One Stone at a Time

One Stone at a Time
One Stone at a Time

Conveying Christ to Kids

Hi, I’m Lisa. I love talking to people, reading, traveling, cooking, baking, gardening, and flower arranging. And I love talking to people about Jesus and how he’s working in my life. 

I often say God pushed me kicking and screaming into writing this blog. But it was actually a lot gentler than that
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Christmas Traditions Highlighting Jesus

What are your Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus?

Family Traditions

Christmas traditions can be fun, exhausting, or family-focused. Or they can be Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. Or they can be all of the above, even at the same time. Our family’s best Christmas traditions varied with our time of life. And one fun one has no focus on Jesus and originated in my needing to save time.

One Christmas Eve, I had been too busy with Christmas errands to make dinner. So I suggested to my husband that we make a fire and roast hot dogs. It turned out to be great fun. The next Christmas Eve, as I was making my girls’ favorite spaghetti dinner, my oldest said, “Aren’t we roasting hot dogs? We always roast hot dogs on Christmas Eve.” I laughed at the notion of our sudden tradition but was glad to keep the spaghetti for another night.

Our roasting-hot-dogs tradition is not one of our Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. It could be a tradition for any night of the year. But it’s one our family has chosen to keep for decades, because it’s something that begins the evening in an unusual way. And it’s our personal family tradition now.

Nativity Sets

One of our first family Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus was introducing our little ones to the story of Jesus’ birth through pieces they could play with. My first set was made of wood, hard to break and fun to use to tell the story. Our little ones later enjoyed telling using the set to tell the story too. I look forward to having my two-year-old grandson celebrate with the same set. As they got older, the girls enjoyed nativity sets from various countries, some tiny enough to be Christmas ornaments. Later they even enjoyed finding good places to display each one.

Birthday Cake for Jesus

When our girls were elementary aged or younger, they loved making a birthday cake for Jesus. The recipe we made was similar to this one and ready to share with others. Each year we made one cake for ourselves and one for neighbors or friends we wanted to share Jesus with. The recipe used three cake mixes and made two three-layer cakes. The chocolate layer designated our sin. The red cherry layer symbolized Jesus’ blood shed for us. And the green pistachio cake celebrated our new life in Jesus.

We frosted the cake in white for Jesus’ righteousness, which he gave to us through his death and resurrection. The decorations highlight Jesus’ role as Jewish Messiah, by having a gold foil Star of David in the middle of the cake. Through that a red candle stood, revealing Jesus as the light of the world. Circling the top of the cake, round like the world, were red heart-shaped candies. These candies represented Christians standing together, united around the world. I know of no better Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus.

Reading the Bible Story Aloud Before Opening Presents

A tradition that we included for many years was reading the story of Jesus’ birth as the beginning of our celebration. In the early years, we read the story from a good storybook Bible. When the girls were older, we read the account from Matthew 2. We wanted to set the gift giving in context. As the girls got older, they often took turns reading the story out loud.

Recently, I learned from a new friend about another great way to tell this story with tiny ones. She reads the story from a book which comes with six key figures wrapped in special boxes. A child opens each one as that character is introduced. Unfortunately, I can’t find that set to purchase for myself this year. So, I’m planning to act out the story with my grandson with a nativity set, while my husband reads it out loud.

Taking Turns with Giving

One tradition our girls will never outgrow. Many years ago, we began emphasizing the importance of giving gifts. We began taking turns to give, rather than taking turns to receive a gift. It changed the focus instantly. Our girls already knew that we gave gifts because Jesus is the ultimate gift. They knew no gift was greater than salvation. They also knew that Christmas was not about the gifts they received. But up until this change, it was sometimes too easy to focus on who was receiving what.

Once we switched to taking turns with giving,their excitement was contagious. Immediately, they clamored for the privilege of giving the next gift. Now as adults, they also look out for who hasn’t received one recently. But even when they were young, changing this tradition changed the focus wonderfully for our whole family.

