Category Archives: Milestones

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.

Growing Changes

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

One of the things I love most about my job is that I get to interact with kids of all ages, from infants all the way to tweens. As I’m working with each age level, I need to keep in mind the differences between these age groups. What a toddler can’t conceptualize might be something a kindergartener can latch onto and really get. What needs to be laid out in very concrete, basic terms to a preschooler can be more abstract and detailed for a preteen.

Below are some of the basics to keep in mind about the various age groups as you engage your children in their faith.

 

Infants (Birth to 18 Months)

Age Characteristics: This is the age of discoveries. Over the course of a child’s first year, his or her brain will triple in size, forming millions of neural connections (something like 700 a second). That means that as a baby experiences the world, he/she is constantly learning and taking in new information. Every taste, smell, sight, sound, touch, and relational experience brings with it new discoveries and knowledge.

Spiritual Characteristics: Although an infant can’t mentally understand the concept of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross or the lyrics to a song of praise, he/she can understand what it is to be cared for and loved, and he/she can experience the delight of joyful or peaceful music. At this stage, the most spiritually significant thing you can do for children is to help them experience unconditional love and pure joy, modeling what their heavenly Father feels for them. Through play and snuggles, music and even dance, you can help an infant know he/she is loved and cared for and that God is good.

 

Toddlers (18 Months to Three Years)

Age Characteristics: We could call this the age of self-discovery. A toddler, having built up months of experiences and learning, begins to separate himself/herself from the world. He/she generally latches onto the idea of possession, which often leads to some issues with sharing, taking toys, claiming things as his/her own, etc. It also means he/she may experiment (to your chagrin) with rebellious behavior and the need to have things his/her way. With this self-awareness also comes the ability to reciprocate relationships. Empathy begins in its earliest stages here where the sight of a sad child across the room can make peers spontaneously burst into tears, as well. They may not know what to do with their emotions yet, but children at this age are definitely aware of them.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group loves to explore and experience the world as they grow in their ability to understand it and its relation to themselves. Using colorful pictures as you tell a simple Bible story or going for a walk and talking about how God made all that you see can be a great way to engage a child spiritually at this age. Be sure to use very concrete ideas and wording. He/she won’t understand the theological reasons why Jesus came to earth, but he/she can understand that Jesus came because He loves us and wants to help us live His way by making loving choices like sharing with a sibling or giving a friend a hug.

 

Preschoolers (Three to Five Years)

Age Characteristics: The preschool years are the age of seemingly endless energy. These kids are powered by an eagerness and excitement about life. Everything from play and learning to relationships is charged with electricity. This age group loves to jump, dance, sing, run, laugh, and even scream. They have A LOT of questions (some more embarrassing than helpful), and they have a great curiosity about the world outside of themselves. Their emotions are incredibly strong – They LOVE their friend, they HATE broccoli, and they are so MAD they have to go to bed. A child in this age group will want to test out his/her independence and experiment with using imagination in play. He/she begins playing with other children rather than simply alongside them. Although still very concrete in their thinking, this age group is able to piece together basic reason, logic, and cause-and-effect, and they love when their knowledge and abilities are recognized and praised.

Spiritual Characteristics: Preschoolers are at a prime age for recognizing God’s love and reciprocating it. With their brilliant imaginations, they love to hear and create stories in their minds, and Bible stories you read together can become beautiful learning opportunities. With their energetic bodies, encourage them to dance and sing worship songs. And with their simple yet profound ability to believe the impossible, they can believe in a God they can’t see. Encouraging a preschooler to talk about God, ask questions (even if you can’t answer them all), and worship God in a variety of ways (music, dance, art, etc) helps to build a firm faith foundation on which he/she can grow.

