, baptism naturally came up.  In the process of the conversation, my husband shared with us that “baptism” was the word they used when they dyed fabric.  What went in one color took on a new color after being dipped in the dye.  I thought that was a beautiful picture of us sharing in the life of Christ – of being baptized into Him – and coming out colored by His life, death and resurrection.  So….we are going to do a couple types of dyeing experiments.  The first will be taking black shirts and using bleach on them (the idea being that He has washed us whiter than snow).  The second will be taking white shirts and tie dyeing them to give us a physical picture of our lives taking on the colors of Jesus.

3.  $2 a Day Challenge – we have decided as a family to attempt to live on $2/day per person 2 days a week during the Lenten season.  Now this may not seem like much to you if you’ve done something like this before, but we have two growing children and this challenge is frightening the heck out of our 10 year old.  He is an active boy who needs lots of snacks during the day and so this is going to be his greatest act of faith.  We read the story of how Daniel and friends were sustained by only vegetables and water rather than the choicest foods from the kings table, and made sure he knew that the God of Daniel is still GOD!!  We’ll see how it goes…But at the end of Lent we’d love to take what we have saved over those handful of days and donate it to some organization doing Kingdom work.  (Got the $2/day challenge from Mustard Seed Associates).

4.  Planting in the Darkness – often times Lent can seem lonely, and dark; we are asked to do the hard work of digging in the dirt of our hearts, identifying the weeds and trusting that God is planting seeds of transformation in us even when we don’t see it.  So we are going to plant seeds in the dirt as a way to say that we will trust God’s process of growing us even in the darkness.  We are going to plant ours inside (after all the Pacific Northwest is not that warm yet), they will grace our vegetable garden in the spring and even become the food we harvest and eat in the summer.  (Is there any better picture of the slow, steady growth of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives?)

I end with shoes.  It is the picture I have as I am invited by Jesus to walk into Lent with Him.  It is the picture I get as I think about our kids being formed by the Story of Lent and being able to walk through it together.  And as I feel ill prepared, a little too busy, not godly enough, and a little discombobulated…shoes are a comforting picture.  They remind me that in Lent, the important thing is not how we come, but how we leave the journey that matters.

This has been an interesting Advent/Christmas season for me.  As people came to our house during Advent, the huge Jesse tree always became a topic of conversation.   Friends and acquaintances had a tough time wrapping their minds around what we are doing with this rather large bundle of twigs and branches on our kitchen table.  More than a few, however, when we explained that we were reading through the Scriptures with our family in order to see the waiting, longing, and need for a Messiah, thought it was pretty neat.  (What I found interesting is that those who would not claim to be followers of Jesus found it more intriguing than those who were.  Perhaps, there is a certain numbness that comes within any religious circles…we think we already know the story, so why would we have to read it over and over, year after year?)

But whatever sort of responses I got to our Advent activities, it was nothing compared to trying to explain that Christmas is a season and not just a day…and that we would not be opening presents on Christmas Day (although we did a few little ones) but rather spreading them out through the whole 12 days to celebrate the Incarnation.  All around as we’ve seen people at church, the grocery store, or our neighborhood, the question we consistently get is “what did you get for Christmas?  what was your favorite  present?”  (I am a little cheeky and so I want to answer that I got Jesus – God with Us – for Christmas…but I’ve restrained myself!!)  I am simply getting used to explaining the 12 days of Christmas and getting some glassy-eyed stares and polite smiles!

However, I do have a favorite present from this year (and I know it will remain my favorite even though there are still presents under the tree to be opened.)

This last year we have been trying to teach our children about how to handle money and so we’ve helped them come up with a system of giving, long term savings, and short term savings (ie. spending).   All year long they have added up each of these categories and kept a record of them…and watched their money increase.   They had to give at least 10% to giving, but our daughter, who was born with the gift of generous giving, almost consistently put between 35 and 50% into her giving category!!  Not bad for a 12 year old!!!)

A few weeks ago, the World Vision catalog arrived at our house and as our children went through it, they became giddy with excitement.  They realized that they could buy goats, chickens, clothing, soccer balls…really whatever…for people in other parts of the world!!!  They had the money and they set out to write their “Christmas List” of what they wanted to do with their giving money.  ( In fact, we had a birthday party for our son a week or so ago and he asked that instead of gifts people could give him money toward his World Vision fund!)

