The Song That Never Ends

John and I, kids in tow, were maneuvering at a snail’s pace through a Ugandan traffic jam in our trusty, high-clearance minivan. Our speakers happily trumpeted the Christmas CD my mom had sent us, and we chatted, energy high for our Christmas shopping in the city and the Christmas party of our nonprofit (which, with the barbecue and barefoot kids running around in shorts, looked more like the Fourth of July).

It was sometime after “Let It Snow” that our heads all swiveled to the driver’s side, where a man was banging—hard—on the outside of our van. Never a good sign in Kampala.

That’s when his partner whipped open my car door and swiftly grabbed my bag slouched at my feet. My casserole dish skidded across the pavement as I unbuckled without thinking, standing between unmoving lanes and yelling something very helpful, like “Hey!” He and his cronies sprinted away with my reading device, my phone, my drivers’ licenses from both countries, and our house keys.

I make it sound lighthearted. But really I started sobbing, hands shaking, which probably frightened my children just as much as the stranger flinging open the car door. John sat quietly reeling in horror and anger: “I should have locked the doors. Why didn’t I lock the doors?” Passengers around us oh-so-helpfully mimed, You have to lock your doors in Kampala. Like this.

The highlight of my day took place about 17 seconds after that lowlight. My then eleven-year-old spoke up: “Guys, it looks like Mom is upset right now. Let’s pray.” John took the cue, thanking God for the protection of our bodies and for God’s control and then praying for the thieves themselves. Prayer was a gift of God in the middle of a liquid, pulsing fear. Throughout Scripture, God follows up “Do not be afraid” with his best reason: for I am with you. And my son had a moment of Godwardness when we all needed it most.

A friend e-mailed me later: “The very thing we would protect our children from experiencing may be the very thing that God wants to use in their lives now so that when they are adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis.”1

God gives and takes away (here he used the latter to offer us a gift), and we can sing Christmas carols with full hearts afterward. Sometimes people wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people—of course we, as missionaries, would be the good people in that scenario, right? But from dust I came, and hell I deserve (not “good things”).

Adoration is not only what God deserves. It’s God’s gift to us.

When You’re the Lucky Dog

When I look at my teenage daughter, I see a keen mind, a generous heart, and a magnet for those who are sometimes unseen. People tend to adore her. As I type, the same boy has asked her five times to the school dance. I have witnessed her making friends with kids in poverty because they’re just kids to her. Or putting out a donation cup for the pregnancy center at her lemonade stand.

Someday in the future, I can see my arms crossed before some peach-fuzz-garnished guy who wants to take her out.

I see myself thinking, You have no clue what you’re getting. You think she’s a pretty face and a great dancer. You may come back to take her out when you understand what a lucky dog you are.

As the saying goes, Guns don’t kill people. Parents with pretty daughters kill people. (Yes, I am messing with you.)

Some things hold such exquisite value that the intrinsic, overwhelming reward goes to the one who will mine it. There are other phenomena like this in the universe—things that leave us the losers if we miss out on appreciating them. They’re things in the “Look, kids! Quick!” category.

I was scrambling for my cell phone one morning when a newborn fawn tottered through our lawn.

Effervescent me, to my teen: “You have to come see this!”

Grumpy teen: “No. I don’t.”

And he didn’t. But he’s also the one who missed out on the view of nature by choice.

C.S. Lewis speaks of artwork (or daughters) that warrants our sheer wonder—because if not,

we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something…[God] is that Object to admire which…is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all…

But, of course, this is not all. God does not only “demand” praise as the supremely beautiful and all-satisfying Object. He does apparently command it as lawgiver.2

Too often, adoration slumps toward a have-to. But sometimes I get a glimpse that it is a get-to. This is our breathtaking birthright, our gracious choice: to love back.

We are the lucky dogs.

Praise: The Song That Never Ends

Perhaps adoration—loving God back—is easier than you’d think. Would your kids believe you if you said eating a grilled cheese could praise God? If Romans 12:1 is true, then it’s all his: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Even when you burn the sandwich.

When we think worship, we typically think of an event, of something we start and stop and then go on our way. But the Bible has a different idea. Colossians puts it this way:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (3:16-17 ESV).

That means whether kids are dangling from a rope swing, screaming like a banshee, or muscling through a pop quiz—or (yep) going to the bathroom—everything is either toward God or not.

We are always worshipping something. Because we were made for it. God speaks of “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43:7,21). To the woman at the well, Jesus affirms, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). And Romans 11:36 sings, “From him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!”

