Author Archives: Traci Smith

Stop Giving Parents the Stink Eye In Church

 

Recently I had the opportunity to hear from a young mom who had grown up in the church, spent some time away after she got married, and was now looking to bring her children back to faith in the church. Among many valid critiques about why church was becoming a frustrating experience for her as she tried week after week to find a place that would be good for her children was something that’s so easy for congregations to fix: the stink eye. Ah the “stink eye.” You know what that is, right? It’s that look of disapproval that comes darting over the glasses or sideways. It’s a look that says “shape up” or “shhhhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly.”

The stink eye is subtle and obvious all at the same time. You know it when you see it.

The stink eye is one reason young families don’t come to your church anymore. (Note: I didn’t say it’s the reason, there are lots of reasons for this, but I promise you, the stink eye is on the list.) Families who get the stink eye in a church don’t just get turned off from a church, they get turned off from church in general. Even if your church isn’t a stink eye church, you need to be aware of it, because you’ll have to work that much harder to compensate for all the stinky eyed churches out there. Trust me. The woman I heard from a few weeks ago was not the only one who has told me about the stink eye. It’s pervasive. The bad news about the stink eye is that it’s contagious: if your church has a (spoken or unspoken) rule that it’s okay to tell young families to “shape up” or “shhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly,” this rule will be enforced by the stink eye. The good news is that the stink eye is easily counterbalanced and shut down by easy ways to help young families feel welcome.

  • Offer a reassuring comment that lets the parents and the children know they’re welcome just as they are. My favorite is “We just love noisy and wiggly children in our sanctuary. It helps us all to hear their lively energy and to know they are present!” or “It’s hard to be still and quiet for a long time in church. You’re doing a great job.” If you are old enough to have raised children in the church you know it can be a challenge. A simple smile with the words “I remember what it was like when my children were small” says more than enough.

 

  • Smile. A warm genuine smile that says “No worries. We’ve got your back here.”

 

  • Engage the family or children. Some churches have worship bags or coloring sheets or even a Prayground for children to enjoy. If you’ve got these resources… show them off!

 

  • Resist the urge to correct or judge. Parenting styles range from very strict to very free range and every parent I know is just doing the best they can with the resources they have. What is appropriate guidance to one is “helicopter parenting” to another. What is helping a child develop independence to one is “laissez faire” to another. Parents are bombarded all the time by people telling us what to do and how to do it. What would it look like if churches were free of this type of judgment?

 

What would happen if your sanctuary was known for being a stink eye free zone? What if, instead of the stink eye, parents received smiles, reassuring comments, and full acceptance when they visited your church? I’ll tell you what would happen: they’d come back.

Sutherland Springs, One Week Later // Moving Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

 

Last Sunday, November 5th, was my 39th birthday. As I sat around a table with my family and a few friends, the news of the Sutherland Springs massacre started to come in on our phones. When we were cleaning up the plates of cake and ice cream I glanced at my phone. Tags on Social Media: “I think Traci Smith is nearby” and BREAKING NEWS texts from KSAT. It took no more than a quick scan to realize that this was wide ranging, devastating. Another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church. 

I sent a quick text to the Executive Presbyter saying “If pastoral care is needed in Sutherland Springs, I am willing.” I didn’t expect to hear back from her until the next day at the earliest, but she called 20 minutes later. She told me that a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance representative had told her about a vigil in LaVernia, TX, nearby and asked if I would go with her.

This morning in my sermon, I told the congregation about the fear I had as we drove there, with my 10 month old baby sitting next to me in the backseat. I worried we wouldn’t be safe. A church vigil should be safe, right? That’s exactly the point. A church should be safe.

I told the rest of that personal story from the pulpit this morning, including the question I was asked by the pastor there: “What kind of evil is this?”

Deliver us from evil.

We talked this morning about the evil of what happened this week and how we have a responsibility to do something about it. Thoughts and prayers are important, but they’re not enough.

I’m grateful to my fearless colleague Rev. Krin Van Tatenhove and the Mission Elders of my congregation, Patty and Robert, for designing four action stations:

First, a station where folks could write cards and expressions of sympathy to members of the church.

Second, a station where they pick up information on how to talk to children about a tragedy like this. I also included the same practices I recommended to folks wanting to help children after hurricane Harvey.

Third, a station that details the PC(USA) work to prevent gun violence and

Finally, a letter writing station. Our friends at Texas Impact helped us draft the following letter that parishioners could send to Speaker Joe Straus and Governor Abbott:

 

Dear Governor Abbott:

The recent tragic shooting at a place of worship in Sutherland Springs has once again highlighted policy issues related to the availability of firearms. Specifically, the interplay of Texas and Federal firearms laws, administrative procedures related to those laws, and the special circumstances of domestic violence and mental health woven into this tragedy mandate that Texas continue its ongoing efforts to improve public policy and reduce the chance of the next terrible event. None of these issues is new to the legislature. In fact, we have shown strong willingness to discuss these issues both individually and in relationship to one another. Specifically, we applaud the legislature’s commitment to mental health over the past several sessions. However, we are sadly reminded that there is much more work to do.

We request that you direct the appropriate committees in your houses to conduct a comprehensive review of policy issues potentially related to this tragedy, including:

  • The interplay of, and confusion between, various state and federal gun laws related to possession, transport, and licensure;
  • The communication between local, state, and federal authorities (including military authorities) of information pertinent to an application to obtain a firearm;
  • The communication of aggregated authority to sellers of firearms, and actions taken by sellers to deny a sale; and
  • Current laws related to disqualification for firearm purchase as a result of domestic violence and mental health records.

We believe that such an interdisciplinary review will be valuable to our communities, to Texans in general, and to policymakers as they grapple with the policy issues that such tragedies illuminate.

