Parenting Takes Faith

Faith

My older daughter leaves tomorrow morning to spend a week in Ecuador on a mission trip. I’m excited for her to go, but this trip that we’ve been planning for nine months has suddenly become a huge leap of faith.

You see, our summer has not gone the way we planned. My super healthy 14-year-old has battled two serious bacterial infections. A week ago, I would have told you she wasn’t going on this trip. Her doctors weren’t convinced that leaving the country — without a parent — was a good idea. I was definitely convinced it was a bad idea.

What was once a trip that caused me just minor concern has become a huge leap of faith for me. I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t a rock in the pit of my stomach as I think about putting her on the plane tomorrow morning. My biggest worry is that she’ll get sick again, and she’ll be in a foreign country where there’s not much I can do about it. I trust the people she’s going with. I know that there’s medical evacuation insurance in place. I know that they have access to decent medical care. But it’s still going to take a whole lot of faith to hand my daughter her boarding pass, give her a hug and tell her to have a great time.

As I pondered that moment this morning, though, I realized that this whole parenting thing is just one big leap of faith. From the moment we leave our kids with their first babysitter or send them off to school for the first time, we’re placing our faith in God that He’s got a plan for them and He’s going to take care of them.

As my kids get older and they’re out of my sphere of influence more and more often, I find that my faith in God’s faithfulness has to grow. For them to become the people that God wants them to be, I have to trust that He loves them more than I do. I have to trust that His plan for them is the best one there is. And I have to trust that my kids will find Him and follow His path.

These aren’t easy lessons for me to learn. These aren’t easy days to be their mom. But I know that just as God will be using this trip to stretch and grow my 14-year-old, He’ll be using it to stretch and grow me as well. Because this parenting thing? It takes faith.

5 Things I Want My Kids to Know About God

5 things

My girls are 11 and 13. They are both in the midst of trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be and how God fits into the mix.

My older daughter has a giant faith. She believes with her whole heart that God can do anything. She has no trouble believing that He has a plan — even when things are tough.

My younger daughter, though, is much more analytical, much more easily hung up on the tough questions. She’s my kid who wants to know why God lets bad things happen, why God gave us free will, why if the world is so messed up God doesn’t just fix it.

Being the mom to both of them is tough when it comes to matters of faith. You see, my older daughter’s faith is so much bigger, stronger and more resilient than my own. There are days when I’m in awe of how much faith she has.

My younger daughter, on the other hand, challenges me daily. She makes me think about the answers to those big questions. She forces me to think about my faith in ways I never would if she wasn’t asking the questions. She makes me pray for wisdom because I don’t have anything for her on my own.

Regardless of their different approaches to understanding God, though, there are certain absolutes that I want my girls to know and understand. There are certain things that they need to know about Him no matter whether they have the faith to move mountains or more questions than I can answer. So, here’s the things I want my girls to know about God as they work to make their faith their own.

1. You are loved. You are loved more than you can imagine. God’s love is so big, you can’t even begin to fathom it. His love is so amazing that He chose to have His Son die in your place. He wanted to have a relationship with you so badly that He made the greatest sacrifice.

2. God is always there. Even when God seems silent, even when you can’t hear Him, even when it seems your prayers are going no farther than the ceiling, God is there. He will never leave you. In the darkest moments when you can’t see any light at all, God is there. He’s love and life and hope. And He will never, ever let you down.

3. We are never going to understand everything about God. God is so much bigger than us. He is so much more amazing than we can imagine. We can never possibly wrap our brains around everything He can do. And we wouldn’t want to. If we could figure God out, then He wouldn’t be much of a God. He’d just be something else we can understand and quantify. For Him to truly be who He says He is, He has to be someone that we can’t completely understand.

4. God created you. He gave you unique gifts and talents. He gave you a sense of humor, and He made your brain. You don’t have to be like anyone else because you were created to be you. God wants you to be the person He created you to be. He doesn’t want you to be like anyone else. Because He thinks you’re magnificent just the way you are.

