Category: Children’s Ministry

Someone You Should Know: A Conversation With Laura Alary about Atonement Theology and Making Room During Lent

Make Room: A Child’s Guide for Lent and Easter is a primer on Lent and Easter for young children. It’s part poetry, part practice and part storytelling. It’s divided up into four parts, making time, making space, making room and Holy Week.  It describes difficult concepts such as sacrifice and emptying in ways that are friendly and appropriate to children. I noticed it when I was looking at Lenten Resources that might be appropriate for my family and for families who appreciate the type of children’s ministry resources I share on Treasure Box Tuesdays, and so I asked Paraclete Press if I could take a look. I fell in love with it, instantly. Paraclete was also kind enough to put me in touch with the author, Laura Alary, who graciously agreed to drop by my virtual office here and chat about her book. I’m really excited! 

Traci: Laura, thank you so much for chatting with me about your book. When I approached you about how much I loved it, I started to get nervous about how much I was gushing about it, but that’s mainly because I just love this book so much! You assured me I could feel free to gush away, so here I go: I love your book a WHOLE LOT. Here’s an example of the type of writing I love: 

This is how to make space:

If you have done wrong,

tell God you are sorry.

Sweep your heart clean and start fresh.

Be kind to all people,

not just the ones who like you.

Open your heart wide

If someone hurts you

ask God to help you forgive.

Do not store up angry thoughts.

Let them go.

 

Make space inside for better things.

Share so that everyone has enough.

If you have two coats

give one to someone who has none.

Why clutter up your life with more than you can use?

Make space for what really matters. (p. 14 & 15) 

 

Traci: I think what I love about it is that it’s profound enough for adults to feel spiritually challenged, but yet simple enough to touch the hearts of little ones. It’s also so beautifully poetic. What was your vision for this book? What inspired you to write it? 

Laura: Thank you for such lovely and supportive comments, Traci. Children deserve writing that has real depth. My challenge is always to distil big ideas into a simpler form that retains their essence, but uses language and imagery that children can grasp. Although children are my primary audience, I am always glad when I hear adults say they feel fed by my books too.

I wrote Make Room because I was looking for resources to help me guide my own children through the season of Lent, but was not satisfied with what I found. Some books focused so exclusively on the death of Jesus that his life and ministry seemed like an insignificant prelude. Others put forth particular theological interpretations of the death of Jesus that I found troubling (more on that later). A few were disturbingly graphic in their portrayal of the crucifixion. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted, but could not seem to find it. That was my cue to start writing.

My own experience of Lent was always characterized by limits and restrictions. The whole season was dominated by death, suffering, and renunciation. To be honest, as a child I found Lent quite scary, especially the notion of having to lay down my life—to renounce my self—in order to follow Jesus. Whether this was actually what I was taught, or whether I just interpreted it this way, I saw this as a call to obliterate my own identity and give up all the things I enjoyed and was good at. This made me both frightened and resentful. By the time I had children of my own, I was determined to introduce them to this season in a more constructive way.

One year we were experimenting with different ways of praying, and I came upon the book Praying in Color by Sybil McBeth. When I tried it with my three young children I was really amazed at how absorbed they became in their prayers. They had lost themselves in the best possible way. For the first time it dawned on me that losing yourself is not necessarily about death; it is also about love, and transcending self-centredness. That was the genesis of my new perspective on Lent.

The more I pondered the biblical texts for the season, the more I noticed the quality of space. This is epitomized in the story of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus goes out into the desert to get away from clutter and distraction and to open himself to guidance about his identity and direction. But the same theme is evident throughout his ministry. The way he chooses is all about making space for others—especially those considered outsiders. He makes the circle bigger in so many ways. His whole life is characterized by generosity and self-emptying—he does not cling to anything. This same pattern is revealed vividly in his death.

This integrated view of the life and death of Jesus made a lot of sense to me. And I thought it also offered a pattern for others (including children) to follow. I started to think about Lent in terms of transformation—consciously imitating Christ and cultivating those qualities of generosity, hospitality, openness, trust, and self-giving.

Along the way, I wrote another book about non-clinging. Jesse’s Surprise Gift is about a little boy who keeps crossing paths with people in need and having to decide whether to hold on to what he has, or take the risk of letting go of it to help someone else. It’s a simple story, but it helped clarify my thinking and prepare me to write Make Room.

In a nutshell, my aim in this book was to present a positive view of Lent as a time of transformation, and to invite children into the meaningful work of following and imitating Christ.

