Seek and You Shall Find…Treasure

 

Sometimes I forget.  Do you?  

I get caught up in all the big people stuff, the “important” stuff, the stressful stuff, the adult stuff, and I just forget.  I don’t do it on purpose.  I don’t think any of us do.  And I don’t forget because I want to.  I think most of us long to not forget.  But life, in all of its everydays, its mountaintops and its valleys, push from our sight the very things we have sworn never to forget.

How precious are the times when we remember.

I once remembered when I went on a little nature walk with five little kids; a scavenger hunt for all kinds of fun things.  We looked for “something fuzzy” and “something round.”  We looked for “two kinds of seeds” and “two different leaves.”  We looked for “something beautiful” and for something we would call a “treasure.”

Have you ever taken a nature walk with kids?  The tiniest things become the most amazing miracles in a matter of seconds.  Things we walk past on a daily basis and never even glance at can cause a group of kiddos to drop everything, gather around you and make noises as if the fireworks of Independence Day were exploding overhead.

treasure-387405_1920At the end we gathered together for a “show and tell”.  The kids dumped out their bags, we went though our list, and they showed what they got for each item.  Then on the way back, I told them to look for something they would call a “treasure.”  Something really special like a sparkly rock or a beautiful flower.  And one little red-headed, super-sweaty, incredibly cute little guy looked up at me, squinted and said, “But I already have a whole bag full of treasures.”

And he did.  Because those things he had picked up, and “oohed” and “ahhed” over, and carefully selected from the beautiful property we walked on, those were indeed his treasures.  He saw beauty in each of of the objects he chose.  He saw worth in each rock, stick, leaf and flower.  He saw the value in it all.

The wonder of a child. Faith like a child. As an adult…I sometimes forget. 

I forget the treasures.

Like quiet afternoons and long walks in the evening.

Like sleeping in and not setting alarms.

Like time with friends, campfires and s’mores, watching storms roll in and watching children play.

Morning devotions on my front porch and glimpses of God in the joy of community.

Treasures, hidden in the everyday. 

Just because there are clouds like friends moving away and bills to pay and schedules to coordinate and decisions to make doesn’t mean that sun disappeared.  The treasures are there.  Go look at a flower.  Go play in the rain.  Taste a new food.  Try a new game.  Sit quietly and just remember all the blessings you have had and currently enjoy.

And don’t forget to “ooh” and “ahh” and speak the joy that you can find.  Just like my little red-headed friend shared that morning, find the value, seek the worth, in the the things you have been given.

Do you know love?  You have a treasure, a beautiful gift, a precious present.  

Have you felt the sun on your face?  You have a treasure, a sweet sensation, a quiet moment.  

Has God ever whispered to you?  You have a treasure, incomparable riches, inexplicable value.  

Have you laughed?  Have you hugged?  Have you shared a meal or been blessed by a friend? We have “bags” full of treasures, my friends.  The value cannot be overlooked, especially in the moments where we feel most bankrupt.  We need to open up our hearts, look inside our memories, “count our many blessings, name the one by one,” and see all the treasures.

I’m glad I remembered today.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Cor. 4:7

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-3


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

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Why I’m so Passionate about Families being Together

We recently hosted our second Family VBS at church where families (parents/guardians/grandparents) attend the entire time with their kids. I often get asked, “Why are you so into this family thing?”  I mean, let’s be honest, nobody would say “I’m against families!” but not everyone is as gung-ho about having families spend time together as I am. So, why is it so important to me that families spend time together, especially in the church?

I could give you a lot of answers for that question.

I could tell you that families derive great emotional benefits by spending time together having fun but even more importantly, children who spend time in religious activities report seeing more love and affection in their parents relationship and in their family’s relationships than those who don’t (source).

I could rattle off statistics like the fact that on average, families spend less than 8 hours a week together, 2.5 hours on weekends and only 1/2 hour throughout the week (source). And even if time wasn’t a huge factor, as some studies indicate, the quality of the time matters; for instance, if time together is spent in front of the television, there is actually a detrimental effect but if time together is spent interacting there is a positive effect.

I could share that parents who attend religious services with their kids are more likely to know their children’s social circle and knowing the friends that surround our children has important impacts on everything from school to major life decisions (source).

I could point to the fact that families that spend quality time together, undistracted time or bonding time, “learn to value one another and are less likely to hurt each other” (source).

