Sticker Chart

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by Rachel Bartlett

Have you ever used a sticker chart for your kids?  Maybe your family has a chore chart or used a sticker chart when potty training. We have our kids place a sticker on a chart as we cheer and encourage them along. But where is my sticker chart?

Make the meals and snacks; gold star.
Help with school work; gold star.
Clean up snot, dirty diaper, or throw up; platinum star.

Does anyone see what I do? Or even more importantly, does anyone see where I struggle? There are days when we can’t find the strength to do the work. There are days where those gold stars seem out of our reach.

In Genesis 16, we meet Hagar. She was a servant of Abram and Sarai and becomes pregnant with Abram’s son. When mistreated by Sarai, Hagar flees to the desert. Pregnant, tired, and hurt, she meets an angel. This angel proclaims over Hagar that her unborn son “will dwell over against all his kinsman.” Hagar called out to God with the name El Roi, the God of seeing. God saw Hagar when no one else did.

Many years later (Genesis 21), Hagar is forced to flee again from Abraham. With her son by her side, she wandered through the desert. Hagar was thirsty, close to death, and all she could do was cry. She had forgotten the claim she made in that desert years before. God sent another angel to comfort Hagar and a well to nourish. His promise that day was the same as many years before. “Lift up the boy … I will make him a great nation.”

God’s call to us is similar. We are to raise our kids to be a great nation of followers of God. And He sees us along the way. With every victory, every struggle, and everything in between, He Sees. Praise El Roi!

He Graciously Meets Us Where We Are

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by R. Potatoes

It was a crazy busy Friday. I was out running errands when the case worker called, “We have a large sibling set that just came into DFCS custody. I don’t have any details on them but can you take some of them?” The answer is always yes.

Late that night, two completely traumatized little ones were dropped off with nothing but a grocery bag full of dirty clothes (two sizes too small). In a snap, we were thrust back into the stage of blow out diapers, large baby equipment, car seat acrobatics, bottles, tantrums, and very very very sleepless nights. Our extraordinarily tiny home became a revolving door of case workers, lawyers, and therapists. Our calendar was filled with doctors appointments, court dates, family visits, sibling visits, and home studies.

We were absolutely not enough (nor equipped) for what the next several weeks threw at us from every angle, but God was. Those sleepless nights – full of frustration and snide remarks over whose “turn” it was – slowly turned into the quiet time when we’ve prayed some of our most vulnerable prayers. We prayed for the endurance, wisdom, and strength necessary to parent and disciple these little image-bearers. God has met us there, every time!

Foster parenting has a special way of putting a magnifying glass on our fleshly sin: the kind of anger we have to work through towards birth parents and the broken system as a whole, the selfishness in mourning that we will not be around to experience the fruit of the seeds we are planting, the desire for appreciation that never comes, the envy towards people who are not called to this life and don’t have to expose their families to unimaginable brokenness and trauma. We are constantly repenting from these sins that marinate deep in our hearts. He consistently humbles us to our core, and gracefully meets us where we are. 

No matter what season of parenting you are in, God is always there waiting for you to lean into Him. He promises to give us wisdom when we ask, so don’t leave his promises on the table.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

Opportunity vs. Sabbath Rest

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by Rachel O’Dell

As I was debating, in my mind, the pros and cons of accepting the invitation to write this parent encouragement for New City Kids, it dawned on me that I ought to blog about the actual stress of weighing the pros and cons of any opportunity (or decision) that we make in life. So this post is very “meta” because, why not?

Every opportunity taken in life is going to involve some added layer of work (if only for a short time) unless we off-load something else before taking up the new task. And of course, new opportunities taken can then lead to other new ventures, (i.e. more work). Someone doesn’t offer us an opportunity to get rich (or advance in our career) while we just sit in a La-Z-Boy watching money enter our bank account. If they do, it’s a scam. 

Work is not inherently bad. We know that God gave work in the Garden, before the Fall. Work done for the Lord is very fulfilling. It’s only when it feels like a Sisyphean task that it seems to drain joy out of us. 

