Category: resources

Taking a Spiritual Inventory (with printable worksheet!)

 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that our spiritual health and wellness is vital to our physical, emotional, and psychological health and wellness as well. (I guess I’m in the right profession!) In other areas of wellness I see a lot of resources for assessment. There are lots of ways to evaluate one’s physical health or psychological health, but how do I know if I’m spiritually healthy? How can I identify areas of spiritual health and wellness? I spent some time thinking about this and made a spiritual inventory for myself and others. If it sounds like something you might be interested in using, take a look! I would love to know if you have any questions or thoughts. Peace, and enjoy!

Evaluating Spiritual Wellness: A Guide

NOTE: To download a the questions in one easy worksheet, click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF

At the end of this, the goal is to feel more hopeful and inspired for future growth. If this isn’t the case, you did it wrong. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course!) It’s important to approach this exercise with that outset “I’d like to continue to grow spiritually, and I want to take look at where things are. The goal is not to give myself a grade or to feel poorly about how things are going.”

Spiritual health is intimately connected to physical, emotional, financial, and psychological heath. It’s hard to write about “spiritual health” divorced from these things. Often a detailed look into of all of life will yield interesting results or connections, and often one life change can show results in all of these areas. For example, taking up a practice of walking could lead to health in all sorts of areas, not just physical health. These are your questions, so it’s fine to go off on a “tangent.” If reflecting for a bit on spiritual health leads to some changes in the way you manage your money or cook your food, go with it. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something!

How to use these questions: Sky’s the limit! Some may choose to write down their answers all in one swoop, on a 1/2 or day long silent retreat. Others may choose to do them in a group, with trusted friends or mentors. Pastors and ministry leaders might want to use them as a “jumping off point” for a retreat or workshop on faith development. Work through them in a language that works for you, whether it’s long form writing or journaling, or painting, or conversation. Return to them as often as is necessary. I ordered these questions with a specific progression in mind. I believe you will get the most value from this exercise if you work through them in order and challenge yourself to complete every question. Enjoy!

1. What do I believe? (Crafting a personal faith statement)

There are no “right” answers here, and honesty is key. What do you believe about the world? About human nature? About God? Which beliefs are central to your sense of identity? For many of us, (pastors too!) we don’t often take the time to look at our beliefs closely, under a microscope. Sometimes, when we do, what we find surprises or even scares us. Consider how you want to write your personal faith statement. Do you want to write it out in narrative form? As a list of beliefs? Do you want to paint it? Make a poem? Tell a story? Select a series of photographs that illustrate your beliefs? Whatever you choose, make it something natural for you. Dig in deeply, here. What do I believe, for real? Nobody will be checking over your shoulder.

2. What are my biggest doubts and questions?

Doubts and questions are great teachers and an important part of mature faith. The purpose of writing these down is not to identify weakness or problems. Quite the opposite, identifying doubts and questions help make space for us to understand how the spirit is at work and where our faith is growing. What haunts you? What is bothering you? What can’t you reconcile? Put these things down on paper.  Sometimes just naming these things and writing them down can do remarkable things.

3. When do I hear God’s voice* most clearly now or in the past?

Perhaps there is a certain place you go where you hear God’s voice most clearly, or a certain state of being you are in when you feel the most connected to God.

I used the words “God’s voice” because it makes sense to me and it’s how I describe a feeling of spiritual connectedness to God and to others. There might be another way that works better for you. Perhaