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…..