Author Archives: Traci Smith

At Home in This Life, Interview with Author Jerusalem Greer!

I’ve gushed about Jerusalem on this blog before. We’ve never met in real life, but I really can’t wait for the day she comes to San Antonio. I’m going to march her right over to Bird Bakery so we can eat cupcakes and share stories. In the meantime, these “virtual chats” are a fun way to get to know one another. I know you’ll enjoy this chat as much as I did. She’s an artist in so many ways.

Traci: Tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind At Home in This Life. What story did you feel like you needed to tell? Who do you think should read it and why? 

Jerusalem: At Home in this Life is not the book I set out to write, but it was the book I needed to write. It was the story I needed to live and then tell. I thought I was going to write a fluffy happy book about combining Benedictine monastic practices with ordinary domestic chores – and to some extent that is the book I wrote – but it went much deeper and was much messier than I ever intended.  This book is the story of how everything I thought would make me happy fell apart, and how I found peace at the intersection of mess and brokenness and beauty and happy surprises, when I decided to give God’s plan a try instead of forcing my own. I think anyone who is wishing that their life was something different than it is should read this book, because ultimately – no matter who we are or where we live, we have to learn how to water the grass beneath our feet instead of always seeking greener pastures.

Traci: #notgonnalie, when I see your Instagram posts of your gorgeous farmhouse and your amazing kitchen and your sense of style that includes magazine worthy cookouts  I think to myself “I want that life!” I struggle with that sometimes on social media, seeing other people’s lives and wondering how my own life measures up. One of the things I love about At Home in this Life is now it dives in to some of the challenges you’ve overcome in living the life you want to live. What encouragement do you have for me and other readers who feel overwhelmed by the pressure to do it all and be perfect? 

Jerusalem: Everyone – probably even Martha Stewart – looks at parts of other people’s lives and pines for what they have.  I think that is just a normal part of human existence. The trick is to not become so defined and driven by what you want or what you lack, that you miss all the goodness of what you have.  It’s the old trap of comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides.  I talk a lot about spiritual practices (or disciplines) in the book, and whenever I give a talk or a workshop about these practices I like to remind people there is a reason why they are called spiritual practices and not spiritual perfections. It’s because we all have to practice them in order to get better at them. And some practices – areas of our lives, behaviors, patterns of thought, design skills etc – take longer for us to master than they do for our neighbor. The idea that everyone should be proficient in everything is just nutso. If it makes anyone feel better I stink at cleaning baseboards and exercise.   

Traci: At Home in this Life is more personal and vulnerable than your first book A Homemade Year is it hard to tell your story and know that so many readers will be peering in to your life? Do you have any vulnerability hangovers now that the book is published? 

Jerusalem: Ha! Nope. I generally am on the other end of the spectrum – I worry that I haven’t been vulnerable or transparent enough.  Which is why my husband Nathan reads everything I write first – he is my B.S. meter. He is the one who tells me if I am putting lipstick on a pig, glossing over the hard parts, spinning something to be better than it was or not digging deep enough.

Traci: Along with the book, you’ve worked to curate a whole collection of on trend and fun items to go along with the book. Tell us about the process of finding the artists, curating it, and how it’s doing. 

Jerusalem: Most of the artist are either women I know, or women who were recommended to me. Women whose art and designs I just adore. The collection came about because (as you will read in the laundry chapter) I am a bit of a “stuff” person and I love cute things. (I will never be a minimalist!) But what I really love is cute things that have some meaning – that convey messages of beauty, hope, joy, peace and so on.  The idea was to create a collection based on the words of At Home in this Life an as interrupted by these artist. I am so in awe of their talent and I love every item in the collection – which all make great gifts btw! [Traci Note: I can attest to this! Jerusalem sent me the sweetest mending kit from the collection when her book was released. Love, love, love it!] 

 Traci: What’s your actual writing process like? I imagine you cheffing up some farm fresh eggs and coffee and sitting down at your kitchen table to write before the sun rises, inspiration flowing out for hours, but I know how hard writing can be, too. What time of day do you like to write? Do you have any inspiration or words of wisdom for others who want to publish their own stories? 

Jerusalem: For better or for worse, I write in the margins. Sometimes I do write in the bucolic setting, and other days (like right now for instance) I write in nondescript airports in between speaking gigs. I write on my couch, in my bed, in coffee shops and upstairs at my parents’ house. Sometimes I go away for a week and get a chunk done but that is the exception, not the rule. Generally I am writing whenever I can find enough time to turn on my computer and sit down. And sometimes inspiration flows, and sometimes I just stare at the screen until I can’t take it anymore and give-up.