After the service, I was overwhelmed by the number of connections my San Antonio had to Sutherland Springs. I knew some of the stories, but not all of them. I walked away from service reminded again just how much this tragedy was  in our own back yard, but it’s always in somebody’s backyard…

 

Resources:

  1. The letter: please feel free to copy and paste the letter and send to your own representatives. We have no ownership over it and are deeply grateful to Texas Impact for their support.
  2. Resources for children. We provided THIS and THIS today.
  3. PCUSA Resources on Gun Violence
  4. Why Christians Must Support Gun Control 

 

Boredom as a Spiritual Practice

Recently I’ve been actively working on making sure my children and I are bored on a regular basis. Yep, that’s right. I’m trying to be bored and to make sure the rest of my family is too. It all started a few months ago when I heard an episode of the RobCast called “The Importance of Boredom.” The episode is well worth your time, and it’s a reflection on what it means to be busy all the time, filling up every single spare second with something to do. Bell talks a lot about the time we spend doing things that don’t nurture our souls — aimlessly scrolling through social media, for example.  The episode reminded me of a sermon I heard John Ortberg preach one time. (tangental side note: Why you gotta leave the PCUSA, John Ortberg?!) Anyway, I can’t remember the exact topic of the sermon now, but I do remember he was talking about TV watching. At some point he addressed the congregation and said “Who here, after watching a few hours of TV leaps up from the couch and says ‘Man, I feel great! That was really energizing!’?” The answer, of course, is nobody, because TV isn’t energizing; it’s draining. Boredom, as defined by Rob Bell and by me in this post is the exact opposite of TV watching. Boredom done right can be very energizing. When we are bored our mind has a chance to rest and think, and we’re able to actually be creative and fresh. Sometimes it is in the stillness and silence of boredom where the best ideas are born.

Choosing to be Bored

What does it mean to try to be bored? In my experience, there are many times where boredom might creep in, but  a persistent voice urging me to “be productive!” or “Get something done!” stops it cold in its tracks. I have a tendency to do anything required to shut that voice up. So instead of just sitting in silence while I ride the elevator up to the eighth floor, or mindlessly browsing the silly headlines on the tabloids in line, I feel obligated to read  emails, respond to text messages and flip through my to-do list. Filling up the cracks of the day with stuff to do seems productive on the surface, (see how many things I get done, even while I’m in the elevator!) In reality, though, it just wears me down. After a full day of “productivity” the only thing I want to do is collapse in a heap and watch Netflix. Intentional boredom is a remedy for this way of living. The phrase”Not every second needs to be scheduled” has been my new mantra. Paradoxically, doing nothing is the thing to do. Here are times when I’ve been choosing boredom recently: 

  • In the car — I’ve not even been listening to music or podcasts recently — just silence (there’s a version of this in Faithful Families called “Silent Car Rides.”)
  • In line at the grocery store. No flipping through the phone or texting, or working on the meal plan, just looking at the extra large sized candy bars and thinking “why aren’t they called ‘King Sized’ anymore?” or pondering the crazy tabloid headings
  • While waiting for a meeting to start, or when getting somewhere early — Instead of sitting in the car and flipping through email or Facebook, I take a walk
  • In between tasks – I get up and walk around for a little while instead of scrolling social media or trying to squeeze in one more thing.
  • In the shower – Extra long shower for the win!

Making Room For Children to be Bored

There’s some fairly compelling evidence that boredom is great for children, too. Providing space for boredom in my home is not easy for me. Its easy to feel like I’m being lazy if I don’t have a structured activity for my children to do to do, especially since I don’t have a lot of time with them during the week. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m tempted, not by structure, but by formless screen time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just say “why don’t we turn on Paw Patrol” so I don’t have to think about it. The middle way is, what I’ve been calling “space for boredom.”  We turn off the TV, don’t plan anything to do, and see what happens. It’s not usually the first hour or two that are a problem. They happily play. It’s what happens after the playtime gets, well… boring. When I’m most tempted to say “Ok, let’s go to the museum now!” or “Ok, let’s turn on Paw Patrol” is precisely the time to say, “I know it’s hard to find something to do sometimes” and to go back to making muffins. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, and the results have been even more powerful than I originally anticipated.

Crayons have come out, on their own. Kleenex boxes have been sloppily taped onto Amazon boxes with proud declarations of “It’s an ambulance.” Comic books have been created. It’s magical, but certainly not easy. In order to get there, we’ve had to suffer through many rounds of “Pleeeeeeeeeease can we go to incredible pizza” and “This is SO BORING.” Well, when you’re bored you can think. When you can think you can be creative. Boredom is a gift. Not all the time, but some of the time. Too much boredom isn’t good, of course, but this not the danger for our family and a lot of families like us.

This “dance floor” was born after a long stretch of boredom

It seems to me that previous generations of parents understood this intuitively (plus there were no iPads or TV on demand to compete with.) Boredom wasn’t really something you needed to “make room” for in those days. It just happened. Now, if we want our children to be bored, we have to make sure it happens by intentionally blocking out the time and saying no to extra lessons and classes and enrichment opportunities and parties. We have to make space. 

 

Here are some times when I’ve been making room for my children to be bored:

  • In the car
  • On Saturdays (all day, not just for an hour or two)
  • Sunday afternoons
  • Days off of school
  • At the dinner table — Example: “May I be excused?” answer “In a few more minutes….”

Boredom Apps? Say what?

It seems counterintuitive to think about using technology to find rest and create boredom, but there are actually some tools I’ve found that work remarkably well for this.

Forest App: I’ve mentioned this one before, but the forest app helps plant virtual trees to keep you off of your phone. The more time you’re away from your phone, the more trees are planted. Plant enough virtual trees and forest will plant real trees in your honor. Pretty great. I go through seasons where I use this app a lot. 

Forest App is one of my favorites. Grow trees instead of looking at your phone!

Do Not Disturb Mode: I’ve not had to use this in awhile, but there have been times when I’m so fried and so overloaded by texts and emails that I need to not know that they exist. In order to get in to true do not disturb mode, I need to adjust my phone settings to turn off all notifications for email (I turned them off for social media a long time ago) and also put the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (this works well for iPhone. I’m not sure how to make it work for Android, but I’m sure Google will help!) iPhone will kick out of Do Not Disturb mode if someone calls back immediately.

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook: This extension for Chrome has been a huge game changer for me. I love using Facebook for a lot of things, including keeping up with folks in my congregation, keeping connected in clergy communities, and connecting with friend who don’t live in the same city as me. At the same time, it can be a huge way to fill up empty time that should be used for boredom or true rest. The Newsfeed Eradicator removes the newsfeed. You can still get notifications, still check on groups, still update status, etc. It eliminates the phenomenon whereby I log in to Facebook to check on something and 20 minutes later I’m clicking through photos of people I don’t even know because they’re there. HERE’s a link for Chrome. Also available for phones, I believe. 

Boredom has been a gift recently. It’s been the difference between exhaustion and a little room. It’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

What about you? What do you think of boredom? Is there a place for it in your life or home? Share your stories in the comments!

Taking a Spiritual Inventory (with printable worksheet!)

