Thinking Orange: Why parents MUST be a part of what our church does for kids

Baby dedicationJason wrote a couple of days ago about why if you ask us what our church has for your kids, the best response we can give is “We have you!” Let me explain a little bit about why we’re so passionate about seeing parents as the most important resource the church has to offer our kids:

One of the most memorable and profound books that Jason and I read as we were on our journey towards church planting was Think Orange. It talks about the importance of integrating the family and the church into ministry. That’s the whole reason behind the title – if you picture the church as light (yellow) and the home as a heart (red), when you mix them together you get orange. (I’ve been paying attention during Sesame Street’s lessons about colors.)

One of the most paradigm-shifting things that I read in that book was the vast difference between the amount of time a church gets with a kid versus the amount of time they spend under their parents’ influence:

Reggie Joiner says: “At best, with those who attended our church consistently, we would only have about forty hours in a given year to influence a child. When we calculated holidays, sick days, custody issues, sports, vacations, and other factors, we realized how limited our time with children really was. The same fourth-grader who would spend nearly four hundred hours playing video games and studying math would spend forty hours in our environments with our teachers and leaders. That same day we calculated another number that shocked us: the amount of time the average parent had to spend with their children. It was three thousand hours in a single year” (Think Orange, 85, emphasis added).

We had suspected the limits of our influence with the teenagers in our youth group before we read this book. The longer we were in ministry, the more we noticed that most kids, for better or for worse, became the type of Christians their parents were. We had a handful of kids who went through rebellious stages. But those that came from solid, godly homes seemed to find the right path again eventually. And we had some kids who came from non-Christian homes, or homes with marginal faith who were wildly passionate about the Lord throughout their time in our youth group. It was incredibly disheartening to see those same kids walk away from the church just a short time after graduating high school.

Of course, there were a few who broke this mold, but in most cases the influence of the parents prevailed.

If that alone doesn’t convince you of the enormous amount of responsibility that we as parents have to teach, disciple, and model Christ-like love to our kids, consider these words of Moses as he was giving the law to the Israelites:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

And so, as Jason and I sensed that God was leading us away from youth ministry (towards what, we didn’t know yet, exactly), we started asking each other – what if there was a way for us to reach the entire family? If we could see teenagers come to faith in the Lord and never walk away from it by reaching their parents?

Over the years, somehow the church (hopefully on accident) has communicated to parents that the spiritual education of their children is best left up to the “professionals,” that they didn’t go to Bible school and that some things are just beyond them. Best to let the pastor handle that. But not only will this mentality severely limit the amount of time that your kids have a chance to absorb Biblical knowledge and principles, it goes expressly against what the Bible teaches.

The responsibility to raise godly children rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

Christmas Service

I know this is intimidating. I get it. I’m a mom, and we’re even pastors, and sometimes, when we look at our two little boys, the thought of shepherding them into adults who love and follow Jesus seems like an overwhelming responsibility. We’re in the same boat as you, just trying our best as we go, trusting God’s grace to fill in the gaps, and praying for them as hard as we can.

And that’s where the church comes in. Not to raise your kids into godly adults for you, but to stand beside you and offer you tools to accomplish that. Our responsibility is to come alongside your family, to resource you, to show you what it means to really follow God, so that you can model that for your children.

That’s why we will always insist that godly parents are the very best way to reach kids for Jesus. In your homes, in your daily conversations, in your regular faithfulness to follow God in front of them. When it comes to kids ministry, the best thing we have is YOU.

My favorite summer salad


Back in May, Jason and I did another Whole30. We did it quietly, without a lot of fuss, as a way of resetting some of the bad habits we’d slipped back into since January. I say it was a Whole30, but it was really more like a Whole14. The first two weeks we did really well, but towards the end of the month, as we were being bombarded with graduation parties, wedding showers, and holidays, it got a little more difficult to stick to the plan.