New Traditions

These days I eagerly look for new traditions—and resurrect old ones—as I seek to pass on to little ones the joy of Christmas and of Jesus as the reason for the season. I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions highlighting Jesus. This year I am going to make a small simple cake for Jesus. My grandson is not yet old enough to understand or remember the symbolism of the many-colored layers. But he LOVES singing “Happy Birthday,” and this year he’ll sing it to Jesus.

Loving Difficult People by Faith

Loving difficult people by faith

Difficult people.

During my time of seventh-grade bullying, one girl was the primary cause. Supposedly a close friend, she instigated the incidents. Over the years I needed to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust her. Originally I confided in her, trusting her friendship. Then she betrayed me. Repeatedly. Because she had been my first friend in my new school, it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that she was acting as my enemy. Finally my mom got me to see, after far too many times of being betrayed, that I couldn’t trust my friend. Then my parents taught me the even harder lesson of loving difficult people by faith.

Loving difficult people by faith.

Loving by faith initially seems to contradict our definition of love. When we think of all the ways we use the word “love,” we usually associate it with pleasure. We love pizza. I love chocolate cheesecake, especially when I make it with Kahlua. Mmmmm.  We love great books and great movies. And, of course, we love people. We love all the special people in our lives.

But what about the difficult people in our lives? Don’t we all have difficult people we love? And, if we’re honest, aren’t we difficult to love at times too? My parents taught me the importance of praying for difficult people. But here’s the most challenging part. We’re not allowed to simply pray that they stop being annoying or sinning against us. We need to pray for them in a way that cares about their needs being met. That meant I needed to pray that my frenemy would be happy, that life would go well for her, and that she would feel loved. That meant I could never complain about her to our friends.

God uses prayer to create love.

In his Love is a Feeling to be Learned, Walter Trobischer explains that the feeling of love follows the actions of love. Not the other way around. Infatuation can come first. Or an intense, sudden best friendship. But the feeling of real love follows our learning to love unconditionally, as God loves us. It also comes after we learn to love by faith. My parents gave me a tiny book by Bill Bright that changed my life and relationships: How to Love by Faith. This tiny book taught me how to trust the Holy Spirit to give me his love, as I prayed for the person who bothered me so much. What a revolutionary, biblical concept!

Prayer for others changes us.

To me what was most amazing about this process was that God used it to heal me. He took away my anger, my desire for vengeance, and even much of my pain. As I really prayed for this girl, I began to notice the ways she was suffering and saw that she was lashing out because of her own pain. My changed heart allowed her heart to change–slowly. I didn’t notice the change in her as quickly as I noticed it in myself. But God changed both of us, through my prayers.

Over the years, God has called me back to that lesson many times. Because I forget. When people act nasty toward me, my automatic reaction can be to feel hurt and angry. But each time God brings me back to his lesson of loving difficult people by faith, he brings healing. To me and to the other person.

 

 

God Sightings: Helping Kids See Him

God sightings: Helping kids see

God sightings: helping kids see him

Years ago, one of our church series focused on “God sightings”–specific places we saw God working. For quite a while we were diligent in asking each other for God sightings during prayer time. It was fun to see our girls recognize God’s work in answers to their prayers. It was even more fun to see them recognize God’s presence in areas we hadn’t thought to pray about. Yet God was blessing us specifically in those areas anyway. Ahead of our prayers. He knew our hearts. We used to say, “Wow. I hadn’t even thought to pray about that yet.” But after a while, we forgot to look for these special moments, those God sightings.

We need God’s reminders.

The people of Israel were like us. For a while they noticed God’s blessings and talked about them. Then they forgot. God knew that would continue to be true, so he used a pile of rocks to help them remember:

21 [Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[a] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 21-24)

We don’t live in a rocky country with a huge pile of rocks to stand as a national memorial. In fact, conservationists tell us that we might cause problems in certain habitats when we do leave piles of rocks behind to show that we have been there. So, what reminders can we set up for ourselves? More importantly, how can we point our children to the ways God is working in our lives and in theirs?

Not all reminders need to be physical.

