Oh, Hey There

Well, it has been a while hasn’t it? The end of the school year and beginning of summer came together for the perfect no-time-to-blog quietness that we’ve had here on the old blog.

I hope that is about to change. I want to blog. I enjoy blogging.

I have things I want to talk about.

Pictures I want to show you.

I have recipes to share like homemade pretzel bites, mango pudding and key lime pound cake.

I think maybe, just possibly, we are settling into some sort of routine so, maybe things will get a little more regular.

To get the ball rolling I will go ahead and share one of the sweetest moments I’ve had recently with Claire.

Last Sunday Rob, who is preaching through the book of Romans, was reading the first twelve verses of chapter seven.

I saw Claire write down Romans 7:18 and underline it three times in her bulletin. (She is a prolific note taker and is always jotting down questions or words that she wants to talk about later.) A little later Rob reached that verse specifically and Claire nudged me and ran her finger under the words as he read it aloud and she looked up at me with such a serious expression.

I leaned over and whispered if she understood what that verse was saying and she adamantly shook her head yes, relieved I think, that I understood her. It was humbling for me to meet her on equal ground.

It brought home to me how vital it is that our children be in church with us…so that side by side…sister to sister…we both know that we each struggle the same…face the same enemy…and turn to the same victorious Savior to strengthen us.


Why I Should Be Critical

It’s been so quiet here on the blog lately, hasn’t it? Not for lack of words or ideas and stories; I have those in abundance swirling around in my brain. So much so that I am having a hard time keeping them from running into each other and becoming an incoherent mess. As I typed that out it dawned on me that what I need to do is write it down and sort it out. But, like most of us, I find it easier to let it all rattle around in my head without actually committing to one train of thought and following it through to a conclusion. I have greater success in creating my reality, whether correct or not, when I keep all my thoughts jumbled and incomplete.

But that really isn’t helpful, is it? Or profitable. I’m reminded of the prayer found in Psalm 19:14 ~ “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight…” It sounds good to say that I am spending a lot of time thinking about gracious living and what that looks like but if I am not willing to really sort out what that means, and sincerely look at my life through the lens of true Truth and not just my own rambling thoughts, then my words and thoughts probably aren’t very acceptable to anyone, much less a holy and just and gracious God who calls me to live a holy and just and gracious life.

I think what I need to cultivate is a critical eye. We shy a way from that word as if  “critical” has become the new “judgmental” and the whole taken-completely-out-of-context “judge not lest you be judged” is applied the same way. The word critical has fallen on hard times in our society but it’s helpful, I think, if we push it into the I-do-not-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it-means spot light.

The definition that we’re most familiar is, of course, negative – one of disapproval and judgement. That’s not the critical I am speaking of. Unfortunately this is the critical that comes most naturally to us. Our bent, because of sin, is toward the six foot log in my own eye but all I see is the teensy weensy splinter in your eye kind of critical.

But there is another way of interacting with being critical; a way that is healthy and profitable. It’s being able to assess the good and bad of something. When I do a family’s pictures I practice this kind of critical when I go through their images later and determine which ones I will give them.

It falls more under the realm of critical thinking and our culture is not real big on that. We leave that to the egg heads, the more studious and analytical types. The average person focuses more on how they feel about something rather than any kind of critical (thinking) evaluation of circumstances or things.

Is there a way to be critical that is bad? Of course there is. We are a magical people with a boundless capacity for turning something good into something bad, and equally good at hypnotizing ourselves into believing that it’s all good and not bad at all.

One critical is looking for perfection to it’s own standard and pounces with a mighty “Aha!” when it sees perceived sin. The name of the game is control and getting things they way we like it.

The other critical is careful judgment; for the purpose of refinement or, if there is sin involved, for the purpose of restoration. Because sometimes it’s not sin. Sometimes it is just immaturity and a rightly critical eye will learn to look for and know the difference.

As a parent I want to turn this kind of critical eye on my children. One way that this looks in my life is our Sunday afternoon lunch at church

each week. When we’re getting ready to eat, are my girls looking to help with the younger kids as they go through the line? Are my children always first in line? Is Claire taking only the food and amount of said food that she can and will eat? Are they helping in the clean up afterwards?

I want to assess these things not so I can tell my children they are being selfish and rude, but so I can steer them into the better way of being part of the community. I want them to be thoughtful participants within our church family.

I need to  turn that critical eye on myself as well. Am I being a thoughtful and kind member of our church family? What about within my home? One of the biggest ways that I can do this is by being charitable in my thoughts of others. Am I willing to assume the best behind the actions of others? Or am I immediately taking offense at something said or done?

Being rightly critical is a skill long neglected but surely needed in our world. It is a powerful tool that used correctly can strengthen and encourage the body of Christ.

Training Children For Worship Part Two

In a blog post last week I talked about families staying together during worship. It generated a lot of views and many an email conversation mostly centered around the question of how you train your children to be in worship.