Personally, my main work these days includes home schooling my daughters, driving my children to activities, navigating the challenges of raising an autistic son, serving on the worship team, and completing my time in service as President of the Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance. All of this work is very fulfilling! But even so, I long, as I’m sure we all do, for Sabbath rest. I want a nap!

Hebrews 4 speaks of entering God’s rest. We look forward to a day, in the new Earth, when we will be able to glorify God with our work while also benefiting from the Sabbath rest. But for now, we must alternate between the work and the rest. Here are some ideas on how we can do this well:

1. Make sure our work is being done for God’s glory and not just for the next opportunity. 

2. Understand that raising our children to know and love Jesus is our highest work priority. 

3. Do not worry over missed opportunities and what we might have done with our life. 

4. Do not work without rest. And when we rest…

5. Acknowledge that God is our Provider. All the work in the world cannot give us (or our families) a “perfect life”. The perfect life is found only in the life Christ lived on our behalf. 

Rest in his finished work on the cross. 

Faith and Experience

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by Maya Rondy

In 2008, I made a decision to follow Jesus as my Savior and as my Lord. This was a big change for me because before I had always wrongly believed in many gods. In the beginning it wasn’t fun at all; I didn’t understand what the Christian life was supposed to be like. I didn’t know how my own life was to have meaning. The reality was, I wasn’t even sure that I belonged to Jesus.

But Jesus revealed himself to me, convincing me that He is real, and my life completely changed. Day by day, my faith started growing stronger. I read Jeremiah 29:11 and began to have confidence that God has a plan for me and my family. Today, I know the meaning of my life and that I have a future.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 
Jeremiah 29:11

At this time, my family and I are learning to lean on Jesus and not on our own understanding. This involves learning how to be patient and forgive one another. I’m amazed as I see how much we have changed. For example, when my husband sees I am upset about something he will come to me and pray over it. 

As I began to sense God’s calling on my life, I never expected that my husband would be supportive. Yet this turned out to be the best part of my life – he supports me in ministry! Yes, while we were figuring things out there were challenges. But I read in Romans 8 that no one can separate us from the love of Christ. This powerful Word gave me hope and kept me strong as I realized that there was no challenge too big for God.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Romans 8:38–39

By God’s grace we are still together. I see God working in our lives and can’t wait until I hear my husband testify about it as well. For now, we are still walking with Jesus as a family. Our story is not done yet.

The Value of Serving in New City Kids

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by Joe Brand

When I consider the impact of New City Kids in the life of our family, I smile.

We did not have school age children when we came to New City Church. However, our youngest child had several occasions to serve with New City Kids and observe children’s ministry leadership. She came away with a deeper appreciation for how a local church serves families. We were elated to see how well she was equipped and trained and how immensely she enjoyed the process and service.

Like most churches, New City can use additional volunteers in the work of coming alongside parents as they disciple their children.

If you want to have a profound impact on your children,
put them in New City Kids.

If you want to have a profound impact on your own life,
consider serving there yourself.

A Glimpse Into How God Sees Us

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by Mitchell Brannan

One of the most exciting parts of moving out of our apartment is that we finally own a flight of stairs (that are actually inside of the house). On the contrary, it also happens to be one of the most dangerous and scary parts while raising a curious and mobile Courtney. We did not give too much consideration to just how deeply she would share our fondness for these stairs, but we quickly found out. As soon as she laid eyes on the shiny wooden stairs on the side of our living room – glistening in the sunlight – she knew something wonderful and magical must be at the top just waiting for her to explore. Almost as soon as we moved in, we promptly made our first errand to the store to purchase a baby gate, as our make-shift blockades of moving boxes would not last long. When we came back and installed the gate, we had anticipated a serene and peaceful moment as we were liberated from the anxiety of Courtney falling down the stairs. However, to our dismay, our final click of the gate was met with a piercing and furious temper tantrum. She flopped herself on the floor, looked at us dead in the eyes, and screamed in anguish, as if to say “How on earth could you deprive me of somewhere I want to go that I am absolutely positive would make my life better and happier.” As a former baby, I can speak baby.

