Posts Tagged ‘family’

In Memoriam: Mom

sc00858ca6_face2Two weeks ago today, my mother Daisy Belle (Lyles) Woodward died peacefully in her home.  One week ago today, we buried her in a small country cemetery where her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are buried—as well as my dad and many of her brothers and sisters.  I just wanted to share with you today the eulogy that I delivered at her funeral.

Today is a day that we always knew would come; today was a day we never thought would come; ultimately, we bow our heads and say, “Today is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”

There is much to be happy about today.

  • We the family are happy that you have honored our mother by coming to this service today. Thank you for your kind words, the beautiful memorials, the food you have brought, and for all your expressions of love.
  • We are happy because Mom was taken just as she had always prayed. She died quickly and peacefully in her own bed, not from disease, but from the call of God to her reward.
  • We are happy today because we believe God is faithful, so when He tells us the those who die in the Lord are happy, then we are happy because there is no doubt that Mom was in the Lord
    • Born in 1923, Mom was raised on a farm near Justin. Her’s was a Christian family. In fact, just a few years ago, while we were out with her on a Sunday drive, we drove past the old White’s Chapel cemetery and she told us that she and her father had ridden a wagon from Justin to White’s Chapel—sometime before she was 13 and I’m guessing, shortly after she was baptized at 12—to go to a Brush Arbor meeting on that site. If she grew up like that, it’s no wonder that she made sure we were at church every time the doors were open!sc00721ccf-001
    • Shortly after they married, my dad was immersed. Dad became a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, an elder at Midtown all during their marriage—and I’m pretty confident that Mom’s gentle and quiet spirit had something to do with his spiritual growth.IMAG0129_face0
    • We her children are thankful for what we have learned from her—both as children and as adults.
      • She loved us enough to discipline us: a fly swatter or ping pong paddle was always nearby. Once, I threw a dirt clod and hit Gary in the head and she put me in the closet to pray!!
      • She loved us enough to teach us to work. Mary K reminded me of how Mom would rise early on some summer mornings, wake us up, so we could all go out and pull weeds before it got too hot.
      • She taught us to share—Gary, Mary K, and I all shared a room (Betty, the baby was in Mom and Dad’s room) until I was almost 12. Then we moved out by Fort Worth Christian and had a three bedroom house—finally! But then Kenny was born, then Grandma Lyles came to live with us, then Grandma Woodward, and then a family at church had to move away in their son’s senior year at FWC, so Mom offered to let him stay with us!   We learned to share pretty much everything!
      • Mom taught us about perseverance in adversity. She was raised on a fairly poor farm during the Depression. Her father was killed in a wagon accident when she was 14, one that sent her mother into a depression. Her older brothers went to war, so she went to college (I believe the only one in her family to graduate from college). Mom and Dad had a happy marriage, but after about 20 years and five children, Dad got sick and Mom had to really support the family.  Then Dad died in 1989, so she has been a widow for 25 years—but she continued teaching school, substituting until she was in her 80s (once for the football coach as she loved to tell), and working at Foley’s until then as well. sc00373bf8-002She watched first her 7 brothers, then her two sisters precede her in death—along with all of their spouses, until she was the last of her family.  Mom was strong!
      • We learned to be curious from Mom! I grew up thinking that Mom was the Mom and Dad was the intellectual one in the family! I wasn’t wrong about Dad, but when Mom started at FWC, she was the Home Economics teacher, and they asked her to design the first home economics lab—which she did—without asking Dad…Wow! Then they asked her to teach high school chemistry—because she had had Chemistry in college 20 years earlier—before they had even invented atoms!! Then they asked her to teach Chemistry at the college level!  And she loved it!  Then, one day, they asked her to teach Microbiology the following year, so that summer she took Microbiology at TCU, so she could teach it the following year. I remember clearly her getting up at 4 in the morning and studying the lesson so she could teach it to her students.  /////    She loved taking the Grandkids out to the backyard to look for snakes or frogs or worms.  In fact, even after Dad was gone, we’d come to visit her from Oklahoma and Sherry and I would get up, hoping for the smell of bacon, but rather finding her and our children all out in the backyard doing “experiments” or something.  It wasn’t unusual to find a centipede or something in a bottle of formaldehyde in her pantry—sometime the refrigerator!!  Even in these last couple of years, she learned to use an IPad that Gary gave her. She also kept large medical books near so she could read up on whatever medicine the doctor had just prescribed for her.IMG_0444-001
    • Mom was so curious about God—not in a theological way, but in a very practical way. At the end of her questions, one of her favorite phrases was, “Life is a Mystery!”  Some curious people like Mom choose to turn their back on God because they can’t know everything.  Mom taught us to just believe—especially when you don’t know all the answers.  Mom was not one of those of the older generation who was afraid to die because she might not have done enough!  She may have raised that question occasionally—as all of us do who want to please God more than anything else and fall short!   No, Mom was a doer—even when she couldn’t find the answers to her mysteries.
    • One of our earliest pictures of her as a mother is teaching the toddlers at Sunday school at the old Riverside congregation. She always taught SS at Eastridge. I don’t know how many flannel graph characters I have cut out for her. She did backyard VBS at our tiny house.  She stopped teaching so much at church when she started teaching school, but I suspect all her classes were implicitly Bible classes.  In these last years, she loved going to Mission Printing to prepare literature for mission churches—even bringing it home with her when she couldn’t go.  She was a FriendSpeak worker and had a couple of young women that she helped with their English, but using the Let’s Start Talking material based on the book of Luke to share her faith with them.  She loved going to church—was there two weeks ago—and she and her sweet caretaker Lydell even used her IPad to stream services and sermons when she didn’t feel like going.  They read the Bible and prayed together every day.  Even fact, because they had missed it that morning that Mom lost consciousness, Lydell went in at 2:30am and had her devotional together with her—her last one, just a couple of hours before she died.  Mom loved God. And she wanted her family and friends to love God too.
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    • Have you heard the old joke about God writing a letter to all the good people on earth? Do you know what it said?  What, you didn’t get one!  Mom used to write letters too. I’m quite sure all of us children have had one, some of the grandchildren, and maybe some of you here in the audience as well.  If Mom was worried about you spiritually, then you might very well get a letter from her.  She was not going to confront you and have a long talk. But if she was worried about you, you could be certain she was praying for you and that you might get a letter. In these letters, she would tell you she loved you, that she was praying for you, but that you better get your life right with God!  These letters were not always well-received, but I know they were always well-intentioned, written from  the heart of a woman who loved her family and loved God—and she wanted all of us to share eternity with her!
  • It’s a happy day because Mom loved being with her church family. She tried to never miss any service; she loved the potlucks; she loved Game Night!; she came to Visitation Night;  within the last couple of months, she attended the shower for a young mother from College Hill. Getting old was not an excuse to retire from church. You don’t retire from being family. It was hard for Mom to get to family events this last year or two, but she did not miss anything!!  Christmas dinner this year was quite an ordeal for her, but she told me when I took her home how wonderful it was—how much she enjoyed watching the children—no amount of chaos, no amount of infirmity could steal her joy of being with family.

