In celebration of Mother’s Day, Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses have offered send a copy of their new book to one Practicing Families reader. It would make a great gift–to yourself or to another Practicing Parent in your life.
Please enjoy the book excerpt below. Then, if you would like to be entered in the drawing to win the book, simply leave a comment about this excerpt here or on our Facebook page. What songs do you sing to your children? What faith stories do you love to share with them? What do you remember about their baptism or dedication?
This Saturday, we will have a guest post from Bromleigh and announce the book winner!
Saying Grace: On stories, and songs, and nurturing faith
By Lee Hull Moses
*Excerpted from Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People (Alban 2012). Used with permission.
Our daughter Harper has always been an amazing sleeper, giving us full nights of rest long before I care to admit to other sleepy-eyed new mothers. But in the first few months, those long stretches of sleep were paid for by an hour or two of rocking and walking and singing late into the evening.
Somewhere along the way, I started memorizing hymns. I would stand in her room with the hymnal propped up on the changing table, Harper sideways across my chest with her head in the crook of my left elbow. I’d sing a verse, then step away from the changing table and see how much I could remember, singing it over and over until I didn’t need to cheat anymore or until she was asleep enough to set in her crib. I picked seasonal hymns, such as “Let All Things Now Living” at Thanksgiving and “Awake, Awake, and Greet the New Morn” in Advent (which, despite its name, works pretty well as a lullaby). I always cried during the last verse of “Amazing Grace.”
Now that Harper’s older, we’re trying to find other ways to nurture her faith, and we’re trying hard to sit down to dinner together most nights. It seems like the responsible thing to do, even if we only manage five minutes of actual sitting, and even if “dinner” consists of frozen pizza. We also started saying grace before we eat, something Rob and I didn’t really do when it was just the two of us. One of our favorites is “Johnny Appleseed,” which we started singing when Harper was still in a high chair, banging gleefully on the tray in front of her. We usually start out quietly, drawing out the “Ohh . . . ,” while drumming our fingers on the table, and then we’re off: “The Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord’s been good to me.” And then the fun part: “Johnny Appleseed, Amen!” with our arms flung high in the air. Even before she could sing along, Harper always joined in for the Amen.
We occasionally forget to pray, to be honest, especially on those nights when simply getting home seems like an accomplishment. Sometimes, in the middle of dinner, Harper will stop eating and pat her hands on the table, looking up at us with a little hint of a giggle, and sing, “Ohhhhh . . . ,” waiting for us to join in. “The Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord. . . .” It’s as if, in the middle of a bite of pizza, she remembers just how good God is. I am grateful for the reminder.
Saying grace is a good place to start, I suppose, but nurturing faith in my daughter requires more. I discovered not long ago that in the vast library of children’s books we seem to have accumulated in the past several years, only a very few are explicitly related to the Christian tradition. They are an odd few: One is about the donkey who carries Mary to Bethlehem, another has an audio component that says, “It’s fun to pray!” when you press a button, and a third is a strange little book about Booker the Bear who reminds us in rhymed verse that God is in control. Frankly, I feel silly reading them and generally reach for Goodnight Moon or Max’s Bedtime instead.
One night, as I passed over those Bible storybooks yet again, it occurred to me that I want her to learn the Bible stories at some point, and I wondered: If Rob and I don’t tell her those stories, who will? (I had a similar revelation not long after she was born: I was hurriedly changing a diaper and did a less-than-thorough job of wiping her, as if I were thinking, Well, someone else will clean her up better later.)
Those Bible stories—the breath of God that swept over the deep, Noah and his ark full of animals, Sarah’s laughter, the wandering in the wilderness, the starlit Bethlehem sky, the twelve baskets of loaves and fishes, the stone rolled away, the rush of a mighty wind—those stories are the reason I believe in God. I want her to love them as dearly as I do. But where do I start? What do I say? “Harper, this is the story about God.” How do you tell this story to someone who’s never heard it?