Practicing adoration preps our kids’ lives to be one long, seamless song toward God. More than their future career, the lives they’ll touch, or the person they’ll marry, they were made for this. To do this. Rather than an event, praise is a continual upward-facing lifestyle lived for God’s honor and purpose—from the inside out.

By helping our kids see the stuff of their lives as open doors to adoration, we help them answer, Who’s getting the honor right now, if I’m honest? What does it look like to worship God in my work? My rest? My play?

Oh, There He Is

Use your kids’ strengths and interests as arrows pointing them to the way they

Permanent Truth


Adoration is about celebrating, appreciating, and enjoying God for all he is, acknowledging that his glory is the rightful center of everything. It is feel God’s pleasure. Are they bookworms? Athletes? Artists? Building enthusiasts? Baby-doll nurturers? Experts at styling hair? How can they use these skills for God’s pleasure?

• our foremost response to God

• adoring, even when others would call it a waste of time

• setting aside our flurry of effort and productivity to simply revel in God

• saying, “God, you’re like my Disney World. My ice cream. My movie marathon.”

• encouraging kids’ strengths and interests as arrows, pointing them to the ways they feel God’s pleasure

• trusting God and acknowledging him as lovingly and capably in charge, even when we’re hurting and don’t understand

• using gratitude to live in constant awareness of God’s goodness to us, of the gifts constantly piling up around us, even in hard times

• lifting our eyes from our own belly buttons into worship, trust, and joy

• drawing a dotted line from every gift back to the Giver

Check out what God says of a man named Bezalel in the time when the Israelites were constructing the tabernacle:

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel…I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab…And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6 ESV).

How has God gifted your kids to reveal him as beautiful? Help your kids see that their enjoyment and gifting are from him and for him, even when their work is not distinctly “Christian.” Excellence in completing math homework or emptying the dishwasher pleases God too—not just because we’re humming a praise song. God cares about how we work. In fact, the Hebrew word avodah was used in the Old Testament to jointly mean “work” and “worship” and “service.”

Talk to your kids about how you sense God’s happiness about the way you’re made, whether it’s in your occupation, fixing things around your house, or changing diapers. Show your kids that they can praise God with their work and unique contributions, even in the most mundane acts of faithful, regular life.

Gratitude: A Lifestyle of Kindness Hunting

It was one of those weeks when the phrase from the Morton Salt box from my childhood had to be occasionally batted from my mind: When it rains, it pours.

It started on the way to the airport, where John would fly from Uganda to Kenya for two weeks. Neither of our ATM cards were working, which is problematic in a nation that functions nearly entirely on cash. Of course, it wasn’t until paying for my parking that I realized I didn’t even have the 80 cents to make it out of the parking lot. I commissioned the kids to look under all the car mats and in the cup holders. Still 40 cents shy. I had to ask for a handout from someone else.

The next day (after our family thankfully not spending the night in the car park), my son was hit on his bike by a motorcycle; the driver, looking nervous, had carried him to our door.

Liberally sprinkle in some hormones (those would be mine), mix vigorously with three rowdy boys without their father there to wrestle them to the ground, marinate in intermittent water and power, and it was a recipe for one of those weeks when a girl resorts to Lamaze breathing. Of course, one of us would be hit by a motorcycle taxi this week.

But part of the beauty, honestly, was living that week in Africa.

It’s hard to complain about having to bum gas money from a friend when I have a car and a cash source—once we get that pesky card issue straightened out. (About .8 percent of Ugandans own a vehicle.) It’s hard to be disgruntled about kid-wrangling on my own when: a) John is serving God doing something he’s incredible at, and b) Uganda is flooded with single moms who have no rescuer scheduled for arrival in a week and a half. It’s hard to make a big deal of being without electricity, considering only 15 percent of the country is wired for it. It’s hard to make too much of my son walking away from his accident with an injured arm, in light of the five deaths per day from motorbikes in the capital city alone, or the taxi-related injuries that make up 40 percent of trauma cases at the main hospital.3

Africa has marked me. It has not altered me in a way that most people who see me will ever witness, though the difference is almost bodily. It’s as if I’ve had eye surgery, and the world will never enter my brain the same. Its mark is indelible now on my decisions, my perspective.

In brain scans, happiness is nearly indistinguishable from gratitude.4 And that gratitude helps combat anxiety and depression because, as evidence suggests, “gratitude and anxiety are mutually exclusive neural pathways.”5

Admittedly, gratitude is not always easy. I shove some events into the category of “I want to forget” instead of training my eyes to find God in all that happened. But there’s still value—spirituality included—to be had in my honesty that some weeks are discouraging, angering, and painful. (Novelist Elizabeth Berg reminds me, “The person with the bleeding finger doesn’t hurt less for the person next to him with the bleeding arm.”6) Dishonesty about loss and pain doesn’t liberate us (see John 8:32). But perspective and gratitude? That week, they just might have set me free. It’s a way we all long for our kids to be free too.

