passionate. not terrible. passionate.

She sits there in her room, tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens surround her, a crooked tiara on her head and streaks of orange marker are drawn on her leg from her kneecap to her hot pink painted toenails.

She is forty pounds and forty some inches tall. She is three and she is the fiercest tiny human I have ever known.

I can’t remember whether we were discussing which pajamas she should wear for the night or who should put them on her. But I remember her being assertive with me. She was fierce when she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, No mommy. I will do it myself. Humpf.

After having three boys in three years when I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time I was certain it would be another boy. Boys were what I knew. Surely God was not going to challenge me with the newness of raising a daughter. 

Oh but God has a funny way about things and He did in fact turn my world upside-down and gave us that daughter. We have loved more than we thought we could love and I personally have been challenged more than I thought I would be raising something supposedly filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.

We are so grateful. I am so grateful for her. Our little girl, the last of four children in four years and the only girl, she is precious to all of us.

But she is so fierce. Frustratingly fierce. Passionate. Wanting to go about things her own way. Princess dresses, painted-toes, Batman masks and Boba Fett blasters.

She regularly will grab her brothers and scratch them so close to their eyeballs, leaving Harry Potter-like scratch marks on their foreheads.

She pushes smaller children at play dates. Moments worthy of making me want to crawl into the playhouse and hide or maybe cry.

She was the first of my four children to try out a passion-filled shut up to my face while I was correcting her.

And a few weeks ago while we were visiting my grandmother and grandfather in New York my grandmother had asked one of her kind friends if she would watch our four kids for us while my husband and I attended a grown-ups only event. When we returned there was my girl asleep on the floor. She had protested with my grandmother’s friend all night long. My grandmother’s friend reported to me that the boys were great and she couldn’t understand much of what my girl said all night except when she looked her in her eyes and clear as day said to her, “YOU are NOT welcome here.” 

She just straight-up tells selfless, helpful friends of her great-grandmother they are not welcome. sigh.


My sweet forty pound daughter. The girl with the big bows in her whispy brown hair and bangles all the way up her arm can be quite challenging. And yesterday as she was being assertive with me I felt the words creeping into my head. Terrible Twos. Even though she is not two anymore. Those words terrible and twos were lurking in the back of my head.

I had to remind myself.

Challenging, yes. 

Terrible, no. 

Fierce, tenacious, passionate. Yes.

Terrible, no.

Assertive, opinionated, strong-willed. Yes.

Terrible. No.

In the moments when the anger starts to bubble beneath the surface and my vat of patience is running low I find myself grabbing on the posh words of parenting which often flash in my face on the Facebook Newsfeed. Terrible Twos, threenager. This is how the world sees her.

And honestly. I have written about this before and finding myself needing to write about this again. These posh sayings are not helpful to me as a parent at all. Parenting is difficult enough. And when you are drowning the last thing you need is the world chanting bitter snarky sayings to you from the top deck. Oh you’re drowning, yeah that’s terrible. It will be a year of terrible, terrible drowning. And then the next year of it will be even worse, but good luck with that.

What I need when I feel the hard prongs of raising up children is someone to throw me a life preserver and hop in the water with me.

And when I breathe deeply, I remember God is with me in the difficult waters. Not shouting unhelpful sayings from the boat but right in the difficult waters.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.

Isaiah 43:2

I can chose to breathe deeply, step out of my frustration, my impatience and on Sundays the crazy eyes produced by my aching pride when she is tenacious in front of a crowd in the front row at church.

I can pray for more peace. More patience. More self-control.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

John 14:27

I can breathe deeply and see the child standing in front of me, in the middle of the tiny plastic pieces treasures, books, and feather pens; with the crooked tiara and the orange marker drawn on her leg.

I can breathe and I can see her as God sees her. Precious. Uniquely knit together. Wonderfully made. A passionate girl in a crooked tiara trying to sort out this thing called life the same way I am.