 

Early Elementary (Kindergarten-2nd Grade)

Age Characteristics: With the beginning of the school years come a lot of changes for a child. He/she learns what it’s like to socialize apart from parents and on his/her own. He/she, though still very active and energetic, slows down a bit and can sit still for longer amounts of time (even more so as they age). This age group is still very curious with lots of questions and imagination involved. Having grown in their socializing abilities, they are more interested in doing things with groups such as sports or organized activities. They can begin to really articulate their feelings and thoughts and why they might be feeling them. A child in this age group, whether he/she realizes it or not, likes routine. As he/she begins to make more independent decisions on a daily basis, he/she will still need input from parents to help make the best choices.

Spiritual Characteristics: In general, this age group wants to do what is right and good. They’re able to usually know the difference, even if they don’t always choose the wise decision. Talking to your child about why that is – the concepts behind sin and choosing our own way versus God’s way – can begin to happen here, as can the foundational concepts of forgiveness and grace. Where a preschooler can generally understand forgiving someone means you choose not to be mad at them anymore, a first grader can begin to understand we should forgive others because God forgives us when we mess up. This age group also deals with a lot of fear and anxiety due to new things likes school, friend groups, and a broadening understanding of the world. It’s important to bring these conversations about fear and anxiety back to God. Remind the child of God’s role in his/her life, His love, and His promises to be with us no matter what. Reading Biblical stories of God’s love and power are helpful in this.

 

Upper Elementary (3rd – 4th Grade)

Age Characteristics: This could be called the age of logic. Kids of this age group, though still concrete thinkers, are beginning to take abstract concepts and piece things together logically. What they accepted as a preschooler may suddenly come into question as they rethink it. Having watched the “big kids” for a while now, kids at this age often want to be more independent, make their own decisions, and do tasks and activities that are for “big kids.” They may struggle with the idea of being “too little” for something and may need to have a conversation or two around this subject. This age group loves to choose what music they listen to, what clothes they wear, and what games they play. They may also struggle socially as drama around slumber parties, bullying, and a growing self-consciousness emerges. A child in this age group, though wanting independence, still very much relies on parents and other adult figures to know how to perceive himself/herself and in decision-making.

Spiritual Characteristics: With a growing sense of empathy and broadening understanding of the world, kids at this age are beginning to think more globally, which is a great opportunity as a Kingdom parent to talk to your kids about Jesus’ call to spread His love to everyone. Look for ways to help your child serve others and be a light of love in their immediate community as well as the world at large. This age group is able to dig a little deeper into more abstract concepts such as Jesus being God’s Son and how we can make a difference through prayer.

 

Tweens (5th-6th Grade)

Age Characteristics: Here we have the age of perceived independence. These kids feel they’re no longer “little kids” and want more freedom to make their own decisions. They feel ready for bigger tasks and more challenging work. However, this also happens to be the age at which some children begin to experience puberty, and with the shift in hormones and other bodily changes, their decisions may not always be rational or wise. In their desire for independence, they still need a strong parental influence in how to make those decisions. This age group’s social drama is rising to its peak with the preteen and early teen years. Broken friendships, bullying of all kinds, and self-esteem issues rise sharply at this age, which means a tween will likely need time to talk and process things (whether he/she wants to or not) as well as help in figuring out how to deal with these situations.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group has moved beyond the need for simplistic Bible stories and songs. They’re dealing with real-life drama and struggles, and they need that reflected in their spiritual lives. With all the self-doubt and appraisal that goes on at this age, helping a tween ground himself/herself in the truth of what God says about him/her is crucial. Build with them a firm foundation of God’s love and grace and bring God into the tough conversations. Take time to pray with your tween about it all. Help him/her to see the bigger picture and understand how his/her decisions can impact his/her world for better or for worse.

A Colorful Village

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By Ruth Richmond, Associate Worship Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

God cares for us through the willing hands of people around us. It’s his design to accomplish his purposes in partnership with humans.  One stunningly beautiful result of this design is that the gifts, talents, faith and even the interests of the people that surround us swirl their colors into our lives. God uses others to help us discover talents and have experiences that reveal our own capacities for things like faith, love and strength.