Traci: If I’m understanding your publication date correctly, this is only the second Lent/Easter that the book has been around. What feedback did you get last year about how people were using it and what they enjoyed most about it? 

That’s right. Last year was it’s first year and the response was very positive.

It’s a strange sensation to send a book out into the world, not knowing how it will be received. So it means a lot to me when people let me know how they used it. One person shared with me how she used the book as the basis for an intergenerational service for Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday. She wove together passages from the book, congregational responses, and some symbolic actions, and created a very meaningful worship service.

One comment I hear frequently is that although the book is written in simple language, it is not simplistic. There is real depth to it, which means it can be shared with children, but still offer something nourishing for adults. I suppose that’s why it works well in contexts involving all ages.

Speaking of intergenerational worship, I have written a similar book about Advent (Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas). This past year I turned it into a script for our congregational Christmas Play. I have toyed with the idea of doing something similar with Make Room and presenting it in the weeks leading up to Easter. There are all sorts of possibilities!

Traci: I intend to use this book with my own family this year during Lent. My children are 6, 5 and 1 — right in the target age for this book, I think. What suggestions do you have for how to use it? Is it the sort of book that parents read with their children in one whole chunk, or do they read a little bit each night? 

The structure of the book offers many options for reading. As you described earlier, the book is divided into four main sections: Making Time, Making Space, Making Room, and Holy Week. The first three sections are my interpretations of the traditional Lenten triad of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But the book also consists of two intertwined narratives: elements of the story of Jesus; and a first-person account of walking through Lent from the perspective of a child.

So, you could read one section at a time, and talk about the particular theme developed there. Or you could read each narrative as a distinct story. I have to say, though, I think the back-and-forth quality of moving from scripture to contemporary observance sends an important message. It roots our Lenten practices in the story of Jesus and encourages conversation and reflection.

I have, on different occasions, read the entire book aloud at once. But it takes at least fifteen minutes and is a lot for young children to process. I would recommend taking it in smaller bites and wondering together about each section as you read.

Traci: One of my own frustrations with Lenten resources for young children is the way in which they deal with the death of Jesus in inappropriate ways. Not only does your book have very simple visuals for this, but the wording is simple as well. Truthful, but not lingering on violent details. It says, 

On Friday we come to church again.

We hear how people who did not like Jesus came

and carried him away.

They made fun of him, bullied him, hurt him.

They took everything from him, even his clothes.

They nailed him to a cross.

Jesus died.

As we listen to this story

everything around us changes.

The candles on the altar are snuffed out one by one.

Darkness creeps in.

All the colors are carried away.

The cross is draped in black.

The church is not dressed in purple anymore.

It is bare and sad and full of shadows.

Outside on the street I hear people laughing and talking.

It seems wrong.

Don’t they know what has happened to Jesus?

Traci: Tell us a little about your view on violence and the cross. Was the decision to be simple and understated with these details a deliberate one? How did you handle deciding how much detail to go into? 

Laura: Ah. Good question. I could go on at length about this.

Yes, I was very intentional about keeping this part of the story as spare as possible. I wanted the elements of the biblical narrative to stand alone with minimal interpretation. Jesus died. I don’t say why, or how, or for what purpose. It is powerful enough to state the fact simply and let the reality of it sink in. Ann’s artwork helps. It is sombre and simple.

So many books for children impose a specific theological framework on the death of Jesus. Many of the books I looked at used the language of substitution (Jesus suffered and died for us, or in our place). While this is certainly one way of understanding the death of Jesus, it is not the only way. Furthermore, as I see it, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is fraught with problems, not least of which is its assumption that violence and punishment—in particular the punishment of an innocent victim—are necessary to salvation.

I remember as a seven-year-old protesting to my Pioneer Girl group leader, “But that’s not fair! Why couldn’t God just forgive people? That’s what Jesus taught us to do!” Although many years of study have allowed me to articulate my concerns in more sophisticated language, the heart of problem remains much the same.

The claim that suffering serves a redemptive purpose is complex. Who can fully comprehend such a mystery? To offer children a facile explanation of how the cross “works” feels false to me. I would rather follow the lead of the biblical writers and tell the story as a drama, rather than a work of systematic theology.

