Category: Children’s Ministry

Should We Protect Our Children From the Violence of the Cross?

Ges crocifisso

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for some time now but haven’t felt brave enough. By writing what I really think, I know that I break from a lot of conventional wisdom and tradition when it comes to children’s ministry. At the same time, I feel strongly about this and I’ve thought about it and researched it a lot, so here goes…

I believe Christian Educators, parents and pastors should shield children from the details of the passion narrative/crucifixion story during Holy Week, if they address it at all with them.

I’ll lay out my reasons for having this opinion and then conclude with some ideas for how to address the passion narrative in worship and children’s messages. Certainly I see this as the beginning of a conversation, not a definitive guide.

To clarify, when I say “young” children in this post, I’m referring to children who are about ten years old or younger. Beginning in middle school and through High School, I think we can and should start discussing the crucifixion with children and strive to explain the details, as scripture presents them, without glorifying the violence or glossing over it. For younger children though, I think it’s appropriate, and even necessary, to shield children from the violence of the story and to offer age appropriate lessons that focus on other important aspects of our theology. Why do I think this? Here are the three main reasons:

  1. When we boil the crucifixion story down to a simple soundbite for children, we are actually presenting complex atonement theories that will shape their theologies their whole lives long. “Jesus paid the price for our sin.” (ransom) “Jesus saved us because we couldn’t save ourselves.” (penal substitution). “Jesus conquered death to set us free” (christus victor). I could go on, but you get the idea.  When we look closely at each of these theories, however, we realize that it’s not as simple as a soundbite. Did God really send God’s only son to be tortured and killed because God demands payment for sin? That does not sound loving. Did God simply not have the ability to rescue Jesus and spare him from all of that pain? If so, God must be very weak. Unless we’re willing to truly get in to all of these details, (and they aren’t appropriate for a young child, in my opinion) we shouldn’t try to boil the work of Christ on the cross down to one simple and easy-to-remember phrase for children on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We might think we’re being faithful in telling the story, but what we’re really doing is letting ourselves off the hook when it comes to wrestling with the atonement ourselves.
  2. It’s incredibly violent. Many Christian parents I know are exceptionally cautious about shielding their children from violence in video games, movies, TV, books, and toys. Yet these same parents have no problem being very explicit with the violence of the passion story. We have to ask ourselves why this is. Do we think there is some value in exposing a young child to gruesome (and very memorable) details of the nails, whips, spears, and thorns? The logic I often hear is some variation of “without those details, children will miss something and not fully understand the Christian faith.” Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that by sparing them the gory details of Christ’s crucifixion we are denying them something? If we do, I would argue we need to take a good hard look at what our faith is and what it’s based on. Children are only children for the blink of an eye. They have their entire lives to be burdened with the violence of the world. We should spare them for as long as we can, even (or perhaps especially) the violence we find in the pages of the Bible.
  3. Children’s faith is developing just like their bodies and their brains, and because of this we have the responsibility to explain our faith with this in mind.  Theologian and author James Fowler did a lot of work and research on stages of faith development that was published in the early 1980s. I think it’s on to something, for sure, though I would love to see much more research on children and faith development. Children’s brains simply aren’t equipped to understand some of the nuances of faith in the same way adults do. School aged children are often extremely literal and anthropomorphic in their understanding of God. This doesn’t mean that their faith is “lesser” or a “baby faith” but it does mean that we should take care to explain things in ways they can grasp.  Let me be clear: children are tough, and they’re capable of a lot of things we don’t give them credit for. I believe children can eat “grownup” foods with a variety of spices. I believe they can take on chores and responsibility. I don’t believe children need to listen only to children’s music or live in plastic bubbles their whole childhoods. Children face hurt and disappointment, and we should not try to protect them from every wound. (Side note: I think the book How to Raise an Adult is great for this.) That said, the story of the crucifixion is a story of state sanctioned torture of a human being. Let’s hold off for a few years while our children are very young. They will get a complete picture soon enough.