5. God has a plan for you. No matter how insignificant you feel sometimes, God has great things for you. You’re never too small, too young or too insignificant to do the things that God has created you to do. All those things that you’re great at, all those things that only you can do, God made you that way. And He did it so you could be a part of His bigger plan. You’re important. You fill a spot in God’s plan that no one else can fill.

When It’s Time to Change

ministry

It’s Vacation Bible School week at our church, and it’s a bittersweet time for me. This is the last year that I’ll have a child participating in VBS.

I love VBS. I chose to follow Jesus during fifth-grade Vacation Bible School, and I’ve been teaching VBS since I was in high school. I’ve been involved with fifth-grade VBS at our church for almost 20 years.

But this year, I find that God is talking to me about maybe doing something different next year. For years, I struggled to make themed material that was written for churches with groups of no more than 20 relevant. We rewrote curriculum. We created team competitions. We prayed to keep the attention of these almost middle-schoolers.

Two years ago, God answered my prayers and our student ministry took over the fifth-grade portion of Vacation Bible School. They created an experience for our fifth-graders that is relevant, eases their transition to the middle-school ministry, and is a ton of fun (we’re having a full-on food fight today). I’ve been thrilled to be a part of that process.

This year, my role in VBS has been in the background. I helped them with some of the curriculum. I’ve baked snacks. I’ve advised student leaders. I’ve watched as our staff does what they do so well in engaging our kids. And I’ve had fun. But I’ve also felt God telling me that it might be time for me to find a new role, a new way to minister during this week.

Life is like that. God calls us to certain places, certain ministries for a season. Even full-on parenting is just a season. My season as a fifth-grade VBS leader has lasted a lot longer than many seasons in my life. But it’s still just a season. God allowed me to shepherd this particular ministry for a long time. But, now, it just might be time to move on to a different role.

When God calls us to change, when He calls us to minister to others in a different way than what we’re used to, it can be scary. It can be frustrating. We often dig in our heels and say, “But I like it here.” Because change might mean we have to step out of our comfort zone. Change means we might have to learn something new. Change means we might face new challenges.

As our kids grow, the way we minister to them has to change, just as our ministry to others sometimes has to change. We can’t mentor our kids emotionally or spiritually if we don’t change the way we parent as they grow. And that often means we have to step out of our comfort zone. It means we have to learn something new. It means we might face new challenges.

But allowing God to lead us to change the way we minister to our kids as they grow is one of the most important things we can do for them. We can’t feed them spiritual baby food their whole lives. We have to move them on to solid food. We have to allow them to stretch their wings and see what God can do in their own lives. Instead of force-feeding them our relationship with God, we have to allow them to develop their own.

Any time God calls us to change something — whether it’s a ministry we’ve been a part of for 20 years or the way we parent our kids — it takes faith. It takes trust. It takes an unwavering commitment to follow Him even though we don’t know where He’s leading or what the outcome will look like.

But God always has a plan. He always has our best interests in mind. He loves us more than we can ever comprehend. If He’s asking us to take a new step in our parenting or our ministry to others, He knows what He’s doing. So, while it may be scary, while it my take trust, taking that new step is always the right thing to do.

Pushing Our Kids Outside Their Comfort Zones

comfort

My husband and I were drivers for our church student ministry’s fast-food relay last night. As both of us were going, we took both girls to the event. My younger daughter was excited to go — until my older daughter told her there was no way she was letting her younger sister be on her team.

Now, usually, I encourage my girls to do things together. Usually, I encourage them to support each other. We’re constantly telling our girls that they need to remember that when no one else is in their corner, their sister will be. We encourage our girls to remember that “two are better than one.”

But last night, we sided with our older daughter. The event was truly geared at my older daughter’s age group. My younger daughter was simply getting to tag along. There are times when it’s OK for my girls to ask for some separation from one another — and last night was one of those.

When my younger daughter realized that I wasn’t going to bend on her having to be on another team, she grumped and humphed. She tried to tell me she didn’t want to go. She was concerned that she wouldn’t know anyone. This was outside of her comfort zone.