In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are commanded:
You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deut. 6:5–7)
Rob and I once stood in front of our whole church and promised to do this. In our tradition, we dedicate babies instead of baptizing them. For us, the baby dedication is more about the commitment of the parents, who stand at the front of the sanctuary and hope their child won’t be the one who cries when the minister holds her. When asked if they promise to nurture the child and lead her to full discipleship of Christ, the parents respond, “We do, with God’s help.” We made those promises, as our daughter squirmed in a little green jumper and tights she wasn’t used to wearing and both sets of grandparents looked on.
It’s quite a thing to promise, when I stop to think about it. Will we live our lives in such a way that our daughter will come to know Jesus Christ? The first time Harper said the word God—I don’t even remember the context, I just remember the word—it took my breath away, and I realized that as much as I want her to know God, I wanted her to wait a little while, at least long enough for me to figure it all out for myself so I could teach her. At moments like that, I remind myself of that sanctuary full of people who looked on, smiling, at Harper’s dedication, the people who made those promises with us. I’m glad we don’t have to do this alone.
Will we keep these words in our hearts? Will we recite them to our children? Will we live our lives as a testimony to the living Christ?
I hope so.
I hope we’ll always make time to give thanks, even when we’re not feeling very thankful. I hope we keep telling those stories and singing those songs. I hope she will keep asking questions. I hope church people will always be as good to her as they are now, and even if we never find the words to describe it to her, I hope she will come to know the grace of God.
My mother-in-law, on a visit when Harper was not quite two, brought a book of bedtime lullabies. Most were secular—“Frere Jacques” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Most I’d never heard of. But midway through the book was this one:
All night, all day, angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day, angels watching over me.
It was familiar, somewhere down in the depths of my being, though I hadn’t heard it for years, probably since my own childhood. It took me awhile to find the melody, and even then I’m sure I changed keys several times. (There is surely a lesson about grace in my daughter’s acceptance of my tone-deaf lullabies.)
I sang it through a few times and then turned the page to try a different song, but Harper reached out and flipped back. “Again,” she commanded, so I sang it again . . . and again . . . and again. After several times through, she was perfectly still, and I thought she might have fallen asleep, so I began humming. She sat up and shook her finger at me. “No,” she said. “Sing.”
So I did. She sat still in my lap as we rocked and sang about the ever-present love of God in the deepening night.
– – – – –
After serving two United Methodist churches outside Chicago, and being ordained an Elder along the way, Bromleigh McCleneghan (left) recently began as the Associate for Congregational Life at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago. She is a graduate of Boston University and the U of C. She and her husband Josh have two daughters, Fiona and Calliope.
Lee Hull Moses is the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a graduate of Albion College and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where she was a Disciples Divinity House scholar. She and her husband Rob have two children, Harper and Jonathan.
My own children are grown but as a Christian Educator, I am affirmed and encouraged by your posts. In my efforts to help all of the families I serve to be Practicing Families, I share your posts with my church families and so many have been blessed and found that your words resonate with them. Your words have an impact with people far beyond what you may expect. Truly, you are throwing a stone into a pond; the ripples are widening.
Thank you for helping the ripples to widen, Jan! I really appreciate Christian Educators who understand that a big part of their role is to equip families for Christian formation in the home. Blessings to you! ~Joanna
very nice! We have sing-alongs at the piano–“The gift of love”, “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale”, “Seek Ye First”, “Blessed be the God of Israel”–kids now 10.5. and 15–but they still love doing this.
I actually *just* started singing to our 4 mo old. Frustrated that she wouldn’t sleep, and tired of saying shhh per the happiest baby on the block, I started singing hush little baby…she quieted but didnt sleep and then i called up the hymns my dad used to sing to me and my sister at bedtime. I found myself working through the old rugged cross, how great thou art, amazing grace, and I come to the garden alone. Sort of hit or miss on verses, I like the idea of putting the hymnal out to relearn the hymns.