How to involve children in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship and protect them from the details of the crucifixion: 

Many may rightly ask: if we don’t share the details of the crucifixion with children, how should we handle it in worship or in conversations at home? Unfortunately there aren’t many children’s books that take on the crucifixion in ways I think are appropriate for children. Most children’s books and Bibles I’ve seen aren’t well done in this regard. Many contain cartoonish pictures of Christ being beaten and crucified. It’s confusing and jarring. (By the way, if anyone has an excellent resource, I’d love to see it!) Here are some ways I think parents and Christian educators can handle the passion narrative with young children:

  • Stick to simple facts when telling the story: Jesus died on a cross and was laid in a dark tomb. Everyone was sad and missed him. Three days later, the dark tomb was open and empty and there was light and joy. The resurrection is a mystery of our faith.
  • Avoid violent images and symbols in coloring pages and other children’s Easter materials. In my opinion, a great majority of the materials marketed to churches for children’s use during Lent and Easter is poorly done and developmentally inappropriate. Resurrection eggs, coloring books and children’s books often focus on thorns, crosses, nails and whips. It baffles me. Under no other circumstance would we give five year olds a coloring page with a man whipping another man, yet when it’s Jesus we make it ok. It’s not somehow appropriate or holy to hold up nails during a children’s message and talk about how they were driven in to the hands and feet of Jesus. There is no need for children to create a tiny crown of thorns, in my opinion.
  • Be at peace with “not telling the whole story.” As parents and pastors we do this all the time. In our house we have a number chart that has the numbers 1-100. Our children refer to it all the time when talking about addition and subtraction and counting by fives and tens. Next, I’m sure, will come multiplication and division and fractions. At some point they’ll have a greater consciousness that there are numbers that are far outside the range of 1-100 and that numbers go to thousands and ten thousands and millions, but right now we’re focusing on the basics. “The basics” when it comes to Christian faith do not include the violent details of the cross. (Perhaps this is where I part ways with other Christian educators when I say this.) The basics of the Christian faith are these: Jesus is alive. God made the world and everything in it. God’s love is powerful. God is with us all the time, even when we are sad and lonely. God is gracious and slow to anger, rich in love and good to all. Perhaps a good focus for a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday children’s lesson is something about God being with us when we are sad and lonely. Perhaps a good message is that God’s love is powerful.
  • Focus on faith practices rather than narrative. If you’re at home, you could focus on any one of the 50+ practices in Faithful Families. My favorite for this year is having an Easter Sunrise Breakfast. It starts out in the dark to give an age appropriate way to begin to experience the power of new life and resurrection. Many of the practices in Faithful Families also work in church or group settings. Coloring mandalas, walking the labyrinth, practicing breath prayers, all of these are useful ways to try and experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday without focusing on the violent details of the narrative.
  • Re-evaluate your own theology of atonement – When I’ve shared my opinion on the necessity to shield young children from the violent details of the crucifixion the response is often “You can’t get to the resurrection without the cross.” To that I have two responses: 1. This is a very adult lesson that children don’t need to take on. 2. What do you mean? Christ was crucified and God used that tragedy to bring about resurrection and new life. Christians have found this to be meaningful and mysterious for over two thousand years. But did God kill Jesus? I don’t think so. (See an excellent book by this same name for more.) The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith, yes, but I would argue that our presentation to children is weak because our own theology is weak. When we don’t critically engage the question “What is the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross?” our children get caught in the crossfire.

What do you think? How will you present the crucifixion of Jesus to children this Holy Week? Let’s have a discussion about this in the comments. Share your ideas and techniques as well as resources you’ve found to be valuable.

 

 

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn in to shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.

 

 

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)

 

 

 

 

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.

 

 

 

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.

 

 

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.

 

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 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.

 


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.

 


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.

 

When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.

 

 

 

Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.

 

Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

Family Faith Resources for Lent, 2017

Ash Wednesday at Home – Written by Jerusalem Greer last year. Love love LOVE this.

Photo Guide, daily devotion, and family activities, put out by the Florida Conference of the UMC. #PictureLent

Making Pretzels for Lent is a fun family activity. The pretzels are meant to look like hands folded in prayer. Doing this annually can be a nice tradition for families. Check out this recipe from the Reformed Church in America.

Paraclete Press puts out this interesting Lenten Survival Guide for Kids. It’s designed for children ages 7-11 and has some basic information about the terminology of Lent (Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, etc.) as well as some practices for kids to do themselves. I noticed that 2017 is the last year that it references by date, so this could be a good year for it. It seems to be a good resource for children who are more self directed.

Lenten Faith Practice Cards from a Catholic blogger. For those who are in the Protestant tradition, some of the cards will not apply, but these are a great resource!

I love these prayer station for kids ideas from Krista Gilbert

Creating a Lenten Prayer Space at Home – Love this!

If you google “Easter Tree” a lot of options come up. Here’s a free one from Ann Voskamp that looks lovely. The art seems a little bit “adult” but would work in certain families. Here’s one on etsy that seems very child friendly and lovely, too.

Here’s a decluttering challenge 40 bags in 40 days that would be good for entire families to take on. It could be scaled down to decluttering just 40 items in 40 days.

A great post on the sights and sounds of Lent

A whole *ton* of family Lent ideas in this post at Flame Creative Kids including a link to the Almsgiving practice in Seamless Faith (soon to be Faithful Families)

 

Of course, what would a Lenten “round up” post be without a link to my own favorite resource, the Lenten Practices Calendar? Get it for families HERE!

Do you have any Lenten Activities for children and families that I may have missed? Post them in the comments or on the Facebook Page and I’ll see about adding them!

 

 

 

Christmas Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist: A Review and Giveaway!

 

christmasloveletters
Last week when I posted about Advent Calendars, I mentioned that I’m planning on doing the “book a day” calendar with my children, starting on December 1. I’ve already wrapped all of the books (um, it took more time than I anticipated, but I was watching The West Wing, so it’s all good.) and we’re ready to go! The boys have already seen the huge stack of wrapped books and are ready to read them! For the first 20 books, I wrapped and then labeled with numbers randomly, so they’ll be a surprise, even to me, when we open them. For the last five, though, I selecadventbooksted the five most special books from the collection, five books that I think exemplify the Christmas message the best. These are the books that I want to be reading with my kids after school is out, and when we can snuggle up on the couch and savor them. The very last book, the most special book I wrapped up this year is Glenys Nellist’s book Christmas Love Letters from Godadventbooks2

This book is SO precious, y’all! There are seven separate Christmas Bible stories, each with a kind love letter directly from God, to your child. There’s even a blank so that you can pre-fill the child’s name in the book, if you’d like. The recommended age for this book is 4-8, so my two are right in the “sweet spot” for this book, but, honestly, I think it’s a great message for all ages. I’ve even recommended it to folks who are looking for a book to read to the congregation on Christmas morning. The reason is this: each and every story and letter is wrapped up in a single theme: God’s love for us. Everything is connected to that single theme. Is there any theme more important than God’s love for us? For me, that’s the message I want my children to hear time and time and time again. God loves you. You are lovely and beloved. All of these stories we read on Sunday mornings are about this one thing: God’s love. To me, this is the beauty of Christmas Love Love Letters from God.  

I also think you’ll love the beautiful illustrations of this book. To get a taste of it, take a look at the video here.

 

Pretty, eh?

In addition to Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys Nellist wrote the original Love Letters from God  (I reviewed it HERE) and LITTLE Love Letters from God (the board book.) She also wrote Snuggle Time Prayers  and Snuggle Time Psalms, both of which my family uses and loves! Any one of those books would make a great Christmas gift or addition to your library.

I also encourage you to keep up with Glenys on her Facebook Page and Blog for information on what’s coming next in her fantastic line of children’s books!

Now for the fun news! The author, Glenys Nellist is graciously giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter, just comment on this post and say who you’d give the book to (or whether you’d keep it!) and a random winner will be chosen on December 5 at noon! 

 

UPDATE: I used the simple “random number” generator to generate the winner which was #12, Deana! I used the email address you put in the comment to let Glenys know, and she should be contacting you about your book! Congratulations!

randomnumber12

Interested in more information like this? Sign up for my email list. It has resources to family faith books, blogs and other goodies like this. Emails go out about once per month and the addresses are never sold or shared!

Note: This post contains affiliate links and I also received review copies of the books listed. I only link to products I personally use, love and would recommend.

 

Someone You Should Know: Jerusalem Greer

jerusalemgreer

From time to time I’ll be talking to someone new about Seamless Faith (soon to be re-released as Faithful Families!) and that person will ask “Do you know Jerusalem Greer? I think you two would really get along.” The answer I give is always “Kinda.” The truth is, I “met” Jerusalem through the wild internet world of connections, and we’ve yet to end up at the same place at the same time. As much as you can get to know someone via their writings and their work, I have to say, these mutual connection-makers seem to be right. I absolutely adore her stuff. I’ve been meaning to write a post about her forever!

Jerusalem, like me, doesn’t really put what she does in a box, her blog has a ton of categories homemadeyear(farm, faith, family, fest, fete) and her book, A Homemade Year is also a compilation of many wonderful things: cooking, crafting, and faith at home. (Hello!) Though there are a lot of different things going on, they all feel connected and woven together. As you read through the book, and her blog, you feel like you’re sitting in her living room with her. It’s magical.

