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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Family

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.

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?

 

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?

Haystack Rock Memories

haystack rock memories will always be with me

My Haystack Rock memories are among my best.

As a child, I loved it when it was a year my parents chose to take us to Cannon Beach for vacation. It was a Christian family camp, so they had wonderful lectures and group activities for all ages. But best of all in my experience were our Haystack Rock memories.

My just-younger sister and I were old enough to opt out of children’s activities, so we got to be free-range kids at the beach.

What could be better? We wandered the colorful streets, looked in store windows, bought ice cream sandwiches from a vending machine. A couple of times we walked all the way to the beach and saw Haystack Rock. I’m not sure the two of us actually ever walked without our parents the whole two and a half miles to the big rock and back. But we loved going to the beach at low tide and examining the new world available for us to see there.

Years later, my husband and I got to return with our daughters to make new Haystack Rock memories.

My husband and daughters loved it as much as I did. This time the kids didn’t get opportunities to range free of us for a half day at a time, as I had. But they also loved seeing a different, more creative side of God in the marine life exposed at low tide.

Haystack Rock Memories
Memories of low-tide near Haystack Rock

Together we reveled in examining the tiny creatures clinging to the wet rocks. We investigated tiny pools of fish temporarily cut off from the larger ocean. We marveled at all the starfish on the wet sand that survived till the tide came back in. And each night we watched the times of the tides according to the published time table, amazed that every day was different but always on a predictable schedule. God’s timing is beyond our imaginings.

During family prayer time that week, we thanked God often for the beauty of his creation.

Looking at the complexity of marine life we were able to see  gave us a renewed appreciation for how big our God is. And how amazing it is that such a big God still cares about our daily needs.

Even more amazing is that the Lord Jesus Christ we regularly pray to created the world. We so often envision the Father as the creator and somehow think of Jesus coming on the scene as a baby. Obviously, that is when Jesus appeared as a human being.

But Jesus, the Son of God, was present at creation and participated in it. I love imagining the possibilities of the Triune God discussing together what to create next. God created us in his image–in community. Because he, our creator, is himself a community.

How cool is that!

No wonder he loves to have us talk to him and want to spend time with him. That’s at the heart of what community means: enjoying being together. Enjoying being together and enjoying the marvels of creation are what make my Haystack Rock memories the best!

Broken Reflections of God’s Character?

Are we broken reflections of God’s character?

When our children were little, my husband and I tried to teach them well. We tried to teach them to love Jesus, to behave well, to be nice to each other. Many times that worked well.

But what we did not realize until years into this parenting gig is that children do not automatically accept our values. We know that’s true of teenagers. We brace ourselves for that during those years.

But I did not expect it so early. I did not think of the possibility that my five-year-old would not accept the values of honesty and respect of others’ property.

The fact that lying and stealing are wrong does not necessarily matter to a five-year-old. And every carefully thought-out punishment cannot change that. Believe me–we tried everything.

Then I read Josh McDowell’s Right From Wrong–a book based on extensive surveys of churched and unchurched teenagers. Wow! He was right. I too had been trying to teach my daughters right from wrong through turning biblical principles into behavior.

I had been missing the why. The perfectly righteous character of our God is the reason we need to act justly in love and truth. As his children we need to reflect his character to those around us.

But too often we are broken reflections of God’s character.

As are our children. But when we focus on their behavior, as McDowell’s book demonstrates, we reinforce for our children their desire not to get caught rather than their desire to be truly good.

I’m grateful my parents never worried to me about what others would think if my sisters or I misbehaved. But even so, I internalized too much of a focus on good behavior, rather than on the reason for the good behavior.

What I needed to realize is that my experience of living as God’s child should make me want to reflect his perfectly righteous and loving character. We seek to do good not to earn God’s love but to reflect the goodness of the God who loves us.

Reflecting God’s character also needed to be the motivation for my children.

I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.

I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.

This evening after a series of misbehaviors, I asked her, among other things, if she was a child of God. “Yes,” she answered begrudgingly. I asked her if God ever lied. “No,” with eye rolling. Did God ever steal? “No,” in an even more exasperated voice.

Then I asked her if children usually look like their parents. Then if she, as a child of God, wanted to look like God. All her answers were easy until the last one. The question that changed her was “What would it look like if you as a child of God were to look like God?”