But the reset served its purpose. We remembered how good we feel when we aren’t consuming very much sugar, and which foods are more likely to make us feel kind of icky after we eat them.

While we were sticking to the plan, I ate this salad several times. Even when we aren’t doing the Whole30, it’s one of my favorite lunches, and I could eat it a few times a week (and I try to, when I can find good avocados.) It’s super simple, super tasty, and extremely good for you. It makes enough to share, but if you’re really hungry, as I frequently am when I get home from my job at the library, it’s not too much for one person.

1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1 diced avocado
1 diced apple

Sprinkle that with a little squeeze of lemon, and a little pinch of salt (coarse sea salt is best, but whatever you’ve got is fine) Stir it all up, and enjoy!

To the new momma who is questioning every decision she is making this morning


Mom-ing is hard.

It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

Not only is the carrying, the feeding, the tucking back into bed several times, the answering endless “why?”s, and the stepping on legos in the middle of the night physically and mentally taxing, but the emotional merry-go-round of wondering “Am I doing this thing the right way?” is enough to make anyone crazy.

We wonder, us moms, should the apple have been organic? Should I have tried harder to breastfeed? If I buy plastic containers for my kid’s lunchbox will that give them cancer? Will it make them feel entitled if I spend $40.00 on the stainless steel bento box? Should my kids be watching less TV? Or more educational programming? Should I be working harder with them on learning their colors? Or should I let it go and encourage more free play while they are little? Should we just let them sleep in bed with us? If we send them back to bed, will that make them feel insecure about our love? Or if we let them sleep with us will they ever learn to sleep on their own? Will my kid ever like anything besides potato chips and hot dogs? Should I try harder to make them eat vegetables? Should we be giving our kids an allowance? If we make them earn money doing chores, will that give them a strong work ethic? Or will it make them think they don’t have to pitch in and do chores without being compensated?

And that’s just scratching the surface, isn’t it, mommas?

I think it’s hardest when we are brand-new to being a mom, and the barrage of choices that we have to make upfront or completely ruin our children forever is totally overwhelming. But I’ve been at this for four years (which is not forever, but a still a good little chunk of time) and I frequently struggle with self-doubt in a lot of the daily parenting decisions I have to make.

If you think a newborn baby’s cry is heart-wrenching, then you’ve never seen a two-and-half-year-old clap his hand over his mouth in despair and collapse into tears in the doorway because we asked him to go back to bed by himself, as Garret did a couple of nights ago. It broke my heart to watch him cry. Maybe he knows that, and that’s why he did it. And maybe he’s just still a sweet little baby who needs his mama. Maybe I should snuggle him every night before bed, and maybe I should toughen up and teach him to soothe himself a little better. I still don’t know the answer to that one.

But let me give you one simple tool to make some of the other (plentiful) decisions that come with parenting a little bit easier:

Whatever way you decide to parent your children, that will become the “right” way to them.

Think back to the first time you lived away from home with someone who was not a part of your immediate family. Chances are they did some things differently. Maybe they folded towels in thirds instead of halves, or cut sandwiches into triangles instead of squares. Maybe they had a different method of cleaning the sink or slicing an apple.

And if you ask them why they did it that way, I would bet you that their response was this simple phrase: “That’s how my mom always did it.”

Whenever you second-guess yourself today, picture your children twenty years from now, defending they way you did something simply because you are their mom. The way you wipe the counters or make oatmeal raisin cookies or teach them to tie their shoes will eventually be the default, or perhaps even the only way to do those things in your kids’ minds.

I’ll say it again: whatever way you decide to parent your children, that will become the “right” way to them.

So relax a little bit today, momma. You’re doing this right.


God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. 

I was at a church service on 4th of July weekend a number of years ago, where we sang this, along with a handful of other patriotic hymns, such as America the Beautiful and Battle Hymn of the Republic. About halfway through the set of songs, I looked around the room and was surprised to see a number of people with their hands in the air.

