Mungu Land

Wish I Could Turn Back Time

“Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.” Perhaps you’ve heard these words from the 21 Pilots song “Stressed Out”, and perhaps, like me, you have heard your kids singing along. At first, it struck me funny that my kids were talking about being stressed out, but the truth is, that being stressed out is a very real problem for our kids. We are inundated with media covering stories of depression, bullying, and suicide. Or maybe you’ve even experienced some of those topics first-hand. News reports from school shootings or any number of horrible situations leave us reeling and fearful for our children. We can feel ill-equipped to handle the weight of these issues, and it has many people analyzing the effectiveness of strategies that are supposed to combat this in our society today. In the past, experts have tried to combat low self-esteem with messages about our ability to become whatever you want to be. Kids were hurt when others were praised for their achievement, so trophies were then given to everyone. Despite these efforts, our kids are still stressed, depressed or wishing for the good old days.

 

So, what can we do as parents to help our kids? Maybe, like me, you will find these three things can help lower the stress your family:

 

Check my own stress level: How can I help my kids with stress if I am experiencing it myself? There are moments that trigger my own anxiety or stress. For example, I am not really known for my medical mind, so any health concern becomes serious for me. I think this started when my oldest child had a febrile seizure as an infant. At that point, I realized how little I knew, and felt so inadequate. I’m the type of person who should never google a symptom because it would only point to the fact that my child is probably dying of cancer. There are other triggers as well, but if I let my mind run away with these thoughts, it shows in my words and actions in front of my ever watchful kids. My voice and my posture become tense. It’s like my mind goes into emergency mode even when the situation doesn’t demand that kind of response. It is evident that I need to make a choice. I can either set myself up as someone who is ruled by the emotions of these triggers, or live in light of God’s strength despite feeling week. Monitoring our own stress levels and taking positive steps to cope with them can be the first step in helping our kids. If I am in an moment of weakness, I find that taking a moment to pray really helps to reset my focus and my trust in God. Reciting Philippians 4:8 helps me to remember to turn my mind back to God.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

 

Speak God’s truth louder than the world’s lies: Have you ever really contemplated the truth telling role that you play in the life of your child? If you haven’t, just take a moment to think about it. Lies are everywhere. The media is full of them. Your child’s peers are probably speaking them often. Let’s be honest, so can we. The words that we speak falsely, thinking them harmless or even sometimes cute or humorous, set us up for failure. Our kids will pick up on the fact that we have not always been truthful, and this can end up being confusing and frustrating. One of the best things we can do for our kids is to set the Bible as the ultimate authority of truth, and then live our lives pointing to and reflecting that. What if my child were to come home from a day of school upset about someone calling them stupid? Often, my first response can be protection, where I am on the phone or emailing the teacher to figure out how to get this resolved. What if, instead, my “go to” was to take that moment to make an investment in my child’s character, filling his mind with the truth of who God has made him to be and how God has gifted him. To borrow another line from a song, “Sons and Daughters”, we can encourage our kids to think and even pray “when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you.” Speaking these truths will help to build our child’s confidence into the person that He has created them to be. The more confident our children are in their identity as a child of God, the less affected they will be by the false identity created by our culture.

 

Be intentional about what your child takes in each day: It is hard enough for me to keep track of what my mind is taking in each day, so the idea of keeping track of what my kids take in seems like a daunting task. Still, this is no excuse, and it is worth my time and effort. Am I setting my child up to hang out with other kids that will benefit and build them up or am I just let them wander to who is convenient? Am I let them hang in a virtual world all evening rather than giving them opportunities to be interacting and growing with real life relationships and circumstances? Am I aware of the music and media that is feeding into how they see the world and themselves? Am I setting up key people, family members or mentors, to continually invest in my child’s mind and heart? There will be plenty of influences throughout the day, so we need to be purposeful about turning up the volume for those influences that are filling our child spiritually and relationally. Instead of constantly having the tv on, try turning on some praise music. Preschool is a great time to start having little family dance parties, or hearing your kids sing worship songs at any age while driving in the car will do your hearts good!

 

If “stressed out” is how you would define family life right now, recognizing it and taking a next step is key. If it is an overwhelming issue, some consistent, godly counseling could be life changing. Otherwise, developing some of these practices can help set us back to living in a healthy family rhythm.

Written by Karis Stiles. Karis is the Director of Family Ministry at Parker Hill. She and her husband Kevin have three kids, Kessyde (20), Dakota (17), and Kohen (12). 