Back to the book, though.  A Homemade Year is absolutely gorgeous (it looks like Martha Stewart Living, but better) and has step-by-step instructions and personal anecdotes along with all of the beautiful photos. It’s hard to pick a favorite activity in here, but since we’re sneaking up on Christmas, I have my eye on these sweet origami boxes meant to talk about the twelve days of Christmas.

origamiboxes

As a pastor, I feel like the time after Christmas is time I want to celebrate. I’m not ready to hunker down until after the services and pageants and other events have ended and it’s just me and my family.  I’m planning to try and make these boxes this year. I’ll let you know!

I also like the fact that it sneaks in some special holidays and traditions that many of us don’t usually celebrate (St. Lucy’s Day, anyone?)

I also think A Homemade Year would be a great Christmas gift for your favorite mom or dad or uncle or grandpa who enjoys creating family traditions at home. For you pastors and children’s ministry leaders, it’s a great resource for families who say “How can I help my children grow up with a strong sense of faith and family?”

As for Jerusalem Greer, if you don’t know her: get on it! You can find her on

Facebook

her Blog

Instagram

She’s also a workshop leader and speaker. I’m guessing it’s way too late to book her for Advent this year, but how amazing would it be to have her come lead an Advent workshop for families to prepare them with the tools they need for a faith-filled family advent at home? She also has a Lenten version as well. Squee!

Jerusalem, thank you for the space you hold on the internet and through your books: a space for families who want to do faith at home to be inspired and welcomed, a space to get encouragement and “how tos.”  I can’t wait for your next book! Oh, also? All the people are right – we should be friends!

 

5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.

paperchain

  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!

actsofkindness

2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.

adventbooks

4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.

 

 

 

Sermon Remix, Retreat Edition: Join the Dance

I just got back from a weekend retreat at Mo Ranch where I spoke to the Presbyterian Women of Mission Presbytery. It was such an honor to be the keynote speaker, and I had a great time doing it. Given that it was the week after Holy Week, I’m pretty sure my body didn’t think that it was such a great idea, and it rebelled in the worst way. I’ve just downed the first double dose of the Z-Pack, and I’m hoping that this bronchitis clears up ASAP!

The texts used were Ruth 1:8, 14-18 and Acts 8:26-40 

The image I showed in this talk is THIS one from THIS series.

Ruth says, “Your people will be my people. Where you go, I will go, where you lodge I will lodge.”

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I?” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Both of these stories speak to the power of solidarity, companionship, and loyalty. When I think of the wording in the Ruth passage “Your people will be my people,” and the question the Ethiopian asks “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me,”  I think a little bit of the show Grey’s Anatomy. If you don’t watch it, don’t worry, I’m going to catch you up by telling you a little story:

One day my husband, Elias, said “What’s the name of that telenovela you’re always watching?”

I said “It’s not a telenovela, it’s a show about surgeons.”

“um, ok” he said, and rolled his eyes “Every time I come into the room when you’re watching it, someone is either in bed with someone else, they are crying, or they are yelling at someone. It’s totally a telenovela.”

Telenovela is the spanish word for soap opera, and Elias is absolutely correct, Grey’s Anatomy is an evening soap opera. It is about surgeons, though. Kinda.

Anyway, in the show Grey’s Anatomy, the central character (named Meredith) has a lot of friends, but she has one friend Christina, who she calls “her person.” The way that Christina got to be called her “person” is from an episode when Meredith is trying to explain Christina to someone else. “She’s my person,” she says, “If I murdered someone, she’s the one I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the floor.”

Anyone have a friend like that?

This weekend at Mo Ranch I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the women in my congregation in ways that I’ve not known them before, and I’ve gotten to see the power of their friendships as well. My two house buddies over at pilot house, J and S have been friends for over 40 years. Their children were babies together, and they’re now, well, not babies anymore. J and S have a very, very long history. I don’t imagine J will be murdering anyone anytime soon, but I do imagine if there are metaphorical bodies to be dragged across the floor, S would be high on the list of people to help. I imagine the reverse is also true, that if S is in need, J will step up, and not in a small way, but in a big way.  J and S have made me laugh so much this weekend. Last night, as I was sitting in the couch of pilot house, looking over the texts for this morning I heard them getting ready for the movie night (side bar: was that not amazing??) I overheard J say to S “Hang on, I have to take care of my bling here.”  I ask you, ladies: what good is a friend if she will not wait for you while she takes care of her bling?