The only advice I would give aspiring writers is to try and figure out (if you can) why you want to be published writer… Is it to be a conduit of information? Is it to inspire? Is it because you just enjoy it? Is it as springboard to being a speaker? Is it because you love storytelling? There are a lot of ways to approach writing, and the sooner you figure out why you want to write, the quicker you can find a support system in the writing community – which is extremely helpful!

Where can readers get the book and items from the Etsy collection? 

The book is available on Amazon and B&N and for large orders (for book clubs etc) make sure to visit Paracelete Press. To view the whole Curated Collection go HERE

WIN A COPY of At Home in this Life! Paraclete Press has generously offered a copy of At Home in this Life to Faithful Families readers! If you’re interested in winning, just write a comment on the pinned Facebook Post to enter! Deadline to enter is Sunday, July 30th at NOON CST!

 

30 Grace Filled Affirmations for When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

Hi There Faithful Families Parents!  You’re the type of person who wants to create all of the meaningful faith-filled moments with your kids. (I know, because I’ve met hundreds of you.) You, like me, want to savor every moment because you know (because people like me are constantly reminding you) that children grow up way too fast and then, you blink, and they’re off to college. You work incredibly hard, both inside your homes and outside of them. A lot of you are completely exhausted. All the time. 

Lean in a little closer because I want to make sure to tell you this right in your ear:

Nobody does this parenting thing perfectly. We are all messing it up  a lot of the time.

We shout. We say something we regret. We are less present with our families than we want to be. We make an effort do do something meaningful and then it falls flat and everyone’s mad and crying. We say to ourselves “I can’t believe I let them eat that and watch that, and do that.” When trouble comes it gets worse. I’m the reason my child is anxious/struggling/jumpy/having a tantrum/sad/sick. We blame ourselves.

I know this. I live this.

I worry a lot about what it does to all of us when the bar is set so high for parenting. I worry about how I contribute to this as the author of a book on creating sacred moments at home. Am I just one more voice out there telling parents to do one more thing? Parents already have ample opportunities to mess their children up for life, and I creating another one? Even worse, what does it say when I end the day feeling exhausted and inadequate? If I can’t do it, how can I expect others to do it?

When we tune in and listen to the things we tell ourselves as parents, it can be pretty dismal sometimes. I’m not doing it right. Other parents are better at this. I should be doing different things. My children are going to be maladjusted and it’s going to be all my fault.  I’ve been thinking for awhile about some affirmations for all of us. Things we can say at the end of the day when the worry tapes start playing. I wrote them for me, but if they’re helpful for you, too, please enjoy them. I thought about making a little printable for you so you could print these out and tape them to your wall and then I thought Nope. If you want these in your life, take the time to write them or type them with your own hands. That way you might start to believe them.

Carry on, hardworking parents who want to do right by your children. You are enough.

30 Grace-Filled Affirmations for Parents When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

  1. I have provided the basic needs for my children today. Food, shelter and safety. I can worry about “extras” another day.
  2. I am doing the best I can.
  3. Parenting is more than 18 years of hard work. It is impossible not to make some mistakes along the way.
  4. The more I learn and experience, the better I am getting at parenting.
  5. It is a good and smart thing to reach out and ask for help when I need it.
  6. When I lose my temper it is an opportunity for my children to see that I have limits, too.
  7. My children’s success and happiness in life is dependent on a lot of different factors. I can not control all of them.
  8. There are other people in my child’s life who can help shape and teach him/her. I don’t have to do it all myself.
  9. When I make a mistake, even a large one, God forgives me, every time.
  10. Children are resilient.
  11. It is appropriate to take time for myself. When I take time for myself, it helps me to be a better parent.
  12. There are other people who enjoy being with my children. By allowing others to help, I am giving a gift to them and to my children. It is not a sign of weakness to allow others to care for them.
  13. Children learn valuable life lessons when they are bored, sad, or working through a problem.
  14. I am responsible to work with my partner create a family environment that works for our family. It doesn’t have to look like other families we know or are related to.
  15. Parenting is difficult. All parents feel doubts and worries at some point. I am not alone.
  16. When I lose my patience or say something I regret, it gives me an opportunity to model what it means to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  17. I am known, loved, and seen by God.
  18. I am grateful for challenging moments because they help my family grow and learn.
  19. When I notice things aren’t going as well as I would like, I can make a course correction and change them.
  20. Some days are busier than other days and provide less opportunity for fun and connection. I remember this on less busy days and take advantage of that.
  21. I treat myself with the same level of kindness, dignity, and respect with which I would want to treat a friend.
  22. I trust my own instincts and abilities.
  23. Even experts who write books and provide advice on parenting sometimes have difficult days.
  24. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, this feeling is not permanent.
  25. I am not obligated to do the same thing other parents are doing.
  26. I am free.
  27. Children are not harmed by ______. (Eating the same meal two days in a row, drinking a glass of soda, watching age appropriate videos, wearing clothes that don’t match, whatever your “guilty” thing is.)
  28. Just because other parents provide ___, doesn’t mean my children are missing out because we don’t provide it.
  29. It is ok to stop doing an activity (or come home from a place) when we aren’t enjoying it or when it is not working.
  30. Every day provides new opportunities and possibilities.