When we arrived at church, I found a friend of mine who was also driving, stuck my younger daughter on her team, and prayed she would have a good time. After two hours of running around with a carload of middle-school girls, eating as many things off the list as we could, we returned to church — to find my younger daughter’s group already back and my younger daughter crowing that her group had beaten us. She had a great time, made some new friends, and had the added benefit of beating her sister and her mom.

Last night, we had to push my younger daughter out of her comfort zone. We had to stand firm in our opinion that she couldn’t tag along with her sister. We had to encourage her to try something on her own. Because for her to gain independence and confidence in new situations, we have to provide opportunities for that — even if it makes her uncomfortable.

Our kids are creatures of habit. They like the familiar. They like knowing what to expect. But if we never push them to step out on their own, to be a little uncomfortable, we keep them from learning to follow God no matter where He leads. God is rarely concerned with how comfortable we feel; He’s concerned with our obedience. He often asks us to walk by faith — to do things that are outside our comfort zone, often things we’ve never dreamed of doing.

If we’ve never pushed our kids outside their comfort zones, if we’ve never asked them to do something despite their fears, then we’re not preparing them to follow God wherever He asks them to go. We’re not getting them ready to lead an independent life of faith and trust God more than they fear the unknown.

Choosing a separate team for my younger daughter last night seems like a small thing, but it’s one small step toward helping her realize that sometimes an uncomfortable situation can turn out for good. It’s one small step on her path to choosing to follow God no matter where He leads.

Are you pushing your kids out of their comfort zone so they can learn to follow God even when it’s uncomfortable?

Is It OK to Question God?

I was trying to read the newspaper yesterday while I was waiting for lunch to cook. My 11-year-old came in the room and started asking questions about another article on the page I was reading. Frustrated that she kept asking questions about an article I hadn’t read, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know. You’ll have to read it yourself.”

Kids ask questions. They are fountains of curiosity. And sometimes that curiosity gets on our nerves. Sometimes we get tired of the constant barrage of who, what, where, when, why and how.

When it comes to questions about faith and God, we sometimes shy away from our kids’ questions. We make them think it’s not OK to have questions. We think our kids should just take what we have to say about God, Jesus and faith as gospel truth. We may not know all the answers, and we may be scared our kids are struggling in their faith when they start to question God.

But questioning God and their faith can actually be a healthy process, if we allow our kids to do it in an open manner. If we choose to answer their questions and encourage them to find the answers themselves, our kids can actually come out the other side of a period of questioning with a stronger faith.

My younger daughter is my child who questions God. She struggles to reconcile a loving God with the evil she sees in the world. She wonders if miracles could really happen. She tries to make a really big God fit inside her ability to understand Him. And she asks questions.

Sometimes those questions scare me. I worry about her faith. I wonder if she’s going to walk away from it all when she’s older.

But why do I worry? Do I think that God is not strong enough to stand up to the scrutiny of a 9-year-old? Do I think He’s never had anyone question Him before? God isn’t worried or troubled by her questions, so why should I be?

Wrestling with God can actually help our kids to come out changed and stronger in their faith. Just look at Jacob. Genesis 32 tells us that Jacob actually physically wrestled with God. In the morning, He was a changed man. He went from being Jacob to Israel — the father of God’s chosen people.

It’s OK for our kids to question God. It’s OK for them to wrestle with Him. God is big enough and strong enough to stand up to their scrutiny. And in the process, our kids just might end up with a stronger faith because they’ve wrestled with God and God has won.

Friday Introductions: Case for Christ for Kids

It’s a cold, blustery, drizzly day here. We probably won’t spend much time outside. I really think the wind is strong enough to blow over my 65-pound 9-year-old.

Speaking of that 9-year-old, she’s had a lot of questions lately. Questions about God, heaven and faith. She’s really struggling to understand who God is, whether He’s real and why it matters. Growing up in a home with Christian parents doesn’t guarantee your kids will never have questions.

We want our kids to have real faith — faith that gives them roots and holds them up in the tough times, faith that won’t be blown away when the winds of life are howling around them.

