"'And you've quite given [writing] up?' asked Christine.
'Not altogether...but I'm writing living epistles now,' said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co."
- Anne of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery


6.24.2011

We're finalists!

video
The people at What's in the Bible are holding a video contest.  The entries were supposed to be 30 to 60 second videos telling "Why I love "What's in the Bible?".  Our video is one of the top ten! That means we'll be getting a personalized video from one of the Jelly puppets!  I'm so excited!  The five winning videos will be featured on DVD 7 in the series.
You can vote for us on the contest web site.

6.22.2011

The biggest decision so far...

We've been parents for 4 years now and we've faced lots of decisions in that time.  Paci or no paci?  How much tv can the boys watch?  How will we deal with bad behavior? Some decisions have been easy and others have required much more thought, but none come close to the decision we are about to make.  Captain Silly Wiggles is 4 years old. Next May he will be 5 and it will be time for Kindergarten.  That means we have 1 year to make a decision about where Cap will go to school.

It seems so odd to me that there is anything to consider.  Before I had kids, I never would have considered any option aside from public school.  When Cap was born I was starting to think about different options, especially as I considered the ways the current educational model fails boys and met the first homeschool graduate I have ever known.  But I never really considered there to be an option for us besides public school.

Over the last year lots of things have made me wonder about the best educational options for our boys.  Here are the options as I see them right now:
Public School: We currently live in a really good school district, but I'm not altogether sold on public school for tons of reasons I'll get into in another post.
Private School:  Cap currently attends a preschool program that is part of a K-12 Christian school.
Homeschool:  Again, it seems so strange to even consider!  As I write, homeschooling is where my heart is.  I've got some reservations, but the more I research the more comfortable I feel.  I'm eager to find out more.
Some combination:  I know the private school I've mentioned has a program that works in conjunction with homeschoolers.  Also, I've heard of some cyber schools, where students work from home.

One of the reasons I began this blog was to discuss the big decisions in parenting.  This issue was the one that drove me to start writing.  As my family goes through the process of making this decision, I want to document the things I find and the research I complete.  Maybe they can be a help to someone else with the same questions I have.  But, mostly I hope they are a help to me as, at the end of this process, I look back over what I've learned and try to make the right decision for us.

This Sunday I am sitting down with a good family friend who is the oldest child in a family of, I believe, 6, homeschooled children.  I am extremely eager to get her perspective, get some pointers on good resources, and ask lots of questions.

6.21.2011

How a jellyfish changed how I parent

Given the impact Jellytelly was having on my two boys - especially my Captain Silly Wiggles, I was thrilled when I learned about Jellyfish Lab's next project.  The beloved puppet cast would be hosting a new DVD series called What's in the Bible? that would walk kids through the Bible from beginning to end.  I already knew that the folks at Jellyfish had the ability to make the "drier" parts of Scripture accessible to children, so I anticipated a wonderful resource as this new project dug deeper into the books of the Bible.  When our copy came in the mail, we stuck it in the DVD player as fast as possible.  I loved it.  I've seen lots of Christian Ed. resources, but I have never been so impressed as I am with the stuff currently coming from Jellyfish Labs.  I knew it was going to be great for kids.  I was surprised at how great it was for me!  Watching WITB, I learned a ton and came away with a new hunger for reading Scripture.  I couldn't wait to tell everyone I knew about this wonderful new tool. 

The boys were a different story.  They were pretty excited about the shiny new box with Buck Denver on the front, but the show didn't really hold their interest.  They would wander in and out, stopping for a few minutes to watch and then moving on to play with a toy and coming back later to watch a little more.  That was ok with me.  Even if they didn't get anything from WITB yet, I was pretty sure it would come in very handy as they got older. 

On with life....  Cap is what many would call a strong-willed child.  He's a high energy, rough-and-tumble boy.  He's a very logical thinker who doesn't do well with deviating from his idea of what is the right way to do things.  He tends to get in trouble. A lot. 

Last fall, my husband and I decided to enroll Cap in a nearby preschool program.  Suffice it to say that he has not been the picture-perfect preschooler.  It wasn't long before I could tell with a single glance at his teacher how the day had gone.  If she made eye-contact with me when I walked in the door I knew he'd had a decent day.  No eye-contact meant trouble.  It wasn't very often that she looked me in the eye when I walked into the building. 

Cap has been a tough kid to discipline.  I've spent a lot of time around all kinds of kids.  When I worked with kids I always enjoyed the kids that were "difficult".  For any L.M. Montgomery fans, I enjoyed the Davies more than the Doras.  Davies just need more help.  Well, God knows best and he certainly gave me a little Davy: a horribly mischeivous, adorably sweet little boy.  Most of his trouble came in the area of self-control:  Why sit quietly and the table and do my work when I can make the other kids laugh?  Why come when I'm called when I know the teacher will chase me if I run away from her?  Why play neatly at home when it's so much more fun to dump the entire 2 lb. bag of rice on the floor and play in the mess?  The difficulty with disciplining Cap is that he's fickle.  Take away his favorite toy and he'll be distraught.  Take it away the next time he's in trouble? He could care less.  Take away all his toys? So what?  For every discipline style we've used, Cap has pretty quickly met us with a "that's ok" attitude.  He's not being defiant (usually). He just stops seeing the punishment as being a big deal. 