I’m from a charismatic background, so it’s not strange or surprising to me to see people lifting their hands as they sing a worship song. But we weren’t singing worship songs. At least not to Jesus.

Are these people even listening to what they’re singing? I wondered. Are we so accustomed to raising our hands simply because a song is slow and moving, that we’ll do it no matter what the song is about? Or are they intentionally raising their hands to this land, this nation, this government that was formed by human hands?

Neither answer makes me feel any better. In fact, both are terrifying. Whether we are worshiping America on accident or on purpose, it’s still idolatry.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love this county. I will help my kids play with sparklers in the driveway today, and then go see a fireworks display later tonight. I will have my hand right next to my beating heart if they pledge allegiance to our flag, or if they sing the national anthem. I will probably cry if they play “God Bless America.”

I count myself blessed to have been born under the stars and stripes, a nation affluent enough that we never went hungry, even when we were poor, and progressive enough that I received a free education even though I am woman. It’s not because of anything good that I did that I was born an American. I am so very, very blessed. And I love this nation that I call my “home” for now.

But I love my Jesus more. 

If America fall apart tomorrow, I won’t lose my identity, because I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

If God calls my family to leave America to proclaim the gospel in a foreign land, we’ll be okay, because we are already strangers and aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

And if I begin losing the civil liberties that are currently afforded me as an American, it doesn’t matter, because I am free in a way that has nothing to do with the Bill of Rights (2 Corinthians 3:17).

If in the days to come, the government begins to take away from me my free speech, my right to peaceably assemble, my right to bear arms, my protection against unlawful search and seizure, even my right to vote, it’s not going to shake the core of who I am. Jesus promised us that in this world we would face trouble, and that if we choose to follow him, people will hate us in the same way that they hated him (John 15:18).

For today, my right to worship whatever God I choose is protected under our government. But if that went away tomorrow, if the government decided that my proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord was grounds for my detainment, torture, or even execution, I would be okay because I have already died with Christ (Colossians 3:3).

I will celebrate America today. I’ll read my kids the Declaration of Independence and teach them about the America our forefathers envisioned.

But freedom? I will celebrate that every day. Because my freedom doesn’t come from the White House. It comes from Calvary.



A quick word search through a concordance reveals that “broken” appears numerous times in the Bible.

Vows were broken. Commands were broken. People were broken under the burden of slavery, until God broke the yoke that hung heavy on their necks. The Sabbath was broken.  Vessels deemed unclean had to be broken to keep the Israelite people holy before their God. When people sinned, sometimes God’s wrath broke out upon them.  Altars to foreign gods were built and then broken down by the few righteous among Israel and Judah’s kings.

Brokenness is everywhere in this fallen world.

Brokenness found its way into our home at 5:30 on a Tuesday evening, when my four-year-old Caleb slipped on the railing of his bed and snapped his humerus clean in two.



We both knew something was really wrong right away, and sobbing in the kitchen as I assessed his injury, he cried out, “Mommy, I’m breaking.”

I was too.

As much as we try to prepare for the hard moments, the moments where our faith proves itself, we are never quite ready to stand and face tragedy head-on when it strikes. We work hard to protect ourselves against it. When it comes, we resist it, we try to run from it.

I’m so thankful that’s not what Christ did.

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

He broke the bread. And then he allowed his own body to be broken. Why?

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In my heart, I knew this, but my mind raced on ahead with concerns, both trivial and serious:  What if he needs surgery? How will we bear that? How will we afford it? Will his arm ever be the same? Will we be able to swim at all this summer?

As I drove home down the highway from the doctor, wildflowers in brilliant blue, purple, yellow, and white greeted me from the small strip of grass in the median. And the words of Jesus came to me unbidden: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:30-32).

And Bebo Norman was singing loud on my stereo: “If you offer up your broken cup, you will taste the meaning of this life.”

I wouldn’t choose this brokenness, but Christ did, so that I might be made whole.