 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that our spiritual health and wellness is vital to our physical, emotional, and psychological health and wellness as well. (I guess I’m in the right profession!) In other areas of wellness I see a lot of resources for assessment. There are lots of ways to evaluate one’s physical health or psychological health, but how do I know if I’m spiritually healthy? How can I identify areas of spiritual health and wellness? I spent some time thinking about this and made a spiritual inventory for myself and others. If it sounds like something you might be interested in using, take a look! I would love to know if you have any questions or thoughts. Peace, and enjoy!

Evaluating Spiritual Wellness: A Guide

NOTE: To download a the questions in one easy worksheet, click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF

At the end of this, the goal is to feel more hopeful and inspired for future growth. If this isn’t the case, you did it wrong. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course!) It’s important to approach this exercise with that outset “I’d like to continue to grow spiritually, and I want to take look at where things are. The goal is not to give myself a grade or to feel poorly about how things are going.”

Spiritual health is intimately connected to physical, emotional, financial, and psychological heath. It’s hard to write about “spiritual health” divorced from these things. Often a detailed look into of all of life will yield interesting results or connections, and often one life change can show results in all of these areas. For example, taking up a practice of walking could lead to health in all sorts of areas, not just physical health. These are your questions, so it’s fine to go off on a “tangent.” If reflecting for a bit on spiritual health leads to some changes in the way you manage your money or cook your food, go with it. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something!

How to use these questions: Sky’s the limit! Some may choose to write down their answers all in one swoop, on a 1/2 or day long silent retreat. Others may choose to do them in a group, with trusted friends or mentors. Pastors and ministry leaders might want to use them as a “jumping off point” for a retreat or workshop on faith development. Work through them in a language that works for you, whether it’s long form writing or journaling, or painting, or conversation. Return to them as often as is necessary. I ordered these questions with a specific progression in mind. I believe you will get the most value from this exercise if you work through them in order and challenge yourself to complete every question. Enjoy!

1. What do I believe? (Crafting a personal faith statement)

There are no “right” answers here, and honesty is key. What do you believe about the world? About human nature? About God? Which beliefs are central to your sense of identity? For many of us, (pastors too!) we don’t often take the time to look at our beliefs closely, under a microscope. Sometimes, when we do, what we find surprises or even scares us. Consider how you want to write your personal faith statement. Do you want to write it out in narrative form? As a list of beliefs? Do you want to paint it? Make a poem? Tell a story? Select a series of photographs that illustrate your beliefs? Whatever you choose, make it something natural for you. Dig in deeply, here. What do I believe, for real? Nobody will be checking over your shoulder.

2. What are my biggest doubts and questions?

Doubts and questions are great teachers and an important part of mature faith. The purpose of writing these down is not to identify weakness or problems. Quite the opposite, identifying doubts and questions help make space for us to understand how the spirit is at work and where our faith is growing. What haunts you? What is bothering you? What can’t you reconcile? Put these things down on paper.  Sometimes just naming these things and writing them down can do remarkable things.

3. When do I hear God’s voice* most clearly now or in the past?

Perhaps there is a certain place you go where you hear God’s voice most clearly, or a certain state of being you are in when you feel the most connected to God.

I used the words “God’s voice” because it makes sense to me and it’s how I describe a feeling of spiritual connectedness to God and to others. There might be another way that works better for you. Perhaps “when do I feel most spiritually connected?” or “When am I most at peace with myself and others?”

4. How have my beliefs changed over time? How are they in the process of changing? What season or shape is my faith and spirituality taking right now?

Faith and spiritual wellness seems to change with seasons. Some describe “dry” or “dark” times of the soul when things are challenging or difficult. Others talk about “mountaintop” experiences when things seem to be going really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what season one is in at any particular time, but it’s helpful, I think, to take a look behind and consider how beliefs have changed over time, or are in the process of changing.

5. What spiritual practices are nurturing to me?

For this question, it might be helpful to think in terms of past spiritual practices, present ones and those that we’d like to try in the future. For this, it’s helpful to think of spiritual practices folks might label as “traditional” (such as prayer, meditation, fasting or acts of service) as well as those that might be unique to you: silence, poetry, art, walking, gardening, journaling, running. Whatever practice helps you to feel most spiritually alive and connected and able to hear God’s voice. Perhaps there is a practice that was valuable to you in the past which has somehow faded away, Write down those that were valuable in the past as well as those in the present. If there is no spiritual practice currently alive and active in your life, note that as well.

6. What goals would I like to implement in order to be more spiritually healthy?

By now, you have laid out a clear foundation of what you believe, what doubts and questions are brewing in you and what season of life you might be in. You’ve also taken the time to think about what spiritual practices are nurturing to you. Now is the time to think about some goals for spiritual wellness. I would caution against jumping straight to this question without doing the reflection that comes beforehand. Though it takes some time, it will put things into sharper focus and help refine what kind of spiritual practice you might want to embark on. A few “refresher course” words about goals. Goals should be as specific as possible and as quantifiable as possible. So saying “I’d like to meditate more” is far less effective than “I’d like to do ten minutes of meditation from Headspace per day for ten days in a row to see how it works for me.” When goals have specificity and can be measured, it’s much easier to see if you’re on track and, if not, to make a course correction. One helpful tip for goals is to make sure not to pile on too many. One or two is a great place to start, you can always add more, change or refine as time goes on.

7. What steps do I need to take in order to make my goals a reality?

Perhaps something needs to be moved off of your schedule in order to have the space and time to focus on a new goal. Perhaps you need to enlist the help of another person to encourage or help you stay focused. A word of caution here: be wary of thinking that your spiritual goals can only be reached by investing a lot of money. Particularly in North American culture, we’re trained to believe that if we just purchase the “right” (fill in the blank) we’ll have what we need. This is a lesson I feel like I’m still learning. Whenever I want to tackle the clutter in my house, I am tempted to buy more baskets or boxes or clutter busting devices when, in reality, what I need to do is this: get rid of the stuff that’s creating the clutter in the first place. There are so many great products, tools, services and “gadgets” to help with spiritual heath and wellness. Over time you may find a natural way to incorporate some of them into your life. At the same time, when you’re laying out your goals and vision, try to resist adding a long list of things to buy.

8. What resources do I have that will help me with my goal?

Here you can list personal resources (motivation, strength, kindness, attention), people resources (friends, spiritual mentors or leaders, family members.) and stuff resources (supplies, books, videos, songs.)

9. When will I begin?

The sooner the better!

10. When will I re-evaluate?

I think it’s a great idea to give yourself a relatively short timeframe (say 6-12 weeks) in which to try a new practice and then re-evaluate with a mini version of this inventory to see how things are going and try something new!