Our traditions can be reminders. Even our daily habits can be reminders of who Jesus is and what he did for us and continues doing for us. Praying before meals, reading the Bible together as a family, praying for each other during the day–all these behaviors God uses to remind us and our kids who he is today. Can we ignore these reminders? Obviously. Did the Israelites sometimes walk by those rocks without thinking? Absolutely. But God does call us to create our own reminders and our own ways to tell our children about who Jesus is and that he is an active part of our lives today.

We need to be living reminders of the reality of Jesus Christ.

God told the Israelites they needed to love him with all their hearts and talk about him continually with their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV). In the same way, he tells us that we need to season our conversations with the reality of Jesus Christ (Colossians 4:6 NIV). To our children, we are the most powerful reminders of Jesus they have. We need to make intentional choices in being those reminders. My husband and I chose family prayer time before the first person went to bed. For us, that has been a lasting legacy for our family–and a powerful stimulus to our faith.

I challenge you to choose either family prayer time, talking to your children daily about God sightings, or some other special tradition to become your spiritual legacy in conveying the living reality of Jesus Christ.

Make Kids Feel Needed in Church

Make kids feel needed in church

Make kids feel needed

Even these days, most kids probably grow up helping their parents or their siblings in certain ways. But probably not to the same extent that was true of their parents or grandparents. We no longer have a dozen kids per family, needing the older ones to care for the younger ones while we tend to the babies, as my dad’s parents did. The same tends to be true at church. Grown-ups do everything. So how do we develop our kids’ sense of who they are and their importance in the body of Christ? How do we make kids feel needed in the church?

Needs in tiny churches

The tiny church I grew up in–a church plant–was so little that they needed to rely on kids for important roles. I was eleven when I heard my parents discussing the need for a teacher for our first-, second-, and third-grade Sunday school class. I’m sure my dad was trying to persuade my already heavily committed mom to add that to her list. But since I loved that age group and planned to train to be a teacher, that position sounded great to me. So, I volunteered.

My parents were startled. They first responded with the obvious, “Oh, you’re not old enough. And you have to have made profession of faith publicly in the church to be a Sunday school teacher.”

Not allowing kids to feel pushed aside

“What does that involve? Can’t I do that?”

“It would mean going to the church council and telling them that you are ready to go public for Jesus and make your membership official. You’d have to tell them that you understand the teachings of the church and believe they’re biblical. Then you’d be an adult member.”

“Sure. I can do that. How? When?”

Although I thought my parents were startled, their reaction was nothing compared to that of the church elders and deacons. Stunned is more like it. They asked me all the questions that were typical in that day. The creeds, the catechism, and what Jesus meant to me personally. They also asked me what made me decide to make profession of faith right at that time. Then they sort of looked at each other as though they didn’t know what to do next.

“How old did you say you were?” one asked.

On hearing I was only eleven, they asked how many months till my birthday. They agreed that I could make my public profession as soon as I turned twelve. Though I thought the waiting was silly, I was happy to be accepted. I felt validated in my faith and very adult because they were going to let me teach Sunday school.

The blessings of feeling needed

Teaching that class was much harder than I had expected. First-graders can hardly read, and third-graders are already good readers. Teaching to that range of kids stretched my creativity. Ten to thirteen kids that age at once can be a handful. But I was so energetic and eager to prove myself up for the job that I figured it out.

I remember having so much fun doing things like big cut-outs for the walls to encourage attendance. One season each child put up a squirrel and got to add a nut for each Sunday of attendance. I was so eager to share Jesus with these little kids that each Saturday I even pedaled my bike to the house of any child who had missed class the week before to tell them we had missed them.

God’s mission moving forward

Not surprisingly, the class prospered. And I prospered. The class grew in size and in unity, and I grew in motivation to learn the Bible better and to learn better ways of teaching. My most important takeaway was my intense sense of belonging that I gained from being needed by the church. 1 Corinthians 12 gives us a detailed description of the body of Christ and each of us needing to use our gifts. As adults, we know how important using our gifts is. But what about our kids?

Kids who are needed in the church feel motivated to stay in the church.

When I hear people lament about the difficulty of so many young people leaving the church, I often think back to the time the church allowed me to become its youngest Sunday school teacher. The church’s accepting and enfolding me early actually gave me protection against negative peer pressure during my teen years. I had found my place. I was a Christ follower–a part of the body of Christ. No one could convince me otherwise.