But, ultimately, my answer to that question has less to do with all the studies and more to do with what I see happening each time I see families truly spending time together.

I see parents laughing with their children.

HydeFamily

Families that have fun together experience stronger bonds, fewer behavioral issues, and more smiles.

I see children holding on to their parents.

I see grandmothers having fun with their grandchildren.

I see grandfathers holding hands with their grandkids.

I see joy. I see hope. I see peace. I see love.

In a very real sense, I see God. 

I firmly believe that God created the family, not just as a unit of reproduction or symbiotic relationships. No, I think He had something much bigger in mind. I truly believe He created family to reveal at Himself to all of us, each and every person.

As Dennis Kinlaw shares in his work Sacred Pedagogy, “The family has roots that our culture cannot see and that the social sciences have no instruments to trace, roots that reach beyond time into the ultimate nature of the eternal reality that we call God.” And while the family has suffered many heartaches over the years, brokenness and hurt, sadness and pain, family still remains and family still defines many of us and family spending time together still has lasting and remarkable benefits for each generation.

So why am I so passionate about families being together, especially at church?  Because in family, I see the beauty of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the revelation of God’s unending love and hope for the future.

The family, as God designed it, is not going to go away. Its roots are too deep and its purposes too long-ranging. It is the Creator’s best instrument to let us know who he is. In fact, it is his divine gift to help us, if we will use it for its original purpose, to enable us, first, to think of him and, second, to know him personally. For before church or state, our Father established the family as his preferred doorway into his holy presence.

Yes, the family is here to stay. All praise to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit for his wisdom, his mercy, and his love.    – Dennis Kinlaw, Sacred Pedagogy


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Revisiting the (Children’s) Sermon

This morning I saw a cartoon in my Facebook newsfeed that showed a pastor in front of the church behind the pulpit saying, “There’s been a complaint from a few of the members that the sermons are too intellectual. The following adult members are invited up front to join the children’s sermon…

At first I chuckled because…haha…but then I stopped and thought about what the cartoon was implying.

First and foremost, it indicated that somehow a children’s sermon would be less intellectual than the sermon offered to the adults.

Second, it made is seem like an adults experiencing something intended to reach children would not be challenged in their faith.

And finally, it seemed to imply that an adult would be insulted to be “lumped in” with the kids.

Ugh.

If you know me at all, even a little bit, you know that my chuckle quickly disappeared, because…ugh. I don’t think any of these things are true nor should be they be perpetuated within our faith communities. Both theologically and socially, these underlying assumptions about the differences between adults and children can actually undermine the church and lead to segregated faith communities where little to no interaction takes place between generations. 

So let’s start with the basics.

Of course we can all recognize there are differences between adults and children. Physically, emotionally, developmentally, and in a myriad of other ways, they are different. They have different needs based on these different stages of development. They have different abilities, both physically and cognitively. They have different likes and dislikes, frameworks through which they view the world.

And therefore, yes, age-appropriate ministry within the church is necessary and valuable.

However, in spite of these differences, there are important spiritual principles that are common to both. Theology, for instance, is something that doesn’t change based on age. The way it is presented might change, but the theology itself should not change. Which means, even in a sermon intended to reach children, the theological content should be such that an adult would learn from it and gain insight from it as well. Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and Buck Denver, shared this response to someone who said that theology was too deep for children:

Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions – grown ups stop asking questions.

Could you explain it to a 3rd grader? If you can’t disciple a 3rd grader, you can’t disciple anyone.

Faith, the foundation upon which we call ourselves children of God, is not only common to the whole community, but actually exemplified in children (according to Christ).  To assume that an adult cannot learn with and from children because adults are at a deeper place in their faith is to lose one of the most precious things about our faith, namely, that it is best experienced and expressed through the life of a child. Just ask Jesus. He repeatedly pointed to children and told his disciples and followers to have faith like them because to them belonged the kingdom of God (Mt. 18:1-6, Mk. 10:13-16, Luke 18:16, 17).

It is not an insult for an adult to be called to learn with and from children; it is what Christ has told us to do. 

What if we re-envisioned the whole sermon?  What if the pastor of the church didn’t see himself as the pastor of the adults only but also to the youth and children? What if the sermon was a time where we learned together, truly together, because the goal wouldn’t be one group being fed while the other was ignored or set aside or one group being entertained with simple stories and surface values while the other group sits hungry for discipleship and theology?  Can that even be done?

I think it can. I think it would mean we all have to bend a little. We’d all have to see one another as more important than ourselves.

Kids would have to listen to some things that developmentally they couldn’t understand and relate to.

Adults would have to humble themselves to a place where they could learn with and from children even if they think they are beyond that.

There would need to be grace given, one to the other, and discipleship offered as we grow together.

But I think it could be done and I think it could be a healthy place for the church to explore helping generations grow together. Simply having a discussion together, as a larger faith community and within our own church, may yield more insight and ideas that we could come up with on our own.  We can know this for sure, “Since  God’s point of communication with all of us is the Word, it’s clear that the Bible must be for children too.

This story from the late 1800s of a pastor and his own interactions with his daughter in church touches me each time I read it. I think there is much to be gleaned from this personal testimony for all of us, but especially those of us who minister within the church.

“Papa, are you going to say anything to-day that I can understand? ‘ asked a little girl of her father— a Massachusetts pastor — as he was setting out for church on a Sabbath morning. This tender appeal touched the loving father’s heart, and he could not answer his daughter nay; he could not say to his child that she must sit in penance through all the long service with never a word designed for her instruction and cheer.

So, as he preached, he said, ‘And now, children, I will say something to you about this.” At once the face of every child in that audience brightened. Sleepy little ones started up ; tired ones took fresh heart.

Looking first at the minister, then at each other, again back to him, they were all eagerness for his message, as though now there was something else for them than to nod and yawn and ache un-cared for; and although the pastor’s following sentences to them were few and simple, doubtless many felt as did the child who had pleaded for this attention when, on her return at noon, she said contentedly, ‘ Papa, I understood all that you said this morning.’

Dear children! Who wouldn’t do as much as this for them in every sermon? — they are gratified so easily.” 

(taken from The Sunday School, its origins, mission, method, and auxilliaries” written by H.C. Trumbull and available free on Google Books.)

Want some practical tips from a working preacher? Check out this blog post!

For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

I don’t know how to talk to my kids about that!

In my conversations with fellow parents, I often hear them say, “I don’t know how to talk about these things with my kids.”  And by these things, I mean, the big thing, the hard things. Things like what happened in Orlando. Things like drugs, sex, and alcohol. Things like peer pressure and social justice. When I’ve heard this said in the past, my tendency as a minister was to find ways to equip, resource and support parents so that they could know “how” to have the conversation.

But my own experience recently has led me to realize that when parents say that they don’t know “how” a lot of times it has less to do with knowledge and resources than it does with opportunity and means.

In other words, we want to have the conversations but..when? how? where?  

How do we even go about bringing these things up? 

It’s not like we can send our kids an embossed letter inviting them to join us for an awkward conversation that could potentially make both of us feel rather uncomfortable. I mean, we could, but…. surely there’s a better way right?

I realize, of course, there are times where it is completely appropriate to be intentional about setting up a specific time to talk about important things (like my girl’s weekend away when our oldest was entering middle school). But I also realize that finding space for these times can be difficult to manage. And frankly sometimes, we can’t hold off in what we need to share, especially when its tied to current events.

This past week I learned the most valuable lesson I ever could have about the “hows” of having these conversations. I learned that all I really need to have these conversations was…time with my children. And by time, I don’t mean a few moments around a dinner table. I mean long periods of uninterrupted time.

For us that looked like hours in a car, hours in the ocean, hours sitting and chatting.

Long periods of time.

friendship-831522_1920I didn’t go into these moments expecting to have intense conversations with my kids. I though I was just going to be driving the car, jumping waves, and enjoying a rest on the porch. And it’s not like the first thing that came up on our conversations were the heavy things, the serious subjects. We started by just chatting and having fun together. But somehow, as time went by, in each conversation, the topic turned to more weighty subjects. Questions were asked. Answers were given. Prayers were said. Hugs were offered. I walked away shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, I did not expect that to come up.”

I’ve come away realizing that when Peter said, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” he may just have been talking about having a conversation with our kids. I’m realizing anew that parenting and discipling children is not something we can take a break from; it is every day, all the time 24/7 and it is something we must always be aware of and engaged in.

So, what can we as parents do?

