Our Next #StewFamAdventure, Part 2

If you are lost, check out Part 1.

Basically, after much prayer and discernment, the Stew Crew is moving back to Tennessee.

We knew we had a short window to see if the Lord was opening doors for us to return to Tennessee as we were sensing this was the step we were to take for our family. If we were not moving back, we had to find a home in Rocklin quickly. Because we were specific on area, we knew finding a church role for Jason would be difficult in our time frame, so we began to lean into other areas God may be opening up.

Over the last four or five years, we have seen God narrow and shape our hearts and minds in the area of discipleship and mission. We have dove deep into the reasons we “do church” a certain way and began to really ask the questions, “Are we living like Jesus and doing the things He did?” and “Are we His disciples who are making disciples who make disciples?” Part of Jason’s role at Bridgeway was to help shape a disciple making culture with an intentional focus UP with the Father, IN with community and OUT into the world. Another part of Jason’s role has been helping Bridgeway clearly define WHO they are, WHAT their mission and values are, and HOW they are going to accomplish their call to glorify God and make disciples. He simply geeks out on all things VISION, STRATEGY, and MISSIONAL DISCIPLESHIP.

But, not only is he passionate about those things, we have had numerous others affirm his gifting in those areas. As we looked back over our 20 years of ministry, we saw a pretty clear pattern of Jason stepping into places that needed some sort of redefinition of their ministry, a transition to something different, a new vision that needed a new strategy or a foundation that needed to be laid so ministry could grow to a new level.  Jason asks hard questions, a lot of question, deep questions and the beloved WHY question.

We began to sense that maybe it was time for Jason to really lean into consulting for churches in the area of vision and mission, but we knew for that to happen, we would need to be rooted closer to family, I would need to work and it would be a huge leap of faith. So in our short time period, we decided to see what God may open up. Jason began to explore some possibilities.

AND I applied for one job.

And within in two days, I had an interview. Within a week, I had two. Within a week and a half, I had three.  And within three weeks, I had several more and then…presented with a letter of intent.

And, after much prayer and the decision to simply walk through the doors the Lord was opening even though we didn’t have all the answers, I accepted the job.

Beginning mid July, I am the new Kid’s Ministry Director at The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

To say this is a switcheroo is an understatement, but we are THRILLED to be a part of The Bridge and I am overwhelmed with the creativity of our God. I felt the call into ministry as a college student, went to Seminary and have been in ministry alongside Jason for our entire marriage. To be able to pour into adults who love on kids each week, invest in the hearts and minds of little ones, be a support to families and encourage parents on their journey to love God and  create a home where their kiddos see HIM, is something I absolutely believe in and am excited to step into in a new and fresh way.

We are still fleshing out all the logistics of what Jason will be doing next, but what we know is that GOD is at work.

And we are coming home.

 

 

 

 

The Next #StewFamAdventure…..

Life has certainly been an adventure for the StewCrew these last four and a half years.  To recap a few highlights….

We brought Judson home from Ethiopia in January 2012.

And God began to reveal how much of our identity was built on shifting sands instead of the solid Rock.

Judson had a seizure in April of 2012.

And in a moment, God gave us a glimpse of how quickly life can change.

Emery’s Appendix ruptured in May of 2012, followed by a massive infection and 10 day hospital stay.

And intimacy with God in prayer and the belief in His power became more real by the side of our child’s hospital bed.

As part of Jason’s role at LifePoint, we moved cross-country to Seattle, Washington to be a part of the LifePoint Seattle campus for a year in August of 2012.

And the place that was so new different and new, became the place that God used to heal us in ways we didn’t know need healing.

Our kids started a brand new school in September of 2012.

And God reminded us that our carefully constructed plans for our children were more about our desire to manage our own fears, than a belief in His perfect will for using them to bring glory to Himself. 

We began to sense God leading us to step out of LifePoint in March of 2013.

And we felt God ask us to step out in faith like never before. 

We sold our beloved rancher in Smyrna in May of 2013.

And we began to see the things of this world growing dim, in light of God’s glory and grace.

We finished up our time in Seattle, moved back across country and moved in with my parents in August 2013.

And God continued to reveal places in our hearts that needed to be laid before Him.

We were called to a new role at Bridgeway Christian Church in Rocklin, California in  August 2013.

And the step of faith God had led us to take finally had a place to land.

I embarked on homeschooling the big 3 in September of 2013.

And I saw that God really does have a sense of humor and guaranteed at least one of my kids will need therapy.

We trekked cross-country….again….in October 2013.

And God gave us some great moments of memories to have as family.

The kids started school in California in November of 2013.

And God reminded us again that sometimes the story we write for our kiddos is not necessarily the one He has chosen to write, but it is the one He is going to use to build His Kingdom.

Our church hit some rough days in January 2014.

And God gave us a deeper understanding of what He meant when He said He works ALL things for His good, even the hard and difficult and really sad things.

We visited Tennessee in July of 2014 and December 2014, July 2015 and December 2015….and each time our kiddos had gut-wrenching goodbyes with their family and friends.