I want to talk a little bit about a person that I often refer to as “my person.” I don’t want to highlight her as much as I want to highlight what she represents which, to me, is loyalty and commitment and walking along side someone, just as Philip did for the Ethiopian. Just as Ruth did for Naomi.

You may remember that on Friday night I was talking about Peter refusing to have his feet washed. We talked about how hard it is to let people near our stinky feet, but how, when we do, we find that people don’t run for the hills, but instead, they find their joy in washing the dust off our weary feet and refreshing our spirits, and we find our joy in being known and loved by someone else.  You may also recall that I briefly showed this photo and alluded to my struggle with anxiety. I was going to tell the story on Friday night that I’m about to tell right now, but I decided not to.  The reason I didn’t (couldn’t) tell it on Friday night is that “my person” was here, and I thought it would be too much for me with her sitting right there. She’s not here this morning, though, so I think it’ll be a little easier to tell the story.                                                              

Several months ago, I was, for a brief time, that girl lying on the floor with the black sheet over me. The reason was a combination of things: there was a lot of stress in my life.  I was sad over the loss of a church member who left this world too soon, and sad about the sweet young children he left behind. I had a busy week and a lot on my mind. My husband, who is an anchor and a safe place for me, and the primary caregiver of our children, was out of town. Perhaps worst of all (though I didn’t know it at the time) my body was also reacting to a change in medication which was causing my muscles to tense up and for my jaw to slowly start to lock shut.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, and, because I’m prone to anxiety in situations like this, my mind started racing “What is going on?  What will happen if my jaw permanently locks itself shut, or if my back spasms to the point that I can’t move? What if I can’t take care of Clayton and Samuel?” The more I thought about it, the more my brain betrayed me “You’re not going to be able to fix it,” my brain was telling me. I couldn’t keep up with the worries in my own mind. I was her — that woman on the floor with black draped all around.  When I woke up in the morning, I was a complete wreck. Not only was my jaw almost completely locked shut, I had an awful headache, and I was throwing up. I needed help. I texted my person and said “Can you come over here right now?”

You know what she texted back? One word.

“Yes.”

Not “why?” Not, “How long are you going to need me to stay, because I have a meeting in an hour?”  not “What am I going to have to do when I get there?”

Just yes.

Anne Lamott says something about this in her book “Grace Unexpected” and I tried to find the reference, but I couldn’t. Something about an the type of yes that doesn’t ask questions, it just does what it needs to do.

Yes. I can come over right now.

Yes. Your people will be my people.

Yes, I will explain this text to you.

I told you earlier that my person was here on Friday night and is not here now, and a funny thing happened just last night, related to that very situation. When she was here, she was helping me get from here to there, because I have absolutely no sense of direction. I’m serious. Think of the person you know with the worst sense of direction. I’m about ten levels worse than that person.

After the Hollywood night (in which J said that she was getting her bling adjusted, and in which we had an amazing night of enjoying our friends entertaining us) I started to follow two church members (who are not staying in Pilot house, by the way) out of the building. After awhile I said “Wait a minute, am I just blindly following you?”

“Um, where are you trying to go?” they asked

“Pilot house,” I replied.

“Yeah, you’re going completely the wrong way.”  

Our friends, our spouses, our partners, our fellow church members, our people: they show us the way. Without them, we blindly follow, and we go the wrong way, every single time.

The theme for this morning is “join in the dance.”

I’d like to suggest that the dance we’re joining in this morning has to do with what is going to happen in a few minutes when we join together in the celebration of the Lord’s supper. When we do this, we acknowledge that we are not alone. We come to the table with other human beings who are just as broken and needy as we are. We come to the table as lonely hearts looking for our matches, and suffering servants who have the capability to link arms and change the world. We come to the table with women we’ve known for 40 years and women we’ll never see again in this life. We come to the table as women who both have stinky feet but also have the great honor of being the first, the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection for all the world to hear.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

 

 

Valentines Traditions & Little Love Letters from God!

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It’s impossible to think that Valentine’s Day is coming up in a couple of weeks. I seriously need to get my Christmas Tree down #notkidding. Annnyyyyway, even though it’s coming up alarmingly fast, Valentine’s Day is a great day for kids and traditions. Last year I made up this fun list of 50 things to do with families on Valentine’s Day. Feel free to print it out, post it on your Facebook wall and send it around. Which one might you do this year?