In the midst of our struggle to guide our little Davy in the right direction, Cap actually came up with the answer to our problem.  And with one little discussion, God used the Jellyfish to change the way I parent my boys. 

At the time, going to the corner was the punishment of choice.  It was a devastating blow that altered the course of bad behavior for the few months it was in use before Cap decided the corner was ok.  On this particular day, time out was over and I came to sit by Cap and discuss the problem behavior with him.  Before I could utter a word, Cap started the conversation:

A distraught little Captain Silly Wiggles: "Mommy, when I do what I want to do, choose myself over others and go my own way, that's called sin."
Flabbergasted Me:  "You're right."
Cap:  "Sin breaks my arrationship with God, because sin can't be near God."
Me:  "That's true."
(Suddenly brightening up) Cap:  "But it's ok because God has a rescue plan so we can be with him again!"

This conversation was a direct result, and almost a verbatim quotation, from What's in the Bible?.  And everyday we were having the same conversation.  Cap would get in trouble and he would initiate a heartfelt discussion about sin and how God saves us from our sin.  When he made bad choices, we prayed together.  When I shared this with his preschool teacher (a private Christian school) she decided to use the same methods in the classroom.

A lot of things changed with that little conversation in the corner.  I learned that it's never too early to point our children to God.  By giving them the opportunity to learn about God and the Bible in ways that  speak to them, kids grow and flourish with the ability to think about God's place in all of the little aspects of their lives.  They have the capacity to understand so much more of our story as God's people than we often give them credit for.  From that day on I've been a lot more open with my  kids about the meaning behind my decisions, letting them know that things I do with and for them are for the purpose of helping them grow into men that love God and love others.  My motivations haven't changed, but our communication has changed drastically.

We now own all 5 of the What's in the Bible? DVDs that have been released to date.  All of them are well loved by both of my boys.   All of them have sparked discussions that I never would have imagined having with a preschooler.   Everyday and all day long we are talking about what's in the Bible (and it's not me starting the conversations).  Cap wants to know how God feels about this or that.  He explains the nature of the trinity to little Skidamarink.  He chats with his aunt about the dangers of apostasy and has a discussion on the life and times of Ishbosheth with the lady sitting behind us at church.  He wants to know if grown-ups and people from the Bible have sinned and how they responded to their sin.  He plays Captain Pete, spouting off important pirate terminology like Arrr, Shiver Me Timbers and Septuagint.  He picks up his little guitar and sings songs about Deuteronomy and Leviticus for his friends.

He doesn't know this stuff because he's super smart or super spiritual.  He knows this stuff because, through the creative works of What's in the Bible? and JellyTelly, the Bible has been made accessible to him.  He has soaked up information about the story of God and his people.  The things he has learned have shaped his thinking and given him a special lens through which to view the world.  My little Cap is learning, as a 4 year-old, to look at the world from God's perspective.  And that is certainly enough to make me gush about how much I love What's in the Bible?.

DVD 1 First 5 Minutes

6.16.2011

Our Introduction to the Jellyfish

I am a Christian who has always had a very big heart for kids.  Before I had kids of my own, I taught Sunday School, worked in a church office, helped with youth ministries, directed VBS, and held a position as Director of Children's Ministries at our church.  When I had my own kids it seemed obvious to me that my primary parenting motivation would be pointing my kids to God.

Before I met the Jellyfish, I had one son. Cap went to church when he was a week old and spent several days a week playing in my office at the church, playing in the nursery during programming, and worshipping with us on Sunday mornings.  From the time he was born he heard that God loved him on a regular basis.  He had three storybook Bibles and a cross hung on his wall.  He loved it all and I thought things were going well.  I knew that the most important thing I could teach my little guy was that God loved him.  As a young child, Cap needed to know that church was a happy place to be where he was surrounded by people who loved God and loved him.

The tricky part of Christian parenting comes in the next stage.  How do you point your children to God as they get older and capable of more comprehension?  The hardest part of all seems to be introducing the Bible to kids.  The storybook Bibles do a good job of highlighting some cute little stories from the Bible, but I'm not sure they always get it right.  Sure, we can learn that God keeps his promises from the story of Noah.  But is that what that story is all about?  How do we teach children the Bible as a whole?  The good book has some pretty messy parts.  There's a lot of death and destruction.  A lot of people making really bad choices.   And there are those really tedious bits about genealogy and rules and specific instructions for building stuff.  If I struggle with some of those things, how can I possibly share meaning from them with my child?  I tend to think ahead.  I didn't anticipate actually dealing with these aspects of the Bible for quite awhile with Cap.  But, I figured by thinking ahead I would better know what to do when he was ready for more in-depth Bible reading.