And God met us in our sadness and allowed us to understand our wiring, our hearts and our calling to a different depth.

The kids started at a new charter school in August of 2014. (their fourth new start in 5 years)

And God brought some new friendships, amazing teachers and a rich education into the lives of our kids.

In June 2015 we moved to another home in the area with a pool, a fabulous neighborhood and the plan to rent for a couple more years.

And God simply blessed us because who doesn’t love a pool?

In December 2015 we began to sense again that God was beginning to stir something in us again.

And God began to loosen and pry open some places in our hearts and minds.

In March of 2016 we found out our home was being sold and we would have to move….again.

And just like that God set our world spinning.

In the Spring of 2016, Jason and I struggled, prayed, and had many late night discussions over what God was leading us to do.  There were many moments where we were not sure, we were not on the same page, and we were not clear on  how to move forward. But we were unified on seeking the Lord, inviting in some trusted voices, and doing our best to discern what the next right step could be.

And God was not offended by our questions, He was not dismayed by our emotions and He was nowhere near startled at our lack of understanding.

In the Spring of 2016, our precious girls, Parker and Emery, sat their parents down for a very real, raw and honest conversation about the state of their hearts, their desires and their need to be rooted. They asked us some VERY hard questions and we had a chance to see their strength, their grace and also their fears.  We listened deeply and saw their emotions in a very authentic and honest way. It was one of those powerful moments as parents.

And God allowed us to see fourteen years of parenting culminate in one conversation. 

In the Spring of 2016, we sensed the Lord giving us a short window to pursue an opportunity to move back to Tennessee to be closer to family and allow our oldest to start high school in a place where we knew we would be long term. So we began to pursue some things in the Nashville area, fully trusting that if God was at work, He would make it clear to us.

And God was at work and He made is very clear to us.

After much prayer and discernment, we have felt the Lord leading us to move our family back to the Nashville area.

As with any move, we have mixed emotions. We have loved so much about our time in California. We have met some of the most amazing people we have the privilege to call friends. We have seen the Lord do some pretty remarkable things at Bridgeway. We have seen people embrace us, our kids and the vision to live on mission. We have been able to see Kingdom movements begin in the hearts of families that will change neighborhoods, schools and the Sacramento region we have no doubt.

And we are reminded again that there is something powerful and effective when the Body of Christ IS the Body of Christ.

We have been loved and we have loved this place. We say thank you, Bridgeway, for allowing us to be a part of your lives for almost three years. We thank you for trusting us, encouraging us, embracing us and speaking life over us. Our prayer is that we have been used by our Father to bring glory to His name and have spread His fame.

As for what is next for us…..that is another post….

Because God is not done with us yet.

 

 

 

 

6 Resources for Teaching your Preschooler about Jesus

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When I think of family devotionals, I imagine time spent in God’s Word, sharing great insights and wowing my kids with the depth of how much God loves them. They hang on every word I say, respond thoughtfully and with a depth of knowledge that surpasses their young age. They are focused in, eager, and have a hunger for how they can reach the world for Christ. We end by singing a worship song and they each take time to pray to their Father with a desire and fervor to see His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Then I wake up and realize I was dreaming.

Our family devotionals NEVER look like that completely! We often set ourselves up to fail before we even start by setting unrealistic expectation of what it means to spend time as a family around God’s Word. While it is important to have a plan, it is equally important to risk leading a devotional badly. Often our children will not remember the specifics of every devotional time, but they will remember their parents loved the Lord and made it a priority to teach them about His Word.

I thought I would share some great resources that we have used in our own Family Devotionals throughout the years over the next few days based on stages of development. The Toddler/Preschool years are all about laying a basic foundation that you will build upon as they grow. We used simple phrases over and over at this age: God Made The World, God Made You, God loves the World and God Loves You. These concepts begin to develop a worldview of  how they will view the world around them and  how they see themselves as a part of God’s story.

The Toddler/Preschool Years (18months-5):

The key here is to read to them and to have some consistency in having time with them around the Word. With each story you read, you are building a foundation and speaking Truth and Identity into your little ones. Here are some of our favorite resources for the Toddler years:

  1. The Beginner’s Bible for Toddlers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginner’s Bible is great for toddler because the stories are short and appropriate for their active minds! We loved this resource. The bibles that are geared to toddlers are just short stories that retell Scripture in a way they can understand. They will learn about some of the fascinating men and women in the Old and New Testament as well as how much God loves them.

2. Read With Me Bible for Toddlers:

How cute are these graphics? Such a fun little bible story book for your toddlers! Same concepts as mentioned above just another fun resource.

3. Little Blessings Series:

I seriously love this line of books for little ones. The first half of the books are questions kids have about Jesus, Heaven, God and the second half is answered in the voice of God and Jesus. It answers deep, big questions that kids ask in such an appropriate level for little ones to begin to grasp the concept. Here are a few of our favorites:



These sweet books also include bible references at the end which are additional resources for you and your children to look at. For example, one line states, “I died on a cross so that others could live and know there is nothing that God can’t forgive. The day that I died was a sad one, but then God gave a new life. Now I live again!” The book then lists John 3:17 which states “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” as a reference. So good!