So on the 23rd we went down to World Vision’s headquarters (we live very nearby) in order to give the money.  We stopped by the bank beforehand, pulled out the cash for each kid and gave it to them in an envelope to carry.  As we walked in to the lobby, both of our children were bubbling over with excitement!!    They both ran up to the counter and announced that they had money they wanted to give and they wanted to “buy” things from the catalog!!  I think the little lady sitting behind the desk was a little overwhelmed!

What insued over the next 20 minutes or so brought tears to my eyes.  Our children deliberated and calculated just how best to spend their money.  They agonized over where the money would go and even verbalized that they felt like they didn’t enough to give as much as they wanted to.  They knew the money was God’s but they wanted it to be used to the “most it could be”.  Then they gladly marched up to the counter, told the lady what they wanted to “buy”, gladly handed over their money and walked away with a huge grin on their faces!!

THAT was my best gift!!  I don’t even think I need any others.  To watch my children give generously and so gladly fills my heart!!  To see them want to give money for Kingdom Work is a part of my desire for them.  To get to be present as they experience the joy of giving to God is priceless!!

Later we walked through World Vision’s visitor center where our hearts were torn by the immense poverty and needs in this world and the hope that some followers of Jesus are just audacious enough to bring into dark places.   And I asked God, then and there, to not only let my kids know the joy of giving money to His work around the world, but to take them there as well, letting them participate firsthand in how these monies are making a difference in the lives of people.

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of moms the other day.  I always feel as if I should take off my shoes when I enter into a room full of young moms because I know I am standing on holy ground.  Though often mundane, tedious and exhausting, mothering children is truly entering in and co-laboring with God.  (There is a similar post here.)

I spoke on being Simply Present – connecting with God and our children in the moment at hand.  (Something I will confess that I am always practicing – never perfecting or becoming an expert.)

So as we are in the midst of a culture who is so frenzied about finding and purchasing  just the right gift for a certain date, it got me thinking as to what is that “perfect gift”.  True, it is different for each person, but for kids I think it is the gift of our presence.  After all I do believe that every kid’s favorite toy is Mom or Dad!

So I am challenged as the current outside my door rushes to the malls, to hang lights, to concerts, to parties, to purchase, to mail and to mmet all the deadlines – how do I live differently?  As a mom I want to choose to give gifts that my children “will love rather than ones that meet deadlines” (thanks to Maggi Dawn for these words).  And the gifts they love???  To be together, to play a game, to read together, to snuggle as they are going to sleep, to help them make their sandwich for their lunchbox, and to have a place to talk about their day.  I did a photo shoot yesterday for a family that was in the middle of the decorating frenzy and trying to get the perfect Christmas card picture.  Half way through the session, we were down on their beach and dad started a bonfire.  We warmed ourselves around the flames,  the family toasted marshmallows and the boys were just loving the very presence of their parents.  I photographed these moments and afterward mom said to me “I get so caught up in schedules and timing that I forget to live in the moment and have a fire on the beach and eat marshmallows at 10 in the morning.”  Those are the gifts that don’t come on the “right date”, but rather in the right moments.

My dad gave me a wonderful gift 13 years ago although I don’t know if he knows it and I didn’t know it until weeks after he “gave” it to me.   I was six months pregnant with my daughter when my dad, who had bravely fought cancer for three years, died.  After our daughter was born I remember nursing her one exhausting night almost at the end of my rope, wanting that certain date when she would sleep through the night, when I realized the gift my dad had left me.

In his death, he taught me that I am not guaranteed another day with my children – there are no “certain dates” that I am promised.  But what I am given is the moment at hand.  And that is all I am given – the moment before me to be fully present in.  To play, to sing, to talk, to correct, to cook, to connect, to whatever…but not to let a certain future date on the calendar overshadow the NOW.

Lord, as I am preparing and looking forward to the celebration of Christmas, may You help me to live in the waiting and expectation of Advent.  Help me to be simply and fully present – each given moment – to You, my family and to those You put before me.  Help me to be like You – giving good gifts in the right moment and not on a certain deadline!

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