Well, first let me tell you it isn’t easy. Like all discipline, it is work and consistency is key. So first you must determine what behaviors will and will not be acceptable. Will your child be allowed to sit in your lap or will you want them to learn to sit in their own spot? Are they allowed to color or do other quiet activities? If they have to be taken out of the service who is going to do that – Dad or Mom?

As you are making those determinations I encourage you to remember your child’s frame. You can’t really expect the same level of stillness and attentiveness from your three year old that you require of your eight year old. Think through what is appropriate and acceptable for each child where they are developmentally so that you know what you want to expect of them. That way you can clearly communicate those expectations to your child. I expect my son who is eleven to participate when appropriate and to sit quietly and listen the rest of the time. I expect my youngest who just turned six to also participate when it’s called for but I also allow her to write on her bulletin/worship guide.  I have also made it very clear to her that any reading of the Scriptures or prayers require her full attention and stillness, and she may not write during this time.

The actual training begins before you ever even come into the church building. As one friend mentioned, if you wouldn’t throw your child onto a big kid bike having skipped the training wheel stage, you shouldn’t throw them into the service without training wheels either. Basically there is plenty you can do at home to prepare your child for being in a worship service. Something as simple as practicing daily blanket time – requiring your little one to sit on a blanket with a book or quiet toy for a few minutes each day – gets them used to the idea of staying in one spot. With toddler age and young children it can be helpful to listen to stories on CD or online at home so that they are used to the idea of listening to someone talk. In our house we also practiced being quiet. When she was around three, I’d have Claire go sit on the couch by herself and sit still and quiet for stretches of time. With all three of these methods you can start with small increments of time, 2 minutes or so, and work your way up to 5 minutes, 10 minutes and so on. The biggest benefit is going to be from actually doing it on a regular basis so that it is a familiar routine to them.

It is important to keep in mind that there is a difference between “training for” and “training through”. By this I mean that you can be doing these things at home (the training for part) and then getting into a worship service the whole thing falls apart and everybody is squirmy and dropping stuff and suddenly you are trying to wipe a nose, deal with a fidgety toddler, hold onto your Bible, and deal with the five year old who is elbowing the three year old. (That would be the training through part.)

Again, it is helpful if you have already decided ahead of time what will and will not be acceptable. Here is a simple rule of thumb that I used especially when my children were younger. If I wouldn’t allow it during a movie at a theater then I will not allow it during a worship service. For instance, if we are at the movies I am not going to let them get up and down going to the rest room. Therefore, we will go to the rest room right before our service begins. There are the occasional emergencies but, by and large, they learned pretty quickly that I was serious about this. The onus is also upon me to be the one to enforce this rule so even as they’ve gotten older I never ask my two that will be prone to needing to go…I tell them to go before the service starts.

Another good idea is to mark your hymnal pages and even the Scripture passages before the service begins. This can seriously cut down on the amount of juggling a parent feels like they’re doing during a service. Our church will post the music and reading selections on the website sometime during the week prior to that Sunday, but even if yours doesn’t you can grab your worship guide or bulletin and mark pages when you get there.

I try to keep things like tissues handy because invariably some body’s nose is going to start running. And I don’t mean I just keep them in a bag at my feet. I put them on a seat so that I won’t be disruptive by bending up and down to get them out. That same thought should carry over into how you dole out books or quiet toys. At the very least keep whatever you might need within easy, discreet reach. You don’t want to become a distraction trying to keep your kids from being a distraction. At the same time it is completely acceptable, indeed expected, that at some point a child may need to be removed from a service to be further disciplined before returning to the service. We had one sweet mother that just about every week would have to get up with her two year old, spanking spoon in hand, step out in to the restroom and then come back in a few minutes later, a much quieter youngster in tow. It was a blessing to see her consistently following through.

Grace from the church family is needed for parents to have the freedom to work through the process of training their children. There is a big difference between saying that your church is family integrated and actually cultivating an atmosphere that is encouraging, helpful and welcoming to parents who are in the trenches of child training.  Commenting on progress can be very encouraging to a parent who may feel like they just spent 45 minutes in hand to hand combat. Remind them to not grow weary in doing good, and teaching your child you to be part of the congregation of the righteous is a good work. There are other practical ways to help young families who are in the midst of the work. My children have reached various ages where the fruit of our labor is beginning to blossom. Not that we don’t have days but the grunt work, so to speak, is paying off. This means that my two oldest are free to step in and offer their help to families with younger children. Children can sense a shift in the balance of power pretty quickly so if Mom has stepped out to change a diaper leaving Dad on the front lines alone with three young ones, the three young ones can turn from settled and quiet angels to Tasmanian devils in the blink of an eye. A teenager who is able can move into a seat alongside said young ones and add at least another pair of eyes and hands to help maintain the calm until mom returns.