These books are great for preschoolers, as well as young elementary school ages. We read these over and over again and they remain some of my favorites of all time.

4. The Bible App for Kids

This is super fun and interactive app for kids to use on your iPad or Android device. Not only does it bring the story to life, it is done with the high quality kids love. They don’t just get to hear the Bible story, they can see it come to life. Our kids love technology, so this is an app that you can feel good about your kids playing with while you are hoping for a few minutes of peace…or is that just me?!? I also saw they have come out with a print version called The Bible App For Kids Storybook Bible.

See more about this highly useful app:

5. Goodnight Warrior: God’s Mighty Warrior Bedtime Bible Stories, Devotions, and   Prayers and God’s Little Princess Bedtime Devotional

 

Little Warriors and Little Princesses will love these devotionals which are perfect for your preschooler. These devotionals include Scripture, a short devotional thought and a prayer which are perfect for bedtime. They are based not the book series which are also great resources for your preschooler. I love the idea that I a raising warriors and princesses for the King!

6. My First Hands-On Bible

I have heard great things about this Bible. Not only does it use actual verses (New Living Translation), it has simple activities for your preschooler to do while you are reading the story. Brilliant! This is so in line with our themed family nights we have done for years. Then, the Bible has a section at the end that describes how Jesus and God’s plan for redeeming His Creation is a part of every story in God’s Word. Each story ends with a prayer as well. I plan on getting the Hands On Bible for our older kids as well.

These are a few of our favorite Family Devotional Resources for teaching preschoolers about Jesus. I hope they help you begin having a family devotional with your family.

 

This post contains affiliate links.

 

 

3 Tough Questions Adopted Children Ask

Last week, we celebrated four years home with our son, Judson. Four years of joy, bonding, growth, but also pain and a lot of hard days. While we have overcome a great deal of our initial struggles, like language and boundaries, we have seen new ones develop.  These days we are watching Judson begin to sift through his history and we often have no idea where his processing will land! Some of his questions, we have easy answers for, but others, leave us with no easy response. In adopted kids, we often see that with developmental milestones and increased cognition, a new round of processing their history and integrating this deeper understanding into their current reality.  We have seen this to be true when Kindergarten started and anticipate harder and harder questions at the age of 10, 12, 16 and 18.  Our job as parents is to simply listen, answer truthfully and appropriately and create the environment where kids feel free to ask.

Here are a few tough questions adopted kids will ask:

Why did my birth Mom give me up? 

I wish there was an easy, pat answer for this, but there is no way to fully understand all the reasoning that goes into the decision a birth mom makes to choose adoption. This answer will be specific to your situation, but the main thing to remember is to frame it in a way that speaks life and freedom to your child.  No matter why a birth mom chose adoption, she chose to love and value her child’s life. As adoptive parents, we get to speak that same value into our child in a way that builds a foundation for future conversations. Obviously, answering this in an age appropriate manner is crucial. We have a phrase called, “the burden of information” which we often use in determining how much to share. Too often information carries a heavy burden and part of parenting and leading is learning to discern if the person is able to carry the load that certain information brings. This is crucial when dealing with the hard questions you adopted child will ask. Using a phrase like, “She loved you so much and she wanted you to have a family that would adore you and give you the kind of life she wasn’t able to give,” frames the conversation in love and honors your child’s birth mom.

Why don’t I look like you?

This question is tough, especially if the child has siblings who are the spitting image of their parents. Our son will never look like us but we use these type of questions to lay the foundation for a secure identity in who he was created to be. When he makes statements where he wishes his skin looked like ours, we are quick to say, how much we love his skin and how beautiful he is. We will also say that everyone is created uniquely and perfectly and we want to affirm that even though our appearances are different, they are not less than. As adoptive parents we are able to frame these questions in a way that help our kids find value in what makes them unique while also giving them a sense of security that comes from unconditional acceptance.  Creating a strong family identity also creates a strong bond for all your children, especially your adopted child. We have a name we use when we talk about our kids as a whole. He has no doubt he is a StewKid!

Are you going to kick me out of this family?

I was recently talking with another adoptive mom and she said that on her son’s five year gotcha day, he actually packed his bags and thought it was time for him to leave. For five years he had in his mind that this was a temporary situation that he would one day have to leave. My friend was absolutely wrecked that her beloved son had carried this false belief for five years. There is no adoption that is not the result of loss. There is no adopted child that on some level grieves for this unexplainable void, even if they were adopted from birth or age 12. Loss is a part of their story so feeling secure is not as simple as providing lots of love, a healthy meal and a warm bed.  Building a foundation of security and trust is a lifetime commitment we give to our adopted kids the minute we said  yes to this journey.  When you see your adopted child’s fear of losing your family coming to the surface, simply love and speak strong of your commitment to them. Give hugs. Throw in some candy and then go to your bathroom, lock the door and weep.