There you have it! My attempt at a spiritual inventory. I’ve done variations of this myself and found it very helpful. If you try it either on your own, or with a group, let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Don’t forget to snag your printable worksheet!  Click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF!

I would love to know your thoughts! Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking!

 

Creating Your Own Traditions (Not Somebody Else’s)

This morning I was cleaning out some “miscellaneous drawers” (aka “junk drawers” aka “drawers with the following things: a paperclip, hundreds of multiplying art projects and worksheets I couldn’t throw away at the time, books I meant to read but only read the first chapter or two, and assorted half burned candles.”) Also, a bird ornament.

As you can see, the wing broke off. It was in the drawer because (since Christmas) I’ve been planning to glue it back together. There’s a deeper story behind it though. See, I heard a story of someone who, when she moved out of the house, got a box of ornaments from her mom that were labeled with every year of her childhood. It seemed like such a beautiful idea. I thought to myself “I’m going to do that when I have children.” And so I started to do it, sort of. In practice, it’s been a big mess. The ornaments are all in different boxes, some of the labels have fallen off, and the bird one with the broken wing was shoved in the drawer. If you know me, you know this project was probably doomed from the get go. It’s got a lot of steps that I’m not good at, and it requires things like cataloging and organizing and labeling and storing things in the same place for 18 years in a row. This is not me.

I think I knew in my heart this tradition was not a good fit for me when I set about it, but there was a part of me that wanted to be a different person. I wanted (want?) to be the type of person who can easily keep track of ornaments every year and add to the pile and catalog them and then effortlessly turn them over after 18 years. The truth is, I’m not that kind of person. The fact that this ornament was sitting in my drawer, broken, for almost a year was a pretty good indicator. And so, I threw it away, along with the whole idea. “I’m not going to do that,” I said to myself. I felt lighter when I threw that ornament away because I freed myself of the burden of having to stress out about this for another 18 years. (My youngest is still a baby, I would have had to start with her first ornament this year.)

You know what? It’s totally fine. My children will grow up decorating the tree, like I did. They’ll pick their favorites, like I did. They’ll leave home with a box of those ornaments, like I did. They won’t have a neatly organized and categorized box of ornaments that are labeled by date. Oh. Well. They never knew this was my original plan, and I don’t think their lives will be fundamentally different because of it. Good bye birdie ornament! Good bye unrealistic pressures and expectations!

Here’s the thing: a full 1/3 of Faithful Families is traditions. I love traditions, but I also believe they need to work for you and your family. What’s the use of a tradition if it’s going to stress you out, feel forced, or cause frustration? I fully embrace the idea that some families will read some of the many tradition ideas in Faithful Families and say “No way. That will not work in our house.”

Sometimes giving a tradition the boot is the best thing you can do. If the whole family is moaning and groaning over something that’s supposed to be fun or meaningful, it needs to go. If nobody can figure out why you do it, it also needs to go.

It reminds me of a story I heard one time. It’s one of those stories that gets passed around from preacher to preacher so I’m not sure of the original source, but the idea is something like this:

A child is watching his mother make the Christmas ham and notices she cuts off the ends before putting it in the pan. “Why do you do that?” he asks.

The child’s mother (or father as the case may be, certainly moms aren’t the only ones who prepare the Christmas ham, right? RIGHT?!) replies “I don’t know, go ask your grandmother.”

Off the child goes to ask grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off the Christmas ham?”

“I don’t know, ask great grandma.”

Off the child goes to ask his great grandma. “Great grandma, why do we cut off the ends of the Christmas ham?”

“Oh for pity’s sake” great grandma replies, “It was just because I didn’t have a big enough pan.”

[cue knowing laughter]

It’s ok to retire traditions that are out of date and not of use. Traditions can also be good for a season. Perhaps there’s one that resonates while children are young. Conversely, why not pick up new traditions when children are older? One of the things I hear a lot when I speak about Faithful Families is “I wish I had this book when my children were younger.” I understand why people say that: it’s fun to think about “starting over” and trying something new. At the same time, it’s never too late to start a new tradition. When I was in Seminary my parents hid Easter Eggs for all of my friends. We were in our early 20s, and it was a blast.

What about you? What traditions are you ready to retire? Which ones feel like they’re more “trouble than they’re worth?”

Doubts and Questions as Teachers of the Faith #KidMin

I went to seminary to get the tools and training to help teach people faith, never expecting my own faith would be challenged nearly to the point of breaking. And yet, like so many others, that’s exactly what happened. The story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho snuck up on me out of nowhere. Though it was more than 10 years ago now, I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library during my first year of studies, and the article I was reading was discussing how the walls of Jericho might not have existed at all in a literal sense. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the article presenting a case for there being no archeological evidence for those walls. The premise was mind-blowing to me. “Not literal walls? What?” My mind flashed back to being a small child in Sunday School, marching around in a circle, singing “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumbling down.”

As I replayed that scene of that little girl, marching around the (actual, literal, real) walls the idea that there were no such walls was unbearable to me, and I started to cry big sloppy tears right there in the library. (Lots of people cry in seminary and university libraries, but it’s usually because papers are due the next day, not because crises of faith are commencing.)  The article about the walls stuck with me for weeks. “If the walls weren’t real, what else isn’t real? Have I been sold a bill of goods? What am I doing here?” The walls started to feel like a metaphor. My faith was crumbling, just like those walls, which (by the way) weren’t even real! I kept my thoughts mostly to myself as I trudged on from class to class, learning and reading and turning in assignments. There’s not an end to this faith crisis I can point to as easily as I can the beginning, but it did go away, eventually.

Eventually I came to a place where I was able to say, truthfully, that it didn’t matter to me whether the walls of Jericho were actual, literal walls or whether the story about them in the Bible points to a deeper truth about who God is. By the end of seminary I was able to distinguish a theological truth from a scientific truth in a way that made my faith infinitely stronger. For me, the story turned out just fine, and the wrestling I did in seminary turned out to be an experience I would not trade for anything. I think I’m a better minister because of it. And yet, as I reflect on the my season of doubts and questions in seminary now as an adult, I wonder how it might have been different if I were better prepared for it.

When we think of the most helpful tools for children’s ministry and faith development we often talk about age appropriate lessons, craft projects, or creative ways of telling the stories of our faith. But what about doubt? Doubt rarely makes it on any list of appropriate “tools” of the faith. And yet, we as Christian Educators and Pastors might actually serve our congregations well if we talk about doubt a bit more than we do. So often, doubt is talked about as something to get through or leave behind, rather than something to sit with for awhile as it marinates in us and transforms us. I agree wholeheartedly with theologian Paul Tillich:

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. 