Make Room for What Matters

Make Room for What Matters - Written by Susie Aulisio.
Susie is a wife to Jeff and mother to three kids, Ava (13), Sarah (9), and Luke (7). She serves in Family Ministries at Parker Hill.              

When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent most of my free time reading “What to Expect When Your Expecting” from cover to cover. I would close my eyes at night, or in the middle of the day back then, and envision holding my baby. My perfect, quiet, non-crying, good sleeper, happy, smiley baby. What was I thinking?!

Once Ava, my first-born, was here my world felt like it turned upside down. I hardly got any sleep and my quiet, happy baby was more like loud and cranky, and the smiles were most likely linked to gas! Just getting ready to leave the house was an ordeal. I would spend more time packing enough diapers, bottles, and extra outfits than the time I was out of the house. Why didn’t someone, anyone write a book on this?!

Becoming a parent is more than just the next phase in life. It is a change, a big change… a life change. Our routines are off, and our schedules are most often times thrown out the window. We have a beautifully created life fighting for all of our time and attention. It can become very easy to lose our focus in all of this. And when we lose our focus, we lose our priorities and what is most important to keep our lives and the lives of those around us peaceful, happy and in at least some kind of order.

I am here to tell you that I have survived. I am a mom to three great kids; Ava-13, Sara-9, and Luke-7, and a wife of 15 years to my husband, Jeff. Being a wife and a mom is the greatest gift I have been given. I have always felt it is our biggest role in life to lead our children in the right direction in this crazy world, and sometimes that may even mean we have to make our own paths.

Prioritizing, for me, was never about routines and schedules. Having a strict schedule was never my forte. In our home, it was always about what matters most in our lives; having peace, showing love, finding joy, securing positive relationships, and making sure our home and our community were safe places. Things, activities and people will always try to fight their way in and try to replace these fundamentals, but having these things in place first always seems to make room for the other less but still important stuff.

Stay Focused…
It’s easy to lose focus. We have so many things trying to grab our attention and cause us to lose direction. While raising small children, our minds can wander. And when our minds wander, everything else seems to follow. For me, staying focused is being thankful for all things, even the not so good things. Prayer has always been important to me. It is my quiet time, and my way of comforting and protecting my family. Start and end each day by thanking God for the many blessings in your life. When you focus on being thankful everything else will follow.

Stay Connected…
The relationships I formed in the church were and are still valuable to me as a mom. Giving up the 10am nap schedule on a Sunday was always a no-brainer for me. What I gained was so much more. I was surrounded by a community that offered wisdom, much needed friendships, and showed my family and I just how important it was to make this a priority in our lives. Because of this example, my children have remained connected in their own small groups on Sunday and my oldest even serves as a Crew member with her friends.

Keep Discovering…
I never like to use the word “busy”. When I find myself saying, “I’m too busy”, I cringe and immediately try to change my words and my mindset. When you are too busy, you miss things. We have a saying around Parker Hill, “It’s just a phase, don’t miss it!”. Of course we would never dream of missing our child’s first steps, first words, or first day of school. As they grow their ‘firsts’ may look a little different, but are still worthy of positive attention. The first blanket fort they build in the living room on a rainy day, the first time you have to sop up all the water on the kitchen floor from your little one “doing the dishes”.  Enjoy these moments together, make time to create them.

Priorities look a lot different for everyone. Sometimes priorities take the shape of calendars, timers or a set of rules. To me, priorities aren’t as tangible. It is my relationship with God that I hope I am mirroring to my children and others around me.  It is investing in the lives of people that gives my family a community and it is having the joy and peace in our homes that comes with raising little ones and living in their greatest, and sometimes not so greatest moments. A book will never be able to prepare you for this journey of parenthood; but keeping your focus, staying connected and living an engaging life with your family is a great start. “It’s just a phase, don’t miss it”!

How Imperfect Parents Pass on their Faith

How Imperfect Parents Pass on their Faith

 

Written by Dan White. Dan is a pastor for Parker Hill at the Clarks Summit Campus. He is a husband to Robyn and a father to Aiden (7), Gavin (4), and Madelyn (3). 

 

Have you ever been carried away by the moment?

Recently, my three-year-old daughter and I were captivated by the nature documentary Planet Earth II. We watched as a baby lizard was chased by predators. I was caught up in the moment. I yelled at the TV, “Run! Run little guy!” (Like my cheering would make any difference). The small lizard momentarily avoided becoming a snake’s lunch.  I breathed a sigh of relief. Then the snake snuck up again. This time my little girl started shouting, “Run! Run little guy! Run!” I did a double take at my sweet girl yelling with intense urgency. I don’t know why I was surprised that she is turning into a mini-me.