Parenting is messy and there are no easy answers to the questions that matter. We are four years in and the processing Judson is already doing to understand his history is mind boggling, yet beautifully innocent. At the age of six, he has no reason to question the sincerity of what we say and we have numerous opportunities to simply reflect back to him who God created him to be. Our prayer is that he is rooted in God’s amazing love and grace for him and he sees his past as a source of strength.

What kind of questions do you get as a parent?

 

The Crushing Blow of Stereotypes- 3 Ways to Destroy Ignorance

I’m sitting here battling with the Lord about writing this, but the shaking of my hands, the racing of my heart and the intense feeling that God is pressing upon me cause my fingers to move. I will call it for what it is…FEAR.

I am a Southern, White girl about to write about the injustices of Racism. What right do I have? What authority do I have to speak out against this? The FEAR of saying something WRONG, causes me to SAY NOTHING at all.

I am the wife of a Pastor.  Am I going to offend someone? Am I going to speak out of turn?

I don’t want to go out on this ledge because it carries the risk of vulnerability, of feeling small and of being told, you have no idea what you are talking about.

But GOD…He won’t let up, so I am stepping off the ledge and saying, BRING IT. I will not respond to FEAR by FLINCHING.  I will not RETREAT into those areas of safety and comfort. SO here goes.

This week we saw in a new way how stereotypes have the incredible power to build a foundation for false thinking. How false thinking plays out into small actions that feel justified and can ultimately lead to devastating and deadly actions. While the example of what happened may seem small it stirred something almost primitive in me.

Our oldest came home from school and shared some statements her English teacher had made while they were reading the book, The House on Mango Street. While I have never read the book, Parker shared that it is about a Latino girl and her life. Conversation around racism came up in Parker’s class, which is good and right. They talked about instances of racism and some of the underlying causes. As they are discussing the recent shootings in North and South Carolina, her teacher made a casual statement, “Well, it is the South.” As if the South as a whole bear the responsibility for the actions of  a few. She went on to say that “California is more advanced than the South.”

Y’all.

Bless her heart.

I can’t even.

For the Love.

Needless to say, it caused ALL THE FEELS in this Mississippi/Tennessee hybrid. You may think yes, get your southern sass out and tell her like it is. Defend your southern roots. Give her a piece of your mind with some sweet tea, too.

So, I sat down and over the last hour, crafted an email to this teacher detailing my thoughts on her stereotypical statements that perpetuate the cycle that an external circumstance of another individual determines their worth, that the actions of a few determine the beliefs of all and the weight of careless words often rest on the shoulders of others for a lifetime.  On this Martin Luther King, Jr weekend, I wish I could say she has no basis for her beliefs, but I can’t. Our history does not give us the foundation for a defense, but dear JESUS, may that same history that was made by the choices of a few, be what spurs us to examine the lies we have believed based on assumption and make them go toe to toe with the TRUTH of who God has declared each person to be. May every person, Southern or not, realize we all have some baggage to deal with and actually decide to raise the next generation with eyes that are not color blind but rather lovers of all the colors.

We are all image bearers. We are all Created by GOD, for GOD and we must fight to view every INDIVIDUAL we encounter with the same measure of GRACE we have been shown by our FATHER.