And this church loved her so well. Until she was about 83, she was still driving and picking up the “old people” for church! But when she needed your help, so many of you were there to help her too. The Wasners were her lifeline to her church family for these last few years! We can’t thank you enough for what you did.


Mom was not perfect! It is not our place to confess her sins, but she would be the first to tell you that she was saved by the tender mercy of Jesus.

“Blessed are the dead in die in the Lord! For they rest from their labor and their works will follow them.  (Rev. 14:13)

Mom is happy. She’s together with Dad; with her 11 brothers and sisters whom she loved dearly, and she’s with the whole church who is singing and praising the glory of God and the mercy of Jesus.  She’s also looking for something she can do to be of service.  Somebody will have to remind her that she can rest!

We her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, her nephews and nieces, her neighbors and church family—we are the good works that follow after her!  She is with God, but her legacy are the lives that we live as a result of her work in us.

God gave her 91 years and she used all of them until she had nothing left!  We will honor her if we do the same with however many years God gives us—that’s what she would want—and if you don’t, she may still figure out a way to send you a letter!

We love you, Mom!  We will see you soon. We know it is well with your soul!Wood28-001

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Sherrylee, Anna, Norah, and Olivia in Yosemite

We have always wanted to go to Yosemite, but to be able to see it for the first time with our daughter Emily and the three gkids was just more wonderfull-ness than can be described.

On Tuesday this week we all packed up and drove into the park. Only Sherrylee and little Norah got carsick on the winding, mountain roads!  But we stopped often enough to avoid in-car disasters.

Driving through Yosemite valley was breathtaking! Many of the roads in the park are not yet open, but we were able to do the entire valley loop, seeing Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall and many other lesser falls. They say the falls this year will be extraordinary because of all the snow during the winter.