I wanted to draw the children into an emotional experience of Good Friday. At the time, no one comprehended these events intellectually; they just experienced them in all their terrible mystery. When I think back to the Good Friday services I attended as a child, what stands out in my memory are sense impressions: the gathering darkness as the sanctuary lights were turned out one by one, the ominous rumbling of the biggest organ pipes as the last words from the cross were read aloud. My intention was to pull children into the pre-Easter experience of the disciples and allow them to feel the shock, sadness, emptiness, and confusion. This is more powerful than moving too quickly to the post-Easter task of trying to interpret and find meaning in these events.

Some readers appreciate this open-endedness. Others think I have really strayed from the path. A few of the online reviews are quite negative about this specifically. Some readers come to the book wanting a very specific interpretation of the death of Jesus and they are not hearing it. But I am content to disagree. The most important thing for me to convey is that God is a God of love, not violence or retribution. Personally, I see the death of Jesus as an embodiment of that love—a love that shocks and disturbs and stirs opposition.

And really, when it comes to doctrines (plural) of atonement, there is no single monolithic orthodoxy. Even within the New Testament itself, there are many different interpretations of the cross and they are just that—interpretations.

So I choose to let the story stand on its own.

Traci: I am just nodding my head like crazy to read what you wrote about the atonement and children. I believe this with 100% of my being and am also writing about it. We need to re-evaluate the way we present the atonement to children (and adults for that matter.) We are absolutely on the same page in that, and I think it’s one of the reasons your book resonates with me so profoundly. I love so many different portions of your book. Do you have a favorite passage? 

Laura: I have a few favourite passages.

I quite like the opening description of the earth slumbering and seeds and bulbs “dreaming in shades of green.” A few people have commented that they don’t like this because it connects Lent too tightly with a particular part of the world (that is, places where the transition from winter to spring is taking place). But I need to write what I know, and for me, it has always been very meaningful to feel the natural world waking up and coming back to life as Easter approaches.

I have always believed that the shortest route to the universal is the particular, so it is my hope that people in different places and different climates will use the “strangeness” of this description as a catalyst to think about how the sights and smells of the natural world in their own places inform their experience of the Lenten season. I’m sure there are different messages to be heard, and I would love to know what they are.

(By the way, my book about Advent is similarly rooted in a northern setting, so if this bothers anyone, be duly warned )

Another one of my favourite parts is one of the lines you quoted: “Outside on the street I hear people laughing and talking. It seems wrong. Don’t they know what has happened to Jesus?” I think the simple question (“Don’t they know what has happened to Jesus?”) captures the natural empathy of children. It also reminds us of the raw grief of those first disciples.

When I wrote those lines I had in mind the strange dissonance I feel whenever I walk out of the solemnity of a Good Friday service into a bustling world full of people going about their business as usual. But I was also thinking about the experience of being in a state of anxiety or grief and feeling a sense of incredulity—even indignation or resentment—that other people are having perfectly ordinary days.

Strangely enough, as I jot down these words, I am sitting in a hospital waiting room, one eye on the clock, while my fourteen year-old son has surgery. All around me other families are living our their own private dramas. But outside this building, the streets are bustling with people for whom this is simply another Sunday night. So I guess that phrase in the book has particular resonance for me in this moment.

One final favourite bit is the line which speaks of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples: “That is who Jesus is. He pours himself out like water from a pitcher. He touches what is dirty and hurting and makes it clean and whole.” If I do say so myself, I think this is a very simple yet vivid depiction of the identity and work of Jesus (healing, cleansing, forgiving, loving) that broadens the idea of sacrifice beyond his death. This is what I mean by an integrated portrait of the life of Jesus. We are used to speaking of his death as a sacrifice, but his entire life and ministry was sacrificial—an outpouring and an offering of love.

Traci: I’m endlessly fascinated with beautiful illustration, and the illustrations in your book are fantastic. Tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator and how it worked? 

The relationship between author and illustrator is a bit like an arranged marriage. We don’t choose each other; rather, we trust in the wisdom of the publisher to make a match that will work!

I was familiar with Ann’s work from a book on Centering Prayer she had already illustrated for Paraclete Press (Journey to the Heart by Frank Jelenek). There is a very calm and restful quality to her painting that suits my writing style. Ann had a few specific questions for me (like “what do ‘pretzel arms’ actually look like?”) but most of her communication was with the fine people at Paraclete Press.

I think Ann’s work is stunning. I was particularly delighted with the cover. I had simply assumed it would be purple, and instead it turned out to be this vivid spring green—one of my favourite shades. I thought it was a brilliant way to capture the emphasis on growth and transformation that is so essential to the book. I love it.