And then I can be moved to compassion for her. I can remember that sometimes feeling great passion for things produces great emotion. And while I am a grown up and do not experience great passion about pajamas, my sweet girl has only been picking out and putting on her own clothes for a few months now and she does indeed experience great passion about pajamas.

And in my compassion I can correct her outside of my anger and impatience. I can help teach her proper words and tones for communicating independence because while I can be gracious and identify with big emotions and tenacity I will not tolerate sass or disrespect. Girl may be fierce but girl must be respectful to her momma.

And I can remember she is in the waters too. That God is with her. The rivers of passion and difficulty will not consume her either.

That in these challenging passionate days in the middle of tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens, crooked tiaras and streaks of orange marker down her legs, the Lord is near and He is working on both of our hearts.

We are on a journey. It feels terrible but we will get through it. And God promises the waves of difficulty will not overcome either of us.

Teach Them To Pray

I am currently reading Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer. I am the kind of reader who reads the last chapter when I am about halfway through a book, the anticipation of the last words is the kind of anticipation that causes me to read the end before the middle. I cave. Every book, every time.

Keller’s last words on Prayer say, “Why are we settling for water when we could have wine?” 

This question rips through me. Prayer can be something that we as human beings just spin around on the circle of what we have always known. We know to pray when we are in trouble and need help or we pray and ask God to give us what we want. That is what I have always done and this kind of prayer is right and biblical, “give us this day our daily bread” simply means give us what we need, help us Lord.

When I get stuck on the wheel of the “I want” and “help me” prayers, also known in the church as supplication prayers, I find myself settling for water instead of wine. Prayer becomes very much about me and what I want and less about God. The relationship of prayer is one-sided and I become the main event. When I make prayer about me, I am settling for water.

I can have access to wine when I seek to have a two-sided relationship with the God of The Universe. When my prayer requests for everything that is wrong around me become only a part of my prayer life instead of the only thing I pray for is when I will break the hamster wheel of spinning around what I have always known about prayer.

This is hard to do. In the world of weight lifting it is recorded that “It takes 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions to burn a movement into your body’s muscle memory.” a minimum of 3,000 times at the generous amount of praying three times a day (Keller’s book suggests two) would take you 1,000 days to change the muscle memory of your prayers. This is three years! Three years of forcing yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and feel the soreness and pains of a new workout.

As adults it is much harder for us to change our ways. Most of us are already set in the way we do things. Especially when we do not live in community with others who are committed to the process of walking in this life as Christians and committed to growth and change in their watery prayer lives.

As I read Keller’s book all I can think about is, “What if my kids just always knew how to have a vibrant prayer life?” What if my kids just always heard prayer as a two-sided relationship, a conversation of the peeling back of our hearts and praise to the One who desperately wants them?

At night I pray with my sons and around 18 months I will begin to pray with my daughter at night time by their beds. Sometimes I am tired and I settle for the watery prayers of safety while they sleep and protection over their thoughts and their dreams. But I never forget to say, “Lord, please change the hearts of my kids so they know you and love you with all their heart and give them friends and spouses that love you with their whole hearts too.”

I say this so often that while talking to my youngest son (3) about the gospel just the other day, I went through the normal questions…

1. What did Jesus do? (He died on the cross)

2. Why did Jesus die on the cross? (For our sins)

3. Did Jesus stay on the cross? (No, He rose again and He lives forever in heaven)

4. What does it mean if you believe Jesus died on the cross for you sins? (We can live forever with Him in heaven where there is no more crying and no more bad guys)

Instead of the answer I normally get from our children to question two, Jesus died for my sins, my three year old confidently said, “Jesus died for my heart.”

My three year old basically smacked me in the face with the same words I have been praying over his bed since he was 18 months old. “Jesus died for my heart.” What a beautiful picture of the gospel to see in that moment. Jesus wants our whole hearts, not just the pieces we offer to give Him when we feel like we need Him. We need him all the time, the chaos of our hearts just prevents us of seeing that clearly.


