Category Archives: Guest Blogger

“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 Big Yes

We are delighted to feature another post written by Erica Morrow!  We hope her humble and insightful words will help you to answer God’s call for your family with a resounding, “Yes!” as well.

I find great joy in being a mother, I adore my three children, and I cherish the responsibility of crafting experiences along the way for them that will shape their view of the world. But in many, many moments, I have to self-talk away the shame of the “not enoughs” that come with being a mom. My children (while I love them dearly) cause me on the regular to send SOS texts imploring friends to pray for their safety and mine when I am losing my patience or sensing my head about to explode. And that experience crafting business? Well let’s just say that errands to Target and distracted multitasking tend to win again and again over intentionality.

My heart wants it. Everything in my soul is longing to take this life work of parenthood and to bring good, true things into it. To sing the song that only I can sing over my children as they grow, to nurture their spirits and stubbornly hold fast to the important things God has for them to learn along the way. And in this last season, God is slowly unclenching my fists and teaching me what it means to deepen my roots as a follower of Jesus, with eyes and ears attuned to His priorities for my family, not mine.

Three kids and a decade into parenting, I can safely say that the method of hoping I’m on the right track with this and wishing my way into the kind of home we want to create is a myth. Pinteresting quotable phrases and reading the right parenting books won’t actually get us there. David and I talking over coffee in the mornings about how we need to change our schedules to make room for more simplicity and intentionality won’t get us there. Yes, those are things that point us down the road, but at some point I need to take a breath, stop trying to do a hundred things in the space for one thing, listen to the Holy Spirit, and then take a physical step in the direction of God’s wooing and compelling voice. He is beckoning me and my family to a place where our hearts long for the things His heart longs for. Where our priorities are the things He prioritizes. Where my deepest joy in motherhood becomes the work of finding wonder in the world all around me and simply aligning my life so that we encounter it more and more.

And something really amazing has happened as I have allowed God to reshape my intentions. I have found a place of serious grace and unrelenting mercy for my shortcomings in motherhood – where I would previously just default to the “not enough” zone, God is speaking new words over me. Words that sound a little like this: “You are equipped through me to do what I have called you to do.” “Let me refresh you, my child.” “Let’s walk this road together.” And this, if you can even believe it: “You ARE enough.” And a funny thing happens when I start to listen to the voice of truth instead of all the others. I am freed up to start thinking creatively about who I am and who our family is. We are His and securely rooted in His love, so heck yes to that crazy thing that will be hard but so good. And yes, yes, and yes to opportunities to adventure with my children into places that aren’t necessarily convenient or rational, but are completely and abundantly spirit led.

So, Mexico. I’m taking the two elementary-aged kiddos from our family to Puebla in April with a group of 17 parents and kids from Woodland Hills. When God speaks words of confidence into my life and my parenting, it frees me up to be brave and say yes to adventures – the very adventure I was speaking of earlier that can help shape the way my children see the world. The crazy thing is that when I believe that true voice which reminds me that He is my sustainer in motherhood (and all the things), the opportunities to respond to that seem like they flash in front of me on bright and shiny billboards. Maybe those opportunities are always all around us, but with truth as my guide, my eyes can be wide open enough to see them.  And sometimes for me, the big yeses strengthen my heart for the often more difficult small ones. I have a feeling that if we want to learn about what God loves and find out what he is passionate about, this is a good place to begin. We know that His love for the kids at Esperanza Viva is passionate and extravagant, and together as parents and children we will be students of that love as we play, sing, craft, dance, and do life together for the week.

My prayer is that as my family and I seek out and respond to opportunities to love what God loves, we will be slowly transformed more into His likeness. That our experiences and interactions in Mexico and all of the other opportunities to come will not only impact us in those moments, but that they will carry over to the breakfast table. I think of Mexico as another step towards that voice that woos us, and my dream is that my children (and I!) would learn that life offers no better adventure than the one that is following the heart of our Father.