For some kids, faith comes easy. It’s not a big deal to believe in a God they can’t see. They accept the Bible at face value. They have no trouble believing that God loves them and would send His Son to die for them.

Other kids have to dissect it all, make sure it makes sense, then make a decision to believe or not. Much as we would like, we can’t force our faith on our kids. They have to choose to follow Jesus on their own.

If you have one of those questioning kids, one of those kids who has to dissect it all before he can believe it, don’t overreact when they start asking questions. Pray hard for your child. Hit your knees and stay there for a while. But answer those questions the best that you can. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to look that up.” Don’t make their questions out to be abnormal or frustrating for you. Let them know that everyone has questions.

My younger daughter and I are going to be working through “Case for Christ for Kids, Updated and Expanded (Case for… Series for Kids)” by Lee Strobel. If you have a child who is struggling to understand Jesus, then I encourage you to check out this book. Lee Strobel was a journalist who set out to disprove that Jesus was the Son of God. He actually discovered enough evidence for Jesus that he became a believer. His “The Case for Christ” for adults has been a classic of Christian apologetics for years. His book for kids brings that information down to their level.

Don’t let your kids’ need to question their faith send you over the edge. Keep the tone gentle and let them ask questions. If we hide from their questions, they might decide that Jesus won’t stand up to intense scrutiny and turn away. Keep them talking and keep praying. It’s the best thing you can do to keep their faith from being blown away with the first strong wind.

The Refining Fire

Courtesy Naypong

I look at my daughters and I see beauty. I see joy. I see possibilities.

But I also see traits in their personalities that will bring them difficulties. I see mistakes and frustrations ahead. And I want to save them from those things.

It’s the natural inclination of every parent to want to spare their children the pain of mistakes we have already made. I look at my girls and see the roots of stubbornness and pride. I see the stumbles and the falls they could take – because I have been there. I know what happens when you get in over your head and refuse to ask for help. I know the disaster that comes when you think you have to do everything, and you have to do it by yourself.

I see, and I want to spare them the agony. I want to spare them the moments of failure. I want to spare them the pain.

So, I teach and I teach and I teach. I give them object lessons. We break down poor decisions and learn how to make better ones. We talk about pride and stubbornness. I try so hard to help them learn to rely on God and to avoid the pain and sorrow of trying to do it on your own.

But then I am quietly reminded that all those things are good, but sometimes life is God’s great teacher.  I am reminded that sometimes it takes pain to create change. I am reminded that some lessons must be learned on our own. Because without the pain or the failure, my children’s hearts won’t change.

God has never been interested in keeping us safe or comfortable. God is interested in making us more like Him. And sometimes that process requires that we be refined in the fire. It requires that our faith is tested so it can become strong. And fire hurts. It burns. It leaves us gasping for breath.

But what comes out of that fire is beautiful. It’s strong. It has stood the test and become something new.

As much as we want to protect our kids from the pain of mistakes, from the brutal humiliation of failure, from the sorrow of a world lost to sin, sometimes we have to let them feel the pain, the humiliation, the sorrow so God can do His work in their hearts. Sometimes it is the refining process that brings about the heart change for which we’ve been praying.

So, the next time your kids walk through the fire, be there with them. Comfort them. Listen to them. But remember that God has purpose in the pain. He has a reason for the fire. For without the fire, there is no gold.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.

God’s Not Real

Courtesy University of Illinois Extension

“God’s not real,” announced my younger daughter not too long ago.

“What?” I asked. All the while thinking, “What have I done wrong with this child?”

“Well, He’s not real. You can’t see Him. You can’t touch Him. He’s not real like us.”

Ahh. I began to see an inkling of what she was saying. I began to understand that we were dealing with a lack of vocabulary, not a lack of faith.

“Do you mean that He’s not a solid person or thing?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “He’s not real.”

What followed was a conversation about how God is real; He’s just not tangible. We can’t see or touch Him. We have to look at all the evidence that He exists and decide to take it on faith that He exists and that He loves us.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Children are very concrete thinkers. Something either is or it isn’t. This whole idea of a great big God that we can’t see is a pretty abstract concept. To help them fully understand who God is and that He exists, we have to take Him out of the realm of the abstract and bring Him into the realm of the concrete.