In June of 2020, Hannah and I were on a wonderful path with my graduation on the horizon and a secure job lined up in Atlanta. Both of us were longing to transition beyond the transient lifestyle of college life, and were ready to begin laying down roots in the North Druid Hills area. It all seemed to be going according to plan, until the lockdowns hit. Like many industries, my future employer had to adjust and downsize a great deal in order to stay afloat. Things seemed uncertain, but I was assured by my manager that my full time position would remain in the cards as long as I continued on my path to graduation. But in November of 2020, 6 months before my graduation, I received a disquieting phone call. My whole department, along with my job, had been dissolved. I now had approximately 6 months to find a job before graduation, and Courtney was just days away from being born. While I would love to sit here and tell you I handled the situation as Jesus would and put my complete and utter dependence on Him, trusting in his providence, there was an honest part of my heart that sincerely doubted God’s decision. It was saying to Him, “I was so sure this was the best route for our family, God. We have a church, a community, prospective houses / neighborhoods, and a “secure” job. How could you possibly see it best to deprive us of this path?!”

This sinful part of my heart was exposed for only a moment, until God graciously provided us with a new job, a new community, a new home, and a new (City) church in Lawrenceville! To which my fickle heart went happily back to trusting God’s plans again, leaving my doubts and frustrations with God behind me. No more than one year later, when I saw Courtney’s eyes (as she wailed at me in disbelief) and my explanations of “We are doing this because we love you,” and “this is for your own safety,” did nothing to de-escalate the situation… God whispered to me and said, “is this not how your heart reacted to Me, when I put a gate in your path?” Though I may not have expressed my frustrations externally the same way Courtney did, she was a mirror image of my heart in that moment, nonetheless. This has become a routine pattern God has implemented for the sanctification of both myself and Hannah, where God has allowed us, through parenting, to humbly experience a small sample of what it is like for our Heavenly Father to “parent” us.

Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

I’m Still Growing Up

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by John VandenOever

It was 1980-something and I and my fellow graduates stood awkwardly on the church platform. Each one of us stood beside a proud father as he grasped for something to say about his child. Debbie, tall, with a gift for pulling pranks, blushed red as her father began, “Debbie, was always a big girl…”

My father didn’t embarrass me, but he did leave me befuddled. “I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said to the church. What? I thought. Where is this coming from? I was 18, graduating high school, and he was 38, on his third career, pastoring his second church. “I had to grow up,” Dad continued, “and so, John and I grew up together.”

He spoke as if he were an adolescent, not my Dad, who knew pretty much everything. I tried to disagree with him, but he had his mind set on confessing that he was still a work in progress.

Today I’m 14 years older than that version of my Dad, with four high school graduations in the rearview mirror and our fifth and last child’s pomp and circumstance just over the horizon. And I’ve never felt his words were truer. I’ve had to grow up with my kids, and I’m still a work in progress.

I could easily lament my regrets and warn you to avoid them. I’d say: Keep your career in its proper place. Set your concerns about money in God’s daily care. And Every day as you sit, walk, rest, and rise together show your children that Christ is lovely, real, and very near. But I won’t burden you with my mistakes, or give you a program.

Though I’m still growing up, this I know: It’s not my grip on Christ that keeps me in His kingdom (John 6:37, Psalm 63:8). Neither is it my grasping hold for my children that makes them His. He was their Father before me, and He will be their Father beyond my life, to eternity. My role is temporary. At best, it gave them, in microcosm, a reference point for all of God’s loving care for them.

It’s been important to teach them, disciple them, encourage them, and I’ve sinned plenty with my meager investments. But perhaps even more, I’m a model of weakness. Like my father once did, I need to be willing to say so.

Though our hearts ache as we walk past their empty rooms, there is much to celebrate in this season of life. Somehow, we’ve become great friends. These young adults listen to their parents, and more importantly, we listen to them—a lot! We’re learning from them, and finding that they view the world a lot less selfishly than we did.