When my kids were that age, we encouraged them to help with nursery, the church library, Vacation Bible School, playing instruments for church. Those were encouraging experiences for them as they felt needed and got to know godly adults they were working with. Just think how much better it would be if we as church bodies could make it a priority to incorporate young people into as many different ministries as possible.

How to make kids feel needed? Find ways to use their gifts.

Stay Awake and Pray for the Baby!

Stay awake and pray

Stay awake and pray for the baby!

One of my most memorable experiences from childhood is thinking that my baby sister was going to die. It was Sunday afternoon, an afternoon my parents usually rested. My two little sisters were also napping. But I was not sleepy. I was scared. That afternoon, when I told them I wasn’t sleepy, my parents told me, “Stay awake and pray for the baby while we try to sleep.”  So I did.

My till-then healthy baby sister had recently enjoyed supplemental bottles of juice, which she liked better than nursing. She had decided she preferred this easier way of feeding and refused my mother’s breast. I remember vividly the scary time of my mom trying formula after formula with her, trying to end my sister’s hunger strike. She seemed to be allergic to everything. And she refused to return to the breast. Allergies have become so much more understood now, but they were unknown territory for my parents.

This was fifty-five years ago, and my baby sister was dying of constant diarrhea.

She was dehydrating. Finally, the doctors told my parents they needed to keep her alive by feeding her rice water until her little system calmed down. Rice water. The rest of the family seemed to eat endlessly the rice this water had boiled.

I remember having permission to sit in the living room, normally off limits for me and saved for guests. Because of its big clock, I was allowed to sit there. I needed to pray until the clock registered the appointed time for my family to wake up.

I watched the hands of the clock continuously, and they never seemed to move.

Though I saw that the hands somehow moved to a different place on the clock, I could not catch them moving. It was perplexing. And fascinating. I moved closer and closer to the clock, studying it. I needed to see the hand move. In later years those minutes that seemed everlasting during that hour or two have reminded me of my adult prayer life. How often doesn’t it feel that God is taking forever to answer a prayer? And since we can’t know at first if he’s saying no or saying to wait, the waiting feels the same.

That day when my parents told me to stay awake and pray for the baby, I’m sure they were needing to occupy their five-year-old. But whether I was able to pray effectively or not, my parents taught me the importance of prayer to them. My staying awake and praying had no huge significance like the disciples who were asked to stay awake and pray with Jesus. But it did have the significance of reinforcing the truth that God is sovereign. Only he could heal my baby sister. The doctors’ earlier attempts had not been successful, and my parents knew God was in charge. That day I watched the clock more than anything else, but I did stay awake and pray for the baby.

My baby sister did recover, and I never forgot the day I was the only one in the house awake praying for her.

 

Making Conversations Matter with Kids

Matter Conversations with Kids

Making Conversations Matter with Kids

As parents, we have countless very brief conversations with kids, because our lives are busy, busy, busy. And if they’re older kids, they’re very busy too. So casual conversations may rarely touch on matters of faith. Does it have to be that way?

One Young Mom’s Plea

Recently one busy, young mom with an unusually hectic schedule listened with interest when I told her about my blog. She sounded excited about the topic: talking to kids about who Jesus actually is. But then she stunned me. She said my blog would probably be most effective for grandparents.  “Because parents just have no time to talk to their kids. We’re too busy.” Ouch!! She did not seem to see my shock. I’m glad I was able to prevent it from showing, as we each moved to our next segment of the event. And I wish ours had not been such a brief encounter. But I haven’t been able to forget it.

Obviously, this young mother talks regularly to her kids about everyday things. But she’s too busy to figure out how to talk to her kids about the person who matters most: Jesus. So she hopes the grandparents will do it for her.

Making little moments matter

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that faith conversations need to be significant in length or at an important moment. What we forget is that just as our faith informs our lives, it can season our conversations. Even brief conversations. In fact, a conversation we have with a child while in the middle of another activity may come through more memorably to them than something set up specifically to talk about our faith in Jesus.