  1. We can be prepared – Even if we aren’t scheduling a specific conversation, pretend that we are and stay informed, resourced and in the loop about what is going on in the news and in our child’s culture. Read the books. Browse the articles. Be proactive so you don’t have to be reactive.
  2. We can be ready – There is nothing worse than being taken off guard. It throws off our balance and our sense of stability. But if we are expectant, if we are anticipating the questions and inquiries, we can feel more grounded when the opportunity arises and embrace the conversations.
  3. We can be gentle – When your child asks you about things like drugs and sex, the natural response is to go full-on “mother bear” or “warrior daddy” and protect, defend, denounce and decry! But before we go all parenting-samurai on them, it’s good to remember a gentle and respectful approach will likely be heard more clearly.

I’m currently reading Relentless Parenting by Brian and Angela Haynes (add this to your list to read soon) and this section really stood out to me

We are learning that hugs before words make our words able to be heard. Most of the time our teenagers ( or our kids) need to know that we hear them and love them. When they know that, they will hear the wisdom we have to share…Offer compassion laced with patience and follow through with words of wisdom.

This is the kind of environment we should strive to create in our home so when the time comes and the questions follow, we are prepared, we are ready and we are gentle.  Make space this summer for some of that uninterrupted, distraction-free time with your children and enjoy the conversation.

Want to get started on the preparation end of things?  Here are some books I recommend and some fun ideas for practical discipleship in your home!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

We Should Be the Helpers, All the Time

Since I started blogging, I’ve had a number of posts that have gone “Christian viral” and one that went “viral viral.”  I’ve received messages from all over the world, positive and negative, regarding what I had written. Some declared support and praise for what I shared while others challenged and disagreed with my sentiments.

But this week is the first time I’ve ever been messaged, more than once, about what I have not written.  My silence regarding the events that happened Sunday in Orlando has not gone unnoticed. On one hand, I am honored that my opinion on this matters to some and they want to know my take on the event. On the other hand, I find myself very cautious about adding my voice to the discussions surrounding Orlando and hesitant to even write this post. If it weren’t for what happened this morning, I may not have even entered the conversation, but this morning did happen.

This morning I, along with many of you, read about a young boy who was attacked and presumably killed by an alligator at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. I read the article while my own little boy was snuggled in next to me, safe and secure, drowsily waking up from his night of sleep. The contrast was palpable. Here was my son, blissfully unaware of the horrors of this world, while before me was a scene of immeasurable pain and despair. And as many have pointed out, for Orlando, this was on top of the loss of 49 lives to a shooting spree, and the loss of a young female singer in another shooting.

And, oh, yes, like all of you, I have opinions…strong opinions…about everything surrounding these extraordinarily sad situations. And there’s a part of me that would like nothing more than to “take my stand” and share with you here why I feel the way I do about things like gun control, terrorism, politics, etc.

But this space is not intended for that.

When this blog started, it was intended to help churches and homes transition into ministry that was focused on intergenerational community and discipleship in the home. It was to encourage parents to raise their children with identities rooted in Christ and to challenge churches to surround, support, and equip parents and the home to do just that. And while I may have opinions about other things, this space is set aside and designated for the purpose I felt God calling me to years ago.

So, when it comes to Orlando, and to the great devastation and sadness we see there, I find that I have only this to share.

Go hold your children. Tell them you love them and you always will. Tell them God loves them and He always will. Tell them that evil exists and it always will, but God is good and ultimately good always defeats evil.

And as a member of the church, as Christ’s presence in this world, go tell your neighbor, your friend, that kid in the Sunday school class, the youth in the parking lot, the single guy who seems to be always alone, the young lady who sits by herself, the pastor who is tired, the parent who is grieving, the community who is hurting. Go tell them you love them and you always will because God loves them and He always will. Tell them that evil exists and it always will, but God is good and ultimately good always defeats evil.

This shouldn’t be anything different or new or radical or unusual. We should be doing this already. This should be our normal approach to life, regardless of what is happening. But in the darkest of times, the light will shine brighter. If we are faithful in the good times, He will be faithful in the dark times. Rogers

I’ve seen this meme passed around quite a bit this week of Mr. Roger’s conversation with his mother where she tells him in scary situations to “look for the helpers.”  We should be the helpers – the ones who pray, and give, and love – and not only when it is noticed, but all the time.

That is discipleship.

It’s an everyday living out of Christ-following through relationship with others and God. And even if it doesn’t stand out as remarkable because the situation is not dire, it is getting noticed by the ones who matter most; the children are watching us.