Our journey in California has not been some enlightened trip into the progressive land of love and acceptance. How’s that for breaking down a stereotype of love and liberalism we all have about this large West Coast state! Just like Tennessee is more than country music, riding a tractor back in the holler, drinking moonshine. There are some amazing, good and right things in people who live in every area, just like there is darkness that abides in our midst. This is not the result of where we live…it is a result of living in a fallen world. It is the result of living in a world that teaches for me to feel ok, you must feel less than.
Would you believe that our family has experienced more RACISM in CALIFORNIA than we ever did in the SOUTH? Do I blame the whole state of California for the ridiculousness of a few…no. Why? Because I have met some of the most godly people who would go to war for my family in a heartbeat. Individuals who feel, in their bones, the injustice done to our boy, who say not on my watch and respond with a fire in their belly. They are who I think of when I look around at this sunny land that still feels foreign to me at times. We are well-loved, well supported and our family is blessed to be around others who are fighting for unity, especially in the church and across churches. We are a part of a church that participates in regional efforts to promote healing and unity across all racial lines. It is beautiful and right and messy and hard. But, that is what is special about it…we still do it.
I felt compelled to share a portion of my long-winded, emotion filled email with you because it is the outpouring of my heart. This response is filled with sarcasm and over the top use of words because I wanted to display how WRONG stereotypes can be and how ingrained they are in each of us. Man has the Lord done a work on my heart in this area, and He still is. I am also going to add again, I love the people of California. It may seem a little haughty in nature and like I am going to be waving a Confederate flag soon, but this is my attempt to get the attention of a teacher who in my opinion, displayed how stereotypes, both good and bad, matter and have great influence.
And please read it in the most southern accent you can muster….
I thought I would share some things about our family to give you some insight into why I am responding to your statements so strongly.  
We are from the South.  I was born in Mississippi and my husband in Tennessee. Our parents and grandparents, who taught us to respect those in authority, work hard, have integrity, are all from the South. We were educated in the public schools of the south, attended both state and private universities in the south and actually have three Master’s degrees between us. My guess is we are more educated than many parents in your school. Three of our four children were born in Tennessee, thus making Parker from the South. This is evidenced by half the sweatshirts she wears to school with a big orange T for the University of Tennessee.  Parker is a young woman who is intelligent, compassionate, strong and kind. She is a leader, incredibly graceful and has the potential to be a world changer. She moved to California two years ago and experienced on numerous occasions the ADVANCED nature of California students. They have asked her if she eats with utensils because she is from the SOUTH. They have asked if she was born in a barn because she is from the SOUTH. The tone of these questions, while meant to be funny, indicate a level of ridiculous stereotypical thinking that is, in essence, attempting to make her feel inferior based on where she was born.  To declare that one region of the country is more “ADVANCED” than another is what allows students to think that they are superior to another based on an external circumstance which an individual has no control over…kind of like racism, which believes that a person is inferior based on the color of their skin. Most students know Parker is from Tennessee so your statements just added fuel to their false belief system. These statements did nothing but allow kids in your classroom to think they are better than kids from any other state but California!  That thought system lays a foundation that believes “you are less than because __________.”  Is that really an ADVANCED way of thinking? Is that truly what you believe?
I thought I would share another fact about our southern family. Our fourth child was born in Ethiopia. He is a beautiful African boy that we brought home to be in our very Caucasian, Southern family four years ago. Based on the stereotypical belief system you shared with your class, all southerners must be racist, so a family from Tennessee would never spend $30,000, travel to Africa and bring home a very traumatized, dark-skinned child and take him in as their own. Do you know when he first recognized his family looks different….when we moved to Rocklin, CALIFORNIA. Crazy thing about moving to California is we actually have experienced, on a gut wrenching level, more Racism than we ever did in the South. Three families actually left his preschool after we started because they felt like the “quality of the program had gone down since that family with the black boy started.” They actually believed that “he could have AIDS or something.”  So yes, California is really more “ADVANCED” since they make false assumptions based on the color of a four-year olds skin and the fact that he is from Africa. Not to mention their knowledge of how one actually becomes infected by  AIDS is remarkably ignorant. I was honestly shocked because I too had the false belief that something like this would never happen in CALIFORNIA because it is more ADVANCED.  Especially living two hours from San Francisco. The reality is these things happen everywhere…Rocklin, Nashville, Boise and New York City. 
I am extremely saddened to have to write this email and I know the verbage of it seems over the top…which is my point.  The stereotypes which lead us to believe that we are superior to another individual is what leads to racism, sexism, biases, extreme thinking and the justification of actions that are devastating and deadly. These ignorant beliefs are  not limited to a section of the country or the world, those with high education or those with very little. Sadly, Individuals all over the USA hold others in contempt based on their race. You have influence and the ability to spark conversation and thought that encourages these young minds to embrace their uniqueness, honor those who are different, learn from others with an opposite point of view, be inspired to speak out when they see injustice and choose to show grace and mercy when wronged. This is what breaks down a stereotype and allows us all to see a person for who they are and the gifts they have to offer the world around them. 
Thank you for listening. 
Here are  few ways I am FIGHTING for UNITY this year:
1. Change your Language: Do you stereotype mass groups of people, places or things? I personally don’t understand why anyone uses a PC anymore, but I still love and respect many Microsoft users.  In our family, the extreme words of ALWAYS and NEVER only are used in reference to our Creator, GOD. I doubt a PC user NEVER gets work done efficiently. Check your language….watch extreme uses of words that apply the thoughts of ONE to the shoulders of ALL.
2. Speak in Love: I’m hopeful that is what always motivates me. Hate does not change people. Shame doesn’t change people. Love and Grace, wrecks people to a point, where God changes their thoughts, their views and their actions to line up with HIMSELF. My prayer is that what is seen and heard is a love for all people, who bear the Image of my God.
3. Make One Change: For us, MLK is not just a day out of school. We will be joining the MLK walk in our city because I believe it matters. I believe it says, we are all in this fight for unity, and I am going to press through the awkwardness, the challenges and seek to bring people along with me. For you, it may be getting to know a family that looks different from your own. Invite them to dinner. Speak openly that you want to break down any tensions that may come up and again, one individual at time, destroy stereotypes.

Jesus, wreck us with the wrong way we look at people. Help us to be life speakers, unity builders and HOPE givers. Break our hearts for all people, all nations, all tongues. Only You Jesus…..

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Saint Nicholaus Family Night

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Have you ever wondered where the tradition of Santa Claus came from? Would you be surprised to know that it came from a man born in the Third Century who was incredibly generous? He was so generous and focused on the needy that history tells us he paid the dowry of three young girls to prevent them from being sold into slavery! While the Santa Claus of today has taken on a much more elaborate storyline, the spirit of generosity is always one to spend a night celebrating with your family!