Enter the Jellyfish.  After watching VeggieTales with Cap and now newborn Skidamarink one day, I began to wonder what VT creator Phil Vischer was up to now-a-days.  I knew that he was no longer running Big Idea Productions, the parent company of VeggieTales.  So was he working on anything new?  That's when I came across the Jellyfish.  Jellyfish Labs - Phil's new company.  I read a little on Phil's blog and found out about a project he was working on called JellyTelly.  JellyTelly is a web-based mini-tv network for Christian kids.  It looked interesting. I listened to Phil talk about why JellyTelly existed: to help kids who spent so much time surrounded by meaningless media know what they believed and why.  Sounded great to me.  Then I opened an episode.  There was a puppet newsman who answered questions from kids: anything from silly to deeply theological.  There was a puppet Sunday School teacher who taught about books of the Bible.  There were puppet explorers who shared information about God's Amazing Animals and a puppet scientist who narrated old science films to share about God's wonderful creation.  There was a puppet pastor who sang unknown hymns and defined big words.  There was a puppet pirate that taught manners.  Plus there were other, non-puppet programs: bands that played songs to teach kids about the Bible and faith,  animated rocks that specialized in Scripture memorization,  and more.  I liked what I saw, but the content was definitely intended for an audience of older kids.  My little toddler and newborn would be waiting awhile before they were old enough for JellyTelly.  So I thought.

The next morning Cap, who had been sitting on my lap for my first perusal of JellyTelly, asked me if he could watch "computer Bible."  In fact, he asked me if he could watch "computer Bible" every day.  First thing in the morning he would climb out of bed and ask me to turn on JellyTelly.   I let him watch whenever he wanted, but wasn't expecting him to be picking up much.  Over the next few weeks I was amazed at the way the Bible was becoming real to him.  He was learning things I didn't know until I was in high school.  At barely two-years-old, he would pick up my Bible, flip through the pages, and name all of the books from Genesis to 2 Samuel.  In order.  What's the 10th book of the Bible? 2-year-old Cap could tell you!  He knew that the book of Deuteronomy reminds us that "God gives you his best, give him your best, and you will be blessed."  He would walk around the house singing God Rocks! songs that were really verses of scripture.  Long verses of Scriptures.  My 2 yo knew the 8 fruits of the Spirit.  He could sing 1 Corinthians 13 for you.  He was blowing me away, soaking up all the information on JellyTelly.

But, it was head knowledge .  He memorized all of those things the same way he would eventually memorize colors and shapes and letters. (Yes, Cap knew the first 10 books of the Bible and what they were about before he could tell you if something was red or blue.)  Still, I was excited about JellyTelly.  Though Cap may just be memorizing information, I knew the things he had learned would be a doorway to some important conversations later on - much later on down the road.  So I thought...

I think it was just before Cap turned 3 that we got our first What's in the Bible? DVD in the mail.  WITB was the newest Jellyfish Labs project, aimed at teaching kids about the Bible as a big picture, with the help of our favorite puppets.  Again, I figured it was way over Cap's head.  Again I was proven wrong.  JellyTelly had already influenced our life by introducing all kinds of new concepts to Cap.  Now it was WITB's turn to shake things up.

6.06.2011

Letter Ll

Last week I shared some of what I learned about Cap from our first week of Raising Rock Stars. Here's some specifics on what we did.


Captain Silly Wiggles is currently 4 years old.
Raising Rock Stars

I guess before I jump in on what we learned this week, it makes sense to describe our structure. Right now we are set up for three days of preschool a week. For our first week, we worked on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because we were busy on Monday. In the future I plan to aim for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while being flexible in case we want to make other plans.  

Each morning we started off with our board, going over the verse for the week, talking about how we can live out the meaning of the verse, singing a song, learning/reviewing our letter, number and sight word for the week. Then we read his sight word book.

Next, we moved on to workboxes.  I currently have five boxes set up for Cap, but will probably add more soon - since he is currently wanting more activities than I have planned.  Each box contains one activity. I fill the first two boxes with the weekly printables from 1+1+1=1. The third box is a letter activity (playdough letters, a craft, etc.). Box number four is miscellaneous.  Right now I'm rotating between cutting practice, name writing and crafts).  Box number five is something fun, yet educational.  So far I've put in tag books and different card games and puzzles.  Looking ahead at this box keeps Cap motivated to do some of the activities that really aren't his favorites.

Our learning this week was centered around Matthew 5:16:
Let your light shine before men 
that they may see your good works 
and glorify your Father in heaven.
Cap loves to memorize and recite things.  He regularly repeats whole scenes of dialogs from his favorite movies and he genuinely loves reading and talking about the Bible, so he really enjoyed learning this verse and picked it up after hearing me say it three times.  We sang the song, "This Little Light of Mine." Cap especially loved teaching the song to Skidamarink.  Our letter for the week was Ll, our number was 1, and our sight word was "see". Cap had a great time with his sight word book "I See". I read it the first day and he has read it multiple times every day since - all by himself. He's so proud that he can read it that he has been sharing it with everyone he sees.  The only trouble he's having with it is wanting to read the letters individually: "I S see..".  