Driving in the car together

Whether we are taking a walk or driving somewhere with a child, we can talk meaningfully about anything we choose to. We have a captive audience. Sometimes it’s even possible with multiple children at a time. We might comment on a cool thing that they just told us about and say how fun it is to see God working. Or if they express a concern, we might ask them how they’d like us to pray for them in it.

Asking how we can pray for them

Even without hearing a child express a concern, we can easily ask about specific areas in their lives and how we can pray for them. They might need to take a bit of time to think about it, but that’s okay. As parents or grandparents, we know enough about their lives to have some helpful guesses about areas they might appreciate prayer for. Even a simple “How’s such-and-such going?” can open up the possibility of meaning conversation.

Asking them to pray for us

Or we may choose to ask a child to pray for us in something specific. The more transparent we can be with our children in needing prayer for ourselves, the more they will see the reality of our faith. They will see Jesus as central in how we live our lives. Too often we want our children to see us as having it all together. Unfortunately, they probably are quite aware that we don’t anyway. Besides, it would be dangerous if they did think we had it all together and could live without the help of our God. We need to model dependence on Jesus if we want our children to learn it.

Responding to positive events by seeing God’s hand in them

Also, even if a child has not brought up to us a positive event that we see God’s hand in, we can help them see him as sovereign in their lives by calling their attention to specifics. Perhaps God gave one the ability to participate better than he had thought possible in a sporting event. Perhaps someone did really well on a test or a project. Especially helpful is anything we see God doing in shaping their character. If we can tell them we really see God growing them or shaping them in some way, they will likely remember it in a powerful way.

Whether our moments together are short or long, making conversations matter with our kids is totally worth the effort.

 

 

 

One-Time Comments Have Lasting Impact

one-time comments have lasting impact

One-Time Comments Have Lasting Impact.

Telling kids that only sticks and stones can hurt them–not words–may make speakers feel better. But both kids and adults know it’s a lie. Fortunately, positive one-time comments have lasting impact too. In this world of physical bullying and cyber bullying, it’s more important than ever for adults to speak words of hope to the kids in our lives.

Girl dancing in church expresses her praise.
Girl dancing in church expresses her praise.

Parents have lots of opportunities, but any adult can bless a child with words of lasting impact.

Even our brief conversations with children at church during greeting times can affect them powerfully. Negatively or positively. I mentioned before my twelve-year-old daughter’s horrid reaction when an older woman told her to enjoy her childhood, since these were the best years of her life. The well-meaning elderly woman had no idea of the negative impact her words conveyed and that my daughter would never forget that one comment.

At the same time, a sincere question to a child about to start a new school can be powerful. It affirms the child’s importance and the significance of that time in life, because the grown up acknowledges it. Hearing that an adult they don’t know well is going to pray for them in this time validates their membership in the body of Christ. It points to the fact that they are valuable human beings and not simply partially formed adults. We can help our church children to feel embraced by the Body of Christ, so that they can open themselves up fully to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

One woman I know overheard a nine-year-old say something to her mom about the sermon reminding her of her recent nightmares.

She told the girl she had overheard and remembered her own children experiencing nightmares. Her children had been blessed by having her come in and pray with them. She had simply prayed, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you, Satan, to leave this child alone! Lord Jesus protect this child from further attack and give your peace.” Instantly, the child had experienced the peace of Christ and freedom from nightmares.

This woman asked the girl if she could pray with her right there. She eagerly accepted. After praying for her, she reminded the girl of 1 John 4:4 “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” She also reminded her of the power of the name of Christ.

The next week the girl initiated conversation. She told how she had needed to pray that on her own one night. But since then, she had been nightmare free. The woman now tells of how this girl she didn’t really know, and still doesn’t really know, has a special bond with her. Because one-time comments have lasting impact, they share a special greeting each time they see each other at church. She knows the girl feels the certainty of being a part of the Body of Christ with her.

Sunday School teachers have special opportunities.