She probably took two solid minutes to think that over before answering in a bewildered voice: “Not lie. Not steal.”

After she told me she wanted to look like God, we prayed together that God would give her his power to change. God answered that prayer powerfully. The family could hardly believe the change in her behavior. And that it lasted.

But God changed me through that exchange as well. I realized how important it is to strive to minimize broken reflections of God’s character by focusing on him more than on behavior.

[Photo by romello-williams-385888-unsplash(1).jpg]

 

Family Devotions Fail for Six Reasons

#6— Dinnertime family devotions fail because schedules hardly ever work for everyone to even eat at the same time.

#5— Mid-evening devotions fail because each person has so much to do that there’s no time.

#4— Bedtime devotions fail because of people’s exhaustion and crabbiness then.

#3— Morning devotions fail because people are much too tired to get up even earlier than otherwise necessary.

#2— Family devotions fail because the kids are too little yet to be blessed by them.

#1— Life is just too busy right now for everyone and will work better when things settle down.

The truth is that the main reason family devotions fail is that parents are tired and feel stretched to the max. With so much on our to-do lists, we do what is urgent. We think it’s better to wait for better circumstances than to do family devotions poorly.

 In reality, the best devotions are often brief ones that bless the parents and then bless the children.

If we as parents take a few minutes to seek the Lord through his Word—even when exhausted—we will all experience blessings.

When parents—as leaders of the family—find blessings by meeting God regularly, children see blessings as well.

Is it possible that babies will sometimes cry? Yes.

Is it also likely children will adapt to the routine? Yes.

Might children sometimes express boredom? Yes.

Are they also likely to find interesting what their parents do—eventually? Yes.

Might one or two family members make so many jokes that the family is laughing hysterically and postponing Bible reading? Guilty. Both as a child and as an adult.

But did those occasional times actually increase family bonding? Yes.

Many excellent Bible materials are available in age-appropriate formats for children.

Children are capable of learning so much. That’s why they’re often called little sponges. What better material for them to soak up at an impressionable age than the Bible?

My parents traded off between reading the Bible with an adult devotional and reading a children’s Bible storybook. My husband and I used a Bible storybook when our girls were little. Later, they were all ready for regular Bible reading and an adult devotional.

Suppertime worked well for us. I know some people choose to do devotions together before the first child goes to bed. Some parents choose an after-school slot. Some parents even insist early in the morning is best for their family. I am so not a morning person that I can hardly imagine doing that!

Family devotions sound like such a good idea—for some day in the future when life is a little calmer and more predictable. Right?

Is there a part of you that wishes you could do them right now as a family? Might there be a way to try a very short version of them at whichever time of day suits your family best? If you have ideas on how this works for you, I would love to hear them.

Creating Good Traditions

creating good traditions

Who needs tradition?

It’s boring to do everything just like our parents and grandparents. Besides, it will make our children think that Christianity is just a bunch of empty habits, and they’ll reject it. Right? Or is creating good traditions possible?

At one point, our girls went through a period of rebelling against church attendance. And Satan certainly did his best to reinforce their rebellion. Lost shoes, people not feeling well, hair that seemed to snarl worst on Sunday mornings. General crabbiness.

Then we countered with a special tradition a pastor had suggested: a yummy, sweet breakfast only on Sundays.

Coffeecake actually helped. Who would have guessed? One friend calls it “Fighting Satan with cinnamon rolls.” 

How can we choose our family’s habits—or traditions—intentionally—to establish what my friend Jeff Fisher calls “the scaffolding of our faith” And how do we choose actions that will reinforce in us and our children our love for the Lord Jesus and his centrality in our lives?

As we think about building this spiritual scaffolding, we need to remember that scaffolding is not fun, nice-looking, or desirable in itself, only in what it allows us to build.   We don’t want our children unhappy. Still, habits—even excellent habits—can be uncomfortable at times, until we grow into them.

For example, family devotions after dinner with very young children can make everyone crabby at times. As can prayer time with the entire family before the first person goes to bed, delaying bedtime. And asking a child for a prayer request each morning before school may feel pointless when a child’s daily answers sometimes hardly vary—“I don’t know. That I have a good day.”