Traci: Where can readers go to learn more about you and your work? 

I have a personal website (www.lauraalary.ca) where I post descriptions of my books, guest blog posts, reviews, articles, and news items. This is the best place to get a taste of what I write. There is also a brief biography on the website.

I also have an author Facebook page (Laura Alary, Author) and always welcome “likes” and new followers.

My next big project is the publication of a children’s bible: Read. Wonder. Listen. Stories from the Bible for Young Readers will be published very soon by Wood Lake Books. I expect it will be ready to ship by April. It has been a labour of love for me and I am very excited about it!

Traci: Me too! Sounds fantastic, and I can’t wait to read it. Congratulations on Make Room, and thank you so much for stopping by my virtual living room to chat a little about it!  

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing a review copy of this amazing book. I review and share only products that I love and believe in, and this one is WAY high on the list. Goodness. So good. All links in this post are affiliate links which means that I receive a small commission for products purchased through them. All proceeds cover hosting and other costs for www.traci-smith.com. Happy shopping!

 

 

Children at the Table: Some Thoughts on Communion and Children

I can’t imagine communion without children being present, partaking in the sacrament right alongside adults. I’m always taken aback, then, when I hear of people or churches requiring communion be reserved for children of a certain age, or for children who have completed some “to do” on the checklist, such as a public profession of faith or catechism class. The Lord’s Supper is a community celebration and it is a place where God’s grace is revealed.  If you or your congregation is wrestling with this, I invite you to consider the following:

Communion is the joyful feast of the people of God, and children understand it as such. 

 I recently had the opportunity to serve communion to a group of children, and the joy they had in receiving the elements was palpable. They sprinted up, tore the bread and happily ate, some of them laughing with excitement. Did their joy dilute the sanctity of the moment? Not at all. In fact, it added to the holiness. Many times adults come to the table with sad or somber faces out of the concern that one must be reverent at the table. I agree that the table should be approached with reverence, but reverence and solemnity are not  the same thing at all. There is such a thing as joyful reverence, and children understand this intuitively. Children, if given the opportunity, don’t grab a tiny square of bread, they tear off a large chunk. Where is it written that the communion bread must be consumed in one, tiny, disintegrating bite?

The communion feast is a symbol of our shared unity and faith. Denying children the elements sends the message that they are not a part of our community.

What kind of message does it send to children when the bread and the cup pass them by? I think the thought of those who elect to have children wait until they’re confirmed or older goes something like this: communion is a serious sign of faith that should not be entered into lightly. Those who partake of it must come to the table having examined its true meaning and understanding its significance. Not only do I think this argument is theologically flawed (more on that in a minute), I think those who offer it as a reason for excluding children from the table underestimate the value in passing on faith to very young children through this important ritual.

I often turn to the important work of James Fowler in Stages of Faith as a guide for understanding how children perceive the actions of the faith community. Fowler says that children in the first stage of faith, are in the “fantasy filled, imitative phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.”  (Stages of Faith  p. 133). What better way to influence through action than the table?  Furthermore, what connection are children supposed to draw about God’s table if they’re not allowed to eat at it? Is God for them, or not?

I remember one time when my children came to communion when they were very hungry. As they ate the bread and drank the juice and my child said, loudly “I’m still hungry!” What a wonderful theological statement, and a reminder that those who see things literally have a lot to teach us about how we come to the table.

The table is for all, even those who don’t fully understand it. 

The idea that children should wait until they understand what is happening there is very weak. The truth is, none of us fully understands the mystery of the communion table. Not even adults. John Calvin said, “there is something so mysterious and incomprehensible in saying that we have communion with the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, and we on our part are so rude and gross that we cannot understand the least things of God, it was of importance that we should be given to understand it as far as our capacity could admit.” (John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord) If we were to exclude all those who do not fully understand the mystery of the sacrament, no one would be able to come. It is wrong to single out children when none of us could fully understand

The sacrament of communion sometimes leads people into deeper faith, rather than the other way around 

Sara Miles beautiful book Take This Bread tells many wonderful stories of how the communion table can be a place of conversion and grace, drawing people in to a place of deeper commitment to Christ. The same is true for children who often have a remarkable ability to explain the importance of coming to God’s table and partaking of the bread and juice.

There is strong historical precedent for children, even very young children, participating in communion. 

