Raising Covenant Families
By: Kelley McLaughlin
Every Sunday, week after week, Christ Covenant members and friends fill the halls of Sutton Middle School. Fresh-brewed Covenant Coffee is poured and breakfast pastries are enjoyed. Fellowship is in full swing. Before long, the Covenant Lounge closes as the theater doors open. Seat by seat the theater fills and the music begins to play. We worship, we pray, we learn and we glorify the Creator of it all.
On any given Sunday, our church family is transformed; transformed by the Gospel, transformed by the revelation of God’s mercy and love for us, transformed by the power of His church gathered. Every Sunday, week after week, our Christ Covenant family grows larger, yet closer. In the words of pastor Dees, it is “right and good and beautiful.”
We’re on a mission to Find Atlanta, one lost Atlantan at a time, and, in doing so, we’re raising a family. Raising a family takes time, patience, intentionality and, most of all, love.
Our church is transforming in more tangible ways, too. Families are, quite literally, being formed and transformed before our eyes. In Christ Covenant’s short yet powerful existence, a new generation of Christ Covenant members has entered the world – 12 in just the last six months to be exact (as of this printing). These wee ones will continue Finding Atlanta for years to come.
But first, they need to come to know how and why Finding Atlanta is so important. They need to learn the message of the Gospel. This is where their families come in. So, what does it mean to raise a Christian family? What does this look like in 2018 in Atlanta? How does one prepare to bring a new believer into such a broken world?
We sat down with a few of our Covenant families to hear their stories.
The Holman Family
Jim, Kaitlin, Jeremiah (5.5 months)
On September 20, 2017, Jim and Kaitlin Holman didn’t just become parents, they became a family. Jeremiah James Holman entered this world and everything about their own world was transformed – relationships, responsibilities, faith and, yes, even their choice in music (the best of Veggie Tales can now be found on Jim’s Spotify playlist).
“We always would have thought of ourselves as a family before, when it was just the two of us, but now that we have Jeremiah our roles in our marriage have completely changed,” says Jim. “We would serve each other before, but there was also enough time and flexibility to do more things individually. Now, we've become a family together, which means that we have a first responsibility to think of what needs each of our other family members have before getting to what's on our own lists.”
And those to-do lists aren’t getting any shorter. The demands of everyday life, coupled with careers and, now, a child, just keep growing. But amidst the constant tug-of-war for more time, Kaitlin and Jim have found renewed purpose in their faith and a new appreciation for God’s Word. The Book of Jeremiah gave them great comfort during Kaitlin’s pregnancy and Scripture continues to provide them guidance for maneuvering through the first months of parenthood.
“We know that even before we got to meet our little boy, God had every step of his life, every challenge, every victory and every interaction crafted for him. We pray that he would not be deterred from spreading and loving God’s Word..."
When asked what the biggest spiritual challenge of this season of their lives is, they summed it up in just two words – giving grace.
“Grace when the house is a mess. Grace when you haven’t thought about dinner and it is 7 p.m. Grace when you’re exhausted and Jeremiah is sick or our puppy, Ellie, had an accident – or is digging in the mud. Grace when Jim has to work late. Grace when you struggle to make a decision on when to go back to work… Grace with each of ourselves when we realize how self-absorbed we can be and feel guilty for only thinking of ourselves and our family’s needs.”
This challenge is one they are committed to work through for years to come as they raise and grow their family. But they are also finding time to simply enjoy their new titles. The best part of being Jeremiah’s Mom and Dad so far? Love, says Jim.
“The love I have for my child is indescribable. Unlike any love I’ve ever felt. So strong and fierce and protective and proud. It’s pretty cool to get a glimpse of what God’s perfect love for all of us looks like”
The VanAernam Family
Ethan, Lindsey, Natalie (2), Abigail (3), Henry (10 months)
“… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
It is this verse – Joshua 24:15 – that is the foundation upon which Ethan and Lindsey VanAernam have built their family. Natalie, 3, Abigail, 2, and Henry, 10 months, round out this family of five. As Christians, everything they do is to serve the Lord.