As I said in my last post, Cap has never really wanted much to do with writing or drawing.  In an effort to motivate him, I tried giving him some different writing utensils: pens, dry-erase markers and regular markers.  I told him to hold them with his pincher-pinchers (a suggestion from 1+1+1=1).  He decided that his pinchers were spider pinchers and had a lot of fun with it. Switching often between his right and left hands, he dove into his work:

On Tuesday we...
1. ...did the Getting Ready for Ll worksheet
2. ...worked on vocabulary cards: He traced one Ll and didn't want to do more.  So, we just said the words together, emphasizing the L sound and then he cut them out.

3. ...made a playdough L

4. ...worked on his cutting worksheet, but he really wasn't digging it. So, we put it aside to try again on Wednesday.

5. ...played Crazy 8s


On Wednesday we...
1. ...colored the verse: He's not usually a fan of coloring, so I wasn't sure how this would go.  He did it though and more than the usual half-hearted single scribble. He was layering colors and having fun.

2. ...put some stickers on a letter L: a leftover from a recent activity he didn't want to do with his class this spring.

3. ...practiced writing some L's

4...I had planned to do some name-writing practice. But instead we finished the cutting worksheet that he didn't want to do the day before. He enjoyed it much more this time.
5... played Crazy Eights
On Thursday we...
1. ...traced our Ll verse page: He did the other two Ll worksheets with dry erase markers on a page protector. He didn't like the idea of doing this one without the plastic and got really upset when he made a mistake.  I decided we could get rid of the mistake pretty easily.  We got out the white out and covered up his little glitch.  That little line of white out gave him so much confidence.  He's such a perfectionist.  He'll often tell me he can't do something - meaning, he can't do it perfectly, so he doesn't want to try.  I loved the look on his face when he realized even if he didn't get it perfect, there was a way to fix his mistakes!

2. ...cut out the verse and taped it together: He really wanted to make a crown and was a little disappointed that it was too big for anyone's head.

3. ...did an L to L: We listed all of the people and things we could think of that started with the letter L then chose one person to give an L thing. This week he wanted to give his friend Levi a Larryboy toy.  I'm really excited about this as a way to encourage generosity and thinking about others while emphasizing beginning sounds.

4. ...colored and put together the candle craft: This is the first time I have ever seen him want to color, let alone color a specific object while trying to stay in the lines. He colored for about half an hour, wanting to make sure every part was colored in.  I cut out the pieces when he was done and he glued them onto the paper.  When I put this one in his binder at the end of the week, he quickly informed me that it has to stay out so he can share it with everyone.  He was so proud of this one!

5. ...finally, we filled out his certificate and put all of his hard work in a binder.  The goal of the binder was to have it all in one place so we could look back over it and review.  Cap's favorite aspect of the binder is ease of transport so he can share what he's learned with his family and friends.

It was a great week! I was blown away with how eager Cap was to learn this week and how willing he was to try new things.  Starting the mornings off this way set a precedent for the rest of the day, too.  He wanted to keep learning, which meant lots and lots of reading time and playing games (and less time for momma to wash dishes and clean house).  Things looked a little hectic in our house last week, but we were having a great time together! I was very willing to trade cleaning time for quality time with my kiddos. Our board for our letter Tt week is all put together, Cap and Skidamarink are both excited about what's coming up and I'm eager to see if this week goes anywhere near as well as last week. I think it's gonna be good!

1+1+1=1

All of our printables this week came were developed by Carisa at 1+1+1=1. Visit her website for all kids of wonderful resources. You can find her letter Ll printables here: Ll.



The cutting workbook we used is called I Can Cut by School Specialty Publishing.

6.04.2011

Teaching Cap

Last fall I enrolled Cap in the pre-k program at a Christian school near our house. My primary motivator for sending him to school was so that he could spend more time with kids his own age and start getting accustomed to a more rigid routine.  Suffice it to say that he had a really rough year.  More often than not, at the end of each day I would get a bad report.  He wasn't participating, wouldn't follow directions, and liked to distract his peers.  Late in the year he seemed to settle in.  He still wasn't participating much, but generally followed directions and didn't cause too many disruptions.  We decided to re-enroll him for next year, probably much to the pre-k 4 teacher's chagrin. ;)

In hopes of making the fall back-to-school transition easier, I decided to do some "school" work with him over the summer.  We just finished our first week.  I stumbled across some amazing resources through Totally Tots and 1+1+1=1. Feeling pretty empowered, especially by the material on 1+1+1=1, I decided to dive in. After a week of getting organized, Cap and I started the Raising Rock Stars Preschool Program.   While I loved the materials, I was super skeptical that it would work for us.  I had tried sitting down with Cap and teaching him certain things before, but he had always fought me on it.  This time was a huge success.  I'll post a little later on exactly what we did in our first week, but right now I want to focus on a few things that I learned about teaching my son this week. 

It's hard for Cap to sit still for long periods of time.  While family members have expressed concern that he may have AD/HD, I have seen a real ability to focus on a particular task for a very long amount of time.  Even if it's not something he wants to do, he has a very long attention span.  I think the multiple intelligences people would call this kinesthetic intelligence.  The trouble is that he wants to move.  He doesn't enjoy sitting in a chair at a table for long.  While this is a problem at school, it really isn't an issue at home.  We did our school work on the floor.  He loved it!  His patience grew exponentially when his body was free to move while his mind focused on completing a task, project or worksheet.

