Category Archives: Growing Up

“Love Your Neighbor” – With a Twist

Once again, we are honored to share another insightful post written by our co-worker, Erica Hunt.  Erica is an Associate Pastor with our Emerging Generation youth ministry here at Woodland Hills Church.

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It feels like I blinked a few times and suddenly we have three teenagers in the house. People always told me it would feel like that, but in the groggy years of their infancy and the harried years of pre-school and early elementary, the idea of teenagers seemed like a stage of parenting that would never arrive.

One of the many changes we’ve noticed in this season is the increased difficulty in sitting down together for dinner. This used to happen every night, but now there are work shifts, piles of homework, social plans and the standard teenage angst that makes a meal together more rare. Still, we try to have one meal a week that includes intentional conversation about faith, life and the intersection of the two. Some of these conversations have been surprisingly engaging for all of us, and I get a glimpse into the more complex thoughts and questions that come with their developing brains and expanding worldviews.

Recently, our dinner conversation was prompted by a postcard we received from the St. Paul Police Department. The card informed us that a Level 3 Sexual Offender would be moving into the neighborhood, within a block from our house. We passed the card around the dinner table for each of them to read and then share their thoughts on the question, “As Christ-followers and engaged neighbors, what should our response to this information be?”

There were a few clarifying questions, but then we dove into this tricky conversation. A few things jumped out at me. They all had the perspective that this conversation mattered in a very real way. While the specific house address was not provided, they have a strong sense of place in our neighborhood, where we’ve lived for almost 16 years. We know a lot of people and, whether we ever personally encountered this person or not, they had a sense of ownership in their neighborhood and spoke about what kind of place they wanted it to be for everyone.

Any thread of unity that came from their shared sense of ownership was short-lived as their personal opinions came through. One daughter was adamant that we should extend the benefit of the doubt and give him a chance. We should assume that he learned his lesson and is a reformed person. Another daughter was equally passionate about her caution. How could we be so sure that he wouldn’t recommit the crime? Details of the offense were not provided, but statistics suggest that teenage girls might be at a greater risk around a male convicted sex offender. She admitted that she was a little bit afraid. The third daughter brought a philosophical angle as she asked about why he would do what he did and wondered how it affected the people who loved him. She considered if he had children, a wife, good friends and how much they might be missing him.

Our dialogue on this matter is ongoing and no answers or conclusions have been reached. We were all reminded that difficult questions are not resolved quickly. In addition to the questions of justice, grace, wisdom and loving neighbors that started our conversation, it also became an experiment in having a meaningful conversation with someone with whom you disagree.

In reflecting back on this dinner table conversation, I’m grateful for this season of life. We get to walk with our kids as they gain more independence in their interpretations of faith, life and the intersection of the two. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and full of hope. Kind of like the toddler years…but different.

The Power of Story

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

The Power of Story

“Once upon a time” … or “in a galaxy far far away” may be familiar tag lines of popular stories, which are very entertaining, but they don’t compare to the power of another kind of story.

A few years back, my wife and I prayerfully decided we wanted more children.  At this point, we already had three young daughters.  I really wanted to have a son but felt confident the genetic jackpot would land on female this next round.   I wasn’t sure I could handle being outnumbered 5 to 1. God placed a desire on our hearts to adopt, and we went from there.  We discovered our desire to adopt an African-American boy was well received.  Several months of paperwork and waiting followed, and then suddenly we got a call.  We drove through the night and arrived in Nashville.  The baby and birth mom were still at the hospital.  As soon as we saw this little one, we fell in love.  After spending some time with his birth mom, a bond began to form.  The following day we headed home.

My son loves to hear this story, especially the part about us falling in love with him and later when his sisters went gaga over him.  It reminds him of who he is and that he is part of our family.  His story merged with our story that day.  My wife has done a wonderful job of creating scrapbooks with photos from each year of our family’s existence.  The kids love to go through and talk about those times.

