You know those days when you send a sad kid off to school? Maybe it’s friend problems, or loneliness, or just the growing pains of life—but whatever the reason, they leave the house and it’s not better? Welcome to my morning. Everything in me wanted to pull her into my lap (though she doesn’t really fit anymore), tell her to stay home, then wrap her in spiritual bubble wrap so no one and nothing can ever hurt her. I wanted to fix it, to put on my Mommy Cape and swoop in and straighten out her whole world.
But of course I can’t.
So we talked for a while—I shared my stories of angst and loneliness and how God used those times to teach me what real friends are (and aren’t), and to help me find comfort and friendship in Him. To show me that He is the only One who is always reliable, never petty, never in a bad mood—but honestly, I don’t know if it helped much. In the end I did what my wise mother always did with me when I was crying and she couldn’t fix it: We prayed.
We sat on the couch and cried to God and begged Him to pay attention to her problems and give her comfort and wisdom and relief. We prayed as specifically as we could about all of her worries. And you know what? That’s the best I know to do for my beloved kids. That’s the greatest gift any of us can give our children, the gift that will outlive all our advice and intervention: Teaching them that God is real, a loving Father who is truly concerned about their everyday life. Actively engaged in helping them face their concerns. We can show them that when we bring problems—even preteen-drama-in-the-lunchroom problems—to Him, He cares. He listens. He draws near. So to all my fellow heavy-hearted parents out there, wringing hands over the growing pains we cannot fix, wondering what to say and how to help, let’s do this one thing for our kids: Let’s teach them to pray to the God who cares. The God who goes to school with them. The God who sits beside them in the lunchroom. The God who will walk with them every day for the rest of their lives. The Father who will be with them, comforting and guiding, even when we are long gone.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son….
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:1,3–5).
When my daughter Avery Grace was six, she turned her big brown eyes up at me and asked, “Why does Santa check his list twice?” She paused, then said, “Wait, I know. Is it because anyone can change?” I stood dumbstruck for a moment, awed that such little-girl cuteness could offer such old-soul wisdom.
Anyone can change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately—how it’s so much bigger than we think. How it can cover everything and make us new over and over again. In late October (2017) my mother and I had the privilege of spending a weekend with 800 wonderful women in the Midwest, talking about “Overflowing Grace.” And earlier that month, I spent a Saturday afternoon with 200 vibrant ladies in West Palm Beach, Florida, seeking God’s kindness and grace in our waiting seasons—along the way we found quite a few laughs and tears. (Scroll down to see pictures and to find information about speaking availability—next year’s calendar is filling up fast!)
How are you doing with grace lately? It’s hard, right? We want to accept it, we ache to feel it. . . but so many times, we walk around still haunted by guilt. And when we’re dogged by guilt ourselves, we show less grace to others, a painful cycle. This holiday season, I pray you experience God’s grace more fully—and share it more generously.
Here are three simple ways to experience more grace this December (and always!):
-Have an encouraging devotional time with your family. So many times we focus our family devotional times on areas where our families need to grow, highlighting our weaknesses—not this time! Your only goal in this devotional is to encourage your kids like crazy. Go around the room and be as specific as you can with each child, praising them for who they are—what you love and like in their personality and character; all the ways you enjoy and admire them—and also tell them specific ways you have seen them serve or grow or give. Kevin and I had a devotional time like this with our kids a few months ago, and it was wonderful.
-Take time to notice God’s encouragements to you—His small graces—each day. Pay closer attention to his small gifts and kindnesses. They are always there, those gentle signs that say, “I’m here and I care,” but we rarely slow down long enough to notice and appreciate them. Did He give you peace when you were anxious? Did He prompt a friend to send you a reassuring text message just after you prayed for encouragement? Did He help you find your lost keys? Try writing down three ways God showed you kindness at the end of every day—I bet you’ll have a hard time stopping at just three!
-Share some of the grace God has given you. Write a card, share a meal, give a gift. Or offer grace of the forgiveness kind, forgiving someone who has hurt you even though they don’t fully “get” how much you hurt. (Can any of us fully “get” how much our sin has hurt Jesus?!) We all know it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)—Jesus taught us that—but something beautiful happens in our hearts when we give grace. Giving grace softens us, humbles us, and opens us up. The more we give grace, the better we are able to receive it from others. Try it. . .you’ll see what I mean!
I wish you a grace-filled, joy-filled holiday season!
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I only have a few speaking slots left for this winter/spring (only one date left in February and one in March; April and May have a few openings), so please contact me ASAP if you’d like me to come visit your church or group! I’d love to meet you in person. You can finda list of speaking topics here.
Here are a few pictures from October’s events, “Grace Overflowing” and “When God Says ‘Wait'”:
I have lived most of my Christian life with a constant voice in the back of my head saying, “But what if it’s not true?” These days, the voice is mostly just a whisper (some days I don’t hear it at all); at other times, it’s been a full-on shout.
The voice started in high school, in Mr. Gus’s class, where we explored the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Mr. Gus dared us to answer hard questions, to prove why we believed what we believed. His questions made me stop and think, “Why do I believe these things? Is this really my faith, or have I blindly adopted my parents’ faith?”
I came home asking questions—lots of them. I am forever thankful for my parents’ wisdom. They didn’t freak out: “How dare you doubt God and the Bible?!” They didn’t panic: “Oh, no! Our daughter is falling away from God!” They didn’t blow me off: “Huh. Those are hard questions. Good luck figuring things out.” They didn’t write me off: “You’re just going through a weird teenage phase—it will go away in a week or two.”