What affirmations would you add? I’ll maybe add them to the list! Leave yours in the comments.

Birthday Tradition: A Birthday Plate!

 

Somehow, inexplicably, we woke up yesterday and our baby boy was six years old. How is that possible? How often I wish it would just slow down (a la Nichole Nordeman’s beautiful song, guaranteed to make you cry.)

I believe tradition, spiritual practice and ceremony can be a way to add meaning to our days, that we might capture them and engrave them on our hearts. When I talk to groups about this, it’s the traditions people can relate to the most. I love hearing stories about special traditions shared on holidays, birthdays and other special days. Traditions can be so comforting and act as an anchor for the soul.

Traditions need not be complicated to be powerful, and the tradition of the “Birthday Plate” is one of the simplest traditions of all. Have a special plate dedicated to birthdays and bring it out for each person, young and old, when it’s their birthday.

Here are three easy options for a birthday plate:

  1. Paint one at a pottery place (Google “paint your own pottery”) – This is how our Birthday Plate came into existence. My husband Elias and I painted one while I was pregnant with our oldest child. Doing a larger item like a plate can get expensive at a place like that, but for a plate that is to be so special, it’s worth it! Take your time, pick a design you really like, and paint over each letter several times to make it dark and vibrant.
  2. Make one using a plate from the dollar store and permanent markers. This is my new favorite way to make a gift for someone. I have used THIS TUTORIAL with great success. My children made gifts for their teachers using this technique, and we made plates for Father’s Day as well. Unique, simple, and fun. If your family doesn’t have a birthday plate tradition, get everyone involved in working on a plate together that can become the new tradition.
  3. Buy one! Etsy has a great selection.

Does your family have a special birthday plate? Post a picture in the comments or tell us about it!

 

If you like creating traditions, spiritual practices and ceremonies at home, check out my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home which has dozens of easy to implement ideas!

 

 

Fun Father’s Day Gift – Wearable Race Track

This weekend, I saw this great idea for a race track shirt and realized we had all of the supplies needed to make it. The boys were super excited for Elias to try it, and I wanted to share it on the blog so we went ahead and gave it to him a little early. This project is SO easy, inexpensive, and lots of fun. The boys had a great time testing it out on Elias, and he seemed to enjoy the little back massage from mini cars rolling all around!

 

Here’s how I made ours:

Materials 

  • Fabric markers – Whatever you have will do. If you need to buy some, they’re good for a lot of other things besides this. We use them to mark clothes, make costumes, etc. THESE are the ones we have, and the brush tip works really well. You could also paint this, and make it look even more awesome.

 

  • Plain white shirt – Again, whatever you have. If you get brand new ones, I would wash and dry first, though I don’t know if that’s a requirement. In our case, we just pulled out an undershirt from the drawer. Don’t go expensive or fancy here, the thin undershirt type works great because you can see through to the template.

 

  • Template – I used the template from THIS TUTORIAL which prints out on four pieces of paper, taped together

 

  • Piece of cardboard large enough for template

 

  • Tape

 

Procedure 

  • 1. Print out the template and tape together. As you can see, I did not take the time to perfectly align the edges, and it was fine. 

 

  • 2. Tape the template to cardboard. I used a flat rate priority mail box.

 

  • 3. Slide the cardboard between the front and back of the shirt so the template shows through. Note: As you can see from the photos, the road “bunches up” around Elias’s shoulders. If I were going to do it again, I wouldn’t have the image go up so high in the shoulder.

 

  • 4. Trace with fabric markers and paint if desired. We may work on this some more and color in the houses and add other details, or we may just leave it alone!

 

  • 5. Give to Dad and enjoy!

I love this as a homemade gift option. It’s not hard at all, and a great thing for children to be excited about sharing with their dad. Enjoy!

Original source: http://thebluebasket.blogspot.com/2011/09/tutorial-car-shirt.html

For many more simple and easy ways for family and children to create meaning together, see my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home

 

What fun and creative Father’s Day gift ideas do you have? Comment below with your ideas!

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Church “Pray-grounds:” Eight Stories and Inspiring Examples #kidmin

I first learned of the concept of a “pray-ground” in the sanctuary from the beautiful one built by Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota.   It’s the first pray-ground I know of to get broad media attention and coverage. We’ll get back to Grace’s Pray-Ground, in just a minute, but first:

What’s a pray-ground? 