Small Things with Great Love

We are delighted to bring you a guest post this week from Lauren Mau.  Lauren and her family are regular attenders at Woodland Hills, and her children have grown up in our ministry.  We’re so excited to share her story with you this week!

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By Lauren Mau, Guest Blogger

My husband Peter and I have three children. Peter and I have been together since we were seventeen years old. For my twenty-second birthday, Peter got a vasectomy, just a couple months before we got married. Adoption was heavy on our hearts so we decided to make that a permanent decision.   Our kiddos – Ephraim, Eli and Esther – are fourteen, twelve and nine. We met each of our kids when they were two weeks old.

Before kids, I was a middle school teacher. I soaked myself into my students’ lives. Before school, during school, after school and summers I would find ways to connect with the youth. They taught me how to cook and dance. I sent them to camps and visited with them at their homes and shelters.

When Peter and I adopted our second child, I made the choice to stay home. Daycare was such a nightmare with my oldest that I could not bear to start the search again. Ephraim had been in six different daycares during the first 9 months of his life.   At the first place he never slept. The second I would show up to pick him up only to find all the infants and toddlers strapped to chairs lined up watching Dr. Phil. After finding rubber bands and a game piece in Ephraim’s poop, I decided it was time to move on. The third place called me at work his first day in order to tell me what a naughty boy he was because he bit another child. I left work early, swooped Ephraim up, and he never saw a day two there.

Teaching was missional for me. Everyday I felt empowered to be His love. I felt a responsibility to reflect who He is and humbled when I realized how easy it was for me to lose site of the beauty He created in each and every student.

There was a clinging and dependence Peter and I had on Christ each time we went through the adoption process. It was an intimate, emotional journey filled with overwhelming joy and heartache.

After adopting our third, I began feeling anxious, unsettled. I had been home for three years. Our family was complete. I was growing tired of people abruptly ending our conversation when they found out I stayed home with my kids. Apparently homemaker is not an interesting career choice. I beg to differ. I have been a part of Lochness monster sightings in nearly every lake we have ever driven by. I’ve been followed and confronted by dozens of adults feeling the need to share their judgment on my family as a white mom raising black children, or someone not understanding my son, Eli has autism. I’ve participated in countless episodes of cooking shows that I judge as my kids create culinary masterpieces out of play dough and sand.

I tried to fill that missional feel I thought I lost in staying home with the kids. I started writing a children’s book that would reflect families that looked like ours.   I went to seminars learning how to start your own non-profit. I designed a potential mentoring program for kids who were adopted cross-culturally. I searched houses online in my neighborhood and daydreamed with my husband about opening a home for families in need. I started writing a book of short stories of how Christ had soaked me in His gracious, forgiving and passionate love. Instead of finding fulfillment, I grew more agitated as I would start but never see an idea to completion.

Being a stay home mom often felt small, isolating, and unimportant in the daily mundane routine.

Then one evening as I sat with Jesus in my upstairs hallway while my husband and children slept in the room connected to where I sat, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s words: “Small things with great love”.

Christ blew me away with His clarity that night as I realized while I had worked so hard to try and do something big and great for Christ, I was missing the truth that all the small things of “staying home” are as crucial and missional as the big things when done in great love.

A tattoo on my wrist with the words “small things with great love” reminds me daily to find contentment, purpose and joy in the everyday moments when I see them through the eyes of Christ’s great love.

How My Mother Taught Me to Follow Jesus

We’re delighted to bring you another post from guest blogger, Erica Morrow.  This Mother’s Day week, Erica shares with us some of the life-lessons she learned from her mother and how her mother’s example influenced her own relationship with Jesus.  Enjoy!

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By Erica Morrow, Guest Blogger

I have a mother. She taught me how to uproot flowers so they can be replanted in healthier soil. She showed me how to fold towels just so in order to line them up correctly in the linen closet. She helped me learn how to sew lines with my sewing machine, making sure the tension wasn’t too tight or too slack.

She also taught me most everything I knew about Jesus. How if he were walking with us, skipping over sidewalk cracks and anthills, he would have stopped to speak to the elderly woman passing by. He would not waste a chance to make her feel known and important.

She showed me that Jesus values the fight against injustice – that he weeps over children like those in my mother’s preschool classroom who came to school without coats in the winter, and as my mother clothed those kids out of her own resources, I learned that Jesus would have, too.

My mother showed me how much Jesus loves the little ones without a family to call their own – how he would have given the “chief seat” at our kitchen table to a little boy without a mom or dad, holiday after holiday, just as my mother did.

She steadily taught me through the times of both lean and plenty to choose joy, to look for the place in my landscape to be grateful for, to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness that does not depend on circumstance. Day in and day out, as she walked me through the successes and dismal failures that come with growing up, my mother taught me to look closely for the beautiful blessing that could be found in any moment. She worked hard to train my eyes to see such things all of my days growing under her care.

To be completely truthful, my mother has said some pretty profound things to be sure, but these things from her that I have learned and taken deep into my heart – these are the things I saw her doing and living, day after day. The steps she has taken while I have watched and listened – these are the things I have learned.

And now I am a mother, my arms sometimes full to the brim with children and responsibilities and all of the uncertainty that comes with it. And as I think about who I am to my children in this season, I remember: folded towels, lonely neighbors passing by on walks, coats for small, cold bodies, and I remember. Who I am as a fully known, fully forgiven, and unbelievably loved child of God will be what my children need to see in me. I can relax about saying all the right, important things. I don’t have to carry the guilt and pressure of wondering if my kids are in the right activities, if they are being fed exactly the right organic, free range everything all the time, if I am doing everything I can to build creative, exciting soil for them to grow in. My job, my first and at the core only job, is to sit at the feet of my Jesus, to spend time listening to his voice, learning what it is he loves, and then running with everything I have after those things. Then my children will learn what Jesus loves as they see me live, not from a to do list but from a place of deep friendship with my Father.

My encouragement to all of us who are parents is to stop worrying so much about saying the right things to our children, and instead let our hearts speak through our lives. In the same way my mother taught me how to serve and love through her actions, may our lives be the clearest reflection of the beautiful, self-sacrificing God we pray our children will come to know.

For me, that means spending time hearing from my Father, sitting close to him and growing a spirit that loves like he loves, sees like he sees, fights for what he fights for, so that my children will know the love of their God through my life. As they look back someday over their own growing up, may our children remember not our words, but our entertaining angels.

Your Child is Perfectly Imperfect, and So Are You

We are excited this week to share with you a beautiful article by Sue Prause.  Sue is a long-time Woodland Hills attendee who has volunteered and participated in a number of ministries here including Heroes Gate.  She and her daughter, Leah, recently welcomed a new kitten into their home named Simba.

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By Sue Prause, Guest Blogger

There is a part of me that is a perfectionist. That part of me loves to walk into a perfectly organized pantry, enjoy the perfect cup of coffee, see a perfect score on a test, and find the perfect gift for someone special. I wasn’t raised to be a perfectionist—my parents only asked that I apply myself and do my best. As I grew, I learned that being a perfectionist had its downside, and I found I was often setting myself up to have unrealistic expectations—of myself and of others. The problem was, I wasn’t allowing God to work on that part of me. Other people had problems with perfectionism—my little “tendencies” were minor compared to other people. Or so I thought.

I made the decision to adopt as a single parent about nine years ago. I had long dreamt of mothering a child, and I found myself at a crossroad in life and felt this might be where God was leading me. In July of 2009 I was matched with a baby girl from Ethiopia. I was ecstatic! I would prepare, I would plan for her arrival…it would be perfect!! Oops. There is was again. My mind raced to this imaginary place where I was the perfect mother who had it all together; that mom whose child was always perfectly dressed, ate the perfect diet of organic, healthy foods, and learned to read by age three. I spent countless hours preparing her nursery so everything was put in its place, her clothes were perfectly organized in the dresser drawers and her dresses perfectly hung in the closet. During one of my home visits prior to my daughter’s arrival, the social worker peered into my perfectly organized bedroom closet, where all my tops were arranged by the ROYGBIV color spectrum. She laughed out loud and said, “That won’t last!” The perfectionist in me was incredibly incensed…how dare she? I’ll show her!