I have a very colorful testimony not because I took a dramatic turn away from evil, but because all of my life willing Christians dipped, speckled, swirled, and buffed me. They enabled me to catch the light and reflect it in my own way so that I could bring prismatic light to dark places. I was shown my strength and was deeply, honestly connected to the love of God through the Christ followers around me.

My general trajectory was set by the age of six or eight because of the early influencers around me at church.  I wonder what I would be doing today if I’d had different people around me at church as a child?  Don’t you love looking back at your life and realizing a new thread of the narrative that God was weaving in all along the way? It’s a proof of His love that He works so much together for our good regardless of whether we will ever notice or thank Him.

Speaking of that, thank you God, for the rag-tag group of farmers and small town folk at the First Presbyterian Church in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. (Amen!)

Wow, God – thanks for Toots, who taught me about Jesus’ birthday and sang with us in pre-school. Thanks for Bessie, the quiet gray widow who took on the challenge of teaching rambunctious young grade schoolers!  (Amen!)

Thanks for the Pastor and his wife who began to lead the church when I was six. And that she started a choir for the children. Thanks that she was willing to stick with it even though we were squirrely. And thanks that she noticed I could always start a song in just about the right key, because then I noticed that about me, too, and started thinking of myself as musical. (Amen!)

Thank you for the local band teacher John, and his wife, Kay: Deeply passionate educators who joined our church and shared their interest in music contagiously. Thank you for the clarity of their love and for their obedience to leave us when you called them to minister at a school in the Philippines. (Amen!)

She (Kay) was my first and, therefore, my favorite piano teacher. My lessons were right after school. She prayed with me and had me memorize scripture verses. She taught me to play hymns and insisted that I sing them simultaneously. She taught me to write down musical thoughts on paper. I was eight when we started and thirteen when she left. By then, the path was level before me. At seventeen, I wrote my first five songs for piano, all in one sitting. At nineteen, I started working toward a music degree at Bethel College.

Now, I feel closest to God when I am writing musical thoughts on paper. I have worked for fifteen years singing, playing piano, and bringing music to this church. I have little kids of my own to share music with.  And, I’ve just been tasked with supporting and developing the worship area in Heroes Gate, so I have truly come full circle!”

My experience proves that when it comes to kids, it “takes a village”. A village full of willing, loving adults. Not because kids are difficult, but because they’re curious and clear: Ready to have the color and love of their village swirled into them.

I’m going to use this blog to give a little pitch! I am currently looking for accomplished musicians who can support the kids’ worship time in Heroes Gate. The village is forming now. If Woodland Hills is your church, please seek God about joining me and then contact me at rrichmond@whchurch.org.

Birds and Bees

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Shortly after I started working as a children’s pastor at Woodland Hills Church, my boss handed me a file and tasked me with teaching 5th graders about their body developments (i.e. puberty) from a Biblical perspective. She saw a need for the church to partner with parents to provide a supplemental resource for kids to learn about a typically taboo topic in a safe environment and tied to a Biblical perspective. The goal was to provide an overview of the body’s changes during puberty with a Biblical understanding of how and why God created us this way as well as how love and relationship were key to expressing our desires in the most healthy way.

Here I was, a young, newly married guy with no children and no formal training in this subject, tasked to teach preteens about a topic that is the equivalent of a “stinky cheese touch” in their eyes. When I looked into the file, all I found was individual photocopies with highlighted sections from various sources of interest to my boss.   I tried to recall what I learned as a preteen about this topic and came up blank. My parents avoided this topic like the plague, so that was no help. I felt ill at ease, ill-equipped, and just plain ill. My only options were becoming knowledgeable or seeing if I could get my old job back. In the end, I decided that in spite of my fears, I would go beyond my comfort zone to ensure that preteens could feel safe enough to ask questions or seek help regarding puberty and sex.   I was fortunate to find a few good resources, which helped me form a framework to build upon.