We created a fun night for our younger kids to learn about St. Nicholaus. Our entire evening was centered around St. Nick and following his lead. Whether you celebrate Santa or choose not to, this is a fun, family night to focus on where the tradition of Santa started and give your family a great night together.

We did use this fun DVD* that I encourage you to get!

 

Our family nights include all you need to plan for a fun evening. Each night includes a plan for decor, the menu, an activity and a devotional that all tie to the theme of your family night.

Download the Family Night here: St. Nickolaus Family Night

Enjoy and please comment and share!

*affiliate links in this post.

How IKEA helps us live Missionally

We have people in our home a lot. Dinners, swimming parties, sleepover, and afternoon play dates are all normal occurences in our home. When we were newly married, we had a couple, who eventually became some of our closest friends, model the power of a simple meal and inviting others to join in.  We rarely went a week, in those early days of marriage where we did not spend an evening in the Swafford home enjoying some home cooking and dessert.  We were not always the only couple there, but rather, we were a part of a revolving door of people who this couple were investing their lives and time in to.

17 years later, we look back and we see a legacy of faith that involves dozens of students now committed to full-time ministry, dozens in the public realm using their influence as leverage for the Gospel and dozens reproducing their lives into future generations.

All because two people opened their home and invited others to gather around the table and talk about life, faith and living fully devoted to making Jesus famous.

Over the years, this became something we just did…not because we are extroverts, or Southern, or throw the best parties. We simply did what was modeled to us over and over again. Moving to two new communities in the past several years, has shown us several things about gathering around the table.

  1. Keep it simple: Shortly after we moved to California, we were having a family over for dinner on a Sunday night. I not only prepped two homemade soups, but made bread bowls from scratch, a dinner salad, sweet tea and a desert. Evidently, new situations and stress bring out my inner Martha Stewart.  A very full Jason said to me afterwards, “Dinner was delicious and thank you for taking the time and effort to make a great meal, but….Don’t do that again. We want to make this easily reproducible. If people think this is what you have to prepare in order to have people in their home, they will not do it…..”  While I love to entertain and have people in our home, I can easily let my whole identity get wrapped up in to the opinions of others and how Pottery Barn my house appears. I want our home to be comfortable, not based on how comfy our chairs are, but rather by the loud, energetic, fun very normal and accepting environment we have around our table.
  2. Invest your Resources in the Right Places: When we began to have weekly rhythms of having people in our home, we knew we were investing and building relationships with others.  Building anything requires some sacrifice and some investment. Knowing we were in a season of building with other people, getting to know them, we looked at our budget, our calendar and our space.  As a recovering entertaining perfectionist, who was living in a rental home, I felt myself resisting having people in our home.  Whether I knew it or not, my actions were saying I needed the approval of others.  I was shutting down the very call God had burning in our souls because I was afraid of what others would think of our very old, very 70’s, very unremodeled home.  The enemy wins every time we believe that others need something from us besides the simple gospel of Christ lived out. The enemy gains ground in the battlefield of keeping us separate from each other when we allow the opinions of others to dictate the very deep, yet central Truth, to love our neighbor. While I love me some IKEA, there is some strategy in having most of our spaces furnished by this amazing, space innovating store. Our $20 coffee table doesn’t need coasters and a constant watchful eye for every condensation drop. We can purchase two large sofas to help accommodate large groups of people opening the Word, praying boldly for one another, sharing struggles and rejoicing in the victories God allows.  Their slip covers can handle the occasional spill and be easily cleaned. Our $79 rugs can look cute but also get footprints on them. Our $5 pillow covers can support backs or be used as floor cushions and be easily tossed into the washing machine.   While IKEA may be very affordable, it does require a bit of time to put together.  Building community and living life with missional intent is going to require time and effort, but in the end, it is so incredibly worth it.

We can open our home, actually use it and not live in fear of things breaking, being ruined or spend our time                    setting limits and boundaries that make people feel uptight and uneasy.  While I love our IKEA furnished home              and every visit there is like Candyland to me, what I value more is the freedom to be ourselves, to create                             an environment where people feel comfortable and see God SHINE.  Not my decor skills or lack there of, not my              cooking or my color scheme, but simply JESUS meeting with us around a table, around a couch and through each person present.

What helps you set others at ease in your home?

BackToSchool

Establishing Back To School Rhythms and Routines

Whoop Whoop! It’s a new school year! For the first time in 14 years, we have all of the StewKids in school.

Can you hear the angels singing or is that just me?

Having four kids in school, with four different pick up times, four different homework assignments, four different reading logs and four different agendas to be signed means I have to have my ducks in a row.  Over the next few days, I am going to share some tips that help our family stay on track.

First, we have to know what our goals are for our family and then look at if our life is actually living those goals out! How are we actually spending our time???

Creating Margin

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

While this verse is referring to worship, I think the principle is the same for life, especially in our homes. As Moms, we have the incredible opportunity to create an atmosphere of peace or one of confusion. Our goal is not to create systems that are not maintainable, but rather to establish rhythms and predictable patters that will help us accomplish the vision and values we have for our family.