Our favorite adventure was hiking up to the Lower Yosemite Fall—actually, hikingis an exaggeration. We walked a very well-paved path, the girls jumping on every boulder or trying to walk every downed log near the path.  At the bottom of the falls, the enveloping spray made the moment cold and damp—but one never to be forgotten.

On Wednesday, we decided to stay in the vacation rental in Groveland. As they drove in on Monday,  Anna (8) had seen the large Iron Door Saloon sign—the oldest saloon in California—and she declared, “Oh, I love saloons!”  She didn’t get that from her grandparents—but we had no choice but to eat there.

The girls spent most of the day collecting “jewels” which were really quartz stones in various colors. Olivia decided they were now rich—which her dad will be glad to hear!

Emily and Norah at the Lower Yosemite Falls

Sherrylee and I had rented the house through Friday, but Emily needed to get home Thursday to help Tim with the Good Friday service and preparations for Easter. We all wanted to see the giant sequoia, but they were too far away to do and return to our house in Groveland. Emily and I decided that she would  see the trees on Thursday on her way home, and we would finish our rental, then see them on Friday as we drove to her house.

Sherrylee heard the plan and thought we were crazy. She said we just needed to leave together—that being together was the most important thing—and she was right!

That’s what we did. We packed up a day early, left together and spent a wonderful couple of hours seeing creations of God that truly deserve the word awesome!

We only saw what we could easily walk to with the children, but to think that some of these trees were seedlings about the time Israel was going into captivity. Others could have been planted by King David—that’s how old these trees are.

One cluster of sequoia is called The Bachelor and Three Graces. Nobody wants to be alone. My understanding is that the sequoia are all connected via a root network. They are really a family of trees, quite interdependent on each other.  I like that.

It's not good for man to be alone!

You know, God didn’t create Yosemite alone. He had his co-parts, the Word and the Spirit, and maybe the angels—I don’t know about that. When he wanted to bless the world, he created a whole nation of people to walk out of Egypt. Jesus didn’t walk around by Himself either. Paul took an entourage wherever he went on his missionary journeys.

Driving through Utah, Nevada, and these sparsely settled areas in Northern California, we have seen many, many houses, trailers, double-wides that were miles from the next one. Sherry and I have asked aloud a hundred times, “What kind of person lives so alone? Do they have to? What kind of life do they live?”

It wasn’t good from the beginning for Man to be alone!  We need family, we need neighbors, and we need the community of saints.  God just doesn’t do things by Himself!

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I grew up with two sisters and two brothers. I was the oldest child, so I was old enough to inherit a script from my parents for raising both boys and girls.

The scripts we get from our parents are two-edged swords, cutting both ways: as young parents probably our first or most immediate tendencies are to simply replay that script and do exactly what our parents did. Wisdom in parenting may often be, however, seeing opportunities to improve that script, sometimes even completely re-writing it.

Then when we marry, we introduce another parenting script into the house. Blending those scripts is one of the first challenges new parents have—and an ongoing project as long as they are actively parenting children.

First , let’s talk about dealing with your parenting scripts from your own parents:

1.            If you had wonderful, loving parents, then you know that they would want you to be an even better parent than they were, so don’t feel guilty about improving the script. It is not in any way an attack or insult to your parents.

2.            Recognize that you are not raising your children in the same environment or context that your parents did, so the new situation may require new approaches. Recently our two second-grade grandchildren each needed to interview their Grandad for school, and one of the questions each of them asked was how is it different today than it was when I was in second grade.  I hardly knew where to begin. My parents didn’t have to deal with drugs in schools, sex on TV—we only had three channels!—internet access, even premier kids’ sport leagues and serious competition in the second grade!

3.            Your family configuration is probably different from your parents’, introducing a different dynamic than what you grew up with. My dad worked six days a week and was gone from 7 until evening every day except Thursday, when he got a half-day off. We only had one car and four kids under 8 years old. Does that sound like your family? It’s not like any of our children’s families, so they, of course, need to approach parenting differently.

4.            Your children are unique, and not like your parent’s children, so their parenting needs are different. Sherrylee and I are pretty convinced that kids come into the world with their own personalities and gifts given from God. The uniqueness of each child would argue for a uniquely appropriate parenting styles.  Our three children all required very different parenting approaches. One required structured discipline, one required lots of supportive encouragement, and the other required bribery!! (And I’m not saying which was which J!)

