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.

Taxi-Mom and Loving It!

Four kiddos in five years and not one of them came with a handbook.  So many questions…

A biggie for me was how can I foster healthy friendships that will benefit my kids and help them grow spiritually.

At a young age they wanted to have sleepovers, playdates at others homes or our house, be a part of sports and church activities, etc.  So many opportunities to be with friends….sometimes too many.  

Choices always had to be made, so we needed to come up with what we thought was important for them and what made our house a healthy place.  When they are younger you decide for them the social situations they participate in.  We make the choices of who they hang out with and have a sense of control over the friendships they have. So how do you teach them what a healthy friendship is and what isn’t?  How do you help them decide on their own how to stand up for who they are, and make good choices on who their close knit friends will be?  By far, we are not perfect parents.  We have learned a lot along the way by making lots of mistakes.  That being said, there were things we decided were important to foster, but they weren’t always easy or convenient to follow through with. Because we made those decisions ahead of time, it made it easier to stick with it.

1. We always had an open door policy at our house.  It helped to get to know the friends that our kids were hanging out with and for their friends to know us.  It was important for us that their friends knew that we cared about them, that we loved having them in our home and we loved that they were our kid’s friend.  They were “part of the family”.

2. Being the “Taxi-Mom” can be a pain and super inconvenient but be willing.  Again, you get to know their friends.  It shows your child that their “stuff” is important to you.  It also shows them and their friends that you are for their friendship.  And, bonus, when you are the driver you tend to be invisible and learn lots about what’s happening in the world of your child.  

3. Encourage church activities.  The most valuable connections that my kids made were because they were involved in not just the weekly programming at our church, but the special events and camps as well.  When they experience these things together, it gives them something to connect with and helps them to grow closer in their friendships.  These experiences provide a unique opportunity for them to bond in a way that we as parents can’t make happen.  We considered this a big investment in them.  Our kids are certainly not perfect, however, we never used church as a consequence.  This was not an option in our parenting tool belt, there were too many positives that came from these experiences. Missing these events wouldn’t teach them to get their school work done on time, but it certainly would be a lost opportunity for their growth.

4. Listen to your kids about what friends they choose. Sometimes we want friendships for them so much, that we miss what our kids are seeing in the choices their friend is making. This friendship may not be a healthy one to pursue. Our motto was always, “You don’t have to be their best friend, but you always need to be kind.”  There are lots of pressures happening that they don’t know how to communicate. You may see them pulling from a friendship that you thought was a healthy one, but as they get older, they may be headed down different paths.  Help them navigate the friendship, but they may not be the close friend that you thought they were.  

As my kids hit middle and high school age, I noticed some friendships lessen and some become stronger. I noticed where their tight knit relationships were.  The get togethers were different because they became a mixed group of boys and girls, but we stuck to our open door policy, changing it slightly of course.  Groups have come in and out of our home:   parties, student led Bible studies, best friend sleepovers, etc.  It was awesome to see them grow in their friendship and their faith together with their peers.  It wasn’t us telling them who their friends needed to be or what their faith was, it was them living it and owning it.

I’ve always known how important these friendships were, but even I didn’t grasp HOW important they would become.  On Oct. 18th of this year our lives changed forever.  We received the phone call no parent wants to get…Our 18 year old son had collapsed and CPR was being done without response.  Paramedics were on the scene trying to help him.  We needed to get there ASAP.  Over the course of the next two days, we didn’t know if he would be ok.  I watched all of my kids, but especially my daughter be surrounded by her closest friends.  They didn’t leave her side.  They knew what she needed because they knew her on a deep level.  They prayed with her, walked with her, loved on her, made sure she was eating and just catered to her every need when I felt like I could barely stand.  I was so thankful for their care so that I could focus on the difficult decisions that my husband and I had to make.  Evan didn’t pull through.  On Oct. 20 he was in the arms of Jesus.  As we walked through the next days, weeks and now months her friends have been such a support to her.  Not just in making sure she is ok, but making sure she is spiritually ok.  They are there in a way that we can’t be for her.  

As I think over the last months, I am thankful for the car rides, sleepovers, camps, special event experiences and any bit of craziness that went along with fostering these friendships.  In the midst of tragedy they have been invaluable in a time that we could not have prepared for.

 

Written by Kelly Kongvold.  Wife to Freedom and Mother to Zak, Bryce, Evan and Annika 

Driving Through The Middle

GPS is amazing. I am finding it hard to remember how I ever left home without it. There are times when I have no idea how to get where I need to go, but I hop in the car with confidence because I can just plug the address into my phone and trust the GPS to get me where I want to go. Sometimes in the middle of a trip I wonder, “Am I still headed in the right direction?” There are times when my phone will take me places I wouldn’t necessarily choose to go and I can begin to feel unsettled and unsure. I zoom in on one particular leg of the trip and lose sight of the end, which can be downright scary.

 

Parenting can feel like that at times. The beginning of this journey for most parents is often pregnant with excitement coupled with terror. There are enough “firsts” to keep us on our toes and moving forward. But as the newness wears off a bit, and we settle into our roles as mom and dad, we can get a little bogged down navigating those middle years. The nature of life, especially life with small kids, keeps us buried in the immediate. We can jump from one urgent thing to the next never taking a step back to see the big picture.

 

We would never think of packing up our suitcases and leaving for a family vacation without choosing the destination. But it’s easy to be so busy parenting that we forget to think about the end goal. Most of us have a vague idea what we want to be true of our family, but if we don’t clearly define our vision it’s hard to know if we are headed in the right direction. Here’s where a “family vision” can help. I don’t actually love the wording here. A lot of people get excited about things like this. I’m not one of them. It actually intimidates me. I prefer to think of this more like a family theme – something I want our family to be about. A theme or vision like this gives us perspective and reminds us of our goal, which can be especially helpful in those middle years.