Why do we want to create predictable patterns in our home?

  1. Significance: This establishes what is important in our family
  2. Security: creates a sense of security in our children and gives us the space to speak identity into them. Space for family breakfasts, to read to them before bedtime, and to have time that they can rely upon.
  3. Success: for our families and for your children.

To do this, we first have to start by

  1. Looking at how we currently spend our time and energy.
  2. Determine what is a good use of our time and what is not.
  3. Then by faith, declare what rhythms and patterns we want to establish.

Your home will not be magically organized overnight, but there are some simple, 15 minute tasks that you can do to make Back to School easier!

I would not consider myself an organization expert, but I do know that we have spent many hours in our home, determining our family goals, setting values and vision and then looking at how to best accomplish those things that we were seeking to live out. I learned that for many of those things to happen, we had to streamline some tasks in our home. As we added children, we had to reassess what works. I have made too lofty of goals, only to be left in frustration for myself and my family and I have tweaked a few routines to fit each child.

I am praying that your home will be a well-oiled machine that will leave time for more important things in life. I learned that our schedule was not something I was a slave to, but rather was something that serves us.

God gave us time to protect us. We have the joy of choosing to live for him each day, with an attitude of service to our families and those in our community.

When we adopted Judson three and a half years ago, I realized how I had been so focused on controlling our schedule, our routine, our label maker, that I had forgotten the basics of what our life was to be about. Over the last three years, we have spent a lot of hours refocusing our life around the commands that Jesus gave to go and make disciples of all nations. We looked at how Jesus lived and decided we wanted to imitate Him. In all areas. Jesus spent time with His Father, time with his boys, the Disciples and time with those in the World.

When we looked at how He lived and measured our life against those standards, we saw some areas in need of improvement! So we started creating these rhythms, these predictable patterns by looking at our calendar.

So for two weeks, I tracked all of my activities and determined that I was spending time doing some things well and was watching too much HGTV.

Next, we looked at what could be and became intentional with each day. We made sure we had the predictable rhythm of time with the Father in place. Times of prayer, bible study, worship. We also put predictable patterns of  time as a family on the calendar with family breakfasts, dates with each other, and family dinners. Lastly we put predicable patterns of living out in the world on our calendar that involved having people in our home every week, play dates and sports teams. We also put in time for rest and for play! We have watched our children become used to these rhythms, which have created security in them, that has allowed us to speak into their identity and help us aim at our target which is to live like Jesus and do what HE did.

Our end goal is not Pinterest or a Facebook post that points to how organized we are. Our target is to live out the values and vision we have for our families, which for our family is to live like Jesus did and do what He did. So before we move forward discuss at your table:

  1. What is your goal for gaining time through being a bit more organized?
  2. What are some predictable rhythms you have in your home?

The fact of the matter is that we all have to get our children dressed, pack lunches, get homework done, and teach them proper hygiene. I want to encourage you to look at the time it takes to do all those things in a fresh way so you can then create margin in your home that leads to less stress and more peace!

 

How to Guard Your Heart

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

We are in a battle. 

From birth we are taught through words, actions, sights, and sounds what to believe and to value. We are given mixed messages, false securities and are bombarded with images of what a woman should look like, sound like, and live like.  Our identity is up for grabs everyday and we are in a battle to determine where we will root our worth.

I for one am rooting into Christ.

I am believing the Gospel that He died to declare to a world that has for too long built its worth on shifting sands. I am sinking down deep into the soil of GOD’s Truth and CHOOSING to grow in that space. I am going to face the battle for my heart and mind, not as a victim, a complainer, or a martyr anymore, but instead with weapons that have already won the war of our souls.

Because every moment I decide that my identity is found in the horizontal world is every moment where the enemy wins.  We all have triggers, scars that can be ripped open at a moment’s notice, so putting safeguards into place is a wise, strategic move to keeping your heart safe.

We will be tempted to look in the mirror and base our worth on what you see.

We will be tempted to look at the behavior of our kids and base our worth on what others think.

We will be tempted to control circumstances and base our identity in our accomplishments and the praise of man.

So what does it mean to Guard Your Heart? What does that look like when I am scrolling through Instagram? How does that play out when I hear criticism for a decision I have made? What does it look like when my toddler is throwing a tantrum in Target and all eyes are on me? How does it play out when “everyone else” is doing it?

Here is what Guarding Your Heart has looked like for me over the years. I fight for these everyday because I want to walk out my journey reflecting the GLORY of the LORD. I want to call out the LIES that the world tries to sell me and DECLARE that HE is GOOD and because of the SHED blood of JESUS, I am REDEEMED, MADE NEW.  I want that for my man, my children, my friends and for you.

  • Guarding my heart means memorizing Truth and when I feel my emotions leading me to believe that my identity was found in the approval of others, I preach the gospel to myself.  It means recognizing that I am more concerned about their opinion of ME than I am about their opinion of CHRIST. Guarding my heart has meant loosing the fight for the approval of man.