In talking to friends lately about our faith journeys, I’ve realized how many of us remember something an adult said to us decades ago. Just once. I remember being struck by my Sunday School teacher telling her fifth graders that God had no grandchildren. To adults, that may seem obvious. But to me as a young child, it was striking. She challenged us that we were not automatically part of God’s family just because our parents were. We needed to make our own choices.

Though I’m sure my parents tried to convey this same idea many times, no memory of it stands out. But Mrs. Bruizeman’s fervent conversation with us struck a chord. I’ll never forget the earnestness in her voice. I knew it was important to her personally that we each take God seriously and accept Jesus as personal Savior.  It changed me.

A friend has a similar experience. She remembers her Sunday School teacher telling a class of eleven-year-olds that each person had to make a personal decision to accept Christ, not just assume it because of parents. And she told them they were old enough to do that for themselves. She also challenged them that they were old enough to read their Bibles daily on their own. My friend felt surprise. She also felt the challenge and a sense of responsibility she never forgot.

I pray each of us seeks these opportunities and remembers that one-time comments have lasting impact.

 

Family Communion: Sharing Food Together

Family Communion--Sharing Food and Time

Sharing food together as a family does not need to wait for special occasions or for elaborate preparation.

It might be food from a box or take out—or leftovers. It may only involve one parent and one child–whoever is home for that meal. No matter what, eating it together while talking adds value for us all. Especially for our kids. It’s a kind of family communion. Does it feel like family dinnertime belongs to another era? Maybe with June Cleaver and Leave it to Beaver? Or that it’s something for special occasions?

But how do we connect with the whole family if we rarely see everyone in one room looking at each other?

Can it work when older children have late sports practice? What about if one parent nearly always has to be at a job during dinnertime? And what if kids are big enough to protest that they don’t want to eat with the whole family?

Family dinners are not always a joy, but they don’t have to be pure joy to be family communion.

Neither were they when I was a child. I’m sure my mind chooses not to remember the less fun times. And they certainly do not require the whole family to be there for them to be valuable. But coming together as a family for supper provides built-in connection and communion, plus the opportunity for spiritual time as a family. In my birth family and in the family I parented, we had prayer time before and after dinner. And we had Bible reading–or Bible story reading–after dinner. Sometimes I know those dinners were a chore, but they provided inestimable blessings as well.

Family communion
Family communion

Chances are your household enjoys fewer family dinners than you did growing up and far fewer than your parents did growing up.

It’s a blessing that our culture lets us easily connect online, with people nearby and with friends and family who live far away. Whatever device we choose, we can allow our children to see faraway people regularly. Yet this continual connection to the internet can also be a curse. It’s not limited to just loved ones. Mealtimes these days are typically interrupted by repeated dings, connections that are immediate but not really urgent. Or by something we’re watching—either as a group or solo. Complete strangers, Facebook “friends” we hardly know, and even celebrities can clutter our lives and interrupt the times we plan to spend with our families.

Is dinner something you just need to power through with as little hassle as possible, or is there time to enjoy it?

For me and my husband, dinner times with our children grew from being a bit of a pain—when one parent had to stand holding a baby—to being positive events. But I can hardly overestimate the opportunity those times gave us to bond and to read the Bible as a family, discussing our questions together. Sometimes the kids had questions we parents needed to check out. Continuing the process even with a parent or children unable to be there was important for us.

One of my favorite memories of my own mom is of her laughing so hard at the dinner table that she needed to get down onto the floor to avoid falling off her chair. We called those “Mom with her paws in the air” moments.

What are your memories of dinnertime as a child? What is dinnertime most frequently like for your family? Do you grab dinner as you get time? Or do you eat together often? Have table-time devotions worked for you as a family? Could they?

 

Out-of-Season Blooming Flowers and People

Out-of-season blooming columbine

Out-of-season blooming of flowers and people.

Bringing my out-of-season blooming columbine into the house in October blessed me. I love this columbine’s pluckiness, determination, and ability to continue to bring joy when its time should be long past. It also reminds me of my parents. In their times of increasingly difficult dementia, they somehow managed to bless those who cared for them. They loved the Lord deeply, and it showed in their love for each other and in their love of those around them. Even in the nursing home they had fought going into.