I wouldn’t choose a flawed offering to the Lord, but God accepts it, and remakes me into something that displays his glory.


It would be easier, safer from here on out, to bundle Caleb up, to cover him in pads head to toe, to prohibit activity that includes any kind of risk, to protect him from being broken again. He could exist safely in a cocoon of his momma’s making. But he wouldn’t really live. It’s riskier, of course, to keep offering yourself, brave and vulnerable in a world where bones, bodies, hearts can be broken. But it’s through the brokenness, the vulnerability, the fragility of life, that God reveals his power in us.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

I don’t really want to carry around death in my body. But if that is how the life of Jesus is revealed in me, so be it. And we can trust God as we journey through this broken world. I don’t know what kind of brokenness you’re facing this morning, but I know this: God never abandons us. I know he doesn’t leave us alone in our brokenness, but instead entered into it with us. And I know that God, who raised Christ from the dead, is able to bring his resurrection power to bear in your life today.

“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” Hosea 6:1


Embrace beauty, plant churches


Last week, I posted about a cool opportunity you have to buy something cute for yourself, or the women in your life, and support our church at the same time. Well, today I’m so excited to show you what you’ll get if you purchase something from Joy’s Etsy shop this month.

She was kind enough to send me a few samples to show to you guys, and they couldn’t be cuter. First of all, they came in this adorable packaging. You can’t see it really well in the picture above (I’m a terrible photographer, sorry!) but they come clipped to pretty paper, wrapped up in a little bag, and with a tag that says “Embrace beauty, plant churches.” What a lovely message for a lovely product!


Of all the flowers Joy sent, I think this vintage-inspired rosette is probably my favorite. The flower is made of a burlap-type fabric and is a pin. This would be super-cute pinned to a blazer or bag.


This one is the Brown Rolled Flower with Chevron Leaf. It’s also a pin, which means you can use it lots of different ways. I’m trying to think of something I can pin it to in my house, because the brown and chevron goes with a lot that I have.


This Chevron flower is another one I was really excited to see in person. It has a hair-clip type fixture on the back, so this could be worn as a hair accessory, and the neutral colors would go with a lot. I actually saw someone on a TV show wearing a similar clip in her hair yesterday. It was super cute, and I think I might try to do that soon.

You’ve probably noticed that everything Joy sent me is in neutral colors, but that’s just because that’s what struck my fancy. If something a little more colorful is up your alley, she has a lot of things that you might love like this necklace or these little barrettes.

And don’t forget, a portion of the proceeds from every order this month will go to Life360 church’s Ozark Campus. Thanks for your support, and thanks again to Joy for her generous heart!

Spiritual Whitespace

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!

Jason surprised me with white sheets for our bed right around our anniversary this year.

We usually just consider time together gift enough; the pressure to exchange equal gifts was too much, especially since our anniversary falls in the midst of the “gauntlet” of Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and Mother’s Day. But I had wanted white sheets for a while, and since they were something we both would use, it was a perfect surprise.

It was amazing how much of a difference the white sheets made in our bedroom, and the effect that one change has had on me. It’s no wonder all the decorating magazine use white sheets on staged beds almost exclusively.  The white is so crisp and clean, so refreshing to look at. Now I want white more and more places. I switched out our heavy, dark comforter for a cream-colored quilt. I took the drapes off our living room windows, so they’re adorned simply with white blinds. And Jason replaced our interior doors and painted them the same color as the walls, so they disappear into the landscape of the house.

Whitespace is powerful.

I should have known this already. We learned it in the graphic design class I took in college. Our professor held up a sheet of a well-designed piece of promotional material, and some garish ad with callouts and an overwhelming amount of text and photos. She asked us which one we found more visually appealing. It was a no-brainer. The one with more whitespace was much nicer to look at.

I knew this mattered in art. I didn’t think, though, about how much it mattered in my home and in my life. That is, not until I picked up a copy of Bonnie Grey’s Finding Spiritual Whitespace.