Apparently, Cap is pretty ambidextrous.  His right hand has long been predominant, but he has very good left-hand fine motor skills as well.  When we started out, he kept wanting to hold his pencil and scisisors in his left hand. I corrected him a few times and told him to switch hands.  After fighting it for a few minutes, I decided to just let him use his left hand.  I found out that he was actually more confident using his left hand and had better control.  It seems crazy to me because he certainly favors his right hand .  But he seems to be very happy switching between left and right for writing, drawing and cutting.  When I shared this discovery, Daddy (a drummer) got pretty excited.  Apparently ambidexterity comes in very handy for drummers. I may be in for a very noisy household!

Cap thrives on integrated learning.  The RRSP materials we used are centered around a Bible verse.  Cap is very interested in the Bible.  It is not unusual for him to spend an entire day pretending to be King David, asking questions about God, and sharing his knowledge with others.  As we wrote L's this week, we were talking about our verse. As we played with play dough, practiced cutting, colored pictures we also talked about letting our light shine (Matthew 5:16). 

One-on-One time was really important.  Going along with the integrated materials, it was really helpful for him that as we did our work we were talking together.  He had my attention.  What would have bored him before was engaging now partly because he had someone to discuss it with.  This didn't really surprise me since one of the primary reasons he got in trouble at school was for attention-seeking.  (He's a little comedian when he can get the spotlight.)  

We used a workbox format.  I decided to try workboxes because I thought they would help me stay organized.  Cap loved them!  I think it was helpful for him to see each activity as a distinct project instead of an endless string of work.  He could see exactly how much work he had to do and, since our boxes are clear, was motivated to do the less appealing activities because he could see things he wanted to do in the next boxes. 

I couldn't be happier with how our first week went.  Cap had several achievements this week.  While before I've struggled to get him to even hold a pencil or crayon, let alone write or draw, he was all over it this week. He gladly traced worksheets full of L's and colored in the lines rather than griping while randomly scribbling all over the page.  He read his sight words book all by himself.  He learned the verse of the week quickly and has kept it with him, measuring his choices and others by whether or not they allow God's light to shine.  We'll see how next week goes.  But for now, I'm amazed!

6.02.2011

My Letter to My Kids Part 9

Continued...

So, back to the original question, what do I most want to tell my kids in my letter to them? I think it’s something like this:
          Dear B, Dear J,
          I cannot begin to describe just how much you mean to me. I love you more than I will ever be able to tell you. You have brought me so much joy and I am so glad that I get to be your mommy.
          There are so many things I want for you, but mostly what I want is for you to be truly happy. You were created by the one and only God. He knows everything about you. He sees the best in you and the worst in you. He loves you more than any person will ever love you and he wants you to love him too. My great hope for your lives in that you will follow that God. Let him destroy the worst parts of you until you become the best versions of yourselves. The road will be long, difficult and painful, but the joy and peace you find will overwhelm you and make even the hardest parts of life beautiful.
          I hope that you remember that there is no problem too big or too small for God to handle. When life is too much and your problems surround you, give them all to God. And never forget that every good thing comes from God. Give thanks to him for all of it. Remember that every human being is God’s beloved creation and treat them with love and respect.
          I know that as you grow you and I will have our share of disagreements. And we’ll each make mistakes that hurt each other. For the mistakes that you make I will do my best to offer you love and forgiveness. Know that when I punish you I am trying to do all I can to help you on the road to becoming who you are created to be. And when the mistake is mine, I hope you remember that I never claim to be perfect and that I need love and forgiveness too.
          Stay close to God, never stop praying, and take the Bible for the wonderful gift it is. And above all else, know that no matter what happens, God loves you. When it seems like you are so bad that no one could love you, God loves you. When you are disappointed in yourself and the choices you’ve made, God loves you. When it seems like everything goes wrong for you and life is just too hard, God loves you. Let his love carry you through the worst times and into the great things I know he has in store for you.
          Love,
          Your Mom

My Letter to My Kids Part 8

Continued...

