Category Archives: Tough Topics

“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.

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.

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.

Goodness Devotional and Resources for Tough Family Discussions

A Note to Our Parents: We are including this week’s devotional on the spiritual fruit of Goodness in this blog post, which you will find near the end. First, however, we realize it’s been a tough summer with the various events and violence in the United States, and this past week, one of those events was very close to home. You as parents may be concerned and looking for simple ways to talk to your kids about current events. We have come up with a few related Biblical resources and themes that you can use to engage and talk with your kids at whatever level you deem best. We highly recommend you take the time to listen to Greg’s sermon – Philando and Jeronimo – from this past weekend if you haven’t already for a Kingdom perspective.

We would encourage you to talk to your kids about who Jesus is, how he loves unconditionally, and how he showed his love for all throughout his time here on earth. Good Bible passages that illustrate Jesus showing love to everyone would be Matthew 6:43-48 (Loving Your Enemies), Matthew 8:5-13 (Jesus and the Roman Centurion), Matthew 9:18-26 (Jesus Heals a Sick Woman), Luke 19:1-9 (Jesus and Zacchaeus), John 4:4-30 (Jesus and the Samaritan Woman), and John 11:1-44 (Jesus Raises Lazarus) along with any of the accounts of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. For a family devotional on Kingdom love and kindness, check out our blog post from June 15th.

Identity is key to helping us know how to react in situations, and it may be helpful for your family to talk about what it means to be a child of God and a follower of Christ. One passage you may want to check out that deals with our identity in Christ would be 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, “So from now on we don’t look at anyone the way the world does. At one time we looked at Christ in that way. But we don’t anymore. When anyone lives in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here! All this is from God. He brought us back to himself through Christ’s death on the cross. And he has given us the task of bringing others back to him through Christ. God was bringing the world back to himself through Christ. He did not hold people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with the message that people may be brought back to him. So we are Christ’s official messengers. It is as if God were making his appeal through us. Here is what Christ wants us to beg you to do. Come back to God! Christ didn’t have any sin. But God made him become sin for us. So we can be made right with God because of what Christ has done for us.” Other identity passages include Galatians 3:26-29 (All One in Christ), 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (Parts of One Body), and 1 John 3:1-3 (Children of God).

Jesus also came to bring peace, and as his followers, we are called to live out that same peace with everyone. On this topic, you may want to read together 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers and sisters, be joyful! Work to make things right with one another. Help one another and agree with one another. Live in peace. And the God who gives love and peace will be with you.” Other helpful verses on this topic are Romans 12:17-18 and James 3:17-18. For a family devotional on this topic, check out our blog post from June 23rd.

If you find your kids are feeling fearful or worried with any of the topics you raise or other things they may hear, we would recommend taking time as a family to pray together and to reaffirm the love and power of Jesus by checking out stories and verses such as Isaiah 41:10 (God is with You), Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus Calms the Storm), Luke 12:22-34 (Do Not Worry), and John 10:1-18 (Jesus as the Good Shepherd).

If your children are old enough, you may also want to look at Ephesians 6:18, “At all times, pray by the power of the Spirit. Pray all kinds of prayers. Be watchful, so that you can pray. Always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” As the book of James reminds us, our prayers are powerful and effective, and we encourage your family to pray through all of this together and keep Jesus and his love your focus.

 

This Week’s Family Devotional on Goodness:

At first glance, “goodness” may seem like it’s about following rules and being “good.” But when Paul was listing the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (5: 22), he meant a goodness of generosity. This generosity is about sharing everything you have and you are with others. So whether it’s your time, your money, your talents, or your love, God calls us to be generous and put the needs of others before ourselves.

Read Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 10:24, and Philippians 2:3-4 together and talk about what it might look like for your family members to love others unconditionally and put their needs above your own. Encourage them to specifically think of people whom they may find it difficult to love and have them pray about ways they can show God’s love to them and believe the best about them no matter what.

Brainstorm together some ideas and ways in which your family and its individual members can show love to others and put them first. Some suggestions might be drawing pictures for a neighbor, making cookies for a community event, volunteering at a food shelf, or other random acts of kindness. Encourage them to also think of ways they can show generous love to people all over the world, whether that’s through prayer, raising donations for a non-profit, or befriending a child in his/her class that seems to be having a rough time.

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.

April Preview Pack

Here’s a look ahead to what we’ll be learning in Heroes Gate in the month of April:

April 3: Toddlers through 4th graders will hear how we are called to the same mission Jesus gave His disciples of going into the world and telling people about Him (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-11). Club 56 kids will begin a unit on worship and discuss the topic: What is worship anyway?

April 10: Toddlers through 4th graders will be amazed as they hear how God worked through Peter to heal a man and bring a woman back to life (Acts 9:32-43). Club 56 kids will discuss the question: Whom are we worshipping?

April 17: Toddlers through 4th graders will learn that anyone is welcome in God’s Kingdom through story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How do we worship?