The name “prayground” comes from Rev. Catherine Renken, pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Kennesaw, GA who brainstormed with others when the prayground at Grace in Apple Valley, MN was being built. The name has caught on!

Though different churches have put it in to practice in different ways, a prayground is a place in the front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship. My own congregation doesn’t have a pray-ground, but it’s a concept I’m interested in and so I set out to hear the stories and collect photos from some churches who do. Read on for eight different stories and photos as well as tips for getting going and links to products you might find useful.

  1. Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Houston, TX

Submitted by Elizabeth Grasham, Solo Pastor

 
  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 1 year.

 

  •  Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It is located on the left of the sanctuary (sanctuary is shaped like a cross).

 

  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? I talked about it with church leaders for over a year; discussed with elders the details; got approval from the worship committee; purchased all items with Board Chair
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? Make sure kids know what behavioral expectations are; Ask parents what they need or don’t need; take away any toy that might click or clack.

2. First Presbyterian Church, Hays, KS

Submitted by Becky Rogowski, Coordinator of Faith Development

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Since September 2016
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? Front of sanctuary to the side. It has soft toys and two tables and chairs. Bumbo seats and baby “rugs”. Baby “cradle”. Puzzles, books, crayons, paper. Ages infant – kindergarten was the intent.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? Research, presented to session, approved and put in. We wanted to be intentional about including young worshippers and their families.

 

  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? Sometimes people sneak loud toys from the nursery in. Our elderly and hearing impaired members have been very resistant to it and that’s an issue we are currently working on.

3. Kingo Lutheran Church (ELCA), Shorewood, WI

Submitted by Carolyn Karl, Director of Cross+Generational Ministry

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Since November 2016
 
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? We removed two pews in the front of the sanctuary and put a throw rug, kids table and chairs, paper and crayons, and soft containers with soft toys. Generally, kids under 5 use it.
 
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary?  The staff, Pastor and Council worked together to come up with different options that were presented to the congregation. The congregation was asked to contact the pastor with questions, and a few concerns were raised. After people saw it in practice, the response and support has been overwhelming.
 
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? When considering where to put it, we spent time sitting on the ground and looking at the view from each location. We moved two pews and moved the very large communion font to provide a clear view of what is going on during worship. (The communion font blocked the view of the altar for the kids but we didn’t realize it until we got to their level). We also chose the location so it is close to the musicians, which the kids love to look at and interact with during worship.

Submitted by Suzy Hutchison, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 2.5 years
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? The playground is in a clear area at rear, that would be a narthex if doors closed. Activities: books, coloring, cardboard blocks, magnetic boards, toy animals, dolls, farm set and a rocking chair. Children from 2-8 years use it.
 
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? My first church council meeting they asked me to name one thing I would change. I said add space in sanctuaryfor kids to participate in child-like ways. They council got up from the table immediately and helped me carry things into sanctuary.
 
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? In our set up, it has to be moved for coffee hour and because it is in the back, there needs to be an adult who keeps an eye on the door, so no one leaves unaccompanied.

Submitted by Karen Ware Jackson, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Almost 3 years.
 
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It’s at the front of the church for a variety of reasons. First of all, because I want kids to be able to see and to feel engaged and I think that’s harder to do when they are hidden at the back, balcony, alcove, etc. Secondly, it’s there because that’s where the space was. If the space has to be in the back (or elsewhere) you just have different challenges to make sure the kids stay engaged. I have books, coloring, whiteboard, and various seasonal activities. I always have an activity that connects with the text which I introduce during the “Word and Wonder with All Ages” and then give the kids the materials to work on during the sermon.
 
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? The Worship elder and I dreamed it up. Check out the video where I tell the story.
 
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? You’ve got to keep people engaged. There will be challenges, but you have to keep talking about it. Keep trying. Keep lifting up the blessings. Keep writing. Keep having the pastoral conversations. t was the focus of my ministry for about a year. Now, it’s this lovely thing that everyone understands and supports. But it wasn’t always that way. It’s a constantly growing and evolving experience. I’ve come to believe that there is no “wrong way” to engage all ages in worship. Our PrayGround works for us, but I don’t think it’s the only way to do it and I don’t even think a “PrayGround” is the right thing for every church. You will make mistakes. Some things don’t work. But the effort will take you where the Spirit is leading. There are blessings and challenges about every set-up. Just don’t let the challenges win.

Submitted by Alina Gayeuski, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? About 2 years.
 
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It is in the back of the sanctuary, in a converted space for coats. It has books, coloring books, Melissa and Doug toys (some put out seasonally – like their Nativity set), soft blocks, stuffed animals, activity bags to take back to the seats – including Autism friendly bags. The age range of children that use this space is from a few months to about 4th grade.
 