Our lives must be rooted in prayer. Do our kids ever see us pray? Are we teaching them that prayer is a few hurried words spoken at bedtime and dinner? Do they know that God hears their prayers at when they feel unprepared for their math test and at when their friend is mad at them? Do we teach them not only to talk to God about their fears and failures but also their victories and joys? Do we pray for them and do they know it?
          When B spent most of the school year getting in trouble and refusing to participate, my first response was to discover the problem and fix it, my second response was to punish. We went through lots of really creative discipline before I realized the first and most important thing I needed to do was pray with and for him. Our God, who keeps all of his promises, has promised us that if we ask him for what we need, he will give it to us. Prayer needs to be our first response in life, not our last effort.
          All in all, we have to take Moses’ words to heart. We remember and proclaim with him that the Lord is our God. The Lord alone! We will not serve anyone or anything else. We love God with all of our being and acknowledge that our love for God is the most important thing about us. And we do everything we can to make sure we never forget to put God above everything else and to love him completely. We make sure our kids know what we believe and why, we never stop talking about the great love our God has shown us and we surround ourselves with reminders of that love.
          As parents, it’s easy to get drawn into the idea that we have to prepare our kids for life as adults. We worry about them not doing well in school, being involved in too many or too few extra-curricular activities, having too few good friends. What will become of them? It’s easy to fret over how the decisions we make now will affect their futures. But it is absolutely vital that we realize that our most important role is preparing our children to make the most important decision of their lives: to follow Jesus or to deny him. Our children’s happiness doesn’t hinge on our far-flung dreams for them. All of us here know that our kids can be happy without being doctors or lawyers or professional athletes. They can be happy even if money isn’t always easy to come by and people disappoint them. But their happiness is absolutely dependent on the choice they make for or against God and the effect that choice will have on the rest of their eternal lives. Living our lives in such a way that we bring glory to God is unequivocally the very best thing we can ever do for our kids.
          The same thing hold true for us as a congregation. We have a responsibility to point everyone we come into contact with to God. We have to talk openly and honestly about the great things our God has done for us. And we have to make sure that everyone of us knows what we believe and why we believe it.

In all of our lives let us remember Jesus’ promise to us that if we seek first the things of God, if we make following him the most important thing we do, he will supply all of our needs abundantly.

To Be Continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 7

Continued...

We need more, though. If we are going to share our faith with our kids we have to remember the bigger picture. Each of us gathered here make up one part of a story that began when God created light and will continue for eternity. We can’t just tell them about our experiences, we have to tell them the whole story of God’s people. Hopefully we would all agree that the Bible is the most important book ever written. We talk in church about reading our Bible and praying every day. An old Sunday-School song reminds us that if we do we will grow, grow, grow. But, ignore our Bibles, forget to pray and we’ll shrink, shrink, shrink. We desperately need the Bible. Bibles are pretty good and sitting on our shelves and collecting dust. But opening them changes everything. The Bible tells us who we are, who we have been and who we will be. It’s so much more than a book full of words. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thought and attitudes of the heart.” None of life can really make sense without the Bible – the story of God’s people. We need to know that story, because it is our story. We need to hear God’s promises to us and hear daily what God requires of us. Without the Bible, we run the major risk of living an empty faith. Without the Bible we forget exactly who Jesus was, what he did for us and what he wants from us and for us.

To Be Continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 6

Continued...

          In our society today there are two things you are never supposed to talk about in polite conversation – religion and politics. We’ve been told so many times that talking about our faith is taboo that it’s often difficult for us to honestly share what God is doing in our lives even in the safety of our home and our church. And yet, we have to talk about it. The reason for those scary numbers of young people walking away from the church is that they don’t really know what they believe or why they believe it. They graduate, leave home, encounter people who challenge their faith, and everything they have ever believed is taken out with one blow. We need to make sure our kids know exactly what we stand for and why. We must make sure that this body of believers provides fertile ground for the seeds of faith God plants in us and in our children to grow strong with deep roots that aren’t blown away in a breeze. But it is overwhelming to think about really teaching all that we believe. The author of one of my husband's seminary textbooks suggests a good starting place. David deSilva writes:
A grateful heart is the source of evangelism and witness, which is perhaps most efficiently done as we simply and honestly give God public praise for the gifts and help we have received from God. Perhaps some shrink from evangelism because they think they need to work the hearer through Romans…Begin by speaking openly, rather, about the favor God has shown you, the positive difference God’s gifts have made in your life: tell other people facing great need about the One who supplies every need generously (143)
Our faith is not primarily taught in a pew on Sunday morning or even in a Sunday School classroom. The lessons I learned about God as a child were taught in informal conversations while going for drives with my Grandpa, watching my Grandma work hard to give gifts to those in need and witnessing my grandparents smile and reassure the people that gathered for their loved-ones funerals, telling them how excited they were that the person they loved was with Jesus. Moments like these speak volumes to our kids.


To Be Continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 5

Continued...

The first part in fulfilling my responsibility of teaching my kids the way is looking at my own life. What am I teaching them through my words, behaviors and actions? If I have really chosen Jesus as my Lord, my master, does my life show it? Do I live as though I trust God to fulfill all of my needs or do I live as though it’s up to me to take care of myself? Do I make my decisions based on what others will think of me or do I make my decisions with the goal of pleasing God alone? Do I live as though God is just God on Sunday mornings, or do I live a life that displays that he is my God every second of every day? Do I carry the burdens of the world on my shoulders, as though without me no one could function, or do I live my life on my knees asking God to take control?  
A lot of times my own answer to these questions is not what I would hope, which begs another question…Do I look for excuses for all of my shortcomings, holding onto the pretense that I’ve got it all under control, or do I humbly admit that I am a flawed and sinful person in need of the grace and forgiveness of God and people and that it is only the blood of Christ that enables me to hold my head up at all? The choice we make on Monday when the mortgage is due and we’re not sure we can make the payment; on Tuesday when no one does their chores at home; on Wednesday when a co-worker makes us angry; on Thursday when everything goes our way; on Friday when we feel like no one really cares about us; on Saturday when we have way too much to do; on Sunday when we do not want to get up and go to church - those decisions will teach our children something and we are responsible for what we teach them. As followers of Christ, we have discovered that life is nothing without Jesus. We must live every day of our lives in a way that makes our dependence on him very evident. We need to make the words from Psalm 19 our prayer for every moment of our lives: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord.” May every single word we say and every single thought we think please our God.