 

  • Guarding my heart and choosing to walk In All the freedom God died for me to have meant letting go of friendships.

 

  • Guarding my heart means having Truths that I say to myself like..

               Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender. (thank you All Sons and Daughters)

              God is for me and He is with me.

              The battle is won. He does not need me to advance His Kingdom. The rocks will cry out if

              needed.

              My worth is not found in the obedience of my children.

             He is enough. You are a GOOD, GOOD Dad.

             That is a First World problem.

  •  Guarding my heart means saying NO to MYSELF. It means there are things I don’t watch, read, engage in or believe. It means there are places I don’t go, relationships I don’t pursue, comments I don’t leave, links I don’t click on and people I unfollow. It means planning out my calendar, living on a budget and creating a meal plan.
  • Guarding my heart means learning to give grace quickly and not be easily offended. It means seeking clarification instead of assuming the worst.
  • Guarding my heart means that I have accountability. I ask women I know and trust to speak Truth into my life and I begin to see the challenge they can bring as a gift to be unwrapped. Guarding my heart means REVEALING my heart to those who will be tender with it, encourage it and speak TRUTH to it.
  • Guarding my heart means letting go of the life I had planned so I can walk out faithfully the one God has for me.  It means recognizing that expectations are not reality.
  • Guarding my heart means learning to celebrate others instead of using my insecurities as an opportunity to criticize and discredit their abilities.  It is understanding that someone else’s AWESOME does not make me LESS THAN. Nor does someone else’s CHILD’S AWESOME make my child less AWESOME.
  •  Guarding my heart means that when I hear criticism, hurtful words, or differing opinions, I am not crushed under the burden of someone else’s view of me, but rather, I actively choose resting in the Truth of God. Then I can hear the criticism, the hurtful words, the differing opinions and receive them with an attitude of learning and grace instead of defensiveness and justification. (this is not easy!)
  • Guarding my heart means I let myself and others off the hook for my happiness and practice how to find Joy in Christ. Guarding my heart means having an eternal perspective, practicing gratefulness and contentment.
  • Guarding my heart means my heart is steady, unwavering, and focused on my Father. It means a calm and a peace in knowing that He is Sovereign and there is not one minute of my day that He did not ordain. I can rest that nothing is wasted and it is all for His glory.
  • Guarding my heart means I let my emotions be a gauge of for my heart instead of a guide for my actions. It means letting my feelings reveal what my heart is believing and not an excuse and a justification to respond in sin. (thanks John Piper blog)

Scripture says to guard our hearts ABOVE ALL ELSE. I think that shows this is a battle worth fighting…..

How do you guard your heart?

 

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Do You Remember the Day of His Birth?

Today Judson turns 6.

I always feel a deeper connection to Judson’s Birth Mom on this day.  The woman who carried him in her womb, who felt the first tinge of labor pain.

 I wonder if she felt excitement that she was about to meet her child or did she feel nervous that she was about to be responsible for another life?

I wonder where she was when her water broke. Did she have her Mom coaching her through the early stages of labor? Or was she alone and an outcast because of her young age? 

I wonder how long her labor was and if she had someone beside her to encourage her and hold her hand. 

I wonder if the sun was shining of was their rain falling on her roof that day. 

I think about the moment she made that final push and discovered she had  a son. Did she cry for joy, count his toes, touch his nose, and marvel at how perfect he was? On that first night did she just hold him close and snuggle him? 

Did she have any idea she would only hold this perfect baby boy for 19 months? Was fear rising within her because she didn’t know how she was going to provide for him? Did she know she would one day entrust a foreign, unknown American family to raise her son?

I think about this new baby boy too. How much did he weigh? How long was he? Did he have a lot of hair? Was he hard to soothe or was he an easy newborn? Did he like to sleep on his back or his side?

Did he feel completely loved in those first moments? 

And then I think about that day six years ago and I have zero recollection of what I was doing on the day this baby boy was born. According to @kelstew, I was “Out and about doing some work,” and I was “Trying a diet cherTy limeaid for a change. Living on the Edge this Friday afternoon.” While hopefully what I share on social media is a bit more thought provoking these days, the reality is that I don’t remember. 

I bear the name Judson’s mom and I have no idea where I was on the day of his birth. 

While I grieve the lack of information on this day six years ago, I also rest in the knowledge that God knows every detail of each moment of Judson’s life. While I can’t share with him how big he was or what the day was like, I can point him to the One who does. I can point him to his Heavenly Father who breathed life into his lungs and has orchestrated every step he will take, who knew Judson would begin his life in rural Africa, loved by one Mom and continue his journey with a mom, who lived in a far off place, with skin that does not match his own at the age of 2.  

I think about Judson’s Africa Mom today. I hope she has moments today where she remembers him, the day she gave birth, the smell of his baby skin and the love she has for him. I pray she rests in the knowledge that he is safe, he is healthy and he is loved. I’m thankful she has her own memories with him that are hers alone. I treasure the thought that there is knowledge in her heart and mind about her Obsi that no one else can know. 

Judson turns six today. 

  

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