And then I brought an actual, real, live baby into my life. Let me just say, I was incredibly humbled to meet my daughter face to face, and it was hardly the perfect Meetcha Day experience adoptive parents dream of. I had been traveling/stuck in airports for two days, had little sleep, and was caught off guard the moment they placed her in my arms. After 10 minutes of “who the heck are you, lady” curiosity, my darling daughter started to scream at the top of her lungs. I panicked. I had no idea what to do. Whatever I tried, she continued to scream. It wasn’t supposed to be like this… Somehow, God got us through that awkward first meeting, and we made it home to Minnesota intact.

I learned pretty quickly that all my planning and preparation didn’t take into account that I wasn’t always in control of this little human being. She didn’t like most of the food I prepared for her (and still doesn’t); she would be calm and happy in the car and then start screaming as soon as we entered the grocery store; she didn’t sleep when I (sometimes desperately) wanted her to. Those perfect little outfits I so lovingly purchased prior to her arrival were now covered in spit-up stains. But do you know what I realized was perfect? God’s grace. He brought me to my knees and showed me grace. He showed me how he perfectly brought together me and this particular child to create a family. I am far from the perfect mother I always imagined I would be, but this child loves me and I love her more than words can describe. In my eyes, she is perfectly imperfect. That’s how God looks at all of us.

But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

–1 Corinthians 15:10

The Ask

We are excited and honored to post an article written by guest blogger Leah Berg. Below, she shares her dreams for parenthood and the lessons she’s learned since it became a reality.  Leah and her family are regular attendees at Woodland Hills and Heroes Gate.

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By Guest Blogger Leah Berg

Before kids, I was an outstanding parent. I had a little family in my imagination when I would think of my future, and we were awesome. My little “mind family” was so well-groomed, and we always had clean noses and clothes. We never yelled at each other out of complete and utter exhaustion, and I never begged God for mercy and daylight during those long middle of the night feedings. I could always remember when I had last showered, and no one ever pooped in the bathtub. We were completely self-sufficient, capable of doing all the right things at all the right times, and everything always worked together for good. Sigh, it was heavenly.

….Then we decided to grow our family in real life. *insert screeching tires and shattering glass*

What I didn’t realize (or didn’t want to realize) was how deceptive this “mind family” really was. We learned quickly as we moved forward that a clean anything in life was to be considered a luxury and not to be taken for granted. I learned to sort of love the middle of nights when the whole world was quiet and it was just me and my baby. (No wait, I love sleep. I just felt like I should say that…) And as far as poop in the bathtub…well…I’ve learned that there is nothing a giant wad of Clorox wipes can’t fix. However, by far the biggest lesson I have learned through parenting and our adoption journey is our incredible need (and great privilege) for community. In my mind, there was no need for anyone else’s help along the way, and we only needed to depend on our own strength and ability to get things done.

Let me fill you in on a little secret: the only place where complete autonomy works well in a family, or in life, is in your own mind. That’s it.

Here’s how this realization happened in our life:

My husband Paul and I had been married for 9 years when we decided we wanted to grow our family. We were married young and after nearly a decade of college and grad school, traveling and buying our first home, we decided we wanted to adopt. Adoption had been our plan for our family for a while, and this felt like the right time to pursue it. We began our home study, and started filling out ALL the paperwork. After nine months of being “in process” we were matched with our amazing birth mom, and a month after that on August 23, 2014 our sweet Vivian was born. Throughout these months on our journey we saw first hand the immeasurable love our birth mom has for Viv, experienced the full depth of loss that occurs in adoption, and can say with absolute certainty that we serve a redemptive God who can restore any situation because of His abundant love for us.