To Be Continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 4

Continued...


Still looking at those numbers, it’s pretty easy to keep the conversation impersonal – to keep the focus off of me. It’s not my fault all those kids are walking away. The church is doing something wrong. We could talk about how we make up the church together and so the problem is ours too. But, it doesn’t really hit home for me until I realize that I am responsible to God for the things I teach my boys. At some point in their lives they will make their own choice for or against God. As much as I may want to, I cannot make their choice for them. But I can uphold the vows I took when my boys’ were baptized: I can “nurture them in Christ’s holy church that by my teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life.” And as a member of Christ’s body I can uphold the vows I took at the baptism of every other child I have had a part in: “to proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. I can surround these children in a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others. I can pray for them that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.” For all of these children I can do all in my power to “increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
          I am responsible to God for the things I teach my children and together we are responsible for the things we teach our children. It doesn’t matter how the lesson is taught, often what we do is so much more powerful that what we say. Around the time J was born, life was sort of hectic for me. I had a two-year-old in the midst of potty training, a newborn baby that needed round-the-clock care, and a husband who was working long hours far from home. It was a really difficult time. I was juggling all of my own work, trying to do all the things my husband normally took care of at home, and working harder than ever to make sure that the few hours he spent at home were peaceful and fulfilling for all of us. That time was frustrating and exhausting. I didn’t realize the power of what I was teaching to my kids during that time until B started imitating me. When he was faced with something unpleasant, he would respond with the same attitude I displayed in similar situations. If he had to do something he didn’t want to do, he would let out a groan of anger and despair. When one of his toys wouldn’t cooperate, he would throw his hands in the air and cry out, “I can’t do this!” Watching him follow my bad example was really humbling.


To be continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 3

This is part of a sermon I recently gave...


I can hear the passion in Moses’ voice as he speaks to the Israelites, preparing them to enter the promised land:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

And there it is: the one absolute truth we can give our kids to hold on to. When all around our soul gives way, when we don’t have our health, when our finances are a mess, when we feel like there is not a soul on earth who loves us, when all the ground of life is sinking sand, we have a solid rock to stand upon: God and only God is in control. At the end of the day we can confidently encourage our kids to follow that dangerous man named Jesus, because we know that even though it may be the most difficult and painful journey they could choose, it is the only one that can ever fulfill them, the only choice that will ever give them true happiness. As Christians, we have the best gift possible to share with the children in our midst. We have that ever-elusive secret of life. My favorite wording of that great secret is the paraphrasing of John 3:16 by Aaron Tate of the band Caedmon’s Call: “For you so loved the unlovable that you gave the ineffable, that whoso believes the unbelievable will gain the unattainable.” We have the great news that God loved us so much that he made us to be with us and gave us every good thing we would ever need. That even when we turned our backs on him and decided to do things our own way, he loved us. He loved us so much that he sent his son to us - knowing that we would reject him, mock him, kill him. That even in that worst of all moments, his love for us was so strong that he fought for us, defeating the one thing that scares us most – death – and making the path clear for us to live forever with him as he always meant for us. As Christians, we know the one thing that really makes this life worth living – not just that we have an eternity to spend with our God, but that our eternal lives have already begun. Jesus walks with us here and now, bringing beauty from ashes, strength from fear, gladness from mourning, and peace from despair.
          This is the wonderful gift we have to pass on to our kids, but as the church it is so easy to despair. 65% of kids are dropping out of the church as soon as they graduate from high school and studies show that people of my generation aren’t coming back to church when we start families as many of our predecessors did. Our culture is becoming less and less Christian and, alarmingly, more and more anti-Christian. At first glance, these statistics scare us because we, the Church, need our kids. They are our future, right? One day they will have to step up and fill our committees and manage our finances. It will eventually be their job to run the business of the church.
          But if we look deeper we see that the church was not created to be a business. There may be business-like things to accomplish, but I have a feeling they mostly all fall under the category of things Jesus tells us not to worry about. And while the church wasn’t created for the business of being in business, we also don’t exist for the simple cause of passing on traditions, a community framework or even a building. God has much bigger things in store for us. And if we aren’t careful we come dangerously close to saying that the great tragedy of the church’s 65% dropout rate is that our pews are looking empty. When the real heart-breaking issue is that 65% of American high school graduates are walking away from one of the most important and sacred gifts God have given us – the body of Christ and the even greater tragedy is that many of them are walking away from faith in Jesus altogether.

To be continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 2

This is part 2 of a sermon I gave recently...
  