 

Here are three steps that can pull you out of the turn-by-turn directions momentarily and help you imagine the end goal for your family.

 

· Create it – It may seem daunting to try to create a family vision, but don’t let that stop you from trying. I like to think about things I know God wants to be true of us and try to come up with a concise phrase that embodies that. It’s helpful to make it short and catchy so that it’s easy to remember and repeat. Here are a few examples to get you thinking…Know God’s Love – Show God’s Love. Know Jesus – Make Him Known. Do Justice – Love Kindness – Walk Humbly. Love God – Love Others.

· Communicate it – It’s only mildly helpful to do all that work creating a family vision statement if you are the only one who knows about it. You need to talk about it - a lot. See if you can think of a creative, engaging way to communicate the vision. This will help everyone to be on the same page and

headed in the same direction. Communicate your vision so that your family is excited and inspired to jump right in. You can even take it a step further – brand it. Come up with a cool logo that embodies your vision. Notice I said, “cool”. Don’t make it cheesy. Kids - especially older kids - will not get that excited about a corny logo. If you are a musical family, put some notes and lyrics to it. If you’ve got an artist in the family, let them be creative with the theme. The main idea is to make sure the phrase comes up over and over and over again.

· Check it – We have so many teaching moments with our kids, most of them growing out of tension or conflict. They can very easily leave us emotionally exhausted. I get it. I’m right there with you. But don’t miss these opportunities. These difficult moments open the door to revisit your family vision. Check in by asking how the situation could have been different if all our words and actions more closely lined up with our family vision. Help them think through what it would look like to pursue the vision moving forward to bring resolution. End by asking God together to give you wisdom, strength and discipline to pursue Him and the vision He has born in your heart.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying a family vision will solve all your family problems and make all your wildest dreams come true. There will still be plenty of detours, roadblocks, obstacles and challenges on this journey. But, if you and your family know where you’re headed, you’ll be able to navigate those challenges much more easily keeping the big picture in mind. Go on. Give it a try. I’ll be cheering you on!

Written by Aimee McGuiness, Mom to four kids ages 6-14 years, Wife to Paul, Dickson City Next Steps Pastor at Parker Hill Church.

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.

EpicKidz in May: Determination

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Determination is a response of the character of God.           

Throughout Scripture, we can discover that God has been faithful to His people. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He sent Jesus to rescue us from our sin. He remained faithful to the early church as they spread the message of Jesus throughout the world. When we see how God gave His people what they needed to continue following Him, we can respond with determination believing that God will give us what we need to finish what we start.                                                                                                                

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us have determination.

When Jesus gave His disciples the incredible mission of spreading the message of the Gospel throughout the world, He didn’t make them do it alone. Instead, He sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to show faith and determination in the face of whatever might happen along the way. When we put our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to finish what we start.

We think it’s important for us to help our kids and families discover more about determination—deciding it’s worth it to finish what you started.

Our Memory Verse for May comes from Galatians 6:9.

In Galatians 6:9, we read, “Let us not become tired of doing good. At the right time we will gather a crop if we don’t give up” (NIrV). When Paul wrote this verse to the church at Philippi, he encouraged the followers of Jesus to show determination and keep doing good. We may not see results right away, but in time, God will help us see that finishing what we started was worth all of the effort.

Let’s see how determination shows up in the early church and the first followers of Jesus as they worked to accomplish the mission He had for them.

 

WEEK 1
We start our discussion about determination in Acts 3 and 4. Peter and John are arrested for healing a man and teaching about Jesus. They are brought before the Sanhedrin where they tell them to stop talking about Jesus or face severe consequences. Peter and John show determination as they proclaim that nothing can keep them from talking about Jesus.

Bottom Line: Keep going even when it gets hard. Life will be difficult. As much as we might try, we can’t escape hardships. But in those times, we can trust God to give us what we need to show determination and keep going.

 

WEEK 2
In Acts 10, Peter was a Jewish follower of Jesus. Cornelius was a Roman commander. These two were unlikely friends even in the best of circumstances. But through a couple of visions, these two men were about to cross paths. And through this meeting, Peter discovered the mission Jesus gave the disciples was way bigger than he originally thought.

Bottom Line: Keep going even when the job is bigger than you think. There are times we start a job and soon realize that it will be a much larger endeavor. Our first instinct might be to give up all together, but we need to keep going. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can push through and show determination right up until the end.

 

WEEK 3
In Ephesians 6:10-18, we read a portion of a letter Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus. The early church is feeling attacked from all sides, and Paul encourages them by reminding them how the Holy Spirit can help them. We have armor that stand against anything that we might face in this world.

Bottom Line: God gives you what you need to keep going. We pray that through this lesson, kids will realize all they have available to them right now to help them show determination when they feel like giving up.

 

WEEK 4
Finally, we head to Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27 and 22:1-5. John’s vision of the New Heaven and New Earth is an encouragement to anyone facing trials in their life. Through Jesus, we have the opportunity to spend forever with God in a world where there is no sorrow or pain or suffering and where our hope in Jesus is fully realized.

Bottom Line: Keep going because God knows the end of the story. Showing determination in the face of difficult situations is never easy. However, because of Jesus we have a hope that God will make all things new and someday everything will make sense once and for all. God does know the end of the story, and we can trust Him no matter what.

*Taken from 252 Basic Orange Curriculum May 2017 overview