The power of our story is rooted in reminding us of our value, our importance, and our identity.  My children love to hear their birth stories as a milestone of their being part of our family.  God’s story is powerful in the same way.  The fall of man, the birth of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection all highlight his amazing love, but also our immeasurable value to the Father.  Sharing the God’s whole story during Easter is a great way to help kids merge their stories with his.

Another powerful story is our testimony.  Sharing how we became Christ followers, how our trajectory was diverted and our story merged fully with God’s gives our children insight into our hearts and a glimpse of being a part of a much bigger family – God’s family.  In a way, our testimony is our adoption story.  God adopted us, and when we embraced him as our Father, we became his children.

I encourage you to share stories during this Easter weekend.

  • Tell the story of each child’s birth or adoption (be sure to share what you felt)
  • Tell God’s whole story – the need for a savior, for a price to be paid, and his victory as well as what it means to us.
  • Tell your faith story and let your children know why you decided to follow Christ.
  • Talk about your faith story as your birth story/adoption story and how you are a child of God’s now.

The power of these stories is their ability to remind us of our identity, our value, and connect us.  Let your stories be told, retold, and continuing to be told a milestone.

Building Character

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church
The past two weeks, we’ve talked about how our picture of God shapes our faith and our identities and how creating family values together and working to integrate those values into daily life is key in creating a unified and loving home.  I’d like to build off those ideas today and look at character.

Character is the mixture of habits, behaviors, and thought-patterns you possess.  These characteristics are grown and shaped by your values and by how you understand and relate to the world around you.  They’re the kind of things people usually use to describe who you are (aside from how you look).  “Oh, she is so thoughtful and kind toward others.”  “He’s the kind of guy who keeps his promises and takes responsibility for his actions.”  “She’s got courage and bravery off the charts!”  We all want to have a character that can be described in positive ways that reflect our faith and our life with Christ.  And we want that for our kids, as well.

So how do you help a child develop that kind of character?  What grows and shapes a child’s character more than anything else?  Learning by example.  A young child begins reacting to and mimicking the behavior she sees almost immediately.  Like a set of building blocks, she takes one piece of information, sets it in her mind, and uses it as a base for another new piece of information.  Which means that what she sees and experiences in relation to others helps her develop an understanding of what is valued and what is not, what can be trusted and what to be wary of.  When she is told hitting her brother is not okay because it hurts her brother whom she and your family love, she learns that others need to be valued and not hurt and that forgiveness can be given when we mess up.  When she is praised for helping to clean up toys, she learns cooperation and lending a hand are valued and encouraged.  Knowing these values are held by people she cares for and trusts, she will likely begin to develop characteristics of helpfulness, care for others, and forgiveness.  Will she do it right every time?  Not a chance.  But with continual love, grace, and gentle discipline, she can also add perseverance and determination to her character.

As children get older, parents and family members still have a great deal of influence in a child’s character (often more than you’d think), but there come two added factors with age: peer relationships and culture.  Interacting with peers from the late elementary years into the teen years gets really tricky – Often, values and identities kids have had since infancy are put to the test, which shakes up character and causes some wonky behavior and thought-patterns.  Though he’s always been told he’s loved and forgiven at home, a child may experience something different from classmates and friends.  In order to gain their attention and acceptance, he may chose to set aside family values such as honesty and obedience and lie to his friends that he can play a certain video game even though the truth is that’s a game his parents have said no to at home.

So what do you do when this happens?  Have they lost their character?  Nope.  The best thing to do: Don’t freak out.  Plain and simple.  Kids will – like you – make mistakes.  They will let something else tell them what is true, who they are, and what they should value, and that will drive them at times to behave in negative ways.  Steer away from just pointing out their mistake and telling them not to do that again.  It doesn’t get at the root issue.  The root issue in this instance is the child wants to get something of his identity and worth from his peers.  That’s what you really want to help him tackle.  Help him in see the truth of who he is in Christ and how lying and disobedience pull him away from the incredible young man God made him to be – a child of God who is full of potential and love and talent.  This will likely have a more lasting effect than simply grounding him for bad behavior.  Through respectful dialogue (not a lecture), he can take part in the conversation, voice his own concerns and frustrations and feelings, and learn how to work out the deeper issues he’s dealing with each day.