Point out the evidence for God every chance you get. We were walking to the neighbor’s house the other morning when we passed a yard filled with morning glories. I was explaining to my girls that these flowers only bloomed in the morning. My older daughter looked at me and said, “I wouldn’t have thought of that.” This is our catchphrase when we’re awed by God’s creation. God did some crazy things when He created the world. He made elephants, the largest land mammal in the world, walk almost completely silently. He made flowers that only bloom in the morning and other flowers that only bloom at night. He made a lizard that changes colors. These are all evidence for His existence, and I know that my little brain couldn’t have thought up a tiny portion of the amazing things God made. When we point these things out to our kids, we are encouraging them to notice the evidence for God’s existence.

Give credit where credit is due. Too often, we’re willing to chalk up divine appointments to coincidence. Yet nothing happens by coincidence. God shows up in our lives every day. We need to acknowledge those times when He does. If your child tells you about something that happened at school — they remembered the answers for a test just when they needed them or a friend said just the right thing to them — remind your child that God had a hand in that. God knows what we need, and He gives it to us. We simply have to acknowledge that it’s God who made it happen.

Don’t put God in a box. Our finite brains have trouble with the concept of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-encompassing God. We want God to be a size that our brains can comprehend. But He’s not. He’s bigger and better and more awesome that we can even imagine. Avoid trying to bring God down to a size we can understand. When your kids have questions about God that you can’t answer, simply tell them that we don’t know. Make a list with them of questions they’d like to ask God. Then explain that God has plans that we can’t even begin to know about. He does things for a reason, and because His ways are so much better than ours, we can trust that His plans are good.

In a sense, my younger daughter was right. God isn’t real in the sense that we can touch Him and understand Him. He’s so much more than that. Yet, despite the fact we can’t see Him, we can help our kids understand that the evidence that He exists is overwhelming and the evidence that He loves us is even more so.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife and A Heart Reflected.

Keeping Your Eyes on God

We spent yesterday at The City Museum in St. Louis. I spent the day climbing through tubes, running up and down ramps and sliding down slides. This morning, my 37-year-old body is telling me that I’m not 8 years old. I think every muscle in my body is protesting any movement at all.

As I contemplate moving from my chair, I’m struck by the things that we do for our children. In that picture at the top of this post, you’ll find me and my youngest climbing across a tube that had to be at least 20 feet in the air — all in pursuit of a slide to go down. The funny thing about that picture is I’m afraid of heights. I’m the person who sobbed all the way down the spiral staircase at the Statue of Liberty when I was a teenager. When we lived in Chicago, I always got queasy when we went to the top of the Sears Tower. I don’t even like to stand at the top of a tall staircase.

Yet, yesterday when my youngest said, will you take me to that slide, I looked at it, swallowed my fear and climbed — and climbed and climbed. (My oldest  daughter and my husband had already declared their intentions to remain firmly planted on solid ground.) Rather than disappoint my daughter, I said, “Sure, let’s go.”

On our trip up to the slide, I discovered the key to not turning into a sobbing puddle of goo was to simply keep my eyes firmly planted on my daughter’s back. As long as I didn’t look down, I could deal with the fear. One glance down, though, reminded me that I was way outside my comfort zone. So, for our two trips through the tube, I kept my eyes glued to the back of my daughter’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt.

As I climbed, it struck me that God sometimes asks us to step out in faith and do something that scares us. Putting my first foot in that seemingly flimsy tube was an act of faith. Knowing the only thing that stood between me and plunging to the ground was a good welding job required a certain level of faith. The same is true when we do what God asks of us. It requires faith to step out on a new journey with God. It requires us to believe that God is going to lead us and protect us.