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? There was conversation among the pastoral staff team.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thingI think an important part for me has been to include seasonal toys and special need friendly toys as well. The first helps to keep that space changing with the rest of the worship space. The other helps us to be welcoming and inclusive of all people at all ages. We have had a good amount of positive feedback from parents who can be in that space with their children during some harder to focus times of worship (like the sermon). We have had a few noise complaints, but we simply suggested that they sit farther towards the front and that has alleviated the issues mostly. An advertisement for the space is a standard part of the inside bulletin cover welcome page.

7. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Peoria, IL

Submitted by Jenny Replogle, Co-Rector

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 9 Months
 
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? The prayground is located where 2 front pews used to be located. Our sanctuary has a central altar (pews front and back), with a middle aisle on each side. The soft space is located in the 2 pews closest to the altar and pulpit. There are children’s tables and chairs, foam blocks, stuffed toys, and books. We always have coloring pages and sometimes a coloring poster. Ages 3-10 primarily use it.
 
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? The church profile stated that the new rector should ‘make the changes necessary to attract young families’ and we have been working on that since we arrived. After being in the parish for a year, we realized that a lot of young parents sat in back pews and tried to keep their kids entertained and quiet, rather than feeling comfortable in the service. We talked to the vestry about the idea of a soft space, showing pictures of another prayground (that was presented in TYCWP) and explaining that kids were more likely to take in and be part of the liturgy if they were close to it. Vestry was very supportive of the idea, so we took out pews, ordered rugs and tables, and implemented the space.
 
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? We learned that this was needed and longed for far more than was ever articulated, and people of all ages were very happy about it. We also learned that although we had a great deal of support from congregation and vestry, it would have been helpful to communicate to the whole congregation that this was going to happen prior to making the change. We haven’t had too much pushback, but that would have been helpful with the pushback we did receive.

8. Grace Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, MN
Submitted by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, associate pastor

 As I mentioned at the beginning, Grace’s prayground is one of the first and most widely covered praygrounds I know of. Their website has an entire FAQ section where you can go and get answers to anything you want to know about it! Find it HERE.
What do you think? Would you like to have a prayground in your church? Let us know your thoughts or ideas in the comments. Let’s talk about praygrounds!
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For more on faith with children and families, check out my book Faithful Families. 

Guest Post: Jessica Vaughan Lower #whomademyclothes

I have never been the girl who lives to shop. Where I come from, the mall was appreciated just as much for being an oasis of air conditioning during the hot summers as it was for anything else.

But all the same, I have always worn clothes that reflected how I wanted to be seen by the world around me.

When I was in high school, I wore a self-imposed uniform of hoodies and maybe-too-tight Levi’s with a slit cut up the bottom hems of the legs so that the jeans (did I mention that they may have been too tight?) would cover the tops of my gleaming white Adidas shoes. Sometimes I wore other things, but hoodies and Levi’s were my favorite. They went with my black eyeliner perfectly. And they let me blend in with my friends.

A blast from the past

In college, perhaps in response to the Freshman Fifteen Twenty Five and perhaps in response to the early 2000’s, I traded in the hoodies and tight jeans for baggy jeans, flip flops, and maybe-too-tight t-shirts that had quippy little sayings on them. My favorite shirt said “New Jersey: Only The Strong Survive.” I wore it as often as I could once I was accepted to grad school in New Jersey. Not only did this outfit also compliment my black eyeliner, but it made me feel brave and independent in the sea of women on campus who were on the cusp of the emerging “short shorts” trend.

Favorite tee!

Perhaps it was following a year spent in the UK, coupled with the realization that flip flops and t-shirts wouldn’t work well during east coast winters, but I trashed the jeans completely in grad school and replaced them only with tailored tuxedo style slacks. I would pair them with patent red leather loafers, socks with crazy prints on them, layers of thermals under t-shirts with a blazer and, inexplicably, a tie loosely strung around my neck. While I still own those loafers, I have no explanation for this choice in style. All I can say is, I felt like me.

My style has continued to change over the course of my life to reflect how I saw me and how I wanted others to see me: those red loafers became the stilettos of a young professional; stilettos were traded in for the running shoes of a stay at home mom. Button down collars were traded for nursing tanks, which were then traded for exercise wear as I chased toddlers around the park following my morning work-out. When I returned to work four years ago, after five years at home, it was looking at my closet that induced anxiety about my future. For some reason, it was easier to declare “I have nothing to wear!” than it was to admit that I was suffering from imposter syndrome as I returned to work.

Clothes have always reflected who I am into the world.