The very early church encouraged even babies to take bits of the elements as priests dipped their fingers in the juice and placed it in the baby’s mouth. The Eastern Orthodox church still continues this practice today. Far from being some sort of vogue new trend, communion for children has deep historical roots. 

Paul’s words to come to the table “examined” are taken out of context and used to exclude children from the table unnecessarily. 

One scripture that is used in support of keeping children from the communion table is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 about those who “partake unworthily.” My short response to this is: this isn’t talking at all about children coming to the table. For a fancier exegesis, however, I’d point folks to professor Wiema’s great article which you can read HERE. (The whole edition of that newsletter is devoted to the topic of children and communion. It’s all worth reading, but his piece on this scripture can be found on page 7 of that link.)

Attention Presbyterians: Children are officially invited to the table. 

Our Book of Order says this: The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended. So grateful to be a part of a denomination that officially welcomes all to the table!

 

What are your thoughts on inviting children to the table? Would love to hear them in the comments!

 

Shared Truths About Santa and Jesus: How to Talk to Children

Does teaching belief in Santa lead to a feeling of betrayal once a child learns the “truth” about him? How should Christian parents teach about Santa in a way that fosters trust and encourages mystery?

There are certainly a wide variety of opinions out there. Mine is this: Christian parents would do well to teach faith in Jesus and belief in Santa in nearly the same way. Jesus and Santa are both real, true, and rooted in myth. If we are willing to offer children more nuance when talking about Santa and Jesus, we might be able to set them up for a mature faith at a very young age.

If saying Jesus is rooted in myth makes it sound like Jesus is a fairy tale, or if saying Santa is real sounds divorced from reality, keep reading, you might change your mind.

The Myth of Santa and the Myth of Jesus

When we think about myth we often turn to the definition of a false narrative. Oh, she still believes the myth that a going outside with wet hair will give you a cold, or it’s a myth that if you have heartburn during pregnancy your baby will be hairy. The other definition of myth is a shared story that explains a deeper truth.

When it comes to Santa, we get stuck in a mental trap of believing that because Santa isn’t real, he isn’t true, and so we ignore the theological messages we are sending children when we talk about him. The Santa myth is 100% true. Who puts the presents under the tree every year in my house? Santa does. Santa may not be a physical being in a red suit with a sleigh, but he’s a real presence I learned from my parents who learned about Santa from their parents. My hope is that when my children learn that it’s not possible for one person to fly around the world giving presents to everyone they won’t feel “duped.” Instead, I want them to be drawn into a deeper faith in Santa, one that doesn’t rely on Santa needing a physical body.

In the same way, when we talk about our faith in Christ with children, we don’t have to get caught up in explaining all of the mysteries of our faith, particularly resurrection. How is it possible for a person to be resurrected from the dead and come back to life? It’s not scientifically possible at all, but that’s not the point. I’m not saying one way or the other whether or not Jesus’s body was literally and scientifically raised from the dead. I absolutely believe it’s possible, because for God, all things are possible. That said, it’s a mystery, and one that has very little impact on my faith. If the bones of Jesus were discovered somewhere, and there was 100% proof that Jesus’ body did not rise from the dead, I would still have faith. My faith in the resurrection is not tied to a scientific truth about his bones and body, just like my belief in Santa is not tied to one physical being who breaks into strangers houses in the middle of the night, via the chimney.

Some Practical Tips for Talking about Santa in Ways that Encourage a Mature Faith

  • Stop talking about Santa in ways that is connected to behavior. No more talk about Santa bringing gifts when you are good and coal when you are naughty. No more talk about Santa watching you and punishing you if you’re bad. No more “Santa is watching” talk at all. I’ve written about this before. I believe connecting Santa to behavior can be damaging to faith development.

 

  • Do not lie to children about Santa when they ask, but let it be an opportunity to engage some of these deeper discussions. I really like some of the wording in THESE letters that explain the concept of Santa.

 

  • Use words like mystery, shared story, and faith when talking about Santa.

 

  • Do not shy away from making a connection between Jesus and Santa, rather than trying to separate them. I love the idea of teaching about the historical St. Nicholas and connecting him to Jesus.

What do you think? What experience do you have teaching children about Santa and faith? What resources would you like to share? Use the comments below to talk about it!

Advent Roundup: Practices, Books, Activities and Gifts to Create Meaning at Home

Advent snuck up on me this year! I can’t believe it. It means my baby daughter is almost one year old! Wow! I’m glad to be able to get you this Advent roundup just in the nick of time.