It makes good sense to think about faith and doubt as two sides of the same coin. Wrestling with doubt, asking questions about our faith, and teaching children to embrace doubts is a way to strengthen faith, not tear it down. Doubt is like a mysterious muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger our faith can become. How can we flex our doubt muscles and teach children to do the same?

Doubters and Questioners in Scripture

Scripture is full of great figures who doubted and wrestled with their faith. In these cases, the doubts and questions end up leading to a more mature faith that can withstand storms and trials. When we teach children about these figures, we would do well to emphasize their doubts and questions, not downplay them. Here are five stories of doubters that  can be woven in to discussions about doubt. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start:

Abraham and Sarah: God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. When Sarah learns of this promise, her response is to doubt by laughing. “Yeah right,” she says in so many words, “I’m way too old!” But the prophesy comes true and Abraham and Sarah do become parents. When do we say “Yeah, right!” to God? When do God’s promises seem ridiculous to us?

Gideon: Gideon is one of the judges in the book of Judges who God chooses to deliver the people of Israel. Gideon can’t believe it, and puts God to the test by using fleece. One night he asks God to make the fleece wet and the surrounding ground dry. In the morning, there is so much water in the fleece he has to wring it out. But this miracle isn’t enough for Gideon. The next night he reverses the test, asking God to make the fleece dry but the ground surrounding it wet. Again, God answers the miracle. How do we test God? What does it mean when God answers us in the same way God answered Gideon? Even more challenging: What does it mean when God doesn’t answer us?

Thomas: Thomas is the quintessential doubter in the New Testament. When Jesus is raised from the dead he wants proof. He won’t believe it, he says, unless he can actually see Jesus and touch him. For Thomas seeing is believing and he will accept nothing less. We ought to raise Thomas up, not put him down. “Do you have questions? Would you like proof? You’re just like Thomas, he wanted those things too, and he was one of the disciples.”

Jesus: In Jesus’ darkest hour he doubted God and felt abandoned by God. From the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When children or young people express doubts we can remind them that nobody, not even Jesus, has a faith that can withstand every trial or every question.

Do’s and Don’ts for Handling Doubts and Questions in Children’s Ministry

  • DO: Encourage questions and doubts. “Tell me more about that” or “Oh that’s interesting, I never thought about it that way,” or “Thank you for sharing that” are all affirming ways of hearing children and young people expressing their thoughts. Use them liberally. Don’t be afraid to follow conversations where children want to take them. I also love the idea of having a question box in the classroom where children can anonymously write down their thoughts and questions.
  • DON’T: Teach that faith is not an “all or nothing” game. Some faith systems are so rigid and so fragile that questioning just one tiny premise makes the whole thing fall down like a house of cards. Remind children that just because they question or disbelieve in one area doesn’t mean they have to give up all of their beliefs. There are many different types of faithfulness. My faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours. The pastor’s faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours.
  • DON’T: Give answers when you don’t have them. As I say in Faithful Families, the word “mystery” is a great one. I think the word mystery allows for room for a not knowing that has confidence. “That is such a mystery, isn’t it?” is a way that I answer a whole variety of questions. Another answer that inspires confidence and trust is this one: “Nobody knows.” Somewhere along the line, particularly in Western culture, we’ve gotten the idea that teachers know the answers and students are the ones who are there to receive them. Remind the children in your care that you’re there to learn together, and talk about mysteries together.
  • DO: Lift up stories of those who had questions and doubts, including your own story (as you are comfortable.) The stories listed earlier in this article are a great place to start, but there are dozens of characters in the Bible and throughout church history who wrestle and doubt. Explore them together, and lift up their struggles and challenges as well as their virtues. Our heroes are complex. It makes them more interesting.
  • DO: Maintain a sense of humor, joy, and curiosity when teaching. This is good advice all the time, not just when working with doubts and questions. Faith is playful, joyful and fun. There are so many lighthearted ways to approach ministry together with children and young people. Enjoy!

So what about you? How do you handle doubts and questions in children’s ministry? Do they seem like challenges to overcome, or a wonderful and necessary part of faith development?

Snuggled Under God’s Wings and the Butterfly Prayer – Two Practices for Children Experiencing Natural Disaster

Dear Friends,

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I want you all to have two practices from Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home that can be used with families and children after a trauma. Both of them allow opportunities for children to feel safe, loved and cared for in the midst of chaos all around.

Pastors and children’s ministers: you can make these available to your congregations so that children may have some practical and hands-on ways to cope.

Parents: these practices require only materials you have at home, and you can do them with children of any age.

The first, “Snuggled Under God’s Wings” provides assurance of safety and an opportunity to talk about what it means to be safe.

The second, “The Butterfly Prayer” is modeled after The Butterfly Hug.

Both of these practices can be downloaded for free HERE, courtesy of Chalice Press. Excerpted from Faithful Families

All of my prayers and love,

Traci Smith

PS – For more practical and hands on way to talk with children after a natural disaster, please see THIS POST. 

 

 

The Power of Storytelling || Some Thoughts

 

Author Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

The human ability to tell stories to one another in order communicate deep truths is a feature of every human culture and civilization “Once upon a time, our ancestors…” or “In the beginning, God.” It is because of compelling stories we have heard or learned that we choose what to believe or disbelieve. I remember hearing Andrew Root say one time at a conference that parents should be saying to their children at the dinner table, “Tell me a story” not “What did you do today?” or “What did you learn at school, today?” Try it sometime with children of any age. I bet you’ll be surprised. Storytelling is an art, a craft, a gift. It’s the ability to frame reality and distill it into something true for your listener. Storytellers know the difference between truth and fact. Storytellers know which details to emphasize and build up and which ones to tone down or ignore completely. We are endlessly enamored with (or disgusted by!) the stories we tell ourselves everyday, as well as the stories others tell us. Stories can heal and connect.

The Positive Power of Storytelling

Last June I had the opportunity to attend a storytelling workshop/lecture/experience (I don’t even know what to call it!) led by Mark Yaconelli of The Hearth. I showed up to the lecture exhausted and not sure what to expect. Thirty minutes into the lecture and I was completely captivated and energized. The ideas from that one workshop have been marinating in my brain all summer. Mark led us through a few short opportunities to tell stories to one another and to reflect on their power. The prompts were simple, but each one was different, and Mark drew something different out of each one.  In just a few minutes, through the power of storytelling, he helped our Presbytery community bond, and laugh, and hold sacred space for one another. It was, hands down, the most powerful use of time at a Presbytery Meeting I’ve ever experienced. (For those who don’t know, a Presbytery meeting is a business meeting for church people). I walked away from that meeting convinced that there was something I would do to begin using stories with my congregation. I am really looking forward to Mark’s future work on this, hopefully including a more in depth “how to” manual or book. If/when such a book comes in to being, I’ll be first in line to buy and read it. For now, though, I’ll be putting in to practice some of the things I learned that day.