When Rana Plaza fell in Bangladesh in 2013, I have to say, I was not deeply affected. It’s not that I was cold hearted to it—factory workers shouldn’t have to make the non-sensical choice between death or “keeping their jobs”—it’s just that traumatic stories around sweat shops had been common place to me since Kathy Lee Gifford’s gaffe circa 1996. By 2013, I had accepted disasters like this to be a necessary evil if I wanted to stay clothed. I didn’t like it, I didn’t think it was right, but there was nothing I could do about it if I didn’t want to be publicly nude.

My husband, on the other hand, was mortified. In 2013, he was the chair of the board of the first fair trade clothing company in Africa. And he couldn’t stop talking about Rana Plaza. By December 31st of that same year, he had rid his closet of all of his clothes and replaced them only with clothing that he could guarantee, to the best of his ability, that the workers were treated both fairly and ethically. But because ethical clothing is more expensive than fast fashion, that meant that he could afford less: one pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, two t-shirts, one zip-up sweater, four pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and one pair of ethically made flip flops.

To be this close to someone making this much of a change with this much passion was really inspiring. I wanted to make a difference too. So I went online and searched for ethically made clothes for women.

And I searched. And I searched. And I searched.

It’s not that there wasn’t anything out there for women—there was plenty. It’s just that there wasn’t anything out there for me. I didn’t want to look like a hippie. I didn’t want to look like a girlie-girl. I didn’t want to look basic. I wanted to look like me.

Even more disappointing, there wasn’t anything that I could find in early 2014 that I could wear in a professional context. I had spent years finding business blazers of varying lengths and styles to wear for any occasion, but in the ethical space, I couldn’t even find one blazer. I was disappointed. And rather than feeling the freedom my husband felt, I returned to that feeling that I had before Rana Plaza collapsed—buying slave made clothes was a necessary evil if I wanted to be taken seriously as a professional woman in a man’s profession.

But for my birthday that year, my husband gifted me with a t-shirt from an ethical women’s brand. It was plain, but I liked the cut. It fit me well, and it felt good on my skin. I could wear it under a cute jacket. Then for Christmas, I was gifted another shirt. It was silk, sleeveless, with a collar. Great for work, great with jeans. I wore it twice a week.

Every now and then, I would go to the Nordstrom’s Rack and look for something new to refresh my wardrobe. But as the new year went on, it became difficult for me to look at the racks and racks of clothes and not imagine the hands that stitched them. I guess that, before now, I had imagined that clothes were stitched together by faceless machines—there is just too much merchandise to believe that individual human hands had put them together. What massive amounts of people must be needed to stitch together all the clothes in Nordstrom Rack, let along all the clothes in the mall, let alone all the clothes throughout all the malls in the city, and the country, and the world? It started to become overwhelming, and by fall of 2015, I stopped going into fast fashion stores completely.

I continued to wear the clothes I had, and when I could afford it, I would buy a piece from the ethical market to update my wardrobe. Every morning when I looked in my closet to choose an outfit, I found myself choosing the ethically made clothes over the fast fashion attire more and more. It felt good to put them on. When people complimented me on my outfit, it felt good to say, “Thanks! And it wasn’t made by slaves!” I found that, as time went on, dressing like me started to mean dressing ethically.

In late April 2017, coincidently the day before the fourth anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza and three years after the start of my own journey, I found I had enough essentials to have an largely ethical wardrobe. And so I pulled all of my clothes out of my closet, sifted through them, and gave nearly all of my once-beloved pieces of fast fashion away. My husband saw a shirt on top of a pile that I had worn quite regularly once-upon-a-time and lamented over it, wondering aloud if I should keep it for nostalgia. But I didn’t feel the same. I didn’t want it anymore. It wasn’t me anymore.

If you’re a person who likes stats and figures, like I am, then here are some of the stats I have. In 2013, following the Rana Plaza disaster, the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage from $38/month to $68/month. This raise still keeps workers below the poverty line, eating fewer calories than they would need to get through a day of work at the factory. In Sri Lanka, 66% of women garment workers have anemia. In Cambodia, 1/3 of garment workers are underweight, which means fainting is common in the factory. And even in these countries where standard minimum wage is enshrined by law, there is no guarantee to workers that they will actually receive it on time, or receive it at all.

Also, check out these numbers: standard mark-ups on clothing by companies ranges from 60-70%. So let’s do the math on that H&M top that is advertised for $5: three dollars is 60% mark-up, leaving two dollars for fabric, buttons/zippers, elastic, thread, as well as to pay the  laborer who put it together. And buying clothes on the higher end doesn’t actually mean that workers are being paid better, or that better quality materials are being used—it often just means that the mark up is higher. The truth is that many of numbers in fashion are impossible to know, because fast fashion companies do not share their financial or production figures to anyone.