This list is, in no way, exhaustive, but it’s a list of my favorite ideas for taking Advent out of the realm of buying and traditional gifting and into a place of deeper meaning and focus on that which is important. I hope you’ll find it to be both inspiration and full of permission. That is, when the stores and commercials and peer pressure make you think that the way to be a good parent is to give shiny things, you might be able to think “Yes, but there’s also another way…”

In an attempt to keep this list manageable, I’ll give three ideas for each. Yay for the perfect number of three!

Practices

If you’ve been hanging around this site for any length of time at all, you know that practices are my favorite. By practice I mean something that is repeated at regular intervals (usually daily or weekly) to deepen spiritual growth and focus. Taking up a spiritual practice during a season like Advent is a perfect way to “try one on” with a clear start and end date. Here are some I recommend:

  1. Fasting A couple of years ago I wrote about using the spiritual practice of fasting during Advent. Though we often associate fasting with Lent, I think Advent lends itself to fasting for different reasons. I especially recommend fasting during Advent for those who are finding this Advent to be challenging for one reason or another.
  2. Gratitude is a practice to take up anytime of the year, particularly Advent. Make a paper chain this advent where each link is something you’re grateful for. Watch it grow and decorate your house.
  3. Compassion and Service during advent as a practice can be life changing. I have an Advent calendar that focuses on this, but you can just as easily make a list of the ways you’d like to serve others this Advent and begin going through them one at a time.

Books

  1. The Song of the Stars – Poetic and beautiful and beloved by many. This one does not disappoint. Its perspective is that of creation waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus. Lovely!
  2. Christmas Love Letters from God – I’ve talked about Glenys Nellist’s books many times before, and with good reason. I just love them. One of my favorite features of this book is that each page is a sort of “stand alone” story which makes it great to read through over time.
  3. Room for a Little One – A lovely story that focuses on the nativity through a variety of animal perspectives.

Faith Activities

Spending time together during Advent doing activities that teach some of the basic principles of faith is a wonderful way to make memories during the season, pass on faith, and spend time together. Here are three of my favorites!

  1.  Make an Advent Wreath and light the candles every day at dinner, or on Sunday evenings at home. Week one starts with the first candle, HOPE. Week two, is PEACE. Week three is JOY and week four is LOVE. Pinterest and Google are your friend for more examples than you ever wanted, but some of my favorites are: THIS crafty one from Jerusalem Greer, THIS simple design with votive candles (could be painted or unpainted.)  and  THIS no fuss budget version from Build Faith. The Build Faith version has words you can say around the table if you like. I also like the idea of using tea lights, as the photo above shows.
  2. Make a Jesse Tree – There are so many different ornaments, patterns, and guides for this online. THIS one from the RCA is a great place to start, but I recommend using whichever guide or style suits your family most.
  3. Do a Faith Practices Advent Calendar  – I’ll give a shout out for the one I created, of course! But you could make your own.

Gifts

Many churches have alternative gift markets or ways to highlight giving that go beyond a tangible product that can be broken or collect dust. Instead of saying no to all gifts, think about ways to give alternative gifts

  1. Give a gift for someone in need. I love these little boxes for kids that teach about a charity while offering them the opportunity to make something.  You could easily make one yourself by looking at this list, or asking around at local charities in your area.
  2. Give the gift of time and connection. Wrap up a certificate promising a nature walk together, quality time together to color or do art, or bake together. Your imagination is the limit!
  3. Give a gift to the earth. Pick up trash, make a bird feeder, or plant trees. Wrap up seeds, or the materials needed to make the feeder, or other earth-based gifts.

What are you doing to celebrate Advent with your family in a way that creates meaning and joy?

One more link. I have loved the graphics, videos and ideas Advent Conspiracy has put out for the last few years and highly recommend this site!

 

 

I share my favorite products and ideas because I love them! Some of the links are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if folks click through to buy. I use the funds to pay for costs associated with this site which keeps it free from other advertising and allows you these articles to remain free!

 

Stop Giving Parents the Stink Eye In Church

 

Recently I had the opportunity to hear from a young mom who had grown up in the church, spent some time away after she got married, and was now looking to bring her children back to faith in the church. Among many valid critiques about why church was becoming a frustrating experience for her as she tried week after week to find a place that would be good for her children was something that’s so easy for congregations to fix: the stink eye. Ah the “stink eye.” You know what that is, right? It’s that look of disapproval that comes darting over the glasses or sideways. It’s a look that says “shape up” or “shhhhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly.”