Right now, as it seems like even their smallest choices threaten to become decisions with life consequences—they feel overwhelmed. Like the world might crash in. So now, more than ever, this is the time to tell them how confused and broken I was then, and how confused and broken I still am. But for Christ, I’d have no hope. But more and more I’m getting glimpses beyond the veil, of how Christ has held my hand through it all.

Recently I was running errands in my car, praying. I was troubled about many things, mostly about how to put three kids through college this year. That’s when I stopped at the library and went inside, still in prayer. While browsing I found a bookmark on the stacks. It was that familiar verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (ESV). I thought, How nice! I hope somebody finds that, it could be really encouraging—BOOM! Wait, the bookmark is for me. God is answering my frantic prayer with this peaceful reminder. He is in control.

I had to grow up as my children grew. I’m still growing up. And you are, too.

God’s Goodness in the Ordinary

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by Natalie Kliewer

Scrambled eggs, crunchy bacon, fingers laced around a mug of piping hot lukewarm coffee – another ordinary, slow morning. Predictability sizzling in the skillet, the air smells like déjà vu. This isn’t the first morning I have sat here in these pajamas, watching my husband flip pancakes, listening to our son ramble on about caterpillars and butterflies, constantly eyeing my daughter to make sure she isn’t eating too fast.

It is exceptionally beautiful and yet the splendor is often overlooked; the mundane feels like it is lacking grand, new adventure. Normalcy isn’t near as exciting or shiny as the spontaneous surprise.

Maybe you’re like me. There have been moments…days…seasons where you have felt unseen. Within the walls of your home you are putting away dishes for the hundredth time, refereeing sibling squabbles, kneeling down to wipe crumbs. Outside your home you are sending what feels like the hundredth email, navigating rush hour traffic, or impatiently sitting through another drawn out work meeting. Mundane tasks, constant work, tiring repetition…what if we stopped to realize that the unseen work in our lives is still sacred and holy work that God has called us to for His purpose?

In Philippians 4:11 Paul writes “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” What stands out to me most about this passage are the two words, “whatever situation.” This means whether I am a tired mother tripping over another Hot Wheel car, a working parent balancing the demands of work and home life, or a single parent navigating a season of loss and disappointment…whatever my situation.

When Paul wrote these words he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel, chained, and most likely experiencing a great deal of pain and suffering. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a season where contentment came easy.

Instead of giving in to my sinful desire of discontentment, apathy, or grumbling, it is my daily prayer that I may see God’s goodness in the ordinary. I pray that by His grace, I will be able to demonstrate His love through whatever He gives me each day. I pray for an eternal focus, even during the humdrum moments of life.

During this season of parenthood, I am praying that the Holy Spirit will steady my focus. Friends, I hope my daily struggles will challenge you as well. May we be parents who smother peanut butter and jelly along with smothered prayers for the little mouths who will devour it in two seconds. May we remember that the diapers we change are that of little unbelievers who are observing us constantly (even when we are tired at 3am). May we sit with our kids on the porch and sip a glass of lemonade through a straw of thankfulness. May we sacrifice our alone time to be present after a long day at the office. May we choose over and over again to serve those in our family for the glory of God. Amidst the busyness of parenthood, let’s slow down our hearts and act with purpose…even when it feels like our work is monotonous and unseen.

The big moments of life are grand, but the richness of life seeps in from the cracks of the ordinary. The only true answer for contentment and peace comes from our loving Father. Cling to the gospel, embrace an attitude of prayer, and rejoice always – whatever your situation.

So many of the big lessons in our life are not radically learned overnight; God refines us in the simple and small moments, day in and out. One day I want to look back. One day I want to tell my kids about God’s goodness in my life, to show them that He has a purpose in the beauty, the hardships, my shattered dreams, and even the ordinary day-to-day. I want them to know that motherhood was one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I will celebrate the simple, mundane moments of motherhood because by His grace, it is radically changing me.

These are the days where dishes pile higher, and laundry multiplies like rabbits.