 

They say more is caught than taught.

 

As parents, we can hear this truth of life with a sense of dread. We know our flaws. As a result, we try to hide our mistakes, so our kids don’t inherit the bad parts of us. But that would be the wrong approach.

 

Parents, you have the honored first place in your child’s life. They care what you think, they’ll copy what you do, and they have a front row seat to so much of you. Here are two ways to leverage your close proximity to produce a genuine faith.

 

1) Let your awareness of your weaknesses drive you to Jesus.

 

You can’t give away what you don’t have. If your faith is not personal to you, it won’t be personal to them either. That’s why it’s so vital for you to cultivate a genuine relationship with God.

 

Everything flows from your connection with God. In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I don’t know much about growing things. But here’s what I do know: plants we don’t care for don’t produce the most fruit.

 

Make a thriving relationship with God your highest priority. Get up early, put on a show, set up a time when your husband takes over with the kids—whatever it takes to spend some time with your Savior.

 

The greatest gift you will ever give your family is your walk with God. It’s not about being perfect. It is about being authentic. So when you fall short, fall at His feet. When you don’t feel you can keep going, go to Him for a fill-up. Let your awareness of your weaknesses drive you to Jesus.

 

Your weaknesses don’t disqualify you as a parent—they show you where you need Jesus. And the grace you get when you are with Him will overflow into your parenting. When you are captivated by God and His grace—your kids will pick up on it!

 

2) Let your life in-process teach your kids how to process life.

 

What if you didn’t hide your faults from your kids? What if you courageously and appropriately spoke about your struggles with your children? I think they would catch more from our lives than all the speeches we could ever give. 

 

Here’s what I mean: I love to watch a movie’s bonus features. The finished movie is pretty cool—but seeing how they pulled off that perfect shot or scene is even more interesting to me. Your life is that way too. Just showing your kids your best moments—the highlight reel—may be impressive. But the behind-the-scenes is more informative.

 

Your kids don’t just need to see the highlights of a godly faith. They need to see the “how-to” of genuine faith. So, let them in behind the scenes to see how God helps you over hurdles, through hardships, and when life hurts.

 

Help your kids grow a real faith by inviting them into the imperfect process of your faith.

 

•   What better way to show them what forgiveness looks like than to ask them for forgiveness after you blow up in anger?

•   What will stick with them more than praying together when you need help paying a bill?

•   How will they know what faith looks like when the feelings fade unless you level with them about your journey too?

 

They say more is caught than taught. Be captivated by God and His grace—and don’t be surprised when your mini-me is too!

 

Prioritizing what's important

Prioritizing what's important!

A guest blog post by Dorcus Morgan. Dorcus is the wife of pastor Errol Morgan of Parker Hill and the mother of three boys. 

When we had our first child we were excited and nervous all at the same time.  We now had the responsibility of forming and shaping another human being and, in a few short years, we added two more.  During that time, my husband’s job was being a youth pastor, so are lives were filled with kids of all ages.  We were given a glimpse of what our home and lives would look like as our children grew.

                  We had dreams of what we wanted for our boys and knew we would have to figure out what to make a priority in all our lives to reach those dreams.  The prioritizing started out easy and then life got busier and more involved with each child we had and as they aged.  I tell many people that the hardest part of parenting, at least for me, is being consistent.  Consistency makes the prioritizing easier.

                  These are a few of the areas we choose to make a priority:

                  #1 If our kids were being cared for by others, we wanted the caregivers to want to be around them again.  Priority – manners, manners, manners. 

                  We insisted on please, thank you, yes sir/ma’am, you’re welcome, and addressing adults as Mr./Mrs.  I am not sure how many times I asked them to say those words, at times I am sure I sounded like a broken record.  There were also times they didn’t get what they wanted because they wouldn’t use those words.  I am sure they still get tired of me asking if they used their manners when I am not around!

#2 Their character was more important than their accomplishments.  Priority – winning and being perfect isn't everything

Our kids were and are involved in church activities, school clubs and sports.  We stressed being a gracious winner or loser. Congratulating those who finished before them and encouraging those who finished behind.  Reminding them that their abilities are a gift from God and, regardless of how much work they invested, it would mean nothing without acknowledging the Giver.  We encouraged them to be part of the team even when on the bench.  Their attitudes leave a lasting impression.