Sharing some of our fears and inadequacies with our children and asking them to pray for us is scary.

Because we may not want them to know that we are feeling emotionally fragile that day. Or that a parent’s job is in danger. It might even seem likely to limit their trust in us as parents.

Yet God calls us to share with our children and others around us the ways he is working in our lives.

He is not terribly concerned that we might not like feeling vulnerable.  

But he is concerned about our showing him as the surpassingly awesome Lord of our lives!  

And he wants us to share with our children how he is answering our prayers. As we think back over ways God has grown our faith one stone at a time, we are called to be intentional in choosing our family’s traditions in ways that help grow that faith.

Creating good traditions is good for each family member.

If, like me, you grew up in a Christian household, you may have traditions that blessed you. You may have already adopted them. Or you might plan to start once life feels a little less hectic. Or you may not have spiritual traditions to choose from. No matter our history, God calls each of us to be intentional about faith with our children.

I encourage you to choose one new spiritual tradition to establish in your household.

 

Missing Unconditional Love

My mom realized her five-year-old was missing unconditional love the day she asked her, “Mommy, will you still love me if I go to prison?

Energetic, enthusiastic, full-volume—my little sister had a knack for getting herself into trouble. Sometimes she may have deserved it. But generally she simply had more energy or volume than adults wanted her to have. Her misdemeanors left her with the feeling of missing unconditional love.

Vases may have gotten in the way of her energetic movements. Adults may have stopped napping at the sound of her arrival in the house. Things may have fallen over during her exciting games. Adults may have said their ears were hurting from her excited yelling about whatever she was doing.

But at first my mom failed to see that my sister was assuming her frequent punishments and reproofs proved she was a bad person.

Probably many of us do that as parents. I know I did—and only realized it much later.

Fortunately, my mom’s wake-up call allowed her to change her mode of parenting my sister.

—”Mommy, will you still love me if I have to go to prison?”

—“What do you mean? You’re not going to prison.”

—”But what if I do? Will you still love me then?”

—”No, Honey, you will never go to prison.”

—”But what if I do?”

—“You won’t ever go to prison, but I will still love you if you do.”

—“Really?”

—“Honey, I will never stop loving you. If you ever go to prison, I will visit you all the time. I promise.”

—“Okay, good.”

That day my sister felt better, feeling unconditionally loved, while my mom felt terrible. My mom realized she needed to completely change the way she responded to my sister when upset. In those moments, she needed to talk about the problems of my sister’s behavior in ways that focused on the behavior rather than on her person.

Mom began to talk about how Jesus loves people in prison and loves all of us, regardless of our behavior.

She also noticed two poison words she had been using a lot with my sister: “always” and “never.”

 

I wish I could have learned that lesson then for all my future relationships. Unfortunately, I needed to learn the same thing the hard way. Though I never had children assume they would go to prison, I’m sure I sometimes made mine feel that they were worthless.

What Mom needed to focus on with my sister—and I needed to with my daughters—is how much God loves us. No matter what.

 

Anyone who knows my sister now would have a hard time believing this story. Yet if my mom had allowed my sister to grow up feeling worthless, I’m sure she would never have become the powerful Christian she is today.

Even when we mess up as parents, God forgives us and can bring our children to forgive us too.

Praise God!

Family Prayer Time: My Favorite Bedtime Tradition

family prayer time jordan-whitt-145327(1)

All three of my adult daughters have commented at some moment that the best thing we did as parents was to have family prayer time.

Does this mean they always felt that way, or that it never felt like a chore to fulfill? I’m sure not. I know we parents often felt family prayer time was something we needed to power through in our exhaustion.

But our little girls experienced some of their best answers in response to family-time prayers. They often also found that time at the end of each day to be a bit of comfort . As a family, we shared concerns together we never would have otherwise.

We sort of stumbled onto it, but we came to value it highly. When our oldest first began talking, we started praying with her at her bed before saying goodnight. Like lots of parents.

My husband and I made a point of both doing this together with her.

That is probably the conscious decision that turned it into “Family Prayer Time.”

We started with very simple “God bless Grandma and Grandpa G.” kinds of prayers. She was an early talker. At two she was praying that I would have a baby sister for her. Then one day she got suspicious: “Mom, you and Dad aren’t praying too, are you?” I had to admit that we were not praying for that yet.