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This year, I’d like to add another Valentine’s Day tradition: Write a Love Letter to God. Sit down and think of all of the reasons your family loves God: God is gracious and slow to anger, God is merciful, God is our friend… The love letter could be quite simple and a sweet way to connect a secular holiday to a faith practice. To make the practice even more magical, after your child wrote the love letters to God, you could say “Guess what? Now we’re going to read some love letters from God” and you could present your children with the book Love Letters from God! I think it would be memorable and fun. You could even make it a yearly tradition and stash the book away as the Valentine’s Day book.

 As I mentioned when I interviewed the author, Glenys Nellist awhile back, it’s a gorgeous book with beautiful illustrations littlelovelettrsand the thrilling ability to read a love letter to your child with each story. One of the things I asked Glenys about in that Q&A was whether or not a board book would ever be available and… huzzah! It is now! It’s called Little Love Letters from God, and it’s a mini version of the original. I don’t like it more than the original, but I definitely like it just as much.  Predictably, when we read it through the first time, all Samuel wanted to do was open all of the letters and read them. And you know what? It’s not a bad thing for a child to hear over and over and over again. Dear Samuel, I love you. I love you. I love you. There’s even a place to write the child’s name in the book if you like. Each story comes up with  different attributes for God and a different reason that God loves the child. It’s absolutely the message that we tell our children every single day. God loves you.

So… tell your children that you love them, but also tell them that God loves them.

Here’s the fun part… Zonderkidz is giving away a copy of Little Love Letters to a reader of this blog! Yay! All you have to do is type a comment on this post saying who you would read the book to (or give it to) and you’ll be entered! I’ll use random.org to pick a winner and announce it on January 28!  (Note: Zonderkidz requires that entrants have a street address — no PO Boxes, please. This giveaway is also only open to US addresses.)

Note: Please submit your comment only once, comments need to be approved, so they may take up to 24 hours to show up. 

 

UPDATE: Congrats to Dena who was the winner!! 

 

Random Number

4 Gratitude Practices for Families for Thanksgiving Week (or Any Time!)

As my congregation surely knows, I believe, strongly in the benefits of gratitude and thankfulness. Research supports gratitude’s positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit, and gratitude is something that continues to be studied with lots of funding and fervor.

I keep a gratitude journal, my husband and I list things we’re thankful for on a weekly basis, and we’re working with our children to incorporate gratitude in to our daily lives. Here are some very simple things that your family might try:

gratitudetree1. Gratitude tree… There is a variation of this in Seamless Faith, but the concept is very simple: write things that you’re thankful for and stick them on branches or on a tree outside. I have a very inexpensive printable for this that you can download and  use. Easy peasy and makes a beautiful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.

2. Gratitude Chain – Write things you are thankful for on strips of paper and make a paper chain.

3. Gratitude Tower – Use Duplo blocks or any other building blocks and make a tower of gratitude, each thing that you’re thankful for can be one block.

4. Simple Prayers of Gratitude – THIS source has 22 great Thanksgiving quotes and prayers from a variety of places. It’s in an annoying “slideshow” format (which I don’t like at all) but the content is very good.

I also curate a Seamless Faith Gratitude Board on Pinterest that you might be interested in checking out! Good ideas, and all of the links have been checked to make sure they are not spam and contain the actual content they say they do!

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Let us Give Thanks!

Make a Memory Table for Someone Who has Died #AllSaintsDay #KidMin

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Tomorrow is All Saint’s Day. Today is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. There are so many cultural traditions around this time of year in the US… dressing up, carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating. The one tradition that I like to emphasize with families is the idea of remembering family members who have gone before us. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, we name those who are important to us who are now part of the church triumphant.

This activity, creating a memory table, is a way to teach children about someone they may not have had the chance to know who is important in your family. Alternatively, it’s a way to remember a family member or friend who has died. There are more detailed instructions in the book  (along with 49 other activities!) but here’s how I did our memory table this morning with my boys, ages 3 and 4.

I gathered a few things together that reminded me of my grandmother, Fern Smith, whom they have never met.

  • A picture of her
  • A crochet hook and crochet project (because she liked to crochet)
  • Measuring spoons (because she was an excellent cook and baker)
  • A Beatrix Potter book (because she brought home some Beatrix Potter prints from England)
  • A few candles

I said “I made this table of things about my grandma, your great grandma, and I want to tell you about them.” I explained each of the things and then lit the candles. I said “My grandma was a very special person, just like your grandma. Amen.” And then we blew out the candles. Very simple. It would have been a much more involved conversation if my children were older, and I think in future years we will be able to have longer conversations. As my children get older, I’d like them to be involved in selecting the items that go on the memory table.

What do you think, would you make a memory table for someone in your family? What would you put on it?