Let’s not miss that in our zeal to ban or keep our guns or our passion to support or oust the President or our outrage over the right or the left.  Let’s make the ethic of loving God and loving others supersede our emotional response and let’s give our kids the chance to see that no matter how unsteady this world is, we are grounded in Christ and Christ alone.

There are times and places when it not only appropriate but necessary for us to share where we stand on the other issues. But when we do, let it come from that place of love and humility, rather than our passion and hostility.  If we are living lives that every day testify to loving God and loving others, our words will carry much more weight and be much more grace-filled than if we simply react when the dark times arise.

It’s so much bigger than the moment, good or bad; our lives have eternal implications and our words and actions truly matter. It’s imperative that we never forget that who we are in Christ overwhelms what we think about any situation, person, or issue. We are first and foremost HIS and therefore first and foremost LOVE. 


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Teach Them to be Heroes

Each week a new story in the news takes social media by storm and dominates the online conversation. This week the story of the appalling crime, disappointing trial, and lenient conviction of Brock Turner has filled my feed. As the story grew is scope and more information was made known to the general public, I saw my social media feed go from rebuke of the perpetrator and his father who defended him to sympathy for the victim and her family to a call to teach our children to be like the heroes who stopped the attack and called for help for the victim.

The whole story is sickening and frightening. But I think it is also revealing of our culture and what our children are walking into as they grow up.

For decades, as a culture, we have glorified individualism.child-164318_1280

We have said if you want it, you can have it.

If you feel it, you can be it.

If you think it’s okay, then it is okay for you.

What is most important is that you are happy; that you get all you can out of this life and live it in the most satisfying way possible for you.

The almighty “You” is worshipped. In the land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, nothing should keep You from getting what You want.

This stands in stark contrast to the life that Christ calls us to live.

Instead of You being glorified, You is humbled.

Instead of You getting what it wants, You relinquishes its right to what it wants and seeks the good of others.

Instead of You defining what is good and right and best for itself, it looks instead to its Creator and seeks first that kingdom rather than its own.

It looks nothing like the culture into which our children are headed.

Which is why, as so many people are saying now, we must teach our children something different. The posts call for us to teach them to be heroes.

But you know what those heroes did? They saw beyond themselves to others. They cared enough about another person to put aside their own individual agenda and seek the good of another. They desired justice more than fairness and truth more than lies.

If we want to teach our children to be heroes, we must teach them to be counter-cultural. We must teach them to be different. That the “You” is not more important than “Us” and that we are all part of a community not individuals living in a bubble of our own pleasure and desires.

Church, we have a huge role to play in this.

We have the calling to live this way all. the. time! If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Ph. 2:1-4)

This is what we should look like. We should look different.

We should be teaching our children to be heroes by being selfless, compassionate, hospitable, and humble in our interactions with one another. We should be looking out for others, not just when the circumstances are so horrid we can’t help but act, but in everyday situations when those we live surrounded need a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a meal shared, a prayer offered.

That is why I am so passionate about discipleship at home and intergenerational community at church. Because if we, the body of Christ, are not modeling this counter-cultural behavior for our children through our interactions with them, with each other, and with the community at large, then we are not teaching them to be heroes. And if our culture ever needed heroes that stand out, that look different, that hold up a standard of humility and grace in a world of pride and judgement, that time is now.

Teach our children to be heroes by teaching our children that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness might be our rights, but laying down those rights for the good of others can lead to the greatest freedom of all. Like the knights of the round table in the legend of Camelot, let them discover that “In serving one another, we become free.”


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

The Beauty of a Broken Shell

A few years ago, at the beach, I had an experience that changed me, the way I viewed myself and others. This morning, as I walked the shoreline, watching the sun”not”rise, I was reminded of it once again. The lesson is even more poignant now as I watch my kids discover their brokenness and I teach them that God loves broken shells.

I missed the sunrise this morning. Not because I slept in, but because the clouds were hanging low and covering the sun. I almost didn’t get up to walk but I knew if I didn’t, I’d regret it later. So up I got and headed down to the beach.

The beach is so peaceful in the mornings. Not many people wander out of their beds at 5:45 am on vacation so the shore is basically empty with a few runners, some walkers, and lots of birds, crabs, and most importantly shells. Yesterday when I was walking I found a beautiful conch shell. This is wonderful, except as you all know, I have TWO beautiful daughters so, my quest for the morning was to find another shell so each one could have a special shell from mommy.

seashell-237326_1920I looked down the coast, spotted the peak of a roof and said to myself, “I’ll walk that far and then come back” and off I went. As I walked I alternated between looking at the ocean and looking for the shells. After about 30 minutes of walking I reached my destination, shell-less and a little disappointed. Oh, there were plenty of shells but most of them were broken and not exactly what I was looking for. So, I headed back in the direction from which I had come.