April 24: Toddlers through 4th graders will discover how they can be good friends and encouragers like Paul’s friend Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37, 9:26-27, 12:25-15:41).  This day, Club 56 will ONLY be open for the 11am service for their annual body talk for the 5th graders and Echo Open House for 6th graders. If you have questions about either of these, you can contact Patrick Showers at pshowers@whchurch.org.

Parenting When Life Hits the Fan

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Parenting can be tricky even in the best of times. Parenting can be challenging, exhausting, and often frustrating, but it is also worthwhile, life enhancing, and remarkable. There are highs and lows over the long haul of being a parent. We may have 3 healthy kids one moment, and the next; we have 3 vomit-spewing volcanoes. You may experience a blissful vacation together as a family only to find it ruined on the car ride home with bickering and whining, sometimes even among the kids. Typically, family life doesn’t have many dramatic highs and lows; it is subtler with bumps and small updrafts.

Yet, there are families that experience a life changing moment that can only be defined as crappy (albeit in more mature language). I’m not talking about Blair Walsh missing an easy field goal in a playoff game or even cell phones falling into the toilet. Think worse!

For my family, October 7th, 2005 was our life changing moment. I was on the roof of my friend’s house helping to redo the roof. We worked into the dark, which upon 20/20 hindsight was a really dumb idea no matter how much you want to get done. I took one wrong step and found myself falling, then suddenly on the ground in a lot of pain. I was quickly rushed to HCMC by ambulance. My friend had to make a very difficult and painful call informing my wife that I was hurt pretty bad. Backstory: we had just had our third child five weeks before, meaning we had 3 kids under the age of 3 years living at home, and I was the primary breadwinner.

My wife rounded up a bunch of friends, our small group, and her parents. The doctors informed her that I had broken two vertebrae in my lower back. There was concern that my spinal cord had been damaged, even though the CT scan didn’t show any obvious issues. I underwent surgery the next day. Over 10 hours, the doctors repaired my vertebrae using hardware. I spent 2 weeks recovering from the surgery at HCMC and then was moved to Abbot Northwestern. Over the next 10 weeks, I had to relearn how to function without half of my body. I was officially pronounced a complete paraplegic, meaning that no feeling or movement would return below my waist.

My wife was amazing through all of this. With support from church staff, small group members, friends, and family she was able to spend time with me everyday. My kids also visited me often, especially my new baby daughter, since she was dependent on my wife for food. People provided meals, lots and lots of prayer, cards, money, and even modified my home so it was ready for my return.

The next phase of recovery was 2 months of living at home and learning how to function in that environment while recovering from the surgery. Notice, I haven’t mentioned learning how to parent from a wheelchair yet. My wife was a single parent for 4 months while I focused on recovery. Even still, after I returned to work, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and my emotions were all over the place, so I still wasn’t very helpful in the parenting department. My kids were great! They were a huge motivation for me to get out of the hospital and to continue even when everything really seemed to suck.

Over the next year, my wife continued to care for the kids and for me. My independence was growing, but doctor and therapy appointments took a lot of time. Strangely enough, those moments away together gave us a lot of time to connect and process together while other people cared for our kids. People continued to bless us throughout the next year by cleaning our house, doing lawn work, making meals, babysitting, and even organizing a hugely successful fundraiser.

As life’s new rhythms began to emerge, we had to deal with a new kind of healing process.   I began to mourn the loss of who I was with legs. Being in the wheelchair changed how I operated in my job, in my giftings, in my parenting, and in my marriage. Depression and frustration took us into another season of crap.

Over time, we began to realize a few things that helped us. When you are laid bare from pain, suffering, or grief, your core identity is viewable. My identity as a priceless and loved child of God continued to shine through all of the garbage moments. My kids, our friends, and people around us continued to see this part of me even when I was so distracted by the hardships that I couldn’t see it. Being surrounded by a community of love, lifted in prayer constantly, and cared for reflected God’s love back into my life over and over again until I couldn’t deny that God was bringing good out of this crappy situation.

Struggling reminds us also that we need God. My wife and I relied heavily upon God during those two years of hardship. I was often still and had the opportunity to hear God’s voice directly and through others. Whether I was experiencing a high or a low, I could feel God’s presence throughout. I knew without a doubt that His love was real and discovered that even though He didn’t stop me from getting hurt or fully heal me, He was trustworthy.

Over time, I was able to become fully engage and equal in the parenting department.   I worried for a time that my kids would be damaged from my time of healing, but, instead, I think they have a perspective that few kids experience. They’ve seen me at my worst and how I relied upon God and others. They’ve seen how valuable having a solid relationship with God can be in a person’s life and how important it is to establish loving relationships with other believers. They benefited from the love of others and were able to bask in all kinds of attention during those two years, even if my attention waned at times. We also share a unique family identity together that unifies us. Each of my children has also learned that every family member is a needed and important part of this family, whether 2 years old or 45.

Life will have moments that give you a face full of pain. Being solidly connected to our Heavenly Father is vital to recovery and to restoration of normalcy to family life. Your kids will benefit from your relationship to the Creator as your core identity transforms to reflect a loving and trustworthy God who is actively involved in your life and with you no matter what is happening in life.