Using Storytelling in a Church Setting (aka “Mini Storytelling”)

One of the things Mark suggested was that we have people share stories with each other every week, either as a part of the sermon or a reflection on it. At my church this summer, we’ve not done this every week, but we’ve tried it a few of times, and it’s been great. Here’s how it worked: after the sermon I asked folks to gather around in groups of two or three to answer a question together. The first time the question was about calling “Tell about a time when you felt called by God to do something.” The second time was after a sermon on Deborah and the prompt was “Tell a story about an important woman of faith in your life and what she meant to you.”  The third time we tried storytelling in my congregation was yesterday, and the question was “Tell a story about a time you learned something from someone who was different than you in some significant way.” 

In each case, folks came up to me afterward and talked about how meaningful the moment had been for them. One of the most valuable parts of the exercise was the fact that it allowed people who didn’t know each other very well to talk about something at a deeper level. I intend to continue with this practice from time to time, mixing up the questions. I think the questions will sometimes flow from the sermon topic, but other times might just be a way of building community and friendship among the congregation. Some of the prompts I’m thinking about:

  • Share the story of your name, or something about your name (either first or last)
  • Tell about a favorite worship hymn or song and why you like it
  • Pick one moment from the past day (or week) for which you are grateful and share
  • Share a favorite vacation spot from childhood

Using Storytelling to Build Community in Small Groups

Another time I used the lessons learned in this storytelling workshop was in training some Bible Study leaders who were preparing to teach a year long study on the book of Hebrews. I broke them up into groups and asked them to tell stories to each other. The first was a story about a place from childhood where they felt safe and happy. The second was a story about their first childhood crush. The third was a longer storytelling exercise about their faith journey. The first two came directly from the experience I had at the workshop with Mark Yaconelli. The third was more related to the study we were discussing. After each time of storytelling we reflected a little bit about what the experience of both telling the story and hearing the stories was like. I gave no guidelines for the storytellers other than to try and help the listeners feel very engaged in the story through description and detail. The guidelines for the listeners were also simple: Listen fully. Don’t check your phone or doodle on the page. Don’t ask questions or add to the story or comment in any way. Just accept the story and say “thank you.” The leaders walked away from the experience inspired to do more storytelling with their Bible Study groups and to encourage the groups to tell stories in this very simple way. One person came up to me after the  training and said she’d be using the storytelling in her classroom.

Larger Storytelling Events

One of the things that I heard about at the workshop was the idea of holding larger storytelling “events” centered around a theme. This is not something I’ve ever done, but I am very curious about it. If your church has ever done this, or if you’ve been a part of one in your community, I’d love to learn more. The idea is a lot like The Moth podcast, I think, where folks come forward to tell a story related to a theme. The stories, as Mark described, are carefully practiced and rehearsed so they have a strong beginning, middle and end. The stories are designed to impact the listener in a specific way both individually and collectively. I’ve put out some feelers about this in my congregation, and folks seem interested. I think the process of putting the event together as well as the actual event itself would be very powerful. I thought it was interesting that Mark described the process of helping participants craft their stories as being similar to the process of spiritual direction.

Intergenerational Storytelling

Another thing I think would be very powerful would be to incorporate intergenerational elements to this storytelling focus in the congregation. What would it look like to have little conversation starters at the table at fellowship events, or questions that are focused on a particular universal age and stage in life. What about asking children and adults alike to share the story of losing their first tooth or a favorite experience around the Christmas tree? What if we asked older and younger members to talk about their favorite parts of the worship service? The power of storytelling for both younger and older members is invaluable, I think, and learning from those who are in different life stages is a great way to build bridges, understanding and mentorship.

So what about you? What experiences of storytelling do you have in the church or outside the church? What ideas can you add to this conversation? I’d love to hear more from churches who have put some of these ideas in to practice! Please comment here and share your thoughts!

Back to School Traditions!

Yesterday we all piled into the van for the annual school supplies shopping trek. I feel like not much has changed there since I was a child. Some of the exact same items are on the list, in fact. First, there’s the “mostly easy to find but one or two impossible things to find” item. in our case purple pocket folders with brads in the middle. Plenty of red, blue, yellow and green, but purple? Nowhere to be found. Next there’s the famous “thanks for being so specific, but I’m not getting that” item. For us two boxes of two hundred-count unscented Kleenex fit the bill. The 180 count boxes will have to suffice. Who can forget the  “We’re not getting that because it’s not on the list” item? In Clayton and Sam’s case, many things items including (but not limited to) Skittles, office chairs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil sharpeners, and post-it notes in the shape of arrows fit this description. Ah the joys. Although some parts of back to school shopping are a drag, it’s also really great. I love the tradition of it all, the reminder that something new is about to happen, and the hopefulness that comes with the start of a new year.

Obviously, I love traditions. A full 1/3 of Faithful Families is dedicated to them. The back to school tradition in the book is included at the end of this post. Before we get to that, though, I thought I’d give a shout out to a few other traditions that I think are really great.

Back to School Benedictions

This idea comes from writer and podcaster Osheta Moore who runs the great website Shalom in the City. Her entire post is on this topic is so lovely and heartfelt and you must read it in full to appreciate the idea. Basically, you come up with a benediction for the school year with your child, write it down, and photograph it. Head over to the post for full details and photos of Osheta’s lovelies. I absolutely love this idea, and think it’s a great way to frame the new year with your children. I enjoy Osheta’s work, and think you will too!

Back to School Pictures

These are becoming pretty popular, and I think a nice back to school picture on the first day is a great idea! (Warning: one thing that’s wrong with them is that they can contribute to a sense of “I’m doing it wrong” among parents when the first day doesn’t go as planned, the child doesn’t sit still for the picture — or doesn’t want a picture — or when something just doesn’t feel “picture perfect” in life. If this feels like you this year I urge you, in fact I challenge you to ditch the first day of school picture! Your child will not be scarred for life if he/she does not have a neat and tidy photo from the first day of school for every year. It’s fine!) There are plenty of places online to get free printable signs to hold up that say “First day of Kindergarten” and so forth. It’s fun to see folks taking their back to school pictures by the same tree or whatever. When I was little, we always took photos in front of the fireplace.