        It’s a pretty big risk as a parent to raise our kids to be Christ-followers. It runs counter to our instinct of protecting our children. If we’re honest, reading the New Testament can be a pretty big shock. Jesus and the epistle writers make some pretty challenging statements about what following God will mean for us. One of the biggest challenges is our gospel reading today. (Matthew 6:24-34) As adults, we have to be the responsible ones. We make sure everyone else eats and has the material things they need. Not only that, but we do our very best to make sure our kids are ready to take over those responsibilities for themselves. Sometimes all of parenting can feel like it’s preparation for the day when our kids will feed and clothe themselves. And secretly we worry that they won’t be able to.
          In the face of all that hustle and bustle, responsibility and worry, Jesus tells us to stop. It’s really counter-intuitive: You just focus on God and he’ll take care of the rest. And instead of just politely saying he plans to take care of us, he calls us out: either you are devoted to me and money is nothing to you, or you are devoted to money and I am nothing to you. You can choose what you pursue, but you have to make a choice. You can’t serve us both.
          And in God’s typical “foolish wisdom” it really makes sense, because while I don’t want my kids to ever want for anything. I know that if I send my kids in pursuit of a financially independent lifestyle chances are that no amount of money will ever satisfy them. They will always need more. Money never makes anyone happy. And if I’m honest, those other dreams I have for my boys don’t really fulfill the goal of happiness either. No matter how much education they receive, their knowledge alone can’t give them true happiness and there will be times when the people who love them the most let them down or cause them pain. And now the picture is looking pretty grim. What meaningful life advice can I give them?

To be continued...

My Letter to My Kids Part 1

This series of posts comes from a sermon I recently gave in my church. It's a little lengthy, so I'll split it up. :)

As a parent, I happen to think my kids are pretty great. I could talk about them for days and tell all kinds of stories that I think are wonderful, cute and funny. I am fully aware that those stories are never as wonderful, cute and funny to other people as they are to me. Maybe some of them aren’t wonderful, cute or funny to other people. But still, as a parent, I love to talk about my kids. They occupy a lot of my thought. Beyond that I’ve always been a kid person. For most of my life I’ve thought about things through the lens of how they affect kids. A big part of the call God has placed on my life is to serve children. So, as I talk about my kids and my experience as a parent. I want to make it clear that I’m not just talking to parents of young children. Each of us has kids in our lives. If we don’t have young kids we are responsible for, we have grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and friends, including, but not limited to the kids that are a part of our church family. So as I talk about my experience with my kids, I would ask all of you to think about the kids in your life, no matter what your relationship to them is.

In my boys’ baby books there are pages for a letter from Mommy and Daddy. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I hate to leave blanks. But I still haven’t written a single word on that page in either of my boys' baby books.
          That page is such a challenge for me. How do I sum up all that I want for my children and all that I want to tell them into the few sentences that will fit onto an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper? What are the most important things I can tell them? What do I want most for my kids?
          It’s not a difficult question to answer. Each of us wants the kids in our lives, whether they be our kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or friends to be happy. As much as possible we want to protect them from heartache and pain. Most of us have some dreams that go along with our concern for their happiness. Before they are born we have our own plans for them. We expect our kids to be great. We dream of star students, great athletes and talented musicians. We want our kids to grow up to become well-adjusted adults with high-paying, prestigious professions. Of course, when the time is right, they will fall in love with the perfect person and give us the perfect grandkids and we will all live happily-ever-after. Sure, we know when we start our dreaming that there will be some bumps along the way. But we want their paths through life to be as easy and guarded as possible.
          I could fill my boys’ pages with my aspirations for their lives and advice on how to fulfill them. After all, there’s nothing altogether wrong with my (admittedly far-fetched) dream that my boys will eventually earn full-ride scholarships to the school of their choice (not too far away, of course) and after earning their degrees (one in biology and the other in physics) my oldest will go on to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and my youngest will become a Green Bay Packer. Along the way they will have easy lives, free of financial woes and surrounded by people who love them. And of course I get at least 10 grandkids out of the deal.
          But still, those hopes of mine can’t be the words I choose for their letters. If I boil it down, what I’m really wishing in that scenario is that they have easy lives. But I know that easy can be a very far cry from fulfilling. And I’ve learned through my own experience and the stories of others that if I’m looking for an easy path for my kids I’d be better off finding something else for them to do on Sunday morning and keeping them as far away from Jesus as I can. He tells us up front that following him is not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult.
          William Willimon is a former dean of the chapel at Duke University. Many of us have probably heard his story about the conversation he had with a very upset parent. The father of one of his students had just found out that his daughter, a BS in mechanical engineering who he planned to send to graduate school, had decided to become a missionary in Haiti. The father was irate that she was going to “throw it all away,” saying to Willimon, “You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible.” Willimon pointed out to the father that if he wanted to know who was really responsible for his daughter’s decision, he should look in the mirror. He and his wife made the decision to have her baptized, they took her to church and Sunday School and they prayed for her. Willimon said “You are the ones who introduced her to Jesus, not me.” 

To be continued...