These are the days of snotty noses, slides, and bike rides.

These are the days of choosing to start, even when you are behind; a surrender to self, an embrace with humility.

These are the days of trying to blend the water and oil, Mary’s heart and Martha’s servanthood.

These are the days we fail. By God’s grace, these are the days we succeed.

These are the days we recite the mantra once again…

Rejoice always.

Grace abounds.

Goodness exists.

Tell Them Your Story

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by Kelly Shipp

My 15 year old daughter, Emma, and I were talking this morning about a heart-heavy situation, and I reminded her to take her worries and fears to the Lord. God was faithful in that moment. He gave me the words to point her back to Him.

After our brief conversation, the kids and I headed to school. On the way there, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her head bowed and her eyes closed. My heart swelled. I know what you’re thinking- she could have been getting a few more minutes of shut eye before heading to class – but that’s not Emma. She usually is very awake and aware of all that God has called her to for that day. So my heart was hopeful that she listened to me and took her heavy heart to the Lord.

I tell you this story to remind you of something that the Lord is teaching me right now in parenting: He has called us to this role, with our specific children, not because we are faithful and always loving to them, but because He is.

He also wants us to tell them our story, because our story points back to his love and faithfulness.

Psalm 100:5 says “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever; and his faithfulness to all generations.”

I surrendered my life to Jesus at 19, but when I was Emma’s age, I was on the run from the Lord. In my mind, He was irrelevant, unresponsive, and heartless. I had heard about his love, I just did not want it at all.

Don’t you think Emma needs to hear about my wayward heart as a teen and how I rejected the King? Should she hear that I was lost, scared, hurting, and enthroning idols in my heart? Absolutely! She needs to know about my great rescue by a powerful Deliverer. She needs to hear that I believe nothing could have made my dead heart alive other than the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well my child does NOT need to hear my whole story. It’s a bit much.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t have anything to say, really, I’ve known Jesus from my earliest memories.”

The truth is, you and I carry the legacy of faith by sharing the story of how God has advanced his Kingdom in our lives. This is Kingdom-building work you and I are doing when we share our story with our kids.

Do you know how much your kids long to know who you were before they were?

Tell them your story again and again. It’s vital that as they grow, you build on the story of God’s redemptive work in your life. Sing your favorite hymns over your infant. Tell your 3 year old that Jesus loves her, and that you know that Jesus loves you. Tell your 5 year old that he can go to Jesus in prayer when he is scared, and that you have to do that when you’re scared. Then show him how you pray and read your favorite Bible stories together with him. Tell your school-age child about who Jesus was to your family of origin, what your church experience was like, if you made poor choices and the consequences of those choices. Remind her that you give her consequences because you love her (that always goes over really well, but nevertheless, it’s important to say). Tell your middle schooler about God’s provision and protection for you when you were his age, and remind him that when you’re not there, the Lord is. Help him remember God’s Word by putting Scripture to memory, and share your favorite verses with him. Tell your high schooler about God’s grace that never runs out, and that true repentance always brings forgiveness. Tell her about the messy, awful things you’ve done for which you have been forgiven. God’s story is intimately weaved through your story, and while your kids are under your roof, they need to see it.

Emma’s a covenant kid. She’s grown up in the Church. There’s a lot we’ve probably taken for granted because she’s technically been taught the gospel and sound theology every Sunday. But I can’t forget that I’ve been given stewardship of her and my role is to continually point her to Jesus. It is foolish to expect her relationship with Him to thrive because we make it to church every week.

I’m praying for you as you share your story. It’s a good one, because God is good. Tell it to your kids. You’re weaving a legacy of faith into your children’s lives, and you’re building God’s Kingdom.

Cheetos Stains & Lego Pains: Entrusting Our Kids to the Savior

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by Mike McAuliff

I’ve got a pocket full of one-liners and among those my family hear on the regular is, “with blessings come complications”. It’s a truism that shows up in work, in ministry, and in the family. The blessings of a job bring the complications of workload and ethics. The blessing of living and serving in a church community bring the complications of interpersonal dynamics and dealing with brokenness. The blessings of family and children bring the complications of disciplining kids and equipping them to know and love God.