By now a few more people had emerged from their beach houses and headed down to the shore. Most notably in front of me was a mom with her two girls that I’d guess were about 14 and 8 in age. It didn’t take long for me to soon hear their shrieks of delight as they reached the shell line I had just walked. All the shells that I had just passed over, the ones I had deemed “not good enough” were like gold to them. They had a box with them and were soon picking up shells and exclaiming their joy as they deposited their treasures inside.

It was then that I heard that still small voice I have come to know so well whisper to me, “I love broken shells.”

And, isn’t that what we are?

So many of us spend so much of our time searching for that “perfect” shell, on the quest to find that one thing what we have deemed worthy of our appreciation and admiration. We want to be thinner, prettier, stronger, wealthier, more successful, more outgoing, and the list goes on. We go through life overlooking the broken shells because they aren’t the one thing that we want. 

In the meantime, ahead of us is God, exclaiming his delight over the beauty of our lives. What we see as imperfections, he sees as His creation. He delights over US, in fact, the Bible says, He dances over us. Our imperfections don’t cause him to overlook us; they draw Him to us. He picks us up, sings with joy, and puts us in His “box”.

He loves us.

Wouldn’t life be so much more exciting, so much more meaningful if instead of looking only at our imperfections or the other broken shells around us, we stopped and saw the the beauty instead?

Those shells on the beach are broken for a reason – because they have lived. They have been a home for some animal, they’ve traveled the world, played in the waves, and brought delight to little girls all over the globe. They are broken for a reason.

At the end of my walk, something amazing happened. The sun rose. No, it wasn’t the “perfect” sunrise over the horizon I woke up to see, but as the sun peeked out over the low-lying clouds and its light bathed everything in its warm glow, I knew that it was indeed the perfect sunrise for me. It was beautiful and I delighted in it!

Let’s pass this truth on to the next generation. As our kids grow and learn that they are broken, at least according to this world’s definition of what “perfect” is, let’s give them this truth on which to build their identity. Tell them that God delights in them, rejoices in them, is excited about them and that nothing can ever change that truth. Let’s remind each other too as often as we can that we are in Christ and our identity is found in Him and that identity is “Loved”.

I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love. I will praise the LORD for all he has done. I will rejoice in his great goodness to Israel, which he has granted according to his mercy and love. – Isaiah 63:7


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

We Should Be Different

This morning, as often happens, I did a quick scan of what’s posted on my Facebook feed and in the top trending stories so I can stay abreast of what’s happening around the world. Today more than other days I am walking away from this brief perusal ever so thankful for the grace and mercy I experience in God. Because it lies in stark contrast to the hateful, judgmental, and even vicious attacks on character, personhood, and identity I see in the headlines and comments beneath.
Just this morning I read multiple posts about the continuing story of the loss of Cincinnati Zoo gorilla, full of awful words and terrible accusations from all sides; I read about a group of a dozen men who felt the need to throw raw meat at people eating in a vegan restaurant (WHY?!?!); I read about a man who ran over two people on a motorcycle, on purpose, after exchanging heated words with them on the road; and all I could think was, “Thank you God that you offer grace.”
Look, if we claim to be a followers of Christ, then our words, actions, and comments should reflect that grace. There should be something different about us.

Our words should be laced with mercy, not judgment, for we of all people know what it is to experience mercy.

Our tone should be one of reconciliation and love, for we of all people know what it means to be reconciled.

Our comments should be kind and reveal that we are slow to anger because we of all people know that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance and that He is slow to anger, abounding in compassion.

In the midst of vitriol, we should stand out as bright lights; we should look, feel, and be different than those who have not experience God’s immeasurable grace.

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Which is why it pains me so much to see similar attitudes and sentiments shared by those who know the depth of His mercy as those who have not, and sometimes worse because the words are laced with self-righteous judgment and religious overtones. And that should not be; it simply should not be.

We should walk into every single situation with the humility and gratitude of those who have experienced such a profound love and grace, all of our actions and reactions filter through it and we cannot help but begin there with whatever we choose to say, do, or share.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6). Why? Because “gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Pr. 16:24). They bring life, not death; hope, not despair; love, not hate. And that is important because “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore [others] on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

We are on mission, all the time, to bring people towards Grace and Mercy, not shame them away.
It’s our for-real, all-the-time, never-ending job; our identity.