Giving patience a chance to bloom.

In most of his life my dad was not a very patient person. He wanted broken systems to be fixed and to be fixed now–so not a process person. He was very goal-oriented and expected those around him to be goal-oriented as well. Like me, he needed to learn patience through difficult things. Amazingly, however, we saw his patience continue to grow in the final years of his life.

He needed daily care and grieved the fact that he couldn’t go out and minister to people as he had done most of his life. Yet his prayer each time I prayed with him included, “Lord, we wait on you. We wait on you to show us what work you have for us today.” He did not understand that his work at the time was simply showing God’s love to those around him and expressing gratitude. But he did it through God’s spirit in him, and people noticed.

Giving trust and peace a chance to bloom.

My mother’s most evident spiritual struggle was with anxiety and worry. The family joke was that no road trip was truly underway until Mom had figured out what she had forgotten. Seriously. She had some sort of almost superstitious sense that once she figured out something minor she had forgotten, it would mean she hadn’t forgotten anything important. We all needed to be quiet till she figured it out.

Her worry found almost endless topics. What a joy to see that as her mind deteriorated, her spirit found more and more peace in her Savior. In her final years she was able to relax and laugh more. She even accepted my husband’s joke about all the “servants” she had helping her with her daily tasks. My daughters saw in her a peaceful, joyful Nana they had never been able to fully see before.

Out-of-season blooming of my parents
Out-of-season blooming of my parents where they were planted

Sanctification continuing even in dementia.

As I shared with my students the prayers my parents were praying for them at the time, they expressed amazement. We rejoiced together in seeing that God’s work in us does not stop when our minds stop functioning well. I used to tell my parents that they sweetened with age like fine wine. (I know that true wine connoisseurs would disagree with me about sweet wine.) But I felt joy and encouragement as I saw my parents’ relationship with the Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives grow stronger–even during their final downward spirals. I pray that someday God will also allow me times of out-of-season blooming.

Desperation Parenting is the Worst

Desperation parenting of a searching child.

My mom had many moments of desperation parenting! As I have.

In my mom’s desperation parenting of me, she completely changed her focus in ways that I did not understand at the time. I only knew that Mom started telling me daily what she was talking to Jesus about and how he was answering those prayers.

My mom’s telling me of her first-person encounters with Jesus nourished my faith.

And it grew!

No one-time moment of conversion followed, but I became a believer by seeing her relationship with Jesus and following in her footsteps.

Many years later, a similarly panicky scenario unfolded for me. Though my daughter had publicly professed her faith in Jesus at a young age, preadolescence brought a crisis of faith.

In childhood she had experienced God’s nearness in profoundly personal ways, which she was no longer experiencing. Because of this change in her experience, she began to seriously doubt the existence of God.

My own panicky-mom time followed. For about six months I agonized and prayed. My husband and I prayed together for her faith continually. I also prayed with her regularly before bed, after asking her how she was doing. These conversations involved her telling me her frustrations with not hearing God’s voice and not being sure he was real. After that, I told her stories of my own and others’ experiences of the seesaws of spiritual journeys. I even told her the story of St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul” experience.

In my desperation parenting nothing seemed to help.

Feeling like a total failure as a mother, I just kept trying. Night after night I prayed with her. She did not pray, but she did not object to my praying with her. But she was used to it, having grown up with nightly family prayer time.

Somewhere during our struggle, I began crying out to God, “Please, Lord! Show her who you are. Don’t leave her in the dark! Show her how real you are. Allow her to see you for you are, as she used to do! This is your beloved child. Do not allow her to wander away from you in her pain. PLEASE show yourself to her!”

At some point, she started telling me she was “doing better,” so we stopped having these conversations. But I kept praying for her.

A year or so later she said to me, “Mom, do you know how I finally knew God was real?”

I was stymied. But I had always wondered.

She explained, “Because when I don’t know what to do, I go to you. And when you don’t know what to do, you go to God.”

A wave of relief and amazement washed over me. God had used me—his broken vessel—to show his power through.

Is God using your experiences of doubting as a child? Or of having a child who doubts? Is there a way you can make that more likely?