God has given YOU the spiritual gifts you need for the children He has given you! Be confident that even a bad script is something that God has allowed for a reason. You are a parent because He made you one. You are a parent because He wants you to raise those children.

Those kids you have in your house are HIS kids! And He has given them to you for His purposes. So have confidence that He has and will give you all the experience, all the history, all the scripts, and all the tools you need to be a parent just like He wants you to be.

Be strong and courageous—and don’t be afraid!

Next, we’ll talk about the challenge of blending parenting scripts.


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I just watched a CNN video report about a website at the University of Chicago that provides hook-up opportunities for students, hook-ups being casual, no-strings-attached sexual experiences.  Two hundred students have signed up already because it’s “a lot of fun,” and a good way to “unwind.” Chastity is curable if detected early is one of the taglines on the site! (View the CNN report )

According to the Center for Disease Control report in 2009,  46% of high school students reported having sexual intercourse. Across the U.S., 5.9% of students reported having sexual intercourse before age 13. Furthermore, 13.8% of high school students reported having had at least four different partners–and females students reported greater sexual activity in the last three months before the survey was taken than males.

If you wait until your kids are teenagers to become concerned about purity and holiness, you are years too late!

Here are some suggestions for you who still have young children to consider!

1.  Mom and Dad must model purity and holiness consistently and not just in the area of sexuality. As I have said before, I think this means pure speech, pure jokes, pure media, pure computing, pure friendships, pure work ethics—just holy living! Hypocrisy—even perceived hypocrisy– will completely erase all of the good words you and all the Sunday school teachers in the Bible-belt might say to your child.

2. Be black-and-white about what is pure and holy! No matter who is doing it, sexual intercourse outside of marriage is wrong! Getting drunk is wrong. Vulgar (unholy) language is wrong! Looking at pornography is wrong! As adults, we recognize how to deal with borderline stuff, so we allow judgments and finer distinctions, but children need big, black-and-white boundaries until they know good from evil. Save your discussions of gray areas or exceptions until they are much older.

3.  Optional boundaries—actions that are not in violation of God’s law, but not good for children– may be better taught as “family rules,” not God’s rules. We did this with drinking alcohol. We decided with our first child to never keep alcohol at home or serve it at home. We did not want to send the message that it was a sin to drink alcohol because we did not believe that. The message we wanted to send was that children—especially teenagers—should not drink alcohol. 

You may have to make decisions about gambling, types of clothing, movie ratings, certain types of hangouts, even certain video games and maybe some verbal expressions. The danger of making something God’s rule without it really being concretely commanded by God is that as the children get older, they may come to a different opinion about biblical teachings and feel like you have either not been truthful or accurate with them.  In either case, young people are tempted then to lump all of “God’s rules” into one big pile and get rid of all of them.

4. Help them choose friends whose parents have similar values to yours. You should try to be very consistent about this as long as you can because your influence over friendships tends to diminish with each year of school.  This also means being aware of the people YOU choose to be friends with—and with which values they are raising their children.  Don’t sacrifice your kids to your own friendships.

By the way, this is where “family rules” can help you keep your kids from learning to be judgmental towards other parents or children who have different “family rules.” Just remember, family rules do not replace God’s rules; they are just training wheels until the child can ride the bike by herself.)


In the world we live in, even we Christians almost feel embarrassed to use words like purity and holiness. Chastity and modesty seem like words our grandparents might have used.

As you pray for wisdom to be a good parent, ask God to give you quiet strength to be pure and holy and to give your courage to use the words with your children—not in a preachy way. Maybe you could teach them the old but simple song Purer In Heart, O God

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

May I devote my life wholly to Thee;

Watch Thou my wayward feet, Guide me with counsel sweet;

Purer in heart, help me to be.


Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

Teach me to do Thy will most lovingly;

Be Thou my Friend and Guide, Let me with Thee abide;

Purer in heart, help me to be.


Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

That I Thy holy face one day may see;

Keep me from secret sin, reign Thou my soul within;

Purer in heart, help me to be.

(Words: Mrs. A.L Davison)

Don’t worry about the King James’ English. It will help your kids when they have to read Shakespeare in the 8th grade!

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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.


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I am always hesitant to tell other people’s stories because I believe it is really their story to tell, but in this post, I want to introduce you to some great people and at least hint at their stories enough that you might want to find out more about them. You will be blessed if you do–as we have been.

