Monday, April 28, 2014

Let it Go: Devotional Time With Children.

We have four small children (7, 6, 4, 9 months) and have honestly been hit-or-miss with nightly family devotions. We love and use the Jesus Bible Storybook at home before bedtime and use the curriculum at our church's kids' programming, but because of the busy life we have, every night is different and it's a challenge to be consistent. I'd love to say it was purely the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit that led me to be more serious about these nightly moments, but instead it was when one of my children was asked about the true meaning of Easter and that kid answered that Easter was about "Trying to be nice." That particular offspring has since been sent to live with Billy Graham.
 
I kid, I kid.

But really, Mr. Graham, do you have an internship program?

Anyway, it was clear to me that although Seth and I spend our lives teaching the Word of God to people of all ages, we were slacking in the Train Up Your Children Dept.
Maybe because bedtime is pure carnage due to exhaustion and fourteen cups of water and PLEASE GO TO BED through clenched teeth, I was weary, guys. Some nights all I could muster was to speed dial a phoned-in bedtime prayer and if I felt really guilty, an episode of VeggieTales.

I wanted to be more intentional, but the thorn in my side about devo time with my family was my incredibly unrealistic image of a picture-perfect, Pinterest-posed brood sitting quietly, moving nary a muscle, as we read the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and the children do their mental systematic theology. This held me hostage from doing what I do when I teach others the Bible: welcoming them just as they are.

Our kids are beautifully noisy and messy and sometimes loud (where DO they get that?) and bicker-y and are full of natural curiosity and laughter. 

I can set ridiculous expectations in my mind that ruin family time with God,
OR
I can LET IT GO, plop them on my lap like Jesus did, and just enjoy learning through their eyes.

Tonight, we crowded around my old iPhone and watched a devotional made for kids on YouTube. Ty gave up midway through and threw himself dramatically on the couch. Heather and Tabbi pushed each other out of the way because each one said the other was in her line of view. The video was started over at least once because everyone was fighting so loudly over being able to see the screen that no one could even hear what the little teacher lady said. Post-devo, I asked my sweet little Von Trapp Alexander Children what the lesson (Hebrews 10:25 -- stay close to other people who are also "on fire" for Jesus), and one said, "You need to be a burning log on fire."

Close enough.

I tried to compare fire and passion for God to my eldest child's deep love for all things FROZEN.

Rookie Error. She talked about her undying love of the movie and soundtrack and plot and characters for ten million years.

Source


Between the ice and fire, I need to report that there was a not small amount of spiritual temperature confusion. The conversation turned to talking about the woods and camp and how it would hurt to be caught on fire.
I looked most desperately at Reverend Seth, who artfully brought it back around to the importance of living in community and serving God in His church. It didn't have to be perfectly and intensely spiritual to teach them a Biblical truth. As Lisa-Jo Baker wrote in Surprised by Motherhood, "Motherhood is a sacred marriage of the mundane and the eternal." I am praying that these little gems from God's Word will hide in their hearts until God brings them out at the right moment.


Also hoping they don't go too far with the fire metaphor.





{Do you struggle with this too? How do you consistently share family devotions, especially with young children?}

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thus Far.

Three years ago today, we met Tabbi, Heather and Ty for the first time as they came to live with us. 


God took two very imperfect adults and made them a little less selfish and a little more patient. 


He took three tiny broken hearts and helped them discover that they are wanted and made them the heroes of our family's story. 


His love has truly covered a multitude of things and against all odds he breathed on us, creating a family where five strangers once stood. 



Year Three has been the best yet, full of wonder and connection and what felt exhaustingly impossible and elusive early on, and all of you -- OUR PEOPLE -- know that he did what he said. 


God. It was just all him. Every page of this tale has held his fingerprint-his stamp of new life- beginning when he trusted us with these awesome kids, and he has been the thread woven throughout our little tribe, holding us and stitching us back together when we felt everything unravel-sometimes with them, sometimes with us. 


He took an interest in healing them (and us, in a lot of ways) and our breath has caught in our throats over how GOOD he is at this kind of thing.


There is always going to be more healing work to be done, but today I turn around and echo the words of Samuel as he set a stone of remembrance
--an Ebenezer--
"Thus far The Lord has helped us." 


With a big wink to the heavens, today I am raising my Ebenezer, my stone of remembrance. 

I'm astounded as I whisper "I won't forget what you've done here, Lord. I won't forget this."


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Scar + The Sacred.

We were sitting around the table one evening last weekend reading a Bible story with the girls before bed.

"What do you treasure?" I asked, wondering about whether they had been paying attention.
Predictably, my younger daughter grinned wide. "PRESENTS!"
I chuckled and looked at my eldest, asking her the same thing. "Food," she spoke carefully.

The moment the word tumbled out, I was reminded again that three-year-olds don't quickly forget what it's like to know the deep ache in their stomach. There's a fancy term for it: food insecurity. Sometimes at six, she still gets nervous that there won't be enough for tomorrow, so she asks for a snack every night just to make sure.