Stepping out in faith also requires us to keep our eyes firmly planted on God. Remember the story of Peter walking on the water? As long as Peter had his eyes on Jesus, he was able to stay above the waves. But what happened, when Peter focused on the wind and the waves? “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

When God asks us or our kids to do something, we don’t have to be afraid — no matter the outside circumstances. We simply have to keep our eyes focused on Him. The next time you or your kids are faced with God asking you to do something that scares you, try these things to keep your eyes on Him:

1. Remember Peter. Read Matthew 14: 22-33. Talk with your kids about how Peter was able to do the impossible when he was focused on Jesus. It was only when he focused on the circumstances that he became afraid.

2. Create a prayer word. Brainstorm a word that you can use to remind each other to pray about the situation. If God is asking your child to make a new friend or be nice to someone who is mean to them, think of word that describes the situation. Encourage your child to pray about the situation every time they hear that word.

3. Encourage one another. Pray for your child in their situation, and ask your kids to pray for you. Offer encouraging words or notes that remind your child that God is not going to ask them to do more than He is prepared to help them with.

4. Print off a picture of some clipart eyes. Post those eyes where your child can see them. Ask your child to remember every time he sees the eyes to keep his eyes focused on Jesus.

God sometimes asks us to do things that we think we can’t do. He asks us to put aside our fears and focus on Him. We can accomplish great things for God as long as our eyes are on Him and not straying to the waves and the wind.

Linking up today with Women Living Well and Word Filled Wednesday.

Trusting When You Can’t See

We’re on vacation this week, so I’m re-running some of my favorite posts from the last year. Enjoy some of my favorite ideas, and I’ll be back with you on Monday.

My youngest daughter is petite. For much of her life, she wasn’t even on the growth chart. We’ve spent a lot of years picking her up so she can see what all the rest of us can see without trying. She really dislikes large crowds because she can’t see over or through them. For a long time, she couldn’t see over the edge of the car door to see out the window, even in her car seat. We would point something out to the girls, and we would hear “Where? I can’t see it!” It was really important to her to be able to see what we were seeing so she could believe what we were saying.

For some kids, believing that God is there and He cares about them is tough because they can’t see Him. It’s our job to help our kids understand that God loves them and they can trust Him even though they can’t see Him. Hebrews 11:1 tells us “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Kids, especially young kids, are concrete creatures. They like to be able to see that what you are telling them is true. Since we can’t see God, we need to show our children the evidence of God so that they can place their faith in Him. For without faith, they will never have a relationship with the God of the universe. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith brings us to a saving relationship with God. It is God’s gift to us, and we can do nothing to earn it.

So, how do we bring God from the realm of faith into the world of the concrete for our kids?

  • Point out to your child all the things that he does that require faith. We can’t see what holds up an airplane, but we have faith that it will fly. We can’t always see what holds our furniture together, but we have faith that it will hold us up when we sit in it. When your kids go someplace, they can’t see you, but they have faith that you will come back and get them.
  • Point out the evidence of God to your child. Everything from the rocks to the rainbow scream of God’s existence. The beautiful variety of plants and animals show evidence of a Creator.
  • Help your child remember times when she has seen God work. For older kids, have them keep a journal of times in their lives when they have seen God work. It can be simple things, like when they prayed to do well in their soccer game and did. Or it can be big things, like if they prayed not to be afraid during a tough time and God gave them peace. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people built altars every time God did something amazing in their lives. It helped them remember the things God had done for them. Keeping a journal, helps your child create altars of their own. When things get tough, and they don’t see evidence of God in a situation, they can go back to their journal and see the evidence of all the times God has shown up in their lives. If you have younger kids, keep a family journal of the way God works in your family’s life.
  • This activity requires at least two people. Blindfold your child. Have another member of your family give your child directions to walk through an obstacle course. When they have made it through the course, talk with your child about how hard it was to have faith in the person giving the directions because they couldn’t see that person or where they were going. Explain that sometimes having faith in God is like that. Sometimes we can’t see where we are going, and we can’t see God. We simply have to have faith that He is there and that He is leading us safely to the other side of whatever trouble we are facing.

Faith is the central component of the Christian walk. The earlier we can help our children trust God even though they can’t see Him, the easier it will be for them to continue to place their faith in God as they get older.