And these things are so good and so important. They are the moments we will play over and over in our minds, and it is the story of our precious girl that we will tell her as she grows. But these are not the only lessons we learned and not the only growth that occurred. We also learned very quickly that adoption requires community. From the very start, we needed to continually rely on our community’s support to help get us through. Asking for help did not come easy to us, and receiving help freely offered was more humbling than I imagined it would be. Its scary to be that vulnerable even with close friends, and it felt like weakness to show any lack of self-sufficiency. But thank God for persistent family and friends. It was their relentless grace and support that made each ask for help easier and easier. And it was through the act of “the ask” that we were able to grow in humility and fully appreciate our deep and strong community. I can say unequivocally that we would not be where we are today without these people and their gifts.

We hear it in church all the time, this need for community. In big and little ways in our life and our faith we are told how beneficial it is to surround ourselves with deep and true friends and family that understands and loves and supports. I was skeptical at first for sure, but I am here to tell you, IT’S TRUE. I’m the girl with both hands waving wildly, shouting “YES! YES! AMEN! IT’S TRUE! I’VE LIVED IT!”

20/20 Hindsight

We asked Guest Blogger, Michelle Abbott, to share with us some of the insights she has discovered as a parent over the years.  She’s the mother of 2 young adult daughters and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  We loved her perspective and hope you find it helpful, as well!

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By Michelle Abbott, Guest Blogger

When I was a young parent, I loved Jesus, and so I assumed my two daughters would, too. I also assumed that if I was a loving, encouraging, fair, and patient parent, my daughters would obey. It was subconscious, but now looking back, I realize that I believed I could control my daughters and turn out a successful parenting project = a Jesus-loving, productive, respectful, contributing adult. Was my world ever rocked when my oldest daughter became a teen.

As my daughter searched for her identity amongst her peers and pushed back on our values at home, I started to panic. Her sneaking, lies and disobedience were often only brought to light by the Holy Spirit. However, my confrontations with her weren’t Holy Spirit led. I felt like a failure because of her waywardness. I felt powerless to reach her heart and get her to understand that our rules were for her best interest, not just to control her or keep her from fun. So, when I would find out she disobeyed, I would storm up to her room, poke my finger in her face and let her have it. I’m sure I looked like a cartoon character – red-faced, teeth clenched, steam coming out of the ears! I cringe now when I think how my angry face looked to her! I’m sure she didn’t see any love in it!

I began to realize that anger directed at my daughter was really a cover-up for my own feelings of inadequacy and failure. Those painful and vulnerable feelings made me feel small, and I hated it! Instead, I went to anger. Then, at least, I felt strong. My anger wasn’t bringing Godly change but was sabotaging any possible good. The Lord graciously taught me that my angry responses were not helping to reach my daughter’s heart.

1 Peter 4:8

Love covers over a multitude of sins.

Proverbs 15:1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.

James 1:19-20

Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

When my daughter broke a rule, I began to realize how much she was hurting herself. The consequences were going to sting, and I didn’t want that for her. I was filled with compassion. Instead of storming up to her room as an angry cartoon character, I showed her a face of love and concern. I expressed sympathy for the hurtful consequences her misdeeds were going to create. My new response to my daughter’s infractions made a huge difference. In the past there had been anger, hurt feelings, walls of silence, feelings of inadequacy, and despair. When I responded to my daughter in anger, she rarely apologized for her misdeed. When I countered with grace and compassion, she later apologized every time.

I wish I could report that my better responses changed my daughter and she stopped acting out in ways that continued to hurt us both, but I can’t. She struggled through her teen years because she so desperately wanted to fit in. My big realization is that I only have power over one person on this planet and that is me. God gave us children to shepherd, not control. We are called to provide for them, keep them safe and lead them well by showing them the Father’s heart. They create their own inner moral compass through the ways they filter information and experiences, not by us somehow finding their control panel and programming them.

All behavior is communication. Do not take your child’s negative behavior personally as a sign of parenting failure. Instead, work to hear your child’s heart through their behavior. If they are doing harmful things to get attention from peers, hear that they are feeling insecure and are wanting to belong. Find compassion and trust the Lord to lead you to their heart.