When I was little, pre-school, I would hop off the wooden pews every Sunday to make my way over to the place where Clarice Lemley sat. Clarice, was in my mind, exactly Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith show. She was plump and grey headed and wore flowered dresses. And she always had gum to give to kids who asked for a piece. She also had a beautiful garden and made a mean pot roast with gravy and mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner.
Clarice is one those women who influenced my life without trying. She was just her kind self. She made me feel welcome. And she evoked a desire to make something delicious and beautiful.
Today at church, a smiling, silver-headed woman, asked me about my week and listened as I shared my current struggle with the transition into mothering young adults. She shared some of her experience and hugged me.
This kind of modeling and engaging conversations between generations is something I value and deeply desire. When I experience it, I feel built up. I feel connected to something greater than me and my circumstances. I’m part of a one-anotherness. A community. I need the elders and I need the young-ones too. And they need me.
I hope to be a Clarice to children growing up in the church where I teach them in Sunday school, and sing with them on the front row. And I want to be the woman who hugged me and encouraged me today from her place a few years up the road in motherhood.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
I don’t have a “typical” Christian household in which to raise my boys. Reading the Bible with my boys when my husband is not a believer has been a challenge. But the truth is, even where both parents are Christians, the practice of regular Bible reading with kids is probably a struggle, if it happens at all. In another study byLifeway, among American Protestants, only a third say they read the Bible regularly. If only a third of us are reading the Bible regularly, then the struggle to read the Bible with my kids is the norm.
But I wonder if at least one of the reasons we parents find it hard to read the Bible with our kids is because we are shooting for some kind of ideal family devotion. I’m sure there are other reasons, like- it’s hard to get a kid to read anything if it’s not on an app or screen, and we’re all so busy going different directions that trying to get everyone together to read seems nearly impossible. But I believe God has given us really clear instructions that help me throw my idealism out the window without throwing Bible-reading with my kids out too.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
This instruction from God to his people helps me so much.
Catch this sequence: God tells his people to first have his words on their own hearts. Then he tells us to “impress” his words on our kids. That means we can’t just throw a Bible, or a Bible app at them and tell them to read it. We are gonna need to get real with them. We’re gonna need to talk to them. And many times its going to feel like they aren’t listening or don’t care.
I have two teen boys. When they were little, they squirmed and fussed and sometimes sat still and listened for a whole minute. When they hit pre-teen they were tired and barked at the idea of having to sit still for a few minutes so mom could talk to them about Jesus. Now they’re at the end of their high school years and they listen a little more attentively. Sometimes. And sometimes I can drag out of them some of their own thoughts. But most of the time I have to take away a phone because they pulled it out to look at Snapchat while we’re supposed to be hearing what the Bible says. Or they get up and walk to the kitchen for a snack saying, “It’s ok mom, keep reading. I’m listening. I’m just hungry.” To which I get frustrated and have, more than a few times, given up and stopped the “devotional” time.
My point is, reading the Bible with your kids and talking to them about what God is trying to say through what you read is not going to be a neat and easy activity for most. But that’s exactly how God said it’s going to be. “When you’re at home”, “When you’re out on the road”, “When you’re getting ready for bed,” and, “When you get up,” all involve everyday life interactions. And those are never neat or easy.
The thing is we just need to start. We don’t have to forgo talking to our kids about what God says because they’re almost grown and we’ve never talked to them about it before. We don’t have to take a course on theology to start either. We don’t have to have a candle lit, and neatly-dressed, well-behaved kids sitting in a circle with their Bibles and journals opened either (although I confess this, I would love that!). Really there are only four things we need to impress God’s word on our kids’ hearts, giving them a good start at spiritual health:
Get God’s word on YOUR heart first. Parents, grandparents… whoever you are raising kids, if you don’t take in God’s word and wrestle with it yourself, you’ll have nothing to give your kids. Spend time reading, asking God and other Christians your questions about what you read. Write down your thoughts. Confess your doubts or angst. Praise God for what speaks to you.