The stink eye is subtle and obvious all at the same time. You know it when you see it.

The stink eye is one reason young families don’t come to your church anymore. (Note: I didn’t say it’s the reason, there are lots of reasons for this, but I promise you, the stink eye is on the list.) Families who get the stink eye in a church don’t just get turned off from a church, they get turned off from church in general. Even if your church isn’t a stink eye church, you need to be aware of it, because you’ll have to work that much harder to compensate for all the stinky eyed churches out there. Trust me. The woman I heard from a few weeks ago was not the only one who has told me about the stink eye. It’s pervasive. The bad news about the stink eye is that it’s contagious: if your church has a (spoken or unspoken) rule that it’s okay to tell young families to “shape up” or “shhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly,” this rule will be enforced by the stink eye. The good news is that the stink eye is easily counterbalanced and shut down by easy ways to help young families feel welcome.

  • Offer a reassuring comment that lets the parents and the children know they’re welcome just as they are. My favorite is “We just love noisy and wiggly children in our sanctuary. It helps us all to hear their lively energy and to know they are present!” or “It’s hard to be still and quiet for a long time in church. You’re doing a great job.” If you are old enough to have raised children in the church you know it can be a challenge. A simple smile with the words “I remember what it was like when my children were small” says more than enough.

 

  • Smile. A warm genuine smile that says “No worries. We’ve got your back here.”

 

  • Engage the family or children. Some churches have worship bags or coloring sheets or even a Prayground for children to enjoy. If you’ve got these resources… show them off!

 

  • Resist the urge to correct or judge. Parenting styles range from very strict to very free range and every parent I know is just doing the best they can with the resources they have. What is appropriate guidance to one is “helicopter parenting” to another. What is helping a child develop independence to one is “laissez faire” to another. Parents are bombarded all the time by people telling us what to do and how to do it. What would it look like if churches were free of this type of judgment?

 

What would happen if your sanctuary was known for being a stink eye free zone? What if, instead of the stink eye, parents received smiles, reassuring comments, and full acceptance when they visited your church? I’ll tell you what would happen: they’d come back.

Doubts and Questions as Teachers of the Faith #KidMin

I went to seminary to get the tools and training to help teach people faith, never expecting my own faith would be challenged nearly to the point of breaking. And yet, like so many others, that’s exactly what happened. The story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho snuck up on me out of nowhere. Though it was more than 10 years ago now, I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library during my first year of studies, and the article I was reading was discussing how the walls of Jericho might not have existed at all in a literal sense. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the article presenting a case for there being no archeological evidence for those walls. The premise was mind-blowing to me. “Not literal walls? What?” My mind flashed back to being a small child in Sunday School, marching around in a circle, singing “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumbling down.”

As I replayed that scene of that little girl, marching around the (actual, literal, real) walls the idea that there were no such walls was unbearable to me, and I started to cry big sloppy tears right there in the library. (Lots of people cry in seminary and university libraries, but it’s usually because papers are due the next day, not because crises of faith are commencing.)  The article about the walls stuck with me for weeks. “If the walls weren’t real, what else isn’t real? Have I been sold a bill of goods? What am I doing here?” The walls started to feel like a metaphor. My faith was crumbling, just like those walls, which (by the way) weren’t even real! I kept my thoughts mostly to myself as I trudged on from class to class, learning and reading and turning in assignments. There’s not an end to this faith crisis I can point to as easily as I can the beginning, but it did go away, eventually.

Eventually I came to a place where I was able to say, truthfully, that it didn’t matter to me whether the walls of Jericho were actual, literal walls or whether the story about them in the Bible points to a deeper truth about who God is. By the end of seminary I was able to distinguish a theological truth from a scientific truth in a way that made my faith infinitely stronger. For me, the story turned out just fine, and the wrestling I did in seminary turned out to be an experience I would not trade for anything. I think I’m a better minister because of it. And yet, as I reflect on the my season of doubts and questions in seminary now as an adult, I wonder how it might have been different if I were better prepared for it.