What if we could teach our kids to pray so we could break the “settling for water” cycle and our kids just always knew how to have access to the wine: the rich, full-bodied relationship that you can find in prayer if you choose to train your muscles differently.

What if our children just always knew that Jesus wants our hearts in prayer? 

Here are a few suggestions. I am not an expert so I know there are more legitimate resources out there for teaching children how to pray. I am just a mom, not a theologian or a parenting expert, these are the tools that are working for me to teach my kids to pray. 

1. Pray so often that it isn’t something they feel like they have to do but they feel like prayer is something they can’t live without.

2. Pray when you discipline them before they leave time out. Ask for forgiveness and thank Jesus for paying the penalty of sin on the cross.

3. Pray for them on the way to school. Turn the radio off and ask what they need Jesus to give them for that day. On the way home, ask if Jesus helped them and if He did pray in praise to God so they can see the tangible work of God in their lives.

4. Pray scripture with your kids. Teach them to access God through His words, not just our human words. Let the words from the Bible saturate your words when you pray with them. Recently, my six year old was struggling with seeing scary images from a television show at night time. He was working on memorizing Philippians 4:8 (Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.) We just prayed those scriptures at night and then I followed up to see if God answered His prayers.

5. Use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework to teach them to pray:

Adoration prayers: prayers about how awesome God is. (Our Father Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be Your Name)

Confession prayers: specific ways about how we fall short of the glory and holiness of God. (Forgive us our debts)

Thankfulness prayers: thankfulness for things but also salvation and the rescuing of our hearts (This gives us the recognition of the Giver of all things, 1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Supplication prayers: prayers asking God to help us, heal us, protect us (Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil, )

6. Model going to God in prayer and praying full bodied prayers rich with relationship.

7. This may be a harsh one but when I find my kids asking for material things or wanting things in the store that they don’t need, I ask them to think of the things God has already given to them and pray with thanksgiving for what they already have.

As I read Tim Keller’s Book on Prayer, I can only dream and hope that my sons and my daughter will one day pick the same book up twenty years from now and think, yeah, my parents taught me to pray like this.

The next generation of believers could be so great and full of faith if we simply changed our water for wine and  taught our sons and daughters to grow more deeply in their prayer life.

May my kids, your kids and the kids of every tribe, tongue and nation never know a day without giving God their hearts in full-bodied prayer.

Parenting In The Pew: How I Prepare

This is the third post of a three part series. Please find the other entries here:

Part 1: The Journey And The Destination
Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

Over the years I’ve gotten better at doing as much as I can the night before worship. For us, worship begins on Saturday night.

The night before everyone is bathed, in bed on time with clothes and church shoes set out in their rooms.

I also set out breakfast which is something easy for now: cereal or the occasional box of Entenmann’s Donuts. Sometimes I also do frozen Eggo waffles because I just can’t deal with the spilled milk and donut crumbs. (Yes I do cry over spilt milk.)

I have bags packed Saturday night and sometimes even lunch prepped for after church if I am feeling really ambitious.

It helps for me to be well rested as well so while my kids are little I try to make it to bed by 10pm.

For now there are a few things I pack in their worship bag. They each get a small snack sized ziplock bag with a snack and a sippy cup. The only other thing in their bag is maybe a children’s bible and the iPad.

The babies have their normal diaper bag packed along with a special treat to keep them happy while I say hello to friends after church.

During breakfast in the morning, on a good day, I Play the songs that we will be singing that morning. Our worship director is great about sending a link to the YouTube videos for the Sunday morning songs. This helps my non readers sing along because they have heard the songs before hand.

In the mornings I always try to leave a ten minute “pooping window” before we need to leave. Someone always seems to poop especially when I am running a little behind.

When I get to church…

It helps to take them to the bathroom right before the service. After that they are not allowed to use the bathroom during the church. If you let them go one Sunday, they will try it every Sunday. We potty before the service.