Share the above with your kids! The other day I sat down at the table while my 16 year old was perusing IG and said, “Hey son, can you put that down for a minute. I want to tell you something.” He put his phone down and gave me his attention and I told him I had read a Psalm that morning and it helped me because the person who wrote the Psalm basically told God, “Why aren’t you answering me? How long is life going to be this hard?” My son looked at me kinda blank and said, “Okay….” I got up, put my arm around him and said, “I just want you to know, God knows how you feel. And he wants you to talk to him about it. He is working through it all. He loves you. And I love you.” My son accepted the hug and said, “Ok, thanks mom.” That’s it. No big revelation. No hour long reading with questions and reflection. That was it. This kind of conversation can and should happen throughout your day. Every day.
Engage your kids. And require them to engage. I know with my kids, it’s been hard. They’re teens. They’re boys. They’re distracted by the screen that’s become a part of their hand. They don’t like to read. They want to go off-roading and build a bonfire. But notice this verse in Deuteronomy says impress God’s word on your kids’ hearts. In the original language that means “to pierce.” I’m a busy mom. I work full time, I’m tired. I have to fight the urge to let reminding my boys to read their Bibles be enough so I can relax and watch my show on Netflix. It’s going to cost you and it’s not going to be easy. You might have to tell your 5 year old to stop twirling in circles and look at you and listen 10 times in a 1 minute talk. But do it. The message we bring should pierce our kids. That doesn’t mean we all have to be Spurgeon, but we should seek to get a response of engagement from our kids. For me, with teens, that means I ask them their thoughts and require a thoughtful answer, not just, “I dunno, can we go now mom?”
Let the everyday things of life guide what you talk about from the Bible. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs parents to engage their kids with God’s word in everyday life situations. You can use a book or guide to engage your kids in God’s word. Those are good and helpful. I use my church’s daily reading or an app my kids’ youth group is using. But also, when you’re driving somewhere with your kids and a song comes on the radio that makes you think of something God’s been impressing on your heart from what you’ve read or heard taught from the Bible, tell them! Let the everyday rhythms of life be the fodder for drawing your kids’ attention to the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus.
Christian with kids, you have been entrusted souls to point to Jesus. Don’t let your idealism, your lack of Bible-knowledge, or even your busy life keep you from reading the Bible and talking about the message with your kids. Doing this is, as my pastor says, putting kindling around their hearts, that God will light it on fire for Jesus.
(My late grandma Oleta and I in conversation weeks before she passed. She was an “older woman” in my life too.)
I have ideas all the time. All the time. My phone is full of notes I voice-to-text to save for future reference. My bullet journal is full of thoughts, ideas, to-do’s, goals, dreams, plans, appointments, more ideas. And if I had to draw a chart of what’s going on in my brain and try to organize and prioritize it would look more like a messy bubble map or word cloud. If I don’t spend time getting the storm of ideas out of my head onto a paper (a bullet journal in my case… post it notes and individual paper notes just get lost at the bottom of my purse or left on the counter) I start to feel foggy-brained and anxious. And usually this shows up in picking at the cuticles around my fingernails (don’t judge).
This past week, the skin around my nails was torn and bleeding. Yeah, it’s bad and gross, especially when you’re a nurse.
About once a week, my friend Victoria and I get together to pray. Actually, we get together and I feel like I mostly dump all the goings on in my life on her and she shares some of her burdens with me. We both close our eyes at a table, sometimes holding hands, and start casting our cares upon our Father, pleading with God to help our unbelief, praying for our family and friends. It’s treasured time.
Victoria and I aren’t “typical” friends. She is 30 years my senior. She would say she’s a Martha and I a Mary. I would say she’s a strong, older woman in my life. She’s gone before me down many similar paths in life and her humble dependence upon the gospel spurs me on to love and good deeds.
This week I came to her house with my bubble-map/storm of thoughts on two pages of my bullet journal. All committments and desires I had. All my pans in the fire. She called it a shotgun of productivity and identified my need for priorities. She approached God with me in prayer and we called on Him with scripture and confessions of not knowing how to pray. It was so good.