I eventually, created a booklet complete with visual aids, and a Bible study about sex, love, and the covenant of relationship, especially as expressed in marriage. I prepped my boss so she could lead the girls, and I prepared so I could lead the boys. When the day finally arrived, I wasn’t sure who was more nervous or embarrassed – the 5th grade boys unfortunate enough to have their parents sign a permission slip to participate or me. It didn’t take me long to realize that while these students were uncomfortable, they also wanted to learn about the mysteries of puberty and sex. My boss had a flood of questions from the girls about many aspects of puberty or why women did certain things. The boys, well, they didn’t have any questions, but they did pay attention with a few sniggers and bouts of nervous laughter.

Over the years, we’ve given this talk many times. We even added a workshop where parents can attend with their 5th grader and we go through the content together with activities and discussions. I now enjoy being a part of this class and value the importance of equipping and empowering kids about a topic that the world is all too ready to mislead them about.

Several years ago, my oldest became a 5th grader. I was now in a unique situation as the parent and as the teacher. My wife and I spent time in prayer and discussion about the best way to present this topic to her. We decided that my wife would take her out on a date and start talking about how her body would change and develop. She opened the door for further discussion. Then, they both attended the parent/5th grader workshop, as well. Afterwards, my wife and I used the Bible study I developed for the class with my daughter.   I’m sure she wasn’t overly thrilled about going through this topic with both mom and dad, but it has opened the door for her to ask more questions since then.

As parents, we often have a list tucked in our brain of things we want to make sure kids learn from us. Sometimes, our list gets expanded and stretched through situations in life as we enter new stages of development or growth. Sometimes, other people become a catalyst for learning moments, whether good or bad, planned or unplanned. As a parent of several teens, I’ve realized that if I don’t teach my kids about tough topics, then other sources get the first chance: peers, the internet, TV, music, books, or boyfriends/girlfriends. I was fortunate to be ahead of the puberty talk only because I was given the task to teach it before my oldest child was even born. Sometimes, we are given advance notice or early detection alerts and we have to decide if an opportunity is worth going beyond excuses or discomfort to equip and empower our children.   We are fortunate that we have so many resources available: books, seminars, webinars, and even the classes at the church. You may feel like I did when I was given the task of explaining puberty to a bunch of preteens: afraid, uncomfortable, unprepared, unsure where to start, and overwhelmed. Yet, a part of you may also thank God that you have the opportunity to reinforce a firm foundation in the lives and faith of your children as well as creating a home where your kids feel safe enough and comfortable enough to ask you about taboo topics. Now that is an outcome that is worth breaking out of our comfort zone to have.

Welcome to Womanhood

Continuing with the topic of milestones that Patrick’s article looked at in last week’s article, we asked Erica Hunt, one of our Emerging Generation staff members, to write up her thoughts on the topic.  We’re excited to share what she wrote with this week’s article – Enjoy!

By Erica Hunt

Sometimes our big moments of life happen against a backdrop that suits the occasion. My baptism, for example, was on a beautiful summer day in a gorgeous outdoor setting with family all around. I learned to ride a bike along a picturesque sidewalk with friends and siblings cheering me on from each side. The physical settings of these life events enhance the memories and add layers of nostalgia and comfort.

Not all life events can be this fortunate. Sometimes the landscape is more like a photo-bomb than an invited guest. It doesn’t change the significance of the event, but it doesn’t add value either, and kind of leaves a bitter aftertaste. This is the scenario of my physical passage into womanhood.

It was a bathroom stall in the Apache Mall in my hometown of Rochester, MN, about a month before school started in 1986. The most vivid detail of the scene? The white shorts I was wearing; an unfortunate wardrobe choice for this particular day. With me were my mom, my aunt visiting from Texas and her super cute son, my cousin, who I had recently learned was off limits when it came to romance. My older female cousin kindly, yet firmly filled me in on the taboos of cousin dating. She also taught me how to French braid and win at Monopoly.

She, along with many other women throughout my adolescence, modeled and taught me some of life’s important lessons about growing up. I was (and still am) grateful for them and the ways they helped ease the bumpiness of my teen years.