They took me seriously, and let me dive deep. They didn’t offer quick, shallow answers. My dad, who has wrestled with a number of faith questions himself, said, “I understand why you have those questions—I’ve had them too! So let’s study them out together.” He gave me books to read, and gave me freedom to ask all my questions. We worked through them one by one, step by step. There was no pressure, no guilt, and no rush. I went back and forth on some of these questions for months—some for years—and Mom and Dad were always there to listen, to discuss, to reason, and to point me to helpful resources. And it’s not like I grew up and stopped asking questions—I still ask a ton of questions, but now I know enough about the Bible and apologetics that I know where to turn when questions crop up.
Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to over the years—maybe they will encourage you if you find faith difficult:
1.It’s okay to have questions about faith—in fact, questions are good. Doubt means you are thinking. Doubt means you don’t just blindly accept everything you hear from the pulpit or from popular Christian culture. God encourages us to love him “with all [our] minds” (Mark 12:30)—he doesn’t want us to check our brains at the door when we become Christians! Thinking and study are an integral part of our faith. Doubt only becomes a problem if we don’t take the time to address it—if we are lazy and unwilling to put the time in to read and study and seek answers.
2.I’m not the first person to have this question. Whatever question I am asking, some other Christian has asked it before me. Which means: 1) I’m not weird or sinful for having this question, and 2) I can find helpful writings (and podcasts and videos) on this topic. Chances are, great Christian thinkers and apologists have already produced a wealth of material on this exact question, and somewhere in their words, I can find the help I need. (My go-to person for faith questions is my longtime friend Dr. Douglas Jacoby, whose website is a vast resource for Christians with questions.)
4. We don’t have to accept the easy answer. Some questions about God and the Bible do not have quick, easy answers. Warfare in the Bible? Senseless suffering? Predestination? These are hard, complex topics. Simple blanket statements like “Just have faith” or “Just trust God” won’t do it for questions like these.
I need more than pat answers to keep my faith healthy: I need Scriptures. Logic. Honest analysis of the contradictions and difficulties. And you know what? God designed me this way! He made me to think. To question. To explore. He doesn’t expect me to settle for easy answers to hard questions. If you’re like me, and you’re a thinker, a questioner, a wonder-er, that’s not a bad thing. Let’s embrace who we are, and take joy in the journey of working out our faith.
5.It’s okay to live with some questions and uncertainty. I have come to realize that some of our faith-related questions may never be completely resolved. The big questions are resolved: Do I believe in God? YES. Was Jesus really the Son of God, and did he die for sins and resurrect from the dead? YES. Can I trust God with my life? YES. (But even in those questions, doubt can occasionally resurface, and we have to go back and remind ourselves: This is what I believe, and why.)
But some other questions—about tough topics like suffering, or predestination, or how God’s will works in daily life—are up for debate. God hasn’t explained every nuance of who he is and how he works—if he tried, the Bible would be a gazillion pages long (plus, our brains might explode). We can keep thinking, keep reading, keep debating and discussing, but we might have to settle for “This is the best answer I can come up with for now. And I reserve the right to change my thinking on it over time.”
6.Faith is an adventure. I used to feel guilty when a new doubt or question cropped up; now I see those moments as opportunities to study and grow. Questions are a chance to dig in to Scripture and some new books, and to have some deep conversations with trusted thinker-friends. Doubts are an opportunity to be honest with God about what we’re working through, and to ask him to point us in the right direction.
Let’s take comfort and joy from Jesus’ words to Thomas, our fellow doubter, because they are written about you and me (how cool is that?!): “Because you [Thomas] have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:28).
Okay, your turn: What faith questions do you have? Do you view doubt as a weakness, or an opportunity for growth and exploration? If your kids have questions about God, how do you plan to handle them?
If your family is like ours, right now you’re scrambling to fill out a gazillion back-to-school forms—just as you realize that every kid’s shoes are too tight and their jeans are too short—plus you need to buy $978 worth of pencils and glue sticks. In between fears that you’ll need a second mortgage to help you pay for it all, and wondering why oh why we can’t just fill out the forms online one time for the whole family, you’re scratching your head and wondering what happened to summer.
But our kids need more than just glue sticks and non-holey jeans to get them prepared for the new year. Our children need confidence, peace, and a sense of God’s love and guiding hand as they start this new year in their life. Kids have so many questions and worries as school starts: Will I get the teacher I wanted? Will this year be really hard? Will my friends still be my friends?
Here are 13 Back-to-School Scriptures for Kids and Teens to help our families get spiritually prepared for school. I’m planning to read one or two of these scriptures every morning with my kids over the next few weeks. Armed with glue sticks, new jeans, and these back-to-school Bible verses, our kids are sure to have a great start to the year!
When you’re afraid, or lonely, or wondering if God is with you at school
1. “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” –Proverbs 15:3
2. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9
4. “This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying?And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these!If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith?So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first the kingdom of Godand His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” –Matthew 6:25–34, HCSB
5. “The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” –Psalm 121:5–8
6. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you.” –Isaiah 43:1–2, 4
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8. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” –Proverbs 3:1–4
9. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” –Proverbs 1:5–8
10. “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” –2 Timothy 2:22–24
How to interact with your friends
11. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” –1 Timothy 4:12
12. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” –Proverbs 15:1
13. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” –Colossians 4:5–6
The Thompson Crazies wish you and your family a great start to the school year!