After leaving Chemnitz and Leipzig, Sherrylee and I drove to Mainz, home of Johann Gutenberg who invented the printing press and very near Worms, where Luther was accused and tried for his reformation heresies. (Remember that the Diet of Worms was the event, not the punishment!)

But our reason for going to Mainz was to visit with Alex and Cass Huffman. We saw them last almost two years ago just after Alex had accepted a research fellow-type position at the Max Planck Institute, one of the most prestigious research institutes in Germany. They were looking forward to exploring Europe, to an adventure for a couple of years–which is what they have had, but not the one they anticipated.

Not long after we saw them, they became pregnant, and about five months into the pregnancy they found out that their baby’s heart had not developed; in fact, only one side of it was fully formed.  That began for them a journey that has taken them through difficult medical choices, difficult ethical choices, through mountaintop moments of faith as well as valleys of angst and despair. 

Little baby Noah Autumn Huffman was born seven months ago, has already had two major surgeries to re-construct her heart so that it could function adequately for several years. She has at least one more major surgery looming–but having held her myself and watched her play in the Huffman’s small German apartment last Tuesday, I just want to say, she is a happy, precious little person–and Alex and Cass are people of great faith.

Alex and Cass have lived each day of Noah’s life, knowing that she could die at any minute, yet they see the hand of God in everything. Their move to Germany brought them into a medical system where their insurance completely covers the huge bills they have incurred. The procedure for treating little Noah is called the Giessen Procedure–because it was perfected at the Giessen Medical University, just one hour away from Mainz by some of the world’s leading children’s cardiologists, all of which they have had access to because God led them to Germany–not for the adventure they imagined, but for a faith journey that has transformed the rest of their lives.  If you want to read the details of their story, you can find Alex and Cass on Facebook and read their blogs.

We picked up Cassie, our granddaughter,  in Frankfurt on Wednesday, thrilled that she is joining us for the last week of our travels.  Our first stop with her was lunch in Cologne, Germany, with Bill Wilson and the Uli Steiniger family.  Bill has served as a missionary in Cologne since 1969. His wife Deanna died five years ago, so Bill is retiring and moving back to the States sometime this year.  He has been–and will continue to be–one of God’s great and faithful servants.  The church in Cologne has elders, so he is leaving behind a mature group of Christians.

Then we drove to a little Belgian town south of Eindhoven, Netherlands, to visit with Hans and Aans van Erp, two of our dearest friends in Europe. Thirty-five years ago, Hans visited the church in Hannover that we had planted, which started them on a faith journey. They were baptized by Tom and Dottie Schulz not long thereafter. In 1988, they invited Let’s Start Talking to help them plant a new church in Eindhoven, a church which has thrived and continues to thrive until today. The church has 50-60 members, lots of young families, and great diversity which reflects the general population in the Netherlands.

For the first twenty-five years, Hans and Aans carried the burden of leadership in this new church alone, but in the last ten years or so, other Dutch Christians have stepped forward to share the responsibilities.  We have shared the joys and struggles of three sons, one of which is part of a mission team in Ghent, Belgium. We have shared their hospitality many, many times and each time seems a little sweeter. That is just the way it should be with Christians, isn’t it!

Yesterday, we drove to Antwerp and had lunch with lifetime friends and long-time missionaries Paul and Carol Brazle. They have been faithful in Antwerp for almost 30 years–maybe longer–and I was impressed in our conversation about how they continue to find new ways to reach out to their community. As with many places in Europe, a large group of African Christians now meets in their building and they are exploring ways to nurture and grow the relationship between these two churches, spiritually of one spirit, but culturally vastly different.

And, finally, then last night we had supper with Luk and Holly Brazle–yes, related. Luk is Paul’s nephew and the son of Mark and Jill Brazle who worked in Belgium as missionaries for over 15 years.  Luk is one of the very special breed of second generation missionaries.  They are four years into a new church plant in Ghent and doing a great job.  I was impressed to find that Luk had just sent out a fairly lengthy assessment questionnaire to many people who are connected to his work, trying to help him know what his own strengths and weaknesses were.  What maturity it takes to be willing to ask others to evaluate your work.

Nothing is more refreshing than to be in the presence of people of great faith! We all still live within a great cloud of witnesses and can be encouraged by them in our own daily struggles. Maybe you want to just go see one of your faith friends–or call one up today–just for the joy it brings.

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Several of you have commented on this series or have written with specific questions, and I just want you to know how much I enjoy hearing from you!  One of your comments that I have heard several times is how much you appreciate the concrete suggestions that I offer you for raising children with a heart for missions.