When she did have a little sister, we started having prayer time together in the little one’s room. In early years, it was the youngest who went to bed first. So we prayed together in her room.

Eventually, predictably, we parents began going to bed soonest and called for prayer time when we were ready to head to bed. By then we were so much bigger and older that we preferred the comfort of the family room.

When the girls were teens, prayer time usually took 15-30 minutes. But sometimes it took long enough for a parent or siblings to become impatient and wonder if the time were worth it. During this time I’m sure having to do family prayer time was often an annoyance to our older, busy kids.

One interesting fact, however, is that I have no memory of the girls complaining about prayer time. Church, yes. Baths, yes. Vegetables, yes. But never prayer time.

I asked one of my daughters recently if she had ever resented it. She was a bit surprised by the question: “No. It was just always something I thought was normal.”

The rewards have been tremendous!

We now see our grown daughters take their needs to Jesus regularly. We see them pray with others. And we have even learned of their leading others to know who Jesus is.

All became comfortable praying out loud with others at far younger ages than my husband and I did. We believe this is because of family prayer time.

Is there a version of this that could work in your home? Or do you have a different prayer tradition that blesses you and your children?

[photo by jordan-whitt-1453271.jpg]

 

Do a Three-Year-Old’s Prayers Matter?

prayers matter: caleb-woods-182648(1)
Praying Girl

How much do prayers matter?

Have you ever felt nervous telling your child about something you are praying for? You know prayers matter, but you’re nervous about sharing a prayer with your child because you’re sure God’s answer will be “No.” I have.

Prayers matter more than we know, as my first daughter can tell us.

One morning hours after taking my baby and toddler to a huge neighborhood garage sale, I panicked. I realized I had left my beautiful, new stroller sitting on the busy sidewalk.

My internal debate began: –Oh, no! I can’t believe I was that stupid when I was packing the kids up.
–Please, Lord, let it still be there.
–Oh, I need to pray out loud, so that Katie can see that you are the one we turn to for help.
–But I can’t pray out loud because I know this was my stupidity and not something you are probably just going to fix for me.
–I really don’t want her to decide that you don’t answer prayer, just because your answer is No on this one.
–But I also don’t want her to think we don’t pray about things just because we’re the ones that messed them up.

As I turned the car back toward that busy corner, I explained all of this to my three-year-old.

Little Katie interrupted me, saying, “Mom, you drive. I’ll pray.”

As we drove, she prayed with folded hands and tightly closed eyes. The only way she knew to pray. She peeked every now and then and finally saw the corner.

Katie said, “There it is! I knew God would put his angels around it to hide it from the bad guys.” Today she recalls this as the first time she was sure God was real.

My second daughter’s earliest memory of prayers answered came with her detachable bed bar.

Somehow we had left it in an unknown motel.

Julia instantly decided she was going to pray and knew God would bring it back to her. Though we didn’t argue with her, we nervously thought that it wasn’t that simple.

“The mail carrier will bring it to me,” she told us. A few days later she looked out of her bedroom window and announced, “There comes the mail carrier with my bed bar!” Sure enough, a motel whose address and number we had never written down had found our address. They had shipped our toddler’s bed bar back to us. This experience created in Julia a simple, absolute faith that her prayers matter to God.

Our youngest daughter’s earliest memory of answered prayer was the recovery of her Angela baby doll.

Angela went everywhere with her but one day disappeared. We searched for hours, assuring Stephanie we would find her. When bedtime came and we had looked everywhere we knew without finding her, we were baffled.

During our family prayer time, we prayed that God would keep Angela safe and out of the rain that night. We even prayed that someone loving would find her and adopt her, if she had to be gone for good.

The next morning, walking our oldest to school, I saw notices tacked up on trees and telephone poles down the street: “FOUND. A MUCH-LOVED BABY DOLL. CALL ###-#### TO CLAIM.”

Someone walking his dog before the rain started had found her, evidently dropped out of Stephanie’s stroller. Stephanie was thrilled and knew at that moment that God loved her enough to care about her Angela doll too!

Each of these instances reminds me that God used my broken ways of bringing my daughters to him to create faith in their hearts. He showed them their prayers matter–even when my own prayers were faithless.