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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Prayer

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.

 

 

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.

 

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?

Perils of Young Adulting are Confusing

Perils of young adulting--antti-pajari-440107-unsplash

The perils of young adulting seem to be increasing.

The perils of young adulting have always existed. But today  they seem more confusing than ever. As I’ve worked with countless college students and three daughters navigating that territory, I appreciate the growing complexity they face.

When I sought a clear path as a young adult, I often found “Road Closed” and “Detour” signs blocking my way.  And I longed for flashes of lightning or a banner down from heaven.

But today the perils of young adulting almost seem like distorted bright reflections on a wet pavement.

My college students often told me they had expected college to be a wonderful time. And it often was. But it was also often painful. Life confused them.

I regularly shared my mother’s wisdom. She had comforted my sisters and me more times than I can count this way: “Honey, don’t ever let anyone tell you these are the best years of your life. It gets better.”

One of my students responded by telling me her story. She had so frequently been told in high school that those would be her best years, that after graduation she attempted suicide.

Similarly, at twelve, one of my daughters heard from an elderly woman in church, “Enjoy these years, honey. They’re the best years of your life.” My daughter walked to the car with us afterward and asked, “Shall I just kill myself now? It’s all downhill from here?”

Fortunately, she was not feeling suicidal. But she was twelve! And for someone to tell her that was the best time of her life was unknowingly cruel. She wanted reassurance that life would get better. We probably all remember the painful swings of emotions in adolescence. Clueless adults can make those even worse.

Unfortunately, as adults we can easily idealize childhood or young adulthood and give pain to others as we reminisce.

Even college students are guilty of the same thing as they idealize their childhoods.

I remember being shocked by how hard it was for my students to understand the topic of a poem I taught on the fears and traumas of childhood. They read it through the eyes of nostalgia. A poem talking about night lights and thumb sucking had to be happy. Most simply could not see the fears expressed in the poem.

What they needed to see is what all of us need to see: each age has its joys and its pains. And at any stage, focusing on our fears can derail us.

We can pray through  Philippians 4:6-7, by ourselves and with our children:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

We know that God promises us peace, but that does not make the baby’s hunger disappear instantly. It doesn’t prevent a child from being afraid in the night. And it doesn’t prevent young people from having to figure out what God wants them to do with their lives. And it certainly doesn’t prevent parents from experiencing the agony of letting go and letting God take charge–of our lives, of our children’s lives, of our friends’ lives.

As I often said to my girls while praying through Philippians 4 with them, “It would be so nice if we could just give our concerns to God and be done with them. Unfortunately, he still wants us to do the required work. And we have to trust him to let us know what that is.”

And trusting is hard. At any age. Whether in the perils of young adulting or much older.

Growing Roots Deep into Christ

Starting young with growing roots deep into Christ.

I love this photo of the boy sitting in the huge tree. The enormous tree seems to be wrapping its arms around him and bringing him contentment. A child this age can’t understand the root system of a huge tree like this. Nor does he know the concept of a child growing roots deep into Christ. But he can know where he feels safe.

Rooting ourselves deeply in Christ makes us feel safe in the arms of God, as this boy feels in the tree. And it can start so early. Praying with a baby who is fussing for a reason we can’t understand. Praying with a toddler over something he feels terrible about. Little ones can learn that Jesus answers their prayers in amazing ways and that he is their ultimate safety.

Writing a talk the other day, I thought about how our children began putting down their roots into Christ at an early age. Inspired by Trent & Smalley’s book The Blessing, we gave one of our daughters the symbol of a young tree. It symbolized how we saw her in Christ, as a child who loved Jesus and sought to live for him. At her young age it was impossible to know all the fruit God would allow her to bear. But we saw the beginnings. We gave her the symbol of a very young apple tree and found a real one to take her picture standing near.

The passage we chose for her was Psalm 1, with an emphasis on verse 3:That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

As an adult growing roots deep into Christ.

That verse has realized its promise. We’ve seen our child become an adult woman who has an active prayer life and active ministry to the many people God has placed in her life.

Another favorite passage that now fits her and is a challenge for each of us is Colossians 2: 6-7So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV).

Remembering the traumas she experienced in her young adult life, I am so grateful that her rootedness in Christ allowed her stay safe and know she was in the arms of Jesus. Even when she wondered what in the world God was doing in allowing her to get so sick. Multiple times even when she nearly died.

Growing roots deep into Christ moved her from being a child who played church–preaching to and baptizing dolls and stuffed animals–to a grown up who preaches to and baptizes real people. When she was four years old, we had no clue that it was more than play. But God knew. And he grew those roots and built her up in him.
[photo by martha-dominguez-de-gouveia-567149-unsplash]

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]

 

Best Thing I can do for my Child’s Knowledge of Jesus?

 What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?

Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.

But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? That marriage love is just as important for our children as for ourselves. And their understanding of the love of God for them is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.

General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only slightly better.