Clothes made by someone who is paid a fair wage for her work.

Most of the time when people talk to me about ethical clothing, they tell me that they can not afford ethical clothes. And this is painful for two reasons: 1) it shows how much of our economy is dependent upon fast fashion practices and the subsequent oppression of workers overseas and 2) it’s just not true. The relative cost of clothing has gone down substantially over the last four decades while the relative amount of disposable income has gone up. This means that where $100 may have afforded your parents two outfits decades ago, $100 affords us upwards of four outfits today. We’ve changed the way we prioritize budgets, justifying paying more on one thing because we pay less on clothes. But that is a direct result of unscrupulous practices that have been rampant and unchecked in the garment industry for generations.

You may have noticed that I said that I gave nearly all my clothes away. Let me be clear: I still have some fast fashion pieces in my closet. For instance, I still can’t find a blazer that is ethically made, so I’ve kept my old ones. I’m required to wear a white dress for a sorority event once every few years and it seems silly to spend money on any level to replace it. While exercise clothes are some of the biggest offenders in the garment industry, I teach cardio-kickboxing four times a week and can’t exchange out all my exercise clothes at once because my budget won’t allow it. But this isn’t an all or nothing game. I’ve committee to a one in/one out policy—for each piece of ethical clothing I buy, I get rid of one piece of fast fashion. And while that might take me many more years in this already-three-year journey, I’m okay with that. Because now, with each garment I buy, I am buying in line with my values.

I am becoming more of me in what I wear.

To contact Jessica, email hello@visible.clothing

Note from Traci:  I was so touched by Jessica’s story, and my favorite part of it is this line: this isn’t an all or nothing game. So often I feel that way. I know my clothes and my children’s clothes are often made by slaves and trafficking victims. I know that the fact that our clothes are “cheap” means that there’s a very high human cost behind them, yet doing something about it feels overwhelming, and like it won’t do any good. This post is a great reminder that doing something is better than nothing. Last week I decided to support visible clothing’s Kickstarter by getting an ethically made tie for Elias. Though it’s the first item of clothes I’ve ever bought that I know for certain is ethically made, I have to start somewhere, and I can’t wait to give it as a gift. What do you know about ethically made clothes? Leave a comment. Let’s have a conversation.

Sermon Remix: Abundance and the Feeding of the 5,000

Today begins a sermon series on the book More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess by Lee Hull Moses. We’re doing an online book study (through a closed Facebook group) and I’m using the free worship planning guide to give sermon starters and some interactive station ideas.

Today’s theme is abundance. As folks walked in to worship this morning, they were greeted with these opportunities for engagement:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was great to see everyone’s ideas and thoughts.

Of the three scripture suggestions listed, I elected to focus on the feeding of the five thousand. Though it’s Mark’s version that’s suggested in the worship guide, I went with John’s version. I drew out three details that are unique to John’s version.

  1. “There was a great deal of grass in that place” (verse 10). We don’t often think about the grass in the feeding of the 5,000 story. It’s more of a minor character. Yet, without the grass, there’d be no place to gather and sit. There was grass, in abundance. I likened the grass to our pews. We have abundant pews at NPC. What if, just like the green grass, we’re waiting for God to make use of them?
  2. “So that nothing may be lost.” (verse 12). As I said this morning, in all the times I’ve read this passage, I’ve never considered that it might have something to say about waste. We talked a little about how it’s easier to waste when we have abundance. I referenced this modern day feeding of the 5,000 experiment that made use of fresh, delicious food that would have been wasted otherwise. (Side note: THIS is also a great lecture about food waste.)
  3. There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” (verse 9) The child in this story is the one who gets the whole miracle started. We talked a little about the importance of children and youth in our community. I shared that it’s a major pet peeve of mine when folks talk about children and youth being “the future of the church.” Children and youth aren’t the future of the church. They are the church right now.

I ended the message by giving folks some questions to reflect on for the week:

What do you have in abundance in your life? What is like the grass, or our pews, space waiting to be filled by a miracle? What do you have in your life that should not be wasted? What do we have here at the church that we should be careful not to waste? And what children are in your life that are ready to show you you the way to an abundant life?

 

 

Sermon Remix: Resurrection || Easter 2017

Christ is Risen! 

He is Risen, Indeed! 

This morning’s message is not one I want to reprint or excerpt. Instead I’ll give a summary of some of the things discussed and link to some things I found interesting as I prepared the sermon.

I started out by borrowing a little bit of the intrigue from Rob Bell’s Resurrection, and the story about Jesus and the Temple. That video is simultaneously profound and straightforward to me. As he would say: so. good.