Writing on the Wall: Practical Ideas

Try prayers where you simply admire God and call him by his names.

“God, you are El Shaddai, ‘God Almighty.’” Or, as characters in the Bible have done, describe what he has been to you lately: “You’re my best friend.”

Keep a running list of what your family is thankful for.

At dinner each night for a month, see if your family can name ten more things they are thankful for. You can do this during errands too: Ten things we’re thankful for. Go.

Create a thankfulness tablecloth.

For dinner one night, use craft paper as a tablecloth. Lay out markers or crayons to cover it with what you’re thankful for.

Share thanksgiving notes.

Drop a small note in your son, daughter, or husband’s lunch, or put a sticky note where they’ll find it at just the right time. “When I think of what I’m thankful for, you always come to mind. I love you.” Or “Thanks for the ways you _____. I love you so much.”

Help your kids record a video “greeting card” for a relative far away.

Have them describe their appreciation for that person’s influence in their lives. (Let them get creative with the props.) Or roll out the butcher paper to design a banner you’ll send in the mail as a special surprise.

Make a gratitude poster.

On the back of an interior door, fasten a piece of poster board and keep a pen attached. Make it a family goal to fill the poster board with objects of your gratitude. Alternatively, utilize Ann Voskamp’s idea of covering a window with sticky notes of gratitude.7

Use calmness to worship.

Stretch on the floor together, relaxing and praying before bedtime. As you inhale, thank God for something specific; as you exhale, praise him for one of his names or characteristics. When my kids are anxious, I’m amazed at how rapidly this activity calms them.

Set aside times for nature wonder.

Wake up your kids for a meteor shower or eclipse. Or pull over for that scenic overlook. Or pack a picnic lunch, letting the kids hunt for the perfect spot. Gather flowers or the most striking fallen leaves. Even science homework is a way to marvel over God’s baffling genius. Talk together about your observations, and gently direct things Godward. Reflect in silence.

Huddle for a quick morning prayer.

Sure, you can ask God for a good day, but the ultimate idea? This day, God, is for you. When they get home, thank God together for good things when you’re talking about their day, or maybe just observe, “That’s great! I’m so thankful for that!” “Hey, answered prayer! Cool!” (Fist bump.) As you create touch points for your kids throughout the day, pointing them back to God, your praise becomes more and more contiguous.

Gather gel pens or markers and index cards for times of devotion or during sermons.

Let your kids write and illuminate verses of Scripture, characteristics of God they love, or thoughts they want to remember. The cards can be posted in rooms or inside closets or cupboards, used as bookmarks, taped on mirrors, or tucked into backpacks or lunches as reminders.

Help your kids create a worship playlist.

This can help them pray and worship God during the week, perhaps using different tracks for getting ready in the morning, studying, and working out. You might listen together and purchase new songs to generate excitement and unique enthusiasm for worship. Help them see that their style could be different from the style of worship at your church.

Create warm memories around worship times at church.

Hug them. Smile at them. Wrap your arms around them while you sing.

Have the kids create a haiku.

This is the part of the book where you might chalk me up as a nutter. But try this: Show your kids how to create a haiku to express themselves to God. For all of you feeling a little rusty on your poetry, a haiku is a three-line poem: one line of five syllables, then another of seven syllables, then a final line of five. For example:

Intimacy mine

whispered favor, head on chest

Can you hear? He’s there.

Play a musical instrument.

I have had a few cool moments with my kids tucked beside me at the piano, singing worship songs they picked. How can you use your strengths to point your kids upward?

Remind kids to prepare their hearts for worship.

This could be like the Hebrews did after sunset on Friday nights, or the day before in their Day of Preparation. Before church, you might play worship music as your family gets ready (better than fighting, right?). On the way to church, consider talking about what you’re thankful for that week.

Teach your kids about intercessory worship.

For me, this means taking a song and turning it into a prayer for someone on my mind. You can pray for countries or choose to praise God amid something hard. Maybe at night before bed, when your kids are talking about someone they’re concerned about, help them choose a song they want to “pray” for that person. Music is emotionally moving, so these may feel like intimate, vibrant prayers.

Focus on gratitude as a family.

Set a goal of five minutes each day.

Train your eyes to “see.”

Seek to genuinely thank every person, looking them in the eye: the gas station attendant, the cashier, the server, the janitor, the Sunday school teacher—and your kiddos for the giddy joy they bring you.

Keep a list of the little reminders that God is walking with you.