It also brings the complication of things I couldn’t have fathomed in the years before fathering two girls. You know. Things like being stabbed by Legos in the middle of the night or realizing we can’t have light-colored furniture anymore because … Cheetos. Like any dad, I wouldn’t trade the complications — big or small— for anything in the world. I love these daughters and pray there’s never a day they don’t know and love the name of Jesus. But I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I also pray for them to have REALLY boring testimonies. Honestly. I don’t want them to have epic struggles or addictions to overcome, I want them to have calm and boring lives in Christ.

Of course what is true is that I am not my kids’ savior and I can’t protect them from harm or trials. My wife and I have walked through a difficult season with our girls this year; one that has reminded us that we cannot rescue our kids from the difficulty of life. We’ve been reminded on the flip side of these complications what a blessing it is to know that a truer and better Father loves and cares for them. The birth certificate may assert that a child is legally yours, but they belong first and foremost to the God who dreamed them up and knit them together.

Does their belongingness to God mean we abdicate our roles? By no means. We are the stewards and the hands and feet of Jesus to love and nurture the children he entrusts to us. But the bigger picture of God’s hand over our children is a blessing.

Consider one father in the scripture – Jairus.

In Mark 5:21-42, we Jairus, a prominent figure in the community and father of a very sick little girl. He falls at Jesus’ feet and pleads with Jesus to come because Jairus’ daughter is dying. He begs that Jesus would come and lay hands on the girl, so that she would be healed. To Jairus’ relief, Jesus comes with him. Time is of the essence here and, as parents, we can feel the urgency. If a life hangs in the balance, we expect God would respond immediately. But look what happens while they are on their way: a woman who has been suffering for twelve years, bleeding constantly, seeks out Jesus and reaches for his robes. She interrupts this mission. As she touches his robes, Jesus knows that power had gone out from him and he stops to seek out the woman who’d been healed. He stops!

Do you see it? The agony of this delay?

In the middle of a great and urgent mission to heal Jairus’ daughter, Jesus stops. If you were Jairus, what would your reaction be? “Are you kidding me, Jesus? This woman is bleeding – this is not a life-threatening issue — but my daughter is DYING.” If Jesus was a doctor, he’d be sued for malpractice. But Jesus would not be hurried. And as Jesus is still talking with the woman who was healed, Jairus receives word that his daughter has died.

Can you imagine what Jairus thinks of Jesus now? What are you thinking when you hear Jesus’ response? I knew it. I knew You couldn’t do it. I give my child to Jesus and this is what happens.

How does Jesus respond? TRUST ME. I’m still coming.

You may know the story: Jesus returns to Jairus’ house, greets the mourners with a stunning, hope-filled rebuke (“She is only sleeping!”) and then speaks gently to the little girl, bringing her back to life. Jairus went to Jesus for a healing and instead, he got a resurrection!

Of course, this is not a proof text that Jesus always heals or resurrects. We know this isn’t a formula, but an expression of his compassion and power in the lives of our children. This story is a reminder that God is infinitely more concerned for our children than we are, that he meets us in our grief, that his kindness corrects us, and that he himself is the hope and rescue our children need. Whatever the complication of the circumstance or heartache or trial, the promise of Jesus’ presence is the blessing we get to embrace.

This past year, there were so many days I was frustrated, angry, and wished that we could go back to “normal” (whatever normal is). But I wouldn’t change this story, because in the middle of our circumstances, God has been faithful and he has revealed to us that (in one of my daughter’s words) she is “grasping the gospel now” because of this circumstance.

There’s nothing I can do or my wife can do or will to change a heartache or fix something broken and hurtful for our girls. So when we see in this story of Jairus that God is the only one who can change the narrative, who do something about it — we can be ENCOURAGED in the presence and provision of God over our kids. We still love and equip and walk with our kids, but we trust the saving to Jesus.

The same Savior who saved us can save our kids and this is the hope we walk in.