The best way to change the statistics radically: vocal prayer together regularly as a couple.

Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.

Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.

But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.

That may seem impossible.

But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.

It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.

My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”

Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.

For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.

Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.

When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, isn’t the best thing seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?  

What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?

 

Nana Love: Praying with Babies

Nana love: praying with babies

Praying out loud with a young baby seems to have absolutely no benefit for your baby.

Your prayer reaches God, but your baby is too young to understand. In fact, toddlers might loudly say “Amen!” in an attempt to end your prayer and regain your attention. The first time it happens, you may giggle unexpectedly. Unfortunately, Nana love does not prevent it. I have giggled during prayer as a parent and as a grandparent. I also remember that as an older child I thought it was funny when one of my sisters or I was able to make a parent laugh during prayer.

So why do I believe in the huge importance of Nana love prayer with babies? Because babies grow up. And because children learn from us. And we don’t know when God starts to give them his peace through prayer. Maybe from day one.

What is important for us to make time and space for—even when it is not convenient—impresses children as important.

There is no magical day on which they reach understanding. They gradually figure it out. Likely they’ll never know when prayer first made sense to them. If you haven’t been praying with your children yet, I encourage you to try it. Even if you need to talk to God about your feelings of awkwardness privately beforehand, show your children the importance of talking to God out loud together.

Just tell them it’s time to talk to God.

If you are starting a new habit with older children, explain that since God wants us to talk to him regularly, you want to do it together and not just silently. Don’t worry if they shrug or make a face. You’re showing them the importance of prayer through your persistence. God will reward that effort.

I remember that each time one of our toddlers first said “Amen!” in a happy voice after us, we were thrilled.

Did that mean she had any idea she was talking to God? No. She probably just knew her saying it would bring her positive attention. But was she on a path of learning how to talk to God regularly and effectively? Yes.

We were also amazed at how young they were when they first learned to be quiet while we were praying at the dinner table. True, it took significantly longer for them to be quiet for the whole reading of the Bible passage and devotional. And even then, their behavior was not always consistent.

We had to be ready for interruptions for quite a while. But with our infant daughters—as is now true with our active, toddler grandson—we saw them understand quite early the reverence they saw in us during our quiet prayer time.

At first it was hard not to giggle as they tried to engage us to distract us from prayer or devotions. It’s hard not to engage with our grandson when he sometimes calls, “Nana!” and “Gaga!” during prayer. But they will understand in time that Nana love and Grandpa love involves praying with them and for them.

As we persevered as parents, our children learned to respect prayer and eventually to participate.

We’re sure our grandsons will too. The thrill of hearing a child earnestly pray out loud for the first time is something unlike anything else.

What has gone well or been difficult for you in praying with your child or children?

Wrestling with God is Painful

Wrestling with God is not unusual for me.

I often feel the need to pound on God’s chest and ask why he seems so slow with his answers. Especially when I’m praying for something good for his children. Hearing “yes” from God seems so essential. And urgent.

But the burden of a parent praying for a child in crisis—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is like no other type of wrestling with God.

And adult children have no fewer scary situations to pray about than young children.  The trip home after the week of visiting our recovering daughter and tiny NICU grandson, born not breathing, was a clear example of that.

Heavy-hearted, we boarded the plane to return home. Our week with our daughter’s family following her complicated C-section and resultant repair surgery had ended. But her painful journey continued.

At our first airport, her text had just alerted us that she might need to return to the hospital for IV treatment of a stubborn incision infection. What about her tiny baby, recently released from NICU?!!

Arrow prayers for new mama, for baby, for new daddy, for healing, for stability, and for their peace in their Heavenly Father’s arms. Furiously I sent texts and messages to as many people as I could think of to ask for their prayers before I boarded that plane.

Then my real struggle began: “Lord, why? They have trusted you through so much already. Isn’t it enough?  You are a good God. Remember your love for your children! Have mercy on them.”

I cried and prayed through the whole flight home.

And God reminded me that his mercy for my children is endless. In my pounding at his door for answers, he reminded me of his so-much-greater pain in Jesus’ death.

I realized that I often thank Jesus for his suffering for our salvation, while neglecting to thank the Father for the agony he suffered in causing his Son to go through such pain for me and for all who love Him.

His pain was exponentially greater than mine. I am in awe.

Father, thank you for your sacrifice as a parent. Jesus, thank you for your life of sacrifice and death of sacrifice. Holy Spirit, thank you for being with us and offering us your peace through it all.

My daughter’s text had requested prayer that quick healing—after so many failed antibiotics—would prevent her forced return to the hospital. If not, she requested prayer that she would be able to glorify God through her return to the hospital.

That request showed me an example of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. The Lord reminded me that he brings healing of all kinds.

He said to me, “Peace, my child. Be still, and know that I am God.”

 

Before God healed my daughter’s body, he healed my heart of a different ailment: the perceived need to be able to take care of my daughter myself. I needed to trust him to do that.