It helps to be early and be settled. If I’m rushed my kids feel it. Sometimes I have exited Sunday school a little early just so I could be sure we had enough time to potty and be settled in the service.

Then I pray. I breathe in grace and exhale to moments when I feel like crawling under the pew.
Like when a sippy cup rolled all the way up to the front during a baptism or when one of my sons yells, is this over yet?

Finally, my husband is working with our oldest boys on elements of worship like The Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology. At this age their memories are like little sponges and it is so simple to teach them to memorize things like this. Even my two year old can roughly sing the Doxology.

Final Encouragements For Your Journey

This is a journey. What is working now might not be working a few months from now. But know on this journey are working towards teaching our children that worship is about God and worship requires active listening. With final destination in mind It is easier to see less of what others are thinking of of wiggly kids or the goldfish that may fall on the floor and more of that grace we need when we need it.

Most importantly, remember to accept others where they are on the journey. If a baby is crying, show compassion. If a mom is in the pew alone because dad is out of town, grab a little hand and help them with their tally marks.

We are all parents trying to raise worshippers.

Parenting in The Pew Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

This is Part Two of my Parenting in the Pew Journey. If you missed Part one find it here: Part 1: The Journey And The Destination

Part Two: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going
When we think of training worshippers as a journey, it is important to use your end result or outcome to help you develop achievable expectations. It helps to start with the end in mind. Just like a wise teacher or a smart business person starts with the end result we too should think about what kind of worshipers we want our kids to be 20 years from now.

For us our destination is two fold.

We want our children to understand worship is not about them or what they “need” from church and we want our children to develop into active listeners.

So the objectives I am working on look like this:

Worship is about God.

I want my children to be active listeners in church.

These two objectives shape everything on a Sunday morning for me. Everything.

Objective 1: Children will understand worship is about God.

This means worship is not about my kids and their entertainment. I have learned this the hard way. Mountains of coloring books, sticker books, matchbox cars, mazes. I spent almost four and a half years lugging around huge bags of activities until I realized those heavy bags were not only making me sweaty but those bags were working against my most valued objective.

Twenty years from now I don’t want worshippers that spend the service only doodling in the bulletin or playing tic tac toe with their brothers. The heavy bag was working against my first objective because I was showing my kids that I valued their entertainment over my first objective.

Worship is not about my children or their entertainment.

Worship is about God.

I have learned the hard way that coloring books and activities to entertain my kids during the service are actually working against me on the journey to my final destination.

Objective 2: our children will work towards active listening in church.

My goal is not, I want my children to be still and quiet statues in the pew. I can look still and quiet while I am counting all the tiny holes in the speakers up above the PowerPoint screen.

My long term goal is to have active listeners at the end of this journey. So if my children need to wiggle or make a joyful noise unto The Lord, as long as they are actively listening, I really don’t care anymore. I have small kids. We wiggle and we don’t completely know how to whisper.

I can give myself and them grace in this. Active listening and participation looks different in a five year old than it does in an adult. Honestly, visualize a kindergarten classroom compared to a college classroom or even an eighth grade classroom.

Currently, I am teaching active listening through recording tally marks. This keeps my sons busy and aligns with my two objectives.

On Friday I preview the sermon topic, look at the songs we will sing and I help my boys think of names of God they might want to listen for during the service.

They listen for the names of God during worship and tally them either on the iPad or on paper. In the beginning, I would give them a tootsie roll or a lollipop when the made it to five tallies. I needed them to see the reward quickly at first, Then I increased the reward to ten tallies and then twenty.

Recently I have found myself hardly giving out any prizes at all as they learn to just listen without the motivation.

My hope is this will turn into listening for different words, topics and eventually main ideas and note taking.

I use a free tally app on the iPad.