When we think of the most helpful tools for children’s ministry and faith development we often talk about age appropriate lessons, craft projects, or creative ways of telling the stories of our faith. But what about doubt? Doubt rarely makes it on any list of appropriate “tools” of the faith. And yet, we as Christian Educators and Pastors might actually serve our congregations well if we talk about doubt a bit more than we do. So often, doubt is talked about as something to get through or leave behind, rather than something to sit with for awhile as it marinates in us and transforms us. I agree wholeheartedly with theologian Paul Tillich:

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. 

It makes good sense to think about faith and doubt as two sides of the same coin. Wrestling with doubt, asking questions about our faith, and teaching children to embrace doubts is a way to strengthen faith, not tear it down. Doubt is like a mysterious muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger our faith can become. How can we flex our doubt muscles and teach children to do the same?

Doubters and Questioners in Scripture

Scripture is full of great figures who doubted and wrestled with their faith. In these cases, the doubts and questions end up leading to a more mature faith that can withstand storms and trials. When we teach children about these figures, we would do well to emphasize their doubts and questions, not downplay them. Here are five stories of doubters that  can be woven in to discussions about doubt. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start:

Abraham and Sarah: God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. When Sarah learns of this promise, her response is to doubt by laughing. “Yeah right,” she says in so many words, “I’m way too old!” But the prophesy comes true and Abraham and Sarah do become parents. When do we say “Yeah, right!” to God? When do God’s promises seem ridiculous to us?

Gideon: Gideon is one of the judges in the book of Judges who God chooses to deliver the people of Israel. Gideon can’t believe it, and puts God to the test by using fleece. One night he asks God to make the fleece wet and the surrounding ground dry. In the morning, there is so much water in the fleece he has to wring it out. But this miracle isn’t enough for Gideon. The next night he reverses the test, asking God to make the fleece dry but the ground surrounding it wet. Again, God answers the miracle. How do we test God? What does it mean when God answers us in the same way God answered Gideon? Even more challenging: What does it mean when God doesn’t answer us?

Thomas: Thomas is the quintessential doubter in the New Testament. When Jesus is raised from the dead he wants proof. He won’t believe it, he says, unless he can actually see Jesus and touch him. For Thomas seeing is believing and he will accept nothing less. We ought to raise Thomas up, not put him down. “Do you have questions? Would you like proof? You’re just like Thomas, he wanted those things too, and he was one of the disciples.”

Jesus: In Jesus’ darkest hour he doubted God and felt abandoned by God. From the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When children or young people express doubts we can remind them that nobody, not even Jesus, has a faith that can withstand every trial or every question.

Do’s and Don’ts for Handling Doubts and Questions in Children’s Ministry

  • DO: Encourage questions and doubts. “Tell me more about that” or “Oh that’s interesting, I never thought about it that way,” or “Thank you for sharing that” are all affirming ways of hearing children and young people expressing their thoughts. Use them liberally. Don’t be afraid to follow conversations where children want to take them. I also love the idea of having a question box in the classroom where children can anonymously write down their thoughts and questions.
  • DON’T: Teach that faith is not an “all or nothing” game. Some faith systems are so rigid and so fragile that questioning just one tiny premise makes the whole thing fall down like a house of cards. Remind children that just because they question or disbelieve in one area doesn’t mean they have to give up all of their beliefs. There are many different types of faithfulness. My faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours. The pastor’s faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours.
  • DON’T: Give answers when you don’t have them. As I say in Faithful Families, the word “mystery” is a great one. I think the word mystery allows for room for a not knowing that has confidence. “That is such a mystery, isn’t it?” is a way that I answer a whole variety of questions. Another answer that inspires confidence and trust is this one: “Nobody knows.” Somewhere along the line, particularly in Western culture, we’ve gotten the idea that teachers know the answers and students are the ones who are there to receive them. Remind the children in your care that you’re there to learn together, and talk about mysteries together.
  • DO: Lift up stories of those who had questions and doubts, including your own story (as you are comfortable.) The stories listed earlier in this article are a great place to start, but there are dozens of characters in the Bible and throughout church history who wrestle and doubt. Explore them together, and lift up their struggles and challenges as well as their virtues. Our heroes are complex. It makes them more interesting.
  • DO: Maintain a sense of humor, joy, and curiosity when teaching. This is good advice all the time, not just when working with doubts and questions. Faith is playful, joyful and fun. There are so many lighthearted ways to approach ministry together with children and young people. Enjoy!

So what about you? How do you handle doubts and questions in children’s ministry? Do they seem like challenges to overcome, or a wonderful and necessary part of faith development?

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 into 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.

 

.
 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.