Back to School Breakfast

If you can swing it, having a back to school breakfast is a fun idea. If parents are able to go in to work late, or if a special guest can come over or Skype in (hi grandma and grandpa!) it could make the first day extra special. Perhaps having something a little indulgent (donuts?!) in addition to healthy brain food could be a good addition to the first day of school. 

Back to School Acts of Service

I think it’s always fun to think about a way to do something kind or nice in connection with a special day like the first day of school. I’ve been wondering about some acts of service that might work well for back to school. If you’ve got a tradition that your family does around this, I’d love it if you shared it in the comments. For our family, it’s going to be to make up an extra bag of school supplies for each child’s classroom (and add a little gift card to Office Max or Target). We’ll write a note to the teacher telling him or her that the gift is intended for anyone who needs them. If we’re really lucky, we’ll track down some more of those purple folders with brads for others who weren’t able to find them!  I think it’s a good reminder not to take school supplies for granted, and I got the idea from a former counselor from my child’s school who told me they have resources for students who need supplies, but can always use some extras so they don’t have to come out of the teacher’s pocket.

Back to School Footprint Tradition

This is the tradition in my book Faithful Families. My son Samuel and I made a video to explain it. Check it out if you haven’t seen it already:

I’m very excited that Chalice Press is allowing us to offer the back to school practice from the book as a PDF for you completely free. Just download HERE!

What are your back to school traditions? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these as well as ideas for others. Please feel free to share in the comments!

Someone You Should Know: Matthew Paul Turner

I guess you could say I have Amazon.com to thank for my emerging friendship with Matthew Paul Turner, the author of When God Made You. You see, whenever I checked the Amazon listing for Faithful Families *ahem* yes, I look up my own book *ahem* I noticed it said “frequently bought with When God Made You.” (Seriously, check it out, I do not tell a lie). Now, just FYI, in case you don’t know how Amazon’s “frequently bought with” works, it’s basically saying “Here’s a *really fancy* book that people who like your book also like.” And so I thought “hmm…. what’s so fancy about this book?” I mentioned it in an email to Chalice Press’ publicist, (mutual friend of Matthew’s and mine) and she was like “Squeee! Great author! Great book! Gah!” and so I ordered the book.
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Y’all. I cried when I read this book. “Mommy, why are you crying?” my children asked. “Because this book is talking about how much God loves you and it’s just like how I love you, and sometimes when you think about all the love, you cry.” I said. I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. The illustrations are captivating. The words are true. I fell in love with the book. Then I got it. The book has sold like wildfire for one simple reason: It’s an amazing book.
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Matthew Paul Turner’s book is written for children. It’s a “bedtime story” type a book. But oh my goodness if you are the type of parent who likes Faithful Families type stuff, you will want this book in your library. If you are a parent who wants to connect with your children in ways that make them know in their hearts that God loves them, this is your book. This book is by my people for my people. Go get it.
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I asked Matthew if he’d consider answering some questions on the blog about the book for y’all and he very graciously said yes. The answers to the questions made me love the book even more (if that were even possible.) Just hearing the stories about how the illustrator took on the book as a first foray into faith based stuff and how the book was inspired, over time, by looking into the face of a newborn baby boy… sold. Done, done and done. So, without further ado I present: Matthew Paul Turner.

Matthew Paul Turner, Author

TS: You are the author of the bestselling children’s book When God Made You,  a beautifully written and illustrated book for children about their amazing worth in God’s eyes. It’s one of the favorite bedtime stories in our home right now and I love reading it to my children. So excited to have you stopping by the website to talk about the book. How did you get started writing children’s books? Is it something that you always wanted to do, or something you stumbled upon? Tell us the story! 

MPT: First of all, thank you for inviting me to your online home. I’m truly honored.

When I became a parent and started reading picture books to my oldest son, Elias, I was surprised by two things: 1) I was blown away by how involved in the story Elias became as I read to him. Even when he couldn’t say words and sentences, he was fully engaged when I read to him—smiling and clapping and pointing out objects on the pages. Even though I’d always loved children’s books, I’d forgotten how intimate and sincere the connections are between kids and their favorite books. And 2), as a person of faith who wanted to read stories about God and faith to my kids, I became frustrated with the selection of books that are available. So often, I’d be reading a Christian storybook to my kid and I’d think, “this is kind of boring” or I’d sigh, “I wished they’d not included that piece of information.” Now, there are certainly many books about God that are just lovely, delightful reminders of God’s love and goodness. But even many of those books were presented in such a way that they didn’t create the connections with my kids and I that so many other books about everyday things seemed to created. So, amid those experiences, I began to wonder if I’d be able to create a children’s book about God that was fun and positive and easy to read. At some point I mentioned the idea to Jessica (my wife) and she loved the idea. In fact, she started pushing me to do it.

[TS: Interruption — Do y’all know who Jessica is? She runs the Mom Creative, a blog full of all kinds of amazingness. I’m also a fan of the FB live videos she does on her page. Back to the regularly scheduled programming.]

Jessica kept encouraging me for a few months before I actually started putting time and energy into the process. Maybe a year and a couple months later, I’d written what I believed could be my first kids’ book. Little did I know that I would go on to receive some variation of “no, we’re not interested” from 11 publishers. A year or so later, Jessica and I decided to self publish my book. That book—at the time, called God Made Light, but it re-releases in February as When God Made Light—sold 5000 copies in 9 months.

As I was starting to write When God Made You, one of the publishers that had initially said no, came back and said they were interested. Eight months later, I was contracted to release 2 children’s books with Waterbrook Press.

That’s the longer, less glorious answer. *Smile*

TS: I love long answers! When God Made You is a story about every person’s worth. It is a story where children are able to delight in the fact that God delights in them. (Gah! Just writing that gets me a bit teary.) How did you come up with the vision behind the story and the words? 

Writing When God Made You took much longer than many might imagine. As I started the process of writing a second children’s book, the only thing I knew in the beginning is that I wanted the theme to be about God creating us. I jotted down ideas and hooks for at least a month, but I was not happy with any of them.

At the time, Ezra (our youngest) was only a month or so old. I was rocking him one night, singing hymns as well as words I was making up on the fly. Somewhere in the middle of that, I sang something like, “You, you, oh Ezra I love you…” The “you, you” part clicked and as soon as I put him down to sleep, I went and wrote down the first line of the book: “You, you, when God made you, God made you all shiny and new.”