Some of Liam’s favorites are: Welcoming Table and Hallelujah the Great Storm is Over . He is now three and discovering with the joy the stories from his children’s Bible particularly the stories of Jesus. His parent-child dedication was a wonderful celebration and affirmation–born two months early, we kept him in a germ-free “quarantine” for quite some time and so when he was finally able to come to church he was warmly welcome and embrace. I remember the congregation singing, “Jesus, Jesus loves Liam yes he does….”
I love singing with and to my two girls. We also sing Johnny Appleseed as one of the grace choices. The girls get to choose. But, my favorite is those impromptu moments when they request to sing. When the 6 1/2 year old knows some of the words, the 2 year old kind of hums along and adding my voice, we sing. Those moments are precious and faith-filled.
My daughters are both disabled. My older daughter with autism at 15 loves the idea that God loves her and listens to her. We still sing and read children’s stories about God especially at bedtime. My 12 year old daughter is mentally less than 2 years old, and non-verbal, but she loves being read to and being sung to; and even though she doesn’t understand most of the words in her mind, I think she understands them in her heart.
We sing grace each night, too, and we enjoy reading to our three year old from the Spark Story Bible. It’s good stuff. He told me just the other day that Joseph is a superhero (Joseph with the coat, not with baby Jesus).
I love dinner time at home with our family, consisting of a 2nd & 4th grader. We always start with a prayer. When they were younger it was the Shark prayer, said to the tune of Jaws with one’s arms stretch out front like a shark mouth. Now they’re a bit too cool for that, so my husband found another way. One of us parents says the prayer, when finished we all high five and then “Shake n Bake” (knuckle tap). It’s just enough to connect us all through God’s love, and sometimes even bring a smile to the face of a surly tween.
My daughter was baptized on Mother’s Day when she was 4 weeks old. I love the pictures from that day and the whole family gathered round. I still have a cassette tape of the baptism. Hmmmm. Maybe time to digitize that recording.
We read Bible stories to her from many different children’s Bibles, including one that I remember my father reading to me and one that my parents each read from when they were little.
Once she was past the “Bob book” stage of learning to read, we started reading Bible stories together. We’d use an easy reader version and alternate sentences. We then moved to alternating paragraphs and then pages and moved to harder versions of the stories.
Jo, congratulations! You won the book. Please email practicingfamilies at gmail dot com with your mailing address. Thanks.
Wonderful reflections on children and faith! In terms of how to share those great stories, take a look at Desmond Tutu’s, Children of God; a Bible Story book. It’s the best I’ve seen on quite a while for children about 4-8 years old.
Tutu’s Children of God is by the best I’ve seen, also — I actually mention it elsewhere in this chapter; had to cut that section for this excerpt but it’s there in the print version. It really is beautiful and right on target when it comes to retelling the stories for little ears.
When she was first born, I would sing Jesus Loves Me and This Little Light of Mine to my daughter. They became some of the first songs she would sing. When she got older, we found a children’s Bible and have since (off and on) read her a story each night. (It actually often helps me as much as her!)
Every night I sing the Lord’s Prayer to each of of littles, and say the same blessing. I’ve also written a bunch of little discuss we sing. Right now Clara’s favorite is ‘Clara Sue, Sue, —– Clara Sue, do you know that I love you.’ Fill in the blank with an adjective (painting, silly, hugging,etc…). There’s also the Jesus loves The Troyer Children song sung to the tune Jesus loves the little children.
Great fun, and they can’t get enough.
I have had a standing babysitting date night with two little boys for the last 6 years and we sing angels watching over me each night. I love it. My dad used to sing drinking songs from his frat days to me, I didn’t know the difference, and I can still sing them… I think it was his voice that made them so soothing.
I love to sing “The day thou gavest, Lord, is ending,” (Hymn 24 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982) to my daughter. I also invented a new line for the classic “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” since singing “Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in his sight” seems really dated an not cool. So instead I sing, “Every child in every land/Jesus takes them by the hand/Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Regina, I love that you edited that line — when working in Christian education, I did that, too. “Every child in ever place/ is made holy in his grace” But I like yours better!