Not every week is perfect. Just on Easter Sunday my three and five year old where having a whisper fight whether or not to have eyes open or eyes closed during the congregational prayer. In these moments it helps to take a big breath and see the larger picture. One slip up on Easter might help you give yourself and your kids a little more grace when it feels like one step forward and three (or four) steps back on the journey.

Ah. And grace. There is abundant grace. I just read this Timothy Keller quote, “God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.”

Ah. One Sunday at a time in the pew. God gives me the grace I need one Sunday at a time in the pew. And God is giving our kids the grace they need one Sunday at a time in the pew.

One Final Piece Helping Us Get To Out Destination
Location, Location, Location. We take a front row seat. If my conviction on worship is “worship is about God” we will have a front row seat.

I am a big Dave Matthews fan, like it or not, and when I go to a Dave concert it is all about DMB. I am going to sit as close as to the front as I can because I want the best experience I can have. Same with Reds games. No one calls the box office and says, “I would like to sit as far away from the action as possible.”

Location helps. We sit in the front so my small kids can see everything and do not have to squirm to see over rows and rows of people three times their size.

Also, in regards to location, sit in front of people who like you having your kids in the pew with you. I have developed a great friendship with the family that sits behind us. They know what I am trying to do and can fill in for me even when I am not able to be at church. My friend has even been ready to record a tally mark or her hands have been open for a quick pass of the baby when a curve ball comes my way.

Remember. This is a journey. Keep the destination in mind. Location. And grace.

“God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.” -Timothy Keller

While on this parenting in the pew journey there is the grace we need. One Sunday at a time.

Parenting in The Pew: The Journey And The Destination

In my short five years of parenting multiple children in the pew I have had some successes and many failures.

The magic formula for getting all my kids to sit still in worship must have missed my mailbox somehow. I’ve struggled.

I have read the books, been to the seminars and searched the blogs but my kids are as unique as snowflakes and no one book is one size fits all.

Nothing is a one size fits every child so I have learned up on my kids, prayed for wisdom, watch other families and taken pieces from the books, blogs and seminars.

Parenting in the pew will be a twenty some year journey for us. We only have five years under our belt so we are really just beginning.

Parenting in the pew

This journey is different for everyone because we are different parents raising different children. What your children need in the pew will look differently from what it has looked like for my family.

You should know that although my husband may be present next to me, my husband is at work on Sunday morning so this makes our parenting in the pew journey a little unique and challenging for me as I try to parent without my greatest and favorite partner in life.

You should also know I am fairly new at church. I’ve been a Christian for almost ten years now and a parent for five of those years.

I joke that something in the worship service always seems new to me. Songs, scriptures, liturgy. So just because I am married to a man involved in the service does not make me any more equipped to handle those surprise curve balls.

Both the newness of church and my husband being at work bring uniqueness to my parenting in the pew story.

I just want to share with you in hopes to encourage you and see that I too am walking alongside you in this journey.

First, you should know and it helps to remember: This is a journey.

Once I think I have it figured out, something changes. A curve ball is always being thrown. As soon as I figure out the pitching pattern the curve ball comes. For me, it is important to expect the curve ball.

And then…when I swing and miss the curve ball I remind myself: This is a journey and next week I’ll have another at bat.

Training Worshippers



It also helps to think of this journey as a journey of training worshippers. For me the main objective is not to have quiet and still children. The objective is to train worshippers.

Every journey has a destination. My objectives for training worshippers simply function as the destination. The objectives function as the “where we are headed” on this journey of parenting in the pew.

I have two main objectives for training my children to be worshippers and like any good teacher I use the objectives to shape how I teach them on each and every Sunday morning.

When I started thinking about my objectives and this journey of parenting in the pew I simply thought about what I want my children to do in worship five years from now, ten years from now and even twenty plus years from now.

What do I want to see my children doing independently at the end of the journey?


I can’t wait to share my objectives with you tomorrow. I have written over two thousand words about this journey so I have broken everything up into three pieces.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two: What Helps