Kids want to be heroes – look at the movies and games they watch and play.  They want to be brave, honest, and successful like their “heroes.”  We just need to help them learn that building a character based on Christ and Kingdom values is the best way to get there.

Big Picture Parenting

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

In the midst of parenting, I tend to focus on the here and now. Between my wife and I, our idea of getting a big picture in our parenting is to update our calendars with all the events, practices, programs, and activities that people in our family have committed to for the next few months. Even this simple task feels like an amazing feat.

Early in our marriage, however, my wife and I were fortunate to have a group of friends that were intentional about creating a big picture of what they wanted of their marriage and their family as well as what they wanted their kids to be like as adults. We were amazed at this idea, but in the midst of diapers, late night feedings, and making sure we didn’t lose any kids it seemed beyond our reach.

A short time later, my wife’s grandfather passed away. Through the stories from friends and family members, we began to see how his purposeful life created a vision for his family and the long-term effect was a lasting legacy that continued in the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So, we began to create a simple vision statement, first for our marriage and then for our family. Every few years we go away for a few days to pray and reflect on this vision. Sometimes it needs modification, and sometimes we need to modify our life choices.

How would you answer the question: “What do you want your child to be like as an adult?” What parts of your identity, life, values, and faith do you want to ensure continues in the life of your child as a lasting legacy?

It’s too easy to get caught up in the daily busyness of life and miss opportunities to train, invest, and encourage our children.   Maybe now is a good time to step back for a moment and reflect on the big picture.

I’ve provided a few tips and suggestions I’ve gleaned over the years. There is a lot of info on the web, as well. First, though I would suggest you start with a few ideas and then flesh them out without worrying about formatting or cohesiveness. Afterwards, post it somewhere in your house as a reminder to be intentional and to take in the big picture. Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • What values would you like to instill in your children?
  • What Biblical truths does your child need to be a life long Christ follower?
  • What do you want them to be like?
  • What will their faith look like?

Create a Vision Statement: Write out a statement that expresses the whole of what you want your child to be as an adult. Details can be added later, but this is a simple word picture.

List: Think of faith skills you want your child to have and how you want to integrate their spiritual growth into your family’s daily routine. Consider what elements of spiritual formation are most important for you to focus upon during the time you have available as a family.

Example: We started by listing spiritual and faith elements we wanted our kids to have, know, or have integrated into their daily life with our family.

Our kids would…

  • Have a thriving and active relationship with Jesus
  • Be able to know and hear God’s voice, discerning it from other voices
  • Desire to obey God when they hear His voice
  • Obey God through the power of the Holy Spirit, not just on their own.
  • Love and serve God with all their strength, hearts, minds, and souls (Mark 12:30)
  • Discern that the Bible is true, relevant, and that its words can be applied to our daily lives
  • Know that the Bible and God are exciting!
  • Shift from self centeredness (sin) to others-centeredness (right related/living out God’s agape love)
  • Know how to study God’s word, pray, worship, share, and serve.
  • Reflect God’s love in all their relationships: school, friends, family, and daily interactions in the world.
  • Value being surrounded by faith-filled peers who can speak into each other’s lives (accountability, community, and growth)

Creating a Vision Statement for your children’s spiritual growth not only gives you as a parent a goal and focus, but it also provides a lasting point of reference you can continue to use and adapt as your kids grow.

I Don’t Agree with You

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

“I don’t agree with you.” “I feel differently than you do.” “Have you thought of it like this?” Sometimes it is hard to say those words. Other times, it is very easy to say those words. The question I have been asking myself, especially when I am on social media is: how do we model to our children respectful disagreements. Respect is the key word for me.

How do we, individuals who are trying to the best of our ability to be Kingdom Followers, have our own opinions and have healthy discussions about the opinions without tearing the other person down? Do we always have to be right? What is our motivation in the discussion? Most importantly, what are we modeling to our children when we speak, in our actions and in our body language? Little eyes seem to see and hear everything. As a parent, as a volunteer or as a family member, you are being watched. How do you handle the responsibility? How do we model?