The rest of the message was centered around this one verse from Matthew:

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

A couple of things stood out to me. First, the earthquake. Thanks to the Sermon Brainwave and Karoline Lewis, I was inspired to take the metaphor of the earthquake as far as I could. I talked a little about how the death of my good friend earlier this year shook me to the core. I quoted this from my journal:

All throughout our friendship, Kelly was more than just Kelly. The things that I loved in her are all the things that I aspire to be… a respected pastor, a competent preacher who preaches what she truly believes, an organizer, a leader in the community. She was a force.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that her death feels so cosmic in its significance, as if I have to now wrestle with every single tenet of my faith right now, at this moment. Cruelly, I have to do it by myself, without her, my biggest theological guide.

I talked about the phrase cosmic in its significance and compared it to an earthquake. It is really true that along with resurrection we find tremendous upheaval and shaking. Nothing is the same in resurrection. Everything changes.

I mentioned organ donation this morning and talked a little about the process, and what it has meant to me over the past year.

In addition to the detail about the earthquake, I also expanded a little on the detail of who removes the stone from the tomb in the resurrection story:

In Mark’s version the women came to the tomb and they ask each other “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

Luke says “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”

In John, it’s Mary Magdalene who comes to the tomb, and she finds it already removed as well.

But Matthew is the only one who has this detail of who removed the stone. An angel. An angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 

What does it mean to embrace this detail? The stone wasn’t just passively moved. An angel moved it. 

I closed the sermon by offering my very best version of a Presbyterian-style altar call. If there’s any day to call folks to choose resurrection, to choose (or re-choose) Christ, today is that day.

He is Risen, y’all!

The Sermon Remix is a series on this blog where I take a portion of my Sunday sermon and add in relevant links for further investigation and study.

Sermon Remix: Why did Christ Die on the Cross?

This is the week when we come face to face with the dark details of crucifixion. I have to admit how incredibly uncomfortable I am with this story. I think most people are, if we stop long enough to think about it. It’s incredibly violent. Senseless. Painful. We are confronted not just with what happened, though that’s painful enough, but why it happened.

Why did Christ die on the cross?

Those who grew up in the church were often given very simple answers to this “To save us from our sins.” or “To set us free” or “To pay our debts” or “To bring new life.” On the one hand, these answers are simple enough, and an accurate summary of our Christian faith. On the other hand, these answers are completely unsatisfactory. How does the violent death of our savior save us? How?

The work of Christ on the cross is called the atonement in Christian Theology. There are many different theories about what the atonement is and what it means. Certain scripture verses go better with certain theories and no one theory on its own seems to explain the atonement in a full and a complete way. Theories include the Christus Victor theory, where Christ defeats the powers of evil and death, the Satisfaction theory, where Christ’s crucifixion is a substitution for human sin,  and the Moral Influence theory where Christ’s crucifixion brings positive change to humanity. Though it’s interesting to study atonement theory, my own personal view is that work of Christ on the cross is a what? It’s a mystery. One of the deepest mysteries of our faith, in fact.

As Christians we sense deep within us that the death of Christ on the cross means something deeply profound, but when we peel back the layers, we find it’s difficult to explain. Like a masterful work of art, the atonement means something different every time we look at it again. It looks different in different types of light, and it takes on different meaning as the years go by.

I came across this story from the book In the Grip of Grace by Bryan Chapell. He writes

“On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. One survived: a four-year-old from Tempe, Arizona, named Cecelia.

News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name.

Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go.

Nothing could separate that child from her parent’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death.

Such is the love of our Savior for us. He left heaven, lowered himself to us, and covered us with the sacrifice of his own body to save us.”

I researched that story a little further this week and read this from a news article in the Baltimore Sun from 1993:

“Using the primitive material of her own body, she in effect strapped herself as a living, human safety device over the 35-pound, four-foot form of her child. And it worked. In one of those successes that make human action and chance look divine, the child survived — with a broken leg and collarbone and burns over 30 percent of her body, breathing through a respirator in the hospital — but breathing.”

I learned in another ABC news article from 2013 that Cecelia survived to adulthood, raised by her aunt and uncle, and that her story was featured in a documentary called Sole Survivor about those who were the only survivor of a plane crash. Fascinating. 

This story about Cecelia and her mother Paula who saved her with her child with her own body is, like the story of Jesus on the cross, a story with multiple meanings. It’s a tragedy.

It’s a story about love.

It’s a story about sacrifice

It’s a story about death.

It’s a story about life.

What does it mean?

Rather than trying to distill that question down to a manageable one sentence theology of the atonement, may we train ourselves to say “It means so many things.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, Amen.

The Sermon Remix is a series on this blog where I take a portion of my Sunday sermon and add in relevant links for further investigation and study.