Can my Toddler be a Contributing Part of the Body of Christ?

My testimony usually involves something about how I “prayed the prayer” when I was four but I don’t remember that happening. I don’t remember becoming a Christians and I don’t remember a time before I was a Christian but I don’t doubt that I am a Christian now.

When the Bible talks about spiritual gifts, it talks about how all believers have them and how all believers need to be an active and contributing part of the body.  You need to be the best hand, eye, or whatever that God created you to be.

My understanding of spiritual gifts allows for any “natural” ability to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, as well as including the possibility of supernatural gifting.  I believe that God wants us to rely on him in our weakness but often uses us according to our strengths.  I believe our experiences and personalities often play a part in how God uses us. 

That said, I don’t think I was ever asked to be a contributing member of the body of Christ until I was in jr. high and I got to play with babies in the nursery.   In high school I taught Sunday School to my fellow teens once or twice.  But it’s not like I was asked or allowed to do those things because my leaders knew I was gifted or called.   It was more just that there was a need and I was available and responsible and so they let me do it.

I want more than that for my child. 

She’s only three now, but I want to be discovering and sharpening her strengths now.  I want her to grow up believing she has something personal and unique to offer.  If she’s compassionate, I want her to be begin thinking early about compassion from a theological perspective, I want her to see people with big hearts model setting big boundaries, I want her to know that she can and should reach out to those she sees who are hurting and to walk with her through the process of figuring out what that looks like for her.  If I see a tendency toward leadership I want to help her find ways to intentionally influence her peers and learn how to handle the responsibility of leadership, recognizing that leadership is not about her but about advancing God’s kingdom.  If she might be a good teacher, how can I develop her as a teacher, while she’s still a child?  

A few disclaimers: I don’t want to pigeon-hole her.  I know we all change and grow over time so it’s likely that I’ll seek to develop traits or characteristics that go nowhere or fan in to flame passions that are, in reality, fleeting.  I’m not suggesting we need kids to contribute in order to justify the effort we put into them or to balance the scales in any way.  I just want them to have the freedom to be who God has called them to be in the same way we seek to give adults that freedom.  And I want to give them that freedom now, not just when they’re all grown up.  I also know that God’s call on our lives and his desires for us vary depending on the seasons and circumstances in our lives, but if every part of the body is supposed to be an active part of the body, how do we help toddlers and preschoolers and elementary kids be hands, and eyes, and prophets and teachers and mercy-givers?

While I can think of a few parents who model this kind of intentionality with their kids, I have no idea what this looks like in reality for my own home or for the church.  And when I say “church” I mean the local body of believers and the programming that the local body does.   What kind of language can I use to help call out gifts in our children?  In what ways I can I be intentional to develop opportunities for kids not based on needs but based on strengths?  What in my own perception and biases needs to change in order to let kids be functioning part of the body? 

Thoughts, ideas?  I’ll take them.  I’m just beginning to think through what this looks like.

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Watering & Waiting

ImageSeveral years ago I had a little garden that consisted of five little pots on my porch step.

I planted the seeds with excitement and waited. 
And watered. 
And waited. 
And watered.  
And waited.

Finally, after a couple weeks, small green shoots poked their heads out of the soil.   Then they got taller and leaves appeared so I watered. 
And waited. 
And watered. 
And waited.

When I planted the garden, I thought it would take a few weeks until my plants had grown, filled out the pots and bloomed but it took a few months.  It did not happen as quickly as I hoped and, from day to day I saw little progress.
But I watered. 
And waited. 
And watered.  
And waited.

After several weeks, the shoots grew buds and, finally, they bloomed.  I did the right things (watering and waiting) even when I didn’t see a lot of progress. It took awhile but, eventually, my dirt pots became mini little gardens.  And my mini little gardens made me smile every time I would walk up the stairs to my front door.

I took pictures of the process because it symbolized the process of walking through so many difficult things in life.  Much like planting and waiting, there are many times when I’ve set a goal thinking it wouldn’t take long to get there and, in the midst of working toward the goal I felt like it was taking forever and I would never get to the end.

I’m in the midst of what seems like a never-ending journey toward finishing a graduate degree right now.  I’m writing a six-chapter paper and I’ve been working on the first two chapters for over a year.  Every time I sit down and research or write or edit and make some progress, I’m reminded of how much more progress needs to be made and it can be overwhelming.  Often, I want to quit.  It’s in these moments that I began to believe that people with graduate degrees (or, really, degrees or accomplishments of any kind) are not necessarily smarter (or better or stronger) than people who don’t, they just have just kept moving forward when others haven’t.  They just kept being faithful to the task, to the watering and the waiting, even when they didn’t see the progress.

So here’s to a new day.  Another word on the page.  Another series of edits.  Today I will choose to remember that if I keep doing the right things the plants will eventually, bloom and my thesis will eventually get done, even if it takes longer than I think it should.

Why Ash Wednesday?

photo 3I’m writing over at The Annesley Writers Forum today talking about Ash Wednesday and how it relates to Lent and why I observe these church holidays.

On March 5th, millions of people worldwide will go into dimly lit rooms where they will stand in line so a priest or pastor can wipe oily ashes on their forehead and say, “From dust you’ve come to dust you shall return.”  If you’re not familiar with the broader context of Ash Wednesday, this tradition it might seem creepy and a little morbid.

But about 10 years ago, in a small church in downtown Portland, those ashes were placed on my forehead for the first time. I remember feeling connected to a movement much bigger than me and bigger than the local church where I was observing Ash Wednesday.  As we prayed the prayers, responsively read, and as the ashes were imposed, I felt like I was connected with the millions of believers who were observing Ash Wednesday all over the world and with the believers who, for hundreds of years, had done the same thing in their local churches.

As I’ve journeyed into more liturgical experiences I find the rhythms of mourning and rejoicing, waiting and celebrating to be incredibly honest and liberating.   Quite often Christians focus on the hope of the cross and the joy it should bring but hesitate to experience the mourning, anger, hurt and disgust that necessitate the ongoing work of the cross in our lives.  Lent encourages us to feel a full range of emotions and, in doing so, our view of reality shifts and our relationship with God deepens…

Read more here.