I have observed a certain reticence in many younger parents that we are around, a hesitance to be both concrete and confident in their own child-rearing ideas.  I’d like to just talk with you briefly about knowing what you are doing because I think it is pretty important if you want to raise children with hearts for the mission of God.

Post-modernism says that you can’t be certain. Most young couples are highly influenced, if not completely post-modern in their thinking, and so this worship of relativity has framed their thinking about child-rearing as well.  It’s suggested in all kinds of common remarks:

  • You don’t just want to indoctrinate your kids!
  • Each child just has to find his/her own path.
  • I don’t want to over-control my kids.
  • Who knows what they will become!

The best lies have a certain truth to them, and so it is with these comments! But for Christians, there are other Words that are more important than what we hear from our surrounding culture.  Try these Words and see if you can get comfortable with them.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This does not sound hands-off to me!

Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. Psalm 34:11.

This sounds like parents who know not only what they believe, but WHO they believe, and they want more than anything else that their children will be believers also.

Have you ever thought what a statement and commitment the act of circumcision was for both the parent and child? At eight days, the parents committed their child to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They physically marked the child to distinguish him from all the children who were not of Jewish families.  And circumcision was the command of God, so it wasn’t thought up by over-zealous, religiously, fanatical parents.

Here are now my words of encouragement to you about parenting your children so that they will have a heart for the mission of God.

  • Be confident in your own faith, so confident that you MUST share it with your children first! Youthful questioning and searching needs to give way as we become parents, not to dogmatism, but to confident faith—faith that doesn’t have all the answers, but knows that God is God!
  • God picked YOU to be the parents of your children; it wasn’t an accident. YOU were chosen to be the caretakers for one of His precious children, so He must believe YOU can accomplish with those children what He wants.
  • Of course, you have to depend on HIM for wisdom and help in child-rearing because you feel inadequate! But God has put ALL of His earthly treasures in earthen vessels. He is OK with our weaknesses and inadequacies. If we are fearful because of our weakness, we are confessing our own doubts about the power of God in our lives.
  • Enjoy the work of God! We are happiest when we are doing His work within His will. Teaching your children to love God and walk in His way is undoubtedly His work and His desire, so . . . delight in doing it!  Then your children will delight in Him also!

Letting children just happen is not the way of God! Your children are meant for Him. Your children were created for Him!  And God blessed your children with YOU! Be confident in your parenting and repeat the Word of God to them “again and again!”

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We were sitting with friends last night and talking about mission trips–probably no surprise to you!  They are a family of four, with a boy of six and a girl of four.  This couple is very active in their local church, but also have a heart for foreign missions, so the dad asked me what I thought was a good age for their children to actually go abroad.

Great question, Dad! And the right question!  Let me try to answer it with a variety of insights for all of you whose children might be of very different ages.  Let me just say that I will be talking about mission projects like Let’s Start Talking projects that have always been pretty family friendly in that workers

  • go to one place and stay there for the duration of their mission project,
  • they have a pretty regularly scheduled day,
  • they are usually housed independently,
  • they are working with people in a pretty contained environment, and
  • they have a certain degree of control over their eating arrangements

Of course, if you are going on another type of mission project, you will have to weigh all of those factors in order to make your decision.

I don’t think there is a too young! Parents who take their very infant to school age children–and we have many–have great experiences that shape their children, even though the kids themselves will only have the vaguest memories of the actual trip.  What they remember though are the pictures you take and the fact that they have been to Japan or Germany or Argentina! And they have a passport!

Here’s how some parents with very young children make this possible!

  • The parents each work half with the children and half with the mission project. Of course, I would argue strongly that each parent is working full-time with two different mission projects, if you see your children as the most important mission God has given you!
  • Many parents recruit an older teen or college student to go with them as their helper. The helper gets to do some of the mission project too, but is mostly responsible for helping with the children.
  • Some families travel with other families with children and share the fun!
  • Many families recruit grandparents to go with them and be a part of the mission with the children. (I especially like this one!)
  • Sometimes both parents can’t go, so then the single parent definitely will need a helper–but he/she can still make it work!