I quickly gathered myself as best I could, changed the subject, and put them in bed before I fell apart inside. I hate it that she is still struggling with this..that even after years of faithfully providing meals for her, her fear of going hungry still lingers.
Sometimes I forget that I am parenting little ones with deeper emotional wounds than that of many adults I know. Almost three years into this journey, those wounds are healing and the hurts are harder to spot perhaps, but the evidence remains: some wounds leave scars, and the wound of neglect cuts to the quick.


*
Seth was preaching on Sacraments recently and he spoke of them as Sacred Moments - experiences where God's grace and our lives intersect, times where the human and the Holy miraculously collide.
Where were my most sacred moments? Some were undoubtedly the Sacraments recognized by Christians everywhere -- when I experienced baptism as an adult, our wedding day, some really moving times of Communion, the night I answered the call to ministry. Those were all occasions when God came near in a unique way and his presence made a life-altering imprint on my heart.

But if I am honest, surely the most sacred - meaning the most hushed, hallowed, consecrated
times - where I felt the weight of glory heaviest on my soul, have taken place as God stitched up my deeply broken heart.
The moments that the glory of God most markedly covered me were the ones when I was most injured by the harsh reality of life in a fallen world. It has been in Christ's repair shop that I have most fully experienced the loving presence of a faithful God: in tragedy, sorrow, disappointment, regret, and others' sins against me.

So basically, all the moments I have desperately tried to avoid with all diligence are the ones where I become the most intimately acquainted with my Savior.

Scars aren't as ugly if you know Jesus better because of them.


*

She mentioned her "first mommy" tonight and I sensed grief weighing on her so heavily that it was hard for me to breathe. "Why doesn't she ever come around? How come she left?" Sometimes she asks if her other mom is in Heaven; after all, that's where my mom is and she sees me grieve the loss from time to time... it makes perfect sense if you're six and you feel a loss deeply. Questions I can't answer or explain away, hurts too deep for any cheap talk, and broken promises too big to ignore. Scars that can't be seen by the naked eye.

And yet, those scars could run headlong into a Sacred time of leaning into her Savior. 

In the middle of the sadness, may she hear whispers of truth and love and an even more meaningful adoption where she will find the grace of her Heavenly Father in the midst of these deep disappointments.

May she find the Bread of Life most fulfilling because she once knew the pang of hunger.

May she know that truly, he never leaves of forsakes or disappears or runs away when things get tough -- oh no, that's not his style. He prefers to sit with her and enter into the pain along with her as he tenderly works to bring healing in the broken places. Some people might not know this about him, but He delights in becoming a refuge, a safe place to get angry and throw hands up and ask why this world wields such dangerous weapons.

May she find this above all:  
He too bore the scars so that he might simultaneously know how it feels AND fix it. 
He added value to our suffering, which is the definition of redemption. She will need to know that it doesn't happen for naught...God so longed to have deep, meaningful, life-giving fellowship with her that he was willing to do so over a bowl of her tears.


Her Sacred Moments will be much richer because he will come to her as a Healer. Not some far-off God, but a loving Dad who entered into the pain with her - by going to the deep wound and cleaning it, and also ending that wound's hold on her through the loving nail-scarred hands.


*

The Sacred One continues to meet humanity in the Holy scars, the ones in which we find healing. He is inviting my precious daughter into it. He invites you as well, with a promise only He can make. "For the suffering of this time, while very small and swift, prepares us great glory without limits for the eternity of eternities."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Feast of Love.

I forgot to warn her.

A friend stayed the night at my house one weekend, and she attended church with my family at the Lutheran church in which I was raised. We went through the Communion line, her at my heels. After receiving, I headed back to my seat when I felt a sharp poke in my back.

“You didn’t tell me!” she hissed.

“Tell you what?!”

“WINE! It was wine and it was gross and I almost spit it out by accident. It burned my throat!” My very Baptist friend had her first sip of the legit fruit of the vine and to say the least, it caught her off-guard.

We couldn’t keep from giggling through the remainder of the liturgy.


---------
Our time at the Table is sacred, no doubt.

But a pastor pointed out to me a couple of years ago that perhaps we shouldn’t look so glum and down-in-the-dumps as we approach Communion. It’s not only a memorial service, he said, but a celebration of life – new life given through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He compared our experiences during the Lord’s Supper to photos of his loved ones on his desk – pictures that remind him of joyous days and celebrations, moments of love and grace and even perhaps redemption, forever captured. We can come to Communion with a smile, remembering all the ways Jesus has offered us liberty and the many ways we enjoy it.

This feast of love, this celebration, this remembrance, this beautiful mystery – is held in as many ways as the Body of Christ is unique. I’ve shared the fellowship of Christ using crackers and water and I’ve felt His presence with good friends around barbecue. I told you before I felt it at Pizza Hut (of all places, showing me that God can work anywhere). Can that be Communion?

My favorite story about this subject is the one my friend Matt tells, of watching two men with special needs sharing God’s Table at a summer camp. They used doughnuts and juice and then one man scraped the icing out of the fingernails of the other man.