As a mother of three daughters, I have sought to do the same. When it came to their passage into womanhood, I wanted to take a more celebratory angle. Sure, it is a hassle, embarrassing, and terribly uncomfortable to have your period in middle and high school (and beyond, let’s be honest), but it is also an amazing signal that our bodies are working in just the way God designed. Even if my daughters got it for the first time in the equivalent of the Apache Mall bathroom stall with a cute boy waiting outside, I wanted to frame the experience as one of support, encouragement and solidarity. Something they could appreciate in hindsight, if not in the moment.

So, I threw a “Welcome to Womanhood” party for each of them. The invited guests were women that have known and supported our girls in meaningful ways for a long time. Family, friends, neighbors and former babysitters, all gathering together to say, “We’ve been there. We are here for you. We’re praying for you. You can count on us.” Each woman brought a single flower that, together, formed a bouquet of love and support for the girls to take home and remember. Many women wrote cards that have been put away into their “special boxes” with the other things they want to remember for a long time.

It felt awkward for them at first, having what they called a “period party.” But they also felt loved in a way I could have never expressed on my own. The depth and breadth of support they felt from their community of women translated into something powerfully grounding for them. Something they will need throughout their teenage years (and beyond, let’s be honest!).

Turning a Child’s Developmental Transitions into Faith Milestones

By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

It wasn’t long ago that my first child was born. My overwhelming joy and excitement upon meeting her were quickly overcome by a sudden realization that I’m a parent and we (my wife and I) were responsible for raising this little one to adulthood. It seems like each stage of a child’s development brings about an amazing amount of on-the-job training. Just when you think either you can’t take it anymore or you’ve got the kinks worked out, bam – suddenly, your child enters the next stage. Think about it: you start to wonder if you can take another night of interrupted sleep, then suddenly she is sleeping through the night, but now she has learned to crawl. From there we have a walker, then terrible twos, potty training, impulsive preschooler, kindergarten, a grade school student, homework, tests, more homework, sports, and it keeps going on and on. When she was a baby, her teen years seemed so far away and now she is 13. Another stage of development that I’m not feeling equipped to navigate as a parent.

Yet, I’ve been blessed with a great community of friends that have provided wise counsel, prayer (a lot of prayer), encouragement, constructive criticism, and directed me to great resources. One thing that seems to come up at each stage of a child’s development, besides my blood pressure, is another opportunity to help my child grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve squandered a good number of these opportunities, but one I’ve been preparing for a long time was my daughter’s 13th birthday. My wife and I decided that we wanted to equip, train, and empower her towards being an adult during adolescence. So, we decided to begin this new stage of development with a ceremony. We called it a Rite of Passage celebration. Our goals were simple: reveal the community of support and wisdom that is available to her and help her to see herself the way God (and her parents) see her.

This entailed a series of outings with various women that are involved in her life – aunts, family friends, grandmas, journey group leader from youth group, and mom. Each of these women spent quality time with my daughter and shared a specific component of wisdom related to being a woman of God. Grandpa wanted to be involved, so he took her on a date and showed her how a gentlemen should treat a young lady. We culminated these adventures with a celebration ceremony with these same women, family, and a few of her close friends. Each person described how her personality, giftings, and character shine in her life, work, and relationships. My wife and I shared how we see God’s heart working in her, and I had the opportunity to share a special blessing. We ended by worshipping together and praying for her faith and future to remain intimately connected to her Heavenly Father.

The transition to a teenager is still a challenging time for her and for us as parents, but we were able to create a milestone, a marker to remind us that God has been and will always be with our daughter. This takes some of the pressure off our shoulders and helps us to know that we aren’t parenting alone. God has surrounded our daughter with people from an early age and has been guiding her development all along.

We still are caught off guard by our kids and know that we will continue to struggle with our role as parents. Yet, this transition provided us with an incentive to mark other milestones with our younger children and to continue engaging God’s guidance and our community of friends, family, and church leaders in this journey.