“The more fine art a composition is, the more whitespace you’ll find. The more commercial the piece, the more text and images you’ll find crowded in. The purpose is no longer beauty. It is commercialization…. Whitespace is a choice to convey quality and artistic value. Whitespace says we are someone special” (67-68).

This hit home more than I can even tell you. How often have I heaped my plate with more, and more, and more, hoping that somehow that there would be value in me in one of the many things I was giving my time and energy to, when all that I really needed was less? When I chase down a dozen different hobbies, can I really give myself fully to any of them? If I take five cookies, will I take the time to taste them as well as if I only took one? When I speak a thousand words, do any of them carry the weight that they would if I’d only spoken ten?

I couldn’t put this book down. I was compelled by Bonnie’s story, which is so different than the sheltered happy childhood, I grew up in, and the story drew me in and kept me turning the pages. I imagined that reading this book would help me better understand the people I encounter in ministry who come from broken homes, or were abused, or are plagued by anxiety. So I was completely unprepared for the ways I kept seeing little bits of how I’ve refused to rest in Jesus in it. I don’t have any suppressed trauma in my past, and yet I still run as hard after my goals as if I were trying to get away from a heartache-filled past. I never stop to rest.

One look at my spiral memo pad confirms that this is true. It’s list after list after list. I have a list of things to do, a list of recipes to try, a list of things to write about, a list of boundaries to observe around my kids’ TV time, a list of ideas for the kids’ take home devotionals I create for the church, a list of things to buy next time I’m in town, and on and on and on.

I can’t stop making lists. It’s even the way I make decisions. I am a die-hard pros and cons lister. So when I read this, it stopped me up short:

“Are you facing a dilemma? Rather than drawing up a pros/cons sheet, which can separate you from your heart, picture yourself as a little girl. What would she choose and why?” (58).

I’m not accustomed to thinking in terms of what I simply want. In some ways, I know that I cannot simply follow all of my own desires. The Bible insists that the heart Is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and I know that if I was left to my own devices, apart from Christ’s redemption, many of my desires would destroy everything I hold dear, as sin so often does. But some desires are not sinful. Some things we refuse to reach out take not because they are wicked, but because we are afraid. There are a few things in my life that I’ve been considering – decisions I’ve been wavering one way and then another on for quite a while. I can’t make up my mind because I can’t figure what’s “best” or “safe” or a “sure thing.” But when I framed in the terms Bonnie suggests – what would the childhood Amy want to do? – it’s all super-easy to figure out.

I’m not saying this is a perfect matrix for all important life decisions, but when we are so paralyzed by our adult sensibilities that we can’t even figure out what we really want, thinking back to what we would have chosen at five or seven or nine is certainly helpful.

It’s helping me, at least.

And so is making more room in my life for Spiritual Whitespace.

Lately, I have been spending a portion of every afternoon in prayer, while the boys are napping, And when I say I’m spending time in prayer, I hope you are not imagining me in some hour-long, intense  intercession where I’m bringing a list of requests as long as my arm to God.  As Bonnie says “Rest is not something we engineer, but something we invite” (p. 33).

Sometimes it is a really great time with the Lord. And sometimes it’s me sitting on the floor of my bedroom, feeling a little bit like an idiot, not quite knowing what to say. But I keep doing it anyway. And I think, it’s almost imperceptible, but I just think, just barely, I see the ways in which making more space for God in my life is beginning to change me. It’s not about immediate results, and it’s high time we let go of our addiction to instant gratification anyway. No, spiritual whitespace is simply about making room  for God to do something. He may fill that space with something beautiful. And he may leave it blank to better highlight something else beautiful He’s doing. Either way, we need the space. And just like my white sheets started a chain reaction of putting more and more white in my life, I’m hoping that carving out this small amount of space in my life will cause some other dominos to fall until God chisels away everything except what truly matters in my life.

I hope you’ll join me. And I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this excellent book and let it speak to you, too.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.