May I suggest that Christ was found more in those doughnuts and that glass of juice than in what many would consider a “proper” sharing of the Lord’s Supper?

I think that doughnuts and juice thing is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Remember Me” - servanthood was definitely His style, and as we remember Him, we remember the way He loved people and put them before tradition. 

Jesus – the Great Joy Giver. One-third of the Godhead who makes dry bones…well, dance.

Would he not want us to laugh and love our way to His Holy table? Is that not the way he lived? Enjoying the presence of real sinners? Laughing with them? Swapping stories?

The elements of Communion are found almost everywhere – a little wheat, a little fruit of the vine. The everyday made sacred - the mundane set apart as holy. Was this a coincidence, or was it meant to remind us during EVERY meal we share in which Jesus is glorified and people are sharing a feast of love and grace with one another?

Two little girls at our church were sharing Communion a few years ago – it was one of the first times after they had both made professions of faith. The two girls were best friends and happened to be sitting next to each other, so in the spirit of love, friendship, joy, and some sort of sisterhood of the traveling Communion, they clinked their itsy-bitsy glasses together before drinking the juice.

Of course, their parents explained to them all the reasons it wasn’t a proper thing to do, as I would do with my own children.

We still laugh about that on the front row every first-Sunday-of-the-month. But a little part of me wonders, did they understand more about the spirit of the Feast of Love than I do?

God never wanted the memorial of His son to become the memorial of all my sins instead, where I feel so depressed that all I can remember are my shortcomings, and I forget His more than sufficient grace. That’s why He asks us to deal with that stuff and examine ourselves BEFORE we approach the table.

The two little girls – maybe they were on to something. I’m not saying we should toast one another when the tiny cups come out. But maybe we could enter into the joy Jesus finds in redeeming us, in raising us to new life, and in waiting on us to share it anew with Him in His Kingdom.


I reckon that would be a meaningful and joyful feast of love.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Hard to Get the Mayo Back in the Jar.

In my hometown, there is a delightful restaurant where carhops come to my car window to take my order. This place has this celestial combination of every good condiment on earth mixed with a touch of sugar. They call it special sauce and I am fairly certain it's on God's hamburgers. It gets along famously with the tenderloins and baskets of fried cheese served daily at this hometown hangout.

My attempts at making my own  little version of said delicious condiment of mystery went slightly left of perfect tonight.
Instead of taking the extra 3.62 seconds to grab a spoon and scoop out an appropriate portion of mayonnaise, I impulsively picked up the mayo and (go 'head, shake your heads) shook the bottle until some came out. And by some, I mean a humongous mayo-jar-shaped glob that would make the guy on Man vs. Food blush.

Like any mediocre cook, I panicked.
And then it prevailed upon me that I should take a small spoon and scoop some unblemished mayonnaise back into the container. I tried to do just that, but I could only get a couple of spoonfuls back in the jar, and boy, did it ever make a massive mess.

The same thing happened to me earlier today.
Only it wasn't a condiment that splatted everywhere , but rather my careless, thoughtless words.
I deeply hurt someone I love very much. Instead of taking a few seconds to evaluate my words, change them into something encouraging and uplifting, they came rolling violently out. And although I apologized, there was no getting all that verbal mayonnaise back into the jar unscathed.

The thing about words is that they do hurt.

No matter how unconsciously those little daggers leave our voice boxes, they WILL land somewhere and no matter how sorry we are, we cannot reach up collect those words from the air into which we so hastily spoke them.



I wish I could get my words back into that ole mayonnaise jar. Sadly, that's just not an option.

What I CAN do is learn from my little "special sauce" disaster and my ugly words and vow to take a few extra moments to make sure my words will build up and create next time instead of breaking down and destroying.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18

                                                   ****************************

"And I've concluded something else. That the words people say to us not only have shelf life but have the ability to shape life."
Bob Goff, Love Does

Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcoming Jesus: Forgotten Friday.


This following blog is in partnership with a fantastic organization called The Forgotten Initiative, a branch of Lifesong for Orphans. The Forgotten Initiative focuses on "bringing joy and purpose to the foster care community," and if you've been hanging around here for very long, you know that is right up The A* Team's alley! I am the voice today for a series on their blog called "Forgotten Friday." I hope you'll join me as we make a difference for foster children and their families through the power of story.

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The first time I preached after we welcomed our children into our home, it was during the Advent Season. I mentioned to my husband in passing how I related to Mary in a totally different context, not just as a first-time mom, but as a foster mom, and he asked me to expound on that in the pulpit.

Honestly, I found her story anew because I was a special kind of desperate. 




Continue reading over here at TFI's Blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just Wanted to Let You Know...

...about this:


I may or may not have overflowed my bathroom sink while looking at it.

The children have already affectionately picked names.
Heather likes Sleeping Beauty.
Tabbi likes "Hannah Tana" (smh).
Ty likes 'PiderMan.



Welcome to our crazy life, Baby A!






Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us! What joy!
Psalm 126:3 (NLT)