Why am I sharing that my brain is a dust-storm of thoughts and I pick at my cuticules when I’m stressed and I pray with my 73 year old neighbor? Because we need this. More people besides me in the church need this! We need so desperately to depend upon each other. We need to be vulnerable with each other as Paul taught Titus to teach the church in Crete when he said:
‘But you are to proclaim things consistent with sound teaching. Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.’ Titus 2:1-8,11-15
He wasn’t prescribing that women should get together for teas and sewing classes and men get together for poker and football. He was teaching Titus to teach the Cretans… to teach us to be a family, a body, dependent upon each other for muturing into the brothers and sisters of Christ!
If you don’t have an “older woman” or “older man” in your life pointing out your need for some priorities, praying with you, confessing and listening to your confessions, pray and start looking for them. They’re there. They’re in your church. They might have grey hair, or seem unapproachable because they’re from a different generation or culture or whatever. But that’s what you need! You need them. And boy do they need you. The older men and women in the church need the younger men and women. We need each other.
Just before driving into the town I grew up in my oldest son, a sophomore, asks the big questions. We took the 17 hour drive in two day chunks, making our way to Oakland, Oregon, just a few miles from Roseburg, Oregon, the small town I was born and raised in. My grandmother passed away in June and her progeny and their familes all gathered for a family-reunion to celebrate her. My grandma’s story is quite a story. Another time.
All the feelings were on the sleeves as we rolled down I-5 passing the high school I attended the year my best friend committed suicide. Past the exit for Garden Valley Boulevard, where I had been the passenger in the back of my parents car a thousand times as they pulled off the interstate to head home from church. Every time I drive into my hometown I feel all the yucky feelings mixed with the good memories I have from growing up, getting married and giving birth to my two sons there. So when my son asked if I believed his dad was going to hell (his dad was driving while my son asked this) because he doesn’t believe in Jesus I wanted to teleport to an alternative universe or throw up.
There are too many things I can’t explain. Hard things. Why Julie had to die. Why my mom couldn’t be more stable. Why my dad seemed to favor me. Why I married at 19. And why I didn’t divorce him when we separated 10 years later. Why grandma let my dad go live with his dad at such a young age, so far away. Why there is a hell.
Painful, hard questions flood my mind and bring up the nauseating feeling of insecurity when I drive into the small, red-neck town that informed me. And why there is a hell and whether or not people I love, including my husband will end up there is one of those hard things I don’t want to try to explain. But you can’t hide from a curious teenager in a car moving 70 miles an hour into all your difficult memories.
I told him I couldn’t be his dad’s judge. I told him what the Bible says and what I struggle to understand about hell and what helps me accept what I don’t understand. All with my hand on my husband’s arm as he drove the car. I felt pathetically ill-prepared for such a moment. I felt like a fool. Like I did when Julie died. Like I did when mom left dad the second time. Like I did when I took the engagement ring off my finger and swore I’d never put it back on. Like I did when he said he wanted to come home and I told him I wasn’t afraid to love him.
We pulled into the driveway of our home in Arizona today. Back to the predictable life. Laundry, car wash, dishes, feed the animals, homework, grocery shopping and dinner. While I was out getting the car washed my son’s hard questions came back to me. I felt my face flush with dis-ease. A prayer ascended while I vaccumed up road-trip crumbs. “Father, I am a fool. I don’t know how to explain anything. All I know is you have a hold of me. And you made my son, please give him understanding.”
I want to have answers. Good answers. But like I heard Ray Ortlund say today on a podcast, I’m no Tim Keller. I’m me. I don’t have all the answers. But I do have hope that my husband’s heart is in the hands of the One who has me here, with him through all our turmoil and 25 years of rough road. I know that he who gave my son life and knit him together in my womb can also give him new life and heart of understanding.
Life here is really hard. There are lots of questions with no good answers. All I know for sure is Jesus is good. And my hope is all in him.
‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, ‘ John 6:66-68 ESV
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 ESV
I should be in bed but my other half likes to lay in bed and relax to YouTube videos of funny cats, and I want silence.
I read Alia Joy Hagenbach’s essay about the hospitality we must extend to one another in marriage. I feel the same. My marriage is an unlikely union. Even worse, as Paul said, its without common affection. We love different loves. But even though our hearts do not set their hopes on the same thing, I am here, in this house, doing life these almost 25 years with him. And tonight we share a bed and the need for sleep, because tomorrow we take our two teenage sons on a family vacation. A long, overdue family vacation.