I did a little research to see what the experts were saying on this topic. I found some good reminders for myself, what I would like to model. Here is a small portion of what I found:

  • Model – challenge yourself to use a calm and neutral tone. Stick to facts, your feelings or what you have observed; no name calling.
  • Permission- our kids need to know that they don’t always need to agree with others but do need to show the love of Jesus in how they disagree, which, again, means no name calling. Help them see the value of teaching in love while doing nothing out of selfish ambition.
  • Give the words – help your child work out with appropriate words for disagreements. You can even do this with younger children by teaching them to say that made me sad. This helps them identify how they are feeling, teaching them to identify early what is causing an Older kids can be encouraged to use phrases like, “This is what I think,” or “Can I tell you how I feel?” as great starters. You modeling this will help them even more.
  • Be willing to listen – if your child is making a good faith effort to respectfully disagree, listen. Help them build the skill.
  • Don’t fix it – let your child know you heard them with your words but don’t simply step in and take care of things yourself. Help him/her work out the situation using love and respect.
  • Teach and practice – help your kids see that you will not always agree and that is okay. Teach them that those who see the world differently have value and are loved by God.
  • Help your child learn that his/her identity comes from God, not others. This lesson is good for us all but is sometimes very hard to remember.

As we move into 2017, let’s love and model love. Let’s respect and respectfully disagree. Let’s let Jesus shine through us and be different.

Dinner and a Movie

We are thrilled to feature another blog post by guest writer, Erica Hunt!  Erica is on staff in our Emerging Generation ministry at Woodland Hills.  She and her husband enjoy spending quality time with their three daughters.

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I don’t remember if it was a moment in a store or a moment at home, but I realized I wanted out. I wanted out of the consumer-driven way to experience the Christmas holiday with my family. They had everything they needed and much more. I found myself daydreaming about the Little House on the Prairie Christmas episode where Laura and crew received an orange in their stocking. They were thrilled! What a novelty…what a luxury! I wondered if I could find an exotic, sweet-tasting fruit I could box up and put under the tree for each of our three girls. Unfortunately, the feasibility of that idea had a shorter shelf life than any fruit on the market.

We have never gone overboard with gifts and have always tried to be thoughtful with our giving. Still, there was an encroaching uneasiness in my spirit as Thanksgiving gave way to Christmas hype every year. We try to live in a way that reflects our values, yet this was an area we felt like could be more aligned and better reflect things we care about.

I had heard countless times from an abundance of sources about the gifts of time and attention meaning more than any toy or trinket. It was one of things that usually went in one ear and out the other. Until the year I decided we needed to try something new. My husband and I decided to test out this axiom and see if it was true.

So, I found empty shoe or cereal boxes and wrapped up a piece of paper entitling the gift-opener to a day-long date with a parent. They had a budget to keep, but otherwise the day was completely, 100% up to them. I was nervous as they opened their gifts, uncertain as to how they would respond. Maybe they were just being polite, but they actually seemed excited. Together, they confirmed at least a dozen times that they were actually in charge of the day.

“You mean we can do ANYTHING?”

“Can we go to movies all day?”

“Can we go sledding and then to the Children’s Museum?”

“Can we go to TWO restaurants in ONE day?!?”

This was about 6 or 7 years ago. Now the girls are 12, 15 and 16 so starting a couple of years ago we gave them the choice whether they wanted to continue to get time with us for their Christmas present or whether they wanted to try going the more traditional route of material gifts. In equal parts surprise and delight on our part, they have unanimously chosen to continue the dates with my husband and me. We alternate every year, so this year I get to spend an entire day with my 15-year old. I can’t wait! I’ve heard rumors of manicures, deep-dish pizza, a movie, the science museum or any combination of the above.

It might not be an orange in her stocking, but it seems to be special for both her and me. I couldn’t be more excited for her to open her present this year!