Going through a heart-wrenching season? Will’s gratitude during his cancer scare inspired us to write on a neon-yellow index card a working list of all the little reminders that God was walking with us—all the small graces he was handing us mixed up in this sorrow. I still keep it tucked in a journal. Keep a list of your own to remember that God is for you (see Romans 8:31).

Use visual cues to help you think in new ways about gratitude.

A tube of toothpaste might prompt a quick prayer of thanks for good dental care; pulling out of the driveway, for a peaceful street and quality roads; the receipt at a restaurant, for a wholesome meal and washed dishes and the finances to pay for it. Thank God out loud with your kids as you leave the grocery store with enough food and as you fill the tank with gas.

Give kids the gift of hard work.

In a culture where everyone gets a ribbon and the norm is to hand our kids what they want, entitlement needs an equally powerful antidote. Give your kids the opportunity to work for what they want, and to work as part of being a family. This develops in kids a hard-earned appreciation for what arrives in their hands.

Plant a garden or a few vegetable-bearing plants.

Most kids don’t understand the amount of effort that goes into the piles of produce at the supermarket. Guide them toward gratitude for what we consume.

Memorize Scripture passages about gratitude (small rewards may help).

Some to try: Psalm 100; 16:5-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Fresh Ink: Resources for Vibrant Faith

•Using a large sheet of paper and markers for each child, walk together through Rick Warren’s SHAPE acronym to help them discover the unique ways God’s sculpted them and their story for his honor. Help kids see in each component a way they’re uniquely designed to worship him.

•Help older kids discover their “Sacred Pathways.” Search for author Gary Thomas’s various ways that we each best connect with God—like our own worship “personality.” Maybe that’s not surprising as you begin to uncover your occupation and personal makeup as an avenue for worship. (I’ve got at least one activist and one caregiver.) Encourage them to try out other pathways that intrigue them.

•Download FamilyLife’s free gratitude activities, like a gratitude scavenger hunt, at familylife.com/family-gratitude-plan/.

•We’ve loved these picture books for teaching generosity and gratitude:

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming

The Orange Shoes by Trinka Hakes Noble

Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia McKissack

The Firefighters’ Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts

•At janelbreitenstein.com/permanentmarkers/adoration, find free printable thank-you notes for kids and 62 things to be grateful for if you live in the developed world.

True Colors: Discussion Questions for Kids

•Worshipping God doesn’t seem to be something a lot of people think is important. Do you? Why? Have you ever done something good and no one noticed? What if someone did something for you that was hard or amazing, but you didn’t say thank you?

•Remember when we saw…? [Insert amazing nature event or spectacle: an eclipse, a visit to the Grand Canyon, etc.] What if we had missed out on that? Who would have been the “losers”?

•What’s the difference between whining or complaining and telling the truth about something hard that’s going on?

•What things do we often take for granted but should be thankful for?

Think Ink: Contemplative Questions for Parents

•What gifts do you attribute to your own hard work, excellence, or character? Consider praying, Show my heart how everything I have has been received (1 Corinthians 4:7). Help me believe it.

•Reflect on gifts you received even before your lifetime. When you trace the good things you enjoy through generations, whose decisions and life circumstances also flow into yours? Whose metaphorical shoulders do you stand on? How would your life differ if those before you had made alternate life choices (e.g., not to emigrate, not to follow God, not to value having children)?

•Is personal time to adore God a priority to you? Why or why not?

I spend loads of money and oodles of time in the hopes that my kids get to do what they were made to do—and clearly, occupation is a big part of that. But even more than becoming a graphic artist or a Marine, my kids were made to worship God.

If life finds them in a wheelchair, with an autoimmune disorder, in a painful marriage, or flipping burgers when I thought they’d make good math teachers, they can still adore God and fulfill every purpose for which they were designed.

Prayer of the Dependent Parent

Lord, culture makes it so much easier for my family to feel entitled rather than grateful. Show us specific ways to combat that entitlement, and expose to me my kids’ true attitudes—even while I’m trusting you to change them.

We are naturally always worshipping something—but I confess it is not naturally you. As John Calvin said, our hearts are “idol-making factories.” Help me to lead in seeing and adoring you for who you are. Show me what stands in the way of seeing you as you are (1 John 3:1-3).

For us, I pray Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened so we may know the hope to which you’ve called us, the riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people, and your incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Wake us up to worship, Lord.

“Lord, it is fitting to rejoice in your beauty and to gaze upon your handiwork. While others may call this a waste of time, we recognize that unless we sit in adoration of you, we will forget whom we serve and for what purpose. Remind us why worship is always our first response to you. Amen.”8


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