You look for common grace when you’re married to someone who’s got affections for pseudo-saviors. And you pray for God to stir the heart of a man like rivers of water, wherever He wills. And then you thank him for answering your prayer for time together as a family. And then you pray you will see the common grace and not the great divide that separates you.
I’m going to bed praying for eyes to see this grace poured on my husband like the rain that soaked the desert ground yesterday. I’m praying for conversations, silence, listening ears, words of wisdom and kindness, boldness and humility and lots of laughter and light-heartedness.
When you don’t share affections for the One who created cool climates, streams and Pine trees, you lay down your longings, look to the One all your hope resides in, and grab a pole and some lures and enjoy the high-altitude day with the husband of your youth. That’s what I’m looking forward to. May God meet us there with allurements of his faithfulness.
‘ “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. ..And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord . ‘
Night number two with Grandma. She’s more lucid this evening.
Every time I’ve ever walked into her home I’ve always heard the same sugary-sweet Arkansas accented greeting, “Well hello there sweet heart!” Her eyes light up and she smiles like she knows everything that’s going on in my life before I say a word.
She told me tonight she feels better than she did yesterday. She has one thing on her mind: the clear plastic tub full of dvd’s she’s made over the years.
Her pretty cursive handwritten notes are all over the outside of each disk. “Lifetime memories 2. Bobby, Vernie and the kids. Gary, Greg and Terry Lynn. Tommy and Bill. Grandma Stout. Mom and Dad. Velma and Thelma. Sandra. A.J. and Darryl.” I grab the top disc and put it in her combo VHS/DVD player. Her favorite songs play in the background- The Lord’s Prayer, blue grass music, Pavarrati, Celine Dion. She looks at the images of her brothers and sisters, mom and dad from Arkansas 60 years ago and starts to cry, “I feel so bad for your grandpa. He never knew such love. We were so loved...” Tears flow from her dimming eyes. Her skin is pale and a little jaundiced. Her lips are thin and dry. Her eyes squint as a few tears fall from her dehydrated body. Memories of her tender, loving watching her with broken hearts as she left home at 15 to move to California with my grandfather bring up an almost 70 year old ache.
We watch as the memories play, bluegrass and gospel songs fill our ears. Pictures of my dad as a child and teenager play while The Little Drummer Boy’s, “I have no gift to bring,” pa rum pum pum pum’s in our ears.. My grandma was a child when she had my dad, just 16. My toddler dad smiles in the lap of a beautiful, dark-haired teenage girl. He looks just like my youngest son.
I see happy-looking people, but I know the pain many of them have lived through. It’s easy to look back at life through triumphant songs and compiled images of smiling faces and candid shots of playfulness and wonder why there had to have been so much pain and trouble in those lives. My grandma wonders. “Why couldn’t we just have loved each other better?” she questions with the worried look of a woman who’s lived through several divorces, and watched her oldest son move away with his dad while he was just a boy. “I didn’t want him to go Sheila. I thought I was doing what was best by letting him do what he wanted.” Stinging tears redden her tired eyes.
I reach to hug her frail body. “Grandma we’re all a mess. That’s why we need Jesus. Our hope is in him, not each other.”
“I know. I know.” Her face relaxes. The gospel once again puts her mind at ease. Memories of so much damage from our sinfulness broke through the smiling images and transcendent songs and she wished it never had been that way. But just the mention of the hope of the gospel of Christ, that one day he will make all things new, put her worries away.
“One day He’s gonna wipe all that pain away Grandma. One day he’s going to hold you and you’ll have no doubts. You’ll know how good he is and you’ll be at total peace.”
Death is lurking, threatening, stinging my grandma’s broken memory with reminders of the years sin has damaged. But Jesus. “But Jesus,” was all I had to say. I just had to remind her of her hope that was not shifting like her cancer-laden brain, and death shifted back into the shadows, trying to hide from the defeat it knows is coming. Resurrection is about to swallow up death’s work in my grandma. Never again will death be able to attempt to sting her into hopelessness.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57