With three under four, Ethan and Lindsey lean heavily on their faith and a variety of invaluable Christian resources to lead their family towards the Lord. Among their favorites are “Strong Fathers for Strong Daughters” by Meg Meeker and “Choosing to Cheat” by Andy Stanley. The latter focuses on the dangers of overworking and misplacing the value of your time and how both can rob your family. Another go-to resource for the VanAernams is “Journey Into God’s Word” by J. Duvall and J. Hays.
“I recommend [“Journey Into God’s Word”] because it is essential that parents can read and understand the Bible so that they can teach the Bible to their children,” says Ethan.
Immersing their family in the Bible is a priority in the VanAernam home. Ethan and Lindsey, along with their three children, open God’s Word every day. They read and pray over Scripture in order to help model the Christian life.
“We hope that [our children] would see the love we hold for God and how it impacts our lives.”
The Turner Family
Clay, Rachael, Brooks (7.5 months)
There have been many “firsts” in the Turner household over the past year. Clay and Rachel welcomed their first son, Brooks, in July 2017, and life has been an adventure ever since. While they continue journeying into new, uncharted territory, they wouldn’t trade even one of these special “firsts.” Those have been highlights of parenthood thus far.
“His first giggle, when he started recognizing our faces in the middle of a crowded room, and the first time he ate real food,” they say of their favorite “Brooks’ moments.” “It is amazing how each step is better than the last!”
One thing that remains constant in their new roles as parents is their commitment to Christ – not only for themselves, but for Brooks as well. Every night before Brooks goes to sleep Clay and Rachel pray over him. They alternate who prays aloud so that their son knows both of his parents are intentionally turning to Christ in prayer for him. They pray for Brooks’ well-being and healthy development in these critical first months; that Brooks will come to know the Lord; and that God places in him a spirit to serve and love.
As for spiritual hurdles facing the Turners as mother and father, trust stands at the forefront. Admittedly, they continue to learn how to trust each other and themselves in new ways daily.
“You are no longer just responsible for yourself or each other, but a little someone who God has entrusted you with completely,” says Rachel. “This new adventure can cause attitudes and mindsets that may not be as Kingdom-centered as we would like.”
Seeking God in the challenging moments and praising His perfect work in the “first” moments is the new norm for Clay and Rachel as they shepherd their family.
“Our desire is to teach him how to stand strong in the Lord as we raise him in a culture that is against the ideals we will be shepherding him towards.
The Patton Family
David, Corrine, William (6), Olivia (4), Elizabeth (6 months)
Parenthood isn’t new to David and Corrine Patton – they have been blessed with 6-year-old William and 4-year-old Olivia – but when Elizabeth joined the family last year, it was just as special.
“What a picture of God’s love,” says Corinne of new birth. “Your heart grows more than you could imagine.”
David and Corrine appreciate more than ever what it truly means to be a family. It is a “great calling” that they constantly thank the Lord for. With each child they have prayed a similar prayer: “Lord, show us the gifts you have given [this child] and their weaknesses so that we can encourage and push them with Your heart, not our own.”
They have established expectations and responsibilities for their older two and pray that they remain role models for their baby sister, shepherding her as a faithful daughter of Christ. As parents, they are well aware of the pitfalls and temptations that stand before them, but challenge themselves and their family to constantly stay in His Word.
“It is easy to put God on the back burner with more and more people pulling us in different directions. We can see and know God is close and directing our lives when we are spending time with Him each day,” says Corrine. “It is also easy to see that our children are sinners and to become proud, forgetting that we, too, are sinners. We have to ask God daily to show us our sin as well as our children's.”
Ultimately, the Pattons aim to purposefully seek truth daily. They seek to read His truth, hear His truth and surround themselves with those who pour His truth into them. And they’ve found just that as members of the Christ Covenant family.