#3 A relationship with Christ is more important than the events/activities in which they participate.  Priority – do everything in our power to point them toward Christ.

When our kids were little, we would pray together before bed, read bible stories, and sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me”.  We would show them Christ in everyday situations: pointing out nature, praying for people in accidents that we drove by, or buying them age-related devotional books.  Because of my husband being a youth pastor, we learned how important it was to surround our own kids with people that cared about them and believed a relationship with Christ is important. 

When we left our house, the people and things pulling their minds away from Christ increased greatly.  For us, the best place to help with that was church.  Church services/activities became almost a non-negotiable.  If a sporting or school event/practice was scheduled for the same time as the church service we usually attended, we chose a different service time to attend.  If it was practice, we communicated with the coach/leader to let them know the boy(s) would be a few minutes late or would be leaving immediately at the end.  There were several nights that we pulled into youth group and they were still in their uniforms.  There were times that the event was not routine (districts, tech week) that our kids missed church, but they were few and far between.  Some may think we did a disservice to them by not making sports or (in our case) drama a priority.  I am not sure our boys would agree -  right now, we have a Division I athlete (with a scholarship) and one that has traveled getting to sing, dance, and act.  As the kids gained more responsibility, work factored into this area. Our kids’ employers asked them to submit the times they were available to work.  We knew working on Sundays might be necessary, but asked them to make their availability for after services were finished.  On Wednesdays, we had them make it a day they were not available at all. Interaction with friends, being encouraged in the same areas, small group leaders, and pastors was more important.

We now have two kids no longer home full time.  Both are continuing to learn about Christ and are working on forming a relationship with Christ that is their own.  We have one at home for only a few short months and then he will be off, hopefully continuing to form his relationship with Christ. Our parenting has transitioned from 24/7 to as needed, but we are still encouraging the priorities listed above and trusting that that investment will continue to help them make their relationship with Christ their number one priority.

Raising The Barn With Mark Stuenzi

Barn Moving

Herman Ostry had a problem. This Nebraska farmer had a very large barn that was situated in a low spot on his property.  Every time they got a hard rain, the creek would rise and his barn would be flooded by a couple feet of water. He wanted to move his barn onto a new foundation that was on higher ground, about 150 feet away.  The problem was that his barn weighed more than 17,000 pounds. 

So he and his son took a bunch of steel tubing, welded it together, and bolted it onto the outside of his barn. Then, they got 344 of their friends together, and everyone was given a place to stand and a handle to lift.  After one practice lift, these 344 people carried that barn 150 feet and set it on a new foundation.  It took all of three minutes.  

There are some things in life that should never be attempted alone. 

My wife and I are near the end of our parenting journey… our oldest daughter is now 20 and entering her sophomore year of college.  Our youngest daughter will turn 17 next month. Looking back, I believe that our kids would not be who they are today without the many people who stood alongside us and helped us shoulder the load of raising our kids. 

If someone were to ask me to look back and name the one thing that made the greatest difference in our parenting, I would say that it was our realization that we couldn’t do it alone. Even though I am spiritual leader, I knew that my kids needed more than just the training and influence of their mom and dad. For that reason, we have always tried to partner with other like-minded people in the process of parenting. Here’s what that means in very practical terms: 

Create a network of like-minded parents and do life together.  

Find four or five other parents who share your faith and values, and who also have kids who are about the same ages as your kids. Then, begin spending time together as a group and raise your kids together. As we spent time with other families who shared our values, relationships were built naturally that endure to this day. Some of my kids’ closest friends were found within this group.  Some of their most respected adult role models are within this circle of friends.    

Become the subtle architect your of kids’ relational world. 

As parents, we have to be very intentional about helping our kids find the right relationships. This is way too important to just leave to chance. Talk to your kids and help them think through what to look for in a friend. Get to know their friends (and the parents of their friends). At times, you just have to make it difficult for your kids to get certain places and be with certain people. On the flip-side: find subtle ways to encourage the right relationships and go out of your way to include certain friends that are a positive influence.  

Prioritize consistent involvement in the life of a healthy church. 

The key word in that sentence is “consistent.” Let me just take a few minutes to brag on our family ministries here. I know that my kids would not be where they are today if not for the staff and crew members who serve in our kids and student ministries. There were so many times when my kids would come home and tell me something they heard from their small group leader that really connected with them. Most of the time, it was something they had already heard from me; they just needed to hear it from someone besides a parent. Along with those relationships with their small group leaders, my kids were also deeply impacted by their experiences of serving in the church and seeing God use them to make a difference in his kingdom.  