While grace towards parents should be offered, parents should be aware of the affect their family is having on the people around them. Not out of embarrassment, but if your child is being particularly distracting and won’t be still move to the back where it will have less impact on others.  As mentioned earlier make sure things you need will be close at hand so you aren’t creating a ruckus by getting to them. Learn the art of quietly but firmly speaking to your children. Finding ways to discretely correct behavior is important. I have a friend that gives a sturdy thump to little hands and another that gives a wide solid pinch. Neither causes lasting discomfort but they do let the offender know that they need to cease and desist.

Our church highly encourages the children to not only be in our worship service but to also participate. We do not however expect or demand total silence from them. We know that this may be a new concept for some families or that some days a little one may just be out of sorts and will not settle. So we also provide a nursery if it’s needed and we gladly receive anyone who needs to use it.  I am so appreciative of one particular mother in our congregation who upon occasion needs her son to be in the nursery. She always makes certain to come get him right before communion so that the nursery worker may come to the table with the rest of the body.

Being part of a local church should also mean being part of a family. We worship as a family and that means we all have a part in the teaching and training of the youngest members of our community. It is a privilege that should be joyfully received just as Christ joyfully received the littlest of these.

Sharing with the Heart and Home.

Training Children For Worship

The other morning I had an interesting conversation with my girls at the breakfast table. Emily was talking about a friend of hers that could speak Spanish but could not read it. This was very perplexing to the two younger girls until I pointed out that every baby in the world learns to speak a language well before they could read it.
The light dawned 🙂
In the last couple of days I have read two excellent articles about children being in the Sunday morning worship service. My pastor, also my husband, wrote this one. I thought of the above conversation when I read this paragraph:
Yet another reason we find it easier to cast our children off during the worship service is connected to the other two: It is assumed that the kids won’t understand what’s going on. The message is boring to them because it is over their head, so they fidget. (Easy to see how children’s church is natural solution to all of this.)  I answer this by saying, yes, there is probably a lot that goes right by our children in the worship service – just like there is a lot that goes over the heads of some adults. But they’re getting a lot more than most of us might think. In a liturgical service (as ours is) the children are learning the rhythm and patterns of worship. They are learning the prayers of the church. They are learning the songs of the church. They are learning at the youngest age to participate in the most important part of the life of the church – her worship of the Triune God.

We do not refrain from speaking to our infants because they cannot understand what we are saying. Indeed we talk to them so that they can learn the language. I would argue that we can view children being a part of our worship service in much the same way for the reasons that are quoted above.
I also read this article by Pastor Toby Sumpter, and found this to be quite encouraging for parents of young ones. He concludes:
All I mean is that God designed worship to include other people and especially other little people, children. Real worship includes those people next to us, in the row behind us, and in front of us. It’s certainly true that without discipline or teaching, they can become distractions, but the fact that they are there, needing attention, smiling, waving, drawing pictures, and doing their own best to worship is glorious and nothing to be regretted or despised. And you, parents, if you are holding their hands and lifting your hearts to the Lord, then your worship is accepted. You are received, loved, rejoiced over by your Father in Heaven. You are worshipping, really worshipping.
I encourage you to read both articles…neither is very long and the quotes do not do them full justice. I’ve been thinking through writing this particular post for a few weeks now and after reading those two blogs I figured it was time. Because it all sounds good but how do you do it?
If you ask ten parents how they train their children to be in the worship service with them you will probably get about twelve different answers. Next week I’ll post some practical ideas that may be of help as you work to train your children to be in worship with you but there are a couple more things we should address before starting the how-tos. 
As I prepared this post I asked a couple of mother’s with young ones to read over it and share some feedback. One of them mentioned that the training takes place in the worship service. You can plan, talk, and prepare as best you are able for the Sunday service but the real work of it happens in the pew. Not that there aren’t things you can do at home that will help the process but the rubber meets the road in the worship service…all the practice and planning comes to fruition right there in front of God and everybody. Literally. It’s easy to be embarrassed because your child is the one squawking or squirming. My son is the one that loudly answered his father’s rhetorical question during a sermon one day. I know about the embarrassment. But here’s the thing. There is no room for pride as we bring our children before the LORD. This is what living in community looks like. This is when we must remember that we don’t just want well behaved children who will not embarrass us in public. We want strong straight arrows that will be launched into the world to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. The shaping and forming of those arrows happens here in the worship service and any looks you may receive in the process are filled with understanding because we’ve all been there. And more than likely we will be again. And, according to my friend, there might also be a little relief that this week it is someone else’s child. 
Something amazing happens when a family learns to worship together. I am a better parent because I kneel beside my children on equal footing as their sister in Christ confessing our sins each week. Our bond is strengthened by our bold joint declaration of what we believe each week as we recite the Apostle’s Creed.  Each song that we sing, every prayer that we utter draws us closer to each other as we come before Him.
Recent studies are showing that kids are hitting their adult years and the exit of the church at the same time. Many of them have been raised in the church but they are walking away. I wonder if it’s partly because many churches disconnect the family from the worship? Maybe they wouldn’t find it so easy to walk away if it were more connected to their family…to who they are and not just something that they do once a week.

Part Two