So we should look different, sound different, and act different from those who are not identified with Christ. And yes, our kids are watching us, and yes, we are teaching the next generation with everything we do, but we are also called to be these things for one another and for a lost and hurting world.  Let’s be light and love in a world of darkness and hate.Let’s live out what Paul implores us in Philippians, to shine among men like stars in the sky.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Philippians 2:12-16


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Our Answers to Their Questions Matter, Our Reactions Matter More

For some reason, it surprises me every time it happens. At this point, it shouldn’t, because it has happened so many times, but it still does. Partly I think because I want to believe that kids are still a bit shielded from the ugliness of this world and able to maintain a certain naiveté about the realities of this life. Partly because I am not sure where they have access to current events and national ongoings, but somehow they do. And so I hear…

“Mom, have you heard about…?”

Fill it in with whatever top trending headline you’ve seen or story being passed around social media. This week, the story of the Cincinnati gorilla. Last week (thank goodness) the Chewbacca lady. The weeks before laws about bathrooms, boycotts of Target, tornados in the Midwest, and the list goes on and on and on.

And you know what my kids want to know? Not if I’ve heard about it, even if that’s what they ask. They really want to know what I think about it.

What’s my reaction?  Where do I take my stand?

And they want to know that because it informs them on how they should take their stand. Our emotional reactions and ways we communicate those to our children give them a framework through which they process the world. A study released by Vanderbilt (read it here) confirms that our emotional reactions have a profound effect on how our children “turn out physically, socially, and emotionally.”

That’s pretty intense and rather all-encompassing. I mean, it’s bigger than passing on political views or personal beliefs. The way we react emotionally to what is happening around us effects more than just cognitive understanding in our kids. They don’t just want to know what we think and why. They are watching our emotional reaction.question-mark-463497_1920

Are we angry? Are we crying? Are we laughing?

How are we approaching those we disagree with?

What underlying attitude are our words laced with? Judgement? Empathy? Grace? Despair?

If you are like me, these realities give me pause, because I am a passionate person, and I have strong opinions and feelings about those things that top the headlines, and my tendency is to make those feelings known.

But when my daughter comes and asks me, “Mom, have you heard…?” the answer I give has far more importance than just a simple response. She’s watching me. She wants to know “What’s the right answer?”

With that in mind, here are some quick practical ways to slow the conversation down and make sure we respond with action, rather than reaction, and ensure that we are giving our kids the strongest possible chance to learn not just what we think about a particular subject, but how to approach it.

“What do you think?”

Before we tell them our thoughts on something, let them share theirs. Not only will we discover the level of understanding they have about the subject and how best to approach it with them, but we’ll also get a glimpse of their processing capabilities and preferences.

“What do you think God thinks about this?”

Again, this question helps to gauge where they are in terms of processing, but it also gives them an amazing tool to filter their own reactions through in the future. WWJD may have been trendy once, but the philosophy behind it still remains. Asking questions like these force us to slow down and consider things from a different standpoint than our own gut reactions.

“This is what I think”

Why do I put this one last?  Because it is important for us to filter our answer based on the two discussions above. When we take the time to figure out where our child is emotionally and cognitively in terms of their own processing and where we both are in terms of looking at things through God’s eyes (a biblical worldview, spiritual framework, etc.), we are better able to frame our response in appropriate and non-reactive ways. Pouring out our gut reactions and emotions can be overwhelming to a child. They can leave confused, especially if they had a different take on it than their we did. Give space for them to grow (and maybe for us to grow too) by slowing down the conversation.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us if we “train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he won’t depart from it.”  I’ve heard this quoted often in regard to passing on faith. But I think it’s deeper than that. I think we can give our kids filters through which to process the world; ways to critically approach, think about and consider the information being offered to them and pause before they react.

The researchers put it this way:

“Parents can help their children develop into emotionally stable people by giving them a supportive environment, positive feedback, role models of healthy behavior and interactions, and someone to talk to about their emotional reactions to their experiences.”

The fact that we have such a profound place of influence in the lives of our children is a blessing and a gift.  My prayer is that we are able to effectively disciple our children in ways that consistently and lovingly point them to Christ, regardless of what the top trending stories are next week.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.