Parenting well is challenging in today’s world.  In my opinion, parenting well is impossible if you try to go it alone.

Written by Mark Stuenzi; Lead Pastor of Parker Hill Church. 

A vacation FROM summer break

“So, mom, can I have a friend over?” That sounds like a typical question for a kid to ask when summer is in full swing. The problem was, we had just walked in the door from my trip to pick up my child from a friend’s house. My mom heart was sighing at the obvious lack of gratefulness for the special outing that had already occurred, and off I went on a child-sized lecture about being thankful and content.

 

It wasn’t until later that day, that I realized something, maybe I didn’t actually get to the heart of the issue. Once we were all settled in at home, my kids began to engage in different activities and seemed to have a great time, and then it dawned on me…It wasn’t that my children were not content (at least not this time anyway), it was simply that they wanted a “what’s next.” I found it humorous that it wasn’t anything that the kids did to bring this light bulb moment, but something that I actually did. I was going about my day, checking things off my list, working my way through the schedule of my plans for the day, and I realized my child was operating just like me. Not only did my kids like a “what’s next,” so did I!

 

It’s no wonder that when it comes to summer, it can start well, but when the excitement of freedom has worn off, summer can seem like it will never end. The cries of “I’m bored,” or “I never get to have any fun” become the unwelcome anthems of our children. We wonder why we ever bought them toys, because they obviously don’t remember that they have them. We might even wonder how much it would cost to hire a referee for the day to come deal with all the sibling squabbles. It then becomes obvious that we don’t want a summer break vacation, we want a vacation FROM summer break! But really, we shouldn’t be surprised, our kids have just spent most of the year in a very structured environment, and suddenly they are back at home with high expectations for fun. So, before you start to hyperventilate at the prospect of the upcoming summer months, take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, a calendar or scrap piece of paper and answer some of the following questions, because whether you are a scheduled type of person or not, we can save ourselves some heartache if we go into a summer with a little bit of planning!

 

1      At the end of a summer day, what makes you consider the day a success for your family (you may need to be specific with each of your kids)?

2      Is there a new chore that you can teach and give as a responsibility that will encourage their role in your family?

3      Is there a new skill that you would love for them to learn (taking swimming lessons or trying a new hobby that sounds fun to them)?

4      Do your children need a schedule to help them pass the days, or a calendar of special things to look forward to?

5      Is there a faith skill challenge that you would love them to grow in (maybe memorizing the books of the Bible with a trip to get ice-cream as a reward)?

 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions, but it might be a good start to gaining new perspective on what God can do to help our kids live well with the extra time. When I was a stay-at-home mom, the answer for me came in the form of a summer schedule. I filled the day with the things that I wanted the kids to invest in, but I balanced it with special things that weren’t typically part of our days and gave my kids something to look forward to. And yes, I used scrapbook paper, made it all “cute-sy” and posted it where my kids could keep an eye on it. Some things required definite mom involvement, but others purposefully did not so that I could get things done or could do things that I enjoyed too. If we were home, we followed it. If something special came up, the summer schedule didn’t even cross our minds.

 

For all of you looking for practical ideas…here are some. I planned time for lots of crafting or creating with all sorts of things, play-doh was not off limits, there were marble run creations,  and mud pie messes, but there was also time spent reading, practicing instruments and cleaning up before dad got home. I even planned in screen time because…well, I personally enjoy it and want to teach my kids how to use technology in a good way. I also put special things on a weekly rotation: trips to the pool, the library or parks were so fun. Your plans or schedules don’t need to be exhaustive, just done with some prayer and wisdom for how your family will function well. The best part, for me, wasn’t how full the day was, or how many different things we got to do, but it was coming to the end of the day and realizing that I had helped my kids have fun and invested in them as well.

 

So, I don’t know where this summer finds you, with a house full of kids or headed to work and then home to your family for the hot summer evenings, but I do know that a little planning and perspective can go a long way. Enjoy some time spent looking at the family God has given you, with all its quirks, preferences, talents, and definitions of fun, and begin to write the plot for an awesome summer story for you and your kids!

 

Written by Karis Stiles, Director of Kids Ministry at Parker Hill, wife to Student Pastor Kevin Stiles and mother to three children ages 19 to 12.