Last fall, Providence brought me way, way out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what to expect when Ben (my husband) and I were invited to sit in on a six-week "Families Count" parenting class – a Lifeline sponsored training for parents who have lost custody of their children and are trying to get them back, or who might possibly lose custody but are working to keep it. That's child abusers and drug addicts, right? Bad people...
Shortly after I sat down on the first night of class, my stereotypes were immediately challenged. I noticed that no one around me looked stoned or smelled of alcohol. Instead, I saw a lot of kind, smiling faces. Even still, my knees continued to nervously knock until the leader of the class introduced himself and succinctly described every person in the room, including Ben and me. "We're all parents," he said, "who have kids we are laboring to love. And we are all broken, selfish people with messy lives in desperate need of help – rescuing, even." He went on to say that no one should think that he's anything special because he's the teacher. He was a messed up parent too, just as much in need of this class. The playing field was level.
That moment changed my entire perspective of "these people" and this class. I was humbled. Yes, I learned that some of the participants struggled with drug addiction. Some may have neglected their children. One was a teenage mom whose social worker thought she could use a little parenting wisdom. Another woman had escaped from an abusive partner and wanted to show the Court her commitment to care for her children.
"We're all parents who have kids we are laboring to love. And we are all broken, selfish people with messy lives in desperate need of help – rescuing, even."
The leader's initial assessment was proven to me week by week as fragments of my classmates' life stories were shared. We all may look differently and come from vastly different places, but we are all laboring to love our infants who don't sleep, toddlers with tantrums, picky eaters, the rivalrous siblings in our house, and our sassy-mouth preteens; and we all fail our children daily because of our selfishness, idolatry, laziness, sinful anger, unkind words, and pride. Many of these specific issues are addressed within the course of the six-week class; but more importantly, Families Count addressed our heart problems as parents, and proclaimed Christ as the Rescuer we all need. Regardless of whether or not one has forfeited his or her kids to the system, we would all do well to be a part of this class, because it lifts up Jesus as the hero and hope of our homes! I'm so thankful that our church has gotten involved with hosting this program. There could be no clearer way for us pursue our vision to become a diverse family!
Below I'd like to share a little run-down of each week of the six-week class. As you read it, keep in mind the background of the attendees. I'm hoping that an "inside look" into the class will fan the flames of your excitement over this unique opportunity Immanuel Church has "to make the real Jesus known in Birmingham and beyond"!
Week 1 – We focused on God's desire for families: image-bearing. We discussed God's desire to "fill the earth" with image-bearers who display His character to each other and to the world by mirroring His attributes (being "merciful & gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."), and how we are to bear His image in our work and in what God has entrusted to our care ("subdue the earth"). We also talked about the disruptions to God's design (our own sinful choices and others' sinful choices that affect our families).
Week 2 - This week's discussion topics included our families of origin, learned behaviors, generational cycles, and the unintended messages we give our kids. We were encouraged to "own" our personal sin and it's effect on our families. Some poignant quotes from this night were: "Often what we do in moderation, our children will do in excess." "We want our kids to learn the behavior of completely depending on Christ." And, "We need to be killing sin, or sin will be killing us."
Week 3 - We brainstormed how the family can be seen as a team, and the role of parents as "coaches" (teaching, instructing, correcting, organizing, calling plays, positive reinforcement, reaching out to other coaches to learn new strategies, etc.). We also discussed the basics of childhood development and "attachment."
Week 4 - We differentiated between discipline and punishment (the parent's heart of love & desire to teach vs. the parent's heart of annoyance, anger, and retribution). We discussed practical ideas for loving discipline.
Week 5 - The discussion centered around service (taking stock of the family's collective talents, time, and treasure, and brainstorming how to serve together). My favorite quote from this class was, "The world defines success by what you have. The Bible defines success by what you give." Also, a large part of the evening was devoted to explaining and working out what it means to budget finances.
Week 6 - The last week of class was particularly encouraging. There was a "graduation" of sorts where each participant was presented with The Jesus Storybook Bible and encouraged to read through it (repeatedly) with their children. Then we talked about how broken families can be restored in Christ, and we read aloud from the Storybook Bible about God's redemption for Joseph and his family. Finally, each participant was encouraged to make some "I will..." resolutions based on what he or she had learned during the class. Many participants shared these out loud. It was a moving, humbling time. We finished the class with prayer (as we did each night).
If you would like to attend an upcoming training or have questions about serving with Families Count, contact Traci Newell: firstname.lastname@example.org