Elementary school-aged children make the very best mission partners! They are independent enough not to need your constant attention, but still eager enough to please you that they really want to be a part of what you do!  This is perhaps the most impressionable time in their lives–and they will remember almost everything they do.  They can’t really “work” a full day, but they will be just fine if you can give them a couple of hours of good attention each day!  Here are some special ideas for elementary-aged children

  • They can accept certain “tasks” as their responsibility and this makes them feel like part of the mission!  I’m talking about things like playing with children that might come with their parents to your project, or even telling younger children Bible stories–not all day, but certainly some time spent “working” will be just what they want.
  • Playing with or spending time with the local missionary’s children. Forget about language barriers; children hardly even notice language differences.
  • They especially love preparing for parties or social events. If you need name tags or something special, perhaps your kids can help you make it.
  • Giving them private chronicling tasks, like journaling or creating a picture album of their mission, whether by drawings or a simple camera is something that helps make their mission project meaningful!

Teenagers are the hardest age–only because they have a mind of their own–which is, of course, what you are wanting for them–someday! Younger teens can be great mission partners. Until they are 14 or so, they probably want to work right beside you on your mission project–and you should let them.  But, by 15 and later, the mission project is competing with summer fun with their friends, Bible camp, summer school, summer sports activities–just lots of stuff, and I think you need to respect their needs, not just assume that they will continue to be ready to go whenever you call.  Here are some points to remember:

  • Teens are not the center of the universe even though they think they are! You can still set their agenda, but you may have to negotiate it instead of dictating it. This means something like what we did with our kids at this age: you have to spend six weeks with us in Europe, but we will send you to camp for four of those weeks.  Or you can stay home for two weeks with your cousins, then you can go to soccer camp for two weeks, but then you join us for the last three weeks.  Everyone needs to learn to compromise–teens and parents.!
  • Sometimes all it takes with teens is letting them have their best friend go with them!  Why not?
  • Whether at home or abroad, teens may think they are adults, but they are not, so don’t expect them to be! Once when Emily was about 16, she was staying with her brothers (18 & 20) at home for a week or two before we arrived home. Naturally, all kinds of household disasters happened: the dog chewed up the curtains and tore down a door trying to get to a bird that had come down the chimney, a squirrel got into the house and wreaked havoc, and then the hot water heater in an upstairs closet sprang a leak and dripped down through the ceiling. Emily called us in tears and said, “Please come home. I don’t want to be responsible any more!”  Of course not!

The best answer I can give you about when to take your children on mission projects is to start with them as young as you can and go often! The absolute worst answer is to wait until they are older and will appreciate it!  I promise you they will appreciate it when they are teenagers so much more, if they have already fallen in love with it as children.

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Our  seven year-old granddaughter Anna was dressed for Sunday a little early last week, so she sat down with her Bible and started reading Psalms.  Then I heard her start singing Psalm 1, just making up a melody as she went. It was actually pretty good. When finished with Psalm 1, she went on to Psalm 2 and so forth until her sister got ready and we could leave.

We got into the car to drive to church and Anna was still singing. I noticed then that she stopped, flipped the pages in her Bible, then burst out into “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine.”

I didn’t slam on the brakes, but I did look over and see that she had opened her Bible and was beginning with Chapter One to sing the Song of Solomon. Yikes!  I said, “Anna, what are you singing?” She stopped and said, Well, I’ve never read the Song of Solomon before, but if he wrote a song, it must be beautiful, so I wanted to sing it!”

No matter how precocious she is, I did not think her ready for the fawns and gazelles, so I diverted her attention from the Song of Songs—only temporarily, I’m sure.

Sherrylee and I will not have much to leave to our kids when we are gone, but we will leave with all of them our love for reading. Our parents gave it to us as a special gift—and we are both very grateful.  Both Sherrylee and I were the kind of kids who would check out ten books at a time—the weekly limit—from the Bookmobile that came through the neighborhood during our childhood summers.  I don’t read that many anymore, but I did just get a Kindle for my birthday.

When we were taking our younger children to Europe each summer, one of the most pleasant pre-departure tasks we had as parents was to find and pack enough books for the 8-10 week trip. We often took a whole suitcase full of nothing but books for the family—back before the airlines charged for extra luggage.  We would buy them at the half-price book stores, or we would check them out of the local library.  We may still have some lost book fines to pay in Edmond—don’t anybody check, please!

Now Philip and Emily both got into reading pretty easily, but Benjamin was more of an outdoors kid, so he didn’t really want to slow down long enough to read much. We worried a little about his reading—not his skills, but his love for reading, whether or not he would develop it.  The summer before third grade though, however, was the breakthrough. Before he had only been reading the simplest little books to satisfy his teachers at school, but that summer, I remember walking up to the attic room in Hannover, Germany, where we were housed and finding Ben totally absorbed in Lord of the Rings!  He read the whole book—and has continued to be a great reader to this day.