From there, my goal was to create a prose that moved me. I wrote words and phrases and ideas that I not only wished I’d been told as a child, but also messages that I needed to hear today.

I’ll never forget this one moment… Sometimes, for a change of scenery, I’ll drive somewhere and walk around and write on my iPhone. On this occasion, I was walking around a grocery store parking lot on a Saturday afternoon when I wrote the words, “So be you—FULLY YOU—a show-stopping revue. Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue…” I still am prone to get teary when I read that line or I hear Adeline (my 6-year-old) read those words to her little brother.

But that’s how the words to When God Made You came to be… I wrote words that moved me. I wrote words that I wanted my kids to know. I wrote words that I wished I had known as a child.

TS: The illustrations in the book are captivating. Can you tell us about the process of collaborating with the illustrator? How did you two find each other? Did you give direction on what you wanted the illustrations to be or look like? What do you know about the illustrator’s process? 

For years, I have loved and worked with Shannon Marchese, my editor at Waterbrook Press. She’s one of those people whose talent and skill I trust. Between 2008 and 2011, she and I worked together on my two memoirs, Churched and Hear No Evil. I learned so much about storytelling and humor and story arc under her guidance. I really trust her instincts. She’s a big reason I landed a children’s book deal. She believed in what I was doing almost from the beginning. In fact, even when her publisher said no, she took my idea BACK to the editorial board in hopes of changing their minds. That didn’t happen then. But after we self published the first book, she took my ideas back to the editorial board again and got a yes. So, needless to say, I love her dearly, as an editor and a friend.

And she believed in this book as much as I did.

Anyway, as soon as we signed the contract, Shannon and I started discussing possible illustrators. She’d send me portfolios and then we’d talk.

Toward the end of the process, she sent me David Catrow’s portfolio and said, “What do you think?”

I knew David’s art, but I didn’t know his name. I knew of his beautiful and colorful and sometimes humorous approach to illustrating a story, but I honestly didn’t know who he was or how I knew his talent. But after like 2 seconds on his website, I wrote back to Shannon with an exuberant “Yes! I LOVE him.”

But I honestly didn’t get my hopes up. Because my book was about God and as far as I could see, David hadn’t illustrated any religious content before. Which I thought was a huge plus. But still, I didn’t start cheering until his agent said that David was in and that he loved the manuscript.

But contrary to popular opinion, David and I didn’t work together on the illustrations. He’s the artist. And while I saw and approved and offered a few thoughts here and there, the visual magic of When God Made You is all David’s doing. He brought my words to life in a way that I could never have imagined. It’s both human and supernatural. God is present throughout. But God is never seen.

I just got his penciled drawings for When God Made Light a few weeks ago. And oh my gosh… he’s just brilliant.

TS: When God Made You uses gender neutral language for God (on behalf of a bajillion people, thank you for that!) Can you share a little bit about that choice and what it means for you? 

MPT: Thank you for asking this question. I grew up believing God was a “he”. And I engaged God as a “he” during my 20s and well into my 30s. I didn’t realize to what degree my “he” perspective limited my understandings and interactions with God. That started to change in the last 10 years or so. Over the last decade, I’ve come to see how pronouns have affected my view of God—specifically, the male pronoun, since it’s by far the gender that people of faith have used and continue to use the most when talking about the divine.

Now, any time I sing a song that uses a pronoun, I almost always change the lyric to reflect how I think about God and to reflect how I talk about God with my own children.

So, all of that said, when I set out to write children’s books about God, I intentionally set out to create a prose that avoided any language that would assign God a gender. Inserting a pronoun into the text of When God Made You would have immensely changed the book and its message. I wanted this book to be one that, if you believed in God, you could read it. For children who have troubled relationships (or no relationships at all) with their fathers or mothers, I wanted this book to be a safe place for them to engage God’s story. I take very seriously the idea that something I write might help shape a child’s concepts of God. And so, with that in mind, I avoided pronouns because using “he” (or “she,” for that matter) can limit or shape our understandings of who God is and how God sees us and how comfortable we feel interacting with God.

And you know what? As far as I have noticed, only 1 person has complained in a review about me never using “he” in this book. And yet, I’ve received a plethora of comments and messages from people who are grateful that they have a book about God that they can happily read to their kids without tripping over a pronoun for God.

TS: One of the things I feel is true about your book is that it  has great potential to reach folks who have been disillusioned by the church and frustrated with narrow minded messages about who God is and who Jesus is. Have you found the book has that sort of “crossover” potential?  

MPT: The response to When God Made You has been amazing, honestly overwhelming. I’ve received so many messages from a variety of readers from all different backgrounds, and yes, many have come from people disillusioned by church and religion and from those outside of the Christian demographic. It’s been so beautiful to hear from people who are agnostic or followers of Islam or Buddhist, sharing with me how they read my book with their children or how my book is the first Christian book they’ve kept on their bookshelves. Those kinds of letters/messages been a really cool part of this journey.

TS: Resources like When God Made You are so rare. What other resources for children and parents are you excited about these days? 

Some of the books about faith and God that I love are these…

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval

Maybe God is Like That Too by Jennifer Grant

Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[TS Note: I fully approve of all of these books as well… gold stars!]

TMS: What’s next for you? I seem to remember seeing that you have another book coming out, illustrated by the same illustrator. Is that correct? Is it a new work or a second publication of one of your former works? 

MPT: My next children’s book comes out in February 2018. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the republication of God Made Light as When God Made Light. It’s been re-edited and David Catrow completely re-illustrated it for Waterbrook Press/Random House.

 

And God willing, I’ll be writing more. I’ve got a few ideas I’m working on now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more soon.

But I have to say: I’m truly enjoying this new creative venture. Writing children’s books has surprised me in many ways—for one thing, it’s more life-giving than anything I’ve worked on before and the process has offered my own soul much healing. So, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue doing it for at least a little while longer.

TS PS (ha! that rhymes!): I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know what MPT’s career trajectory will be. I do know that the “books about God that don’t make us say ‘ugh, this is boring,’ or ‘um, I wish they didn’t say that'” niche is exploding. And, if the sales of Faithful Families and When God Made You are any indication, it’s a shift that will continue. I hope that Matthew continues to write lots of children’s books.

Find Matthew

on Insta, matthewpaulturner

the interwebs: www.matthewpaulturner.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/matthewpaulturner

Twitter @heyMPT

Obviously get When God Made You and preorder When God Made Light.

Thank you so much, Matthew! Congratulations and good luck! Thank you for bringing so much life and joy in to so many homes… keep doing what you do. Can’t wait to see it!