Rarely do our grandkids come for anything that Mimi (Sherrylee) doesn’t pull out a book or two to read to anyone who will listen to her!  But what does this have to do with raising children to have hearts for the mission of God??  I think you know, but let me just remind you.

  • Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path!(Ps. 119:105) If children grow up loving to read, they will also learn to love to read the Word. With the Word in their hearts, they will have a lamp for their feet and a clear path in front of them.  Don’t you want that for your children?
  • How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.(Ps. 119:9) Purity of heart is part of knowing and fulfilling the mission of God. Purity of heart is not an accident. Purity is a result of the Word in the heart of your child, and at some point, what they read will become more important than what you tell them.
  • Then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word.(Ps. 119:42) The taunts of children and/or teens are devastatingly damaging to the desires of our children. Reading gives them both the shield they need and the trust they need to win those battles.
  • Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. (Ps. 143:8) Confidence! Self-confidence is what we are tempted to desire for our children, but much better is God-confidence and they will only get that from knowing Him and how He has dealt with His creation throughout history. Past experience is what builds confidence.  Reading is a way to gather all those rich experiences and make them our own.

Our grandkids are just like yours or your own children: some like to read, some would rather watch movies, some only want to play outside, others are struggling to learn to read—just normal kids like yours. But their grandparents are praying that they will be children, then teens, then adults who love to read. Their grandparents are giving them books, reading to them, and reading in front of them.  IT’S VERY IMPORTANT!

Over and over again, Jesus raises the question during his ministry:  Haven’t you read . . . ? Just look up the word read in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and be amazed at how often Jesus assumes that people should have known God’s will because it had been written for them.

I think he was saying, you are going to live in the heart of God’s Will so much more easily if you love to read . . . His Word!

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I really love my children.  Because I really love them, I’ve always thought it was important for them to love other people.

I also really love God. Because I really love God—who really loves people—I think it is important for my kids to learn to love other people.

Some children are just naturally more people-oriented than others. We have one little granddaughter whom we have to be a little cautious with because she is so easy with people that she will walk up to strangers, introduce herself, find out if they need anything, then proceed to try to take care of them. I once watched her at an ice skating rink–where she could just barely stand herself—find two teenagers who were less certain on ice than she was, introduce herself , and spend the next hour with them, teaching them how to ice skate.

Other children are just more shy, more self-conscious, more inhibited—pick your adjective! I don’t think parents get any credit for either of these types., nor should we think that either is more righteous than the other.  The fact is a person can be very gregarious and not love people. But you can also be reserved and not love people.

If we want our children to have a heart for the mission of God, then we must teach them to have the heart of God for people.

Here are a few suggestions for teaching your children to love others.  We’ll start with the most obvious tip of all.

  1. Show your love for others both publicly and privately. Being civil and polite in public, but critical and abusive about people in private will only teach your child to be a hypocrite. 
  2. Actively teach love for other people, starting with brothers or sisters. Encourage familial love. Don’t just stop abuse; encourage, reinforce active love for one another.
  3. Teach friendliness. Teach your child to introduce herself to people that she meets with you. Teach him to shake hands if people you are with are trying to be friendly. Teach them to look at people when your friends are talking to them. (I’ve tried to qualify all of these situations to recognize the danger of being too friendly with strangers—but don’t let fear keep you from teaching your child to be friendly.)
  4. Encourage your child to make new friends in appropriate situations. It’s not easy for the more naturally timid or fearful children, but that’s why God gave them parents!
  5. Take your children with you into appropriate community-building situations. I love the trend back towards children in worship with adults, in service projects with adults, even in team building/community building activities with adults.  Sharing experiences are where adults learn to love! It is no different for children.
  6. Expose children early to Diversity—before they even recognize it as Other! Kids barely notice “unloveliness” until they learn it from adults.  Be an adult who helps your children’s innocence develop into appreciation—even love for Others!
  7. Be aware of your child’s friendliness level. Be aware of their socialization skills. Be sensitive to their willingness to show love for others. Make it a point to talk about what you see with your child, so that they know it is important to you. Don’t ignore unloving behavior—ever! 

Kids can be friendly—all kids. Kids can act lovingly—all kids.  No excuses! As they grow in their capacity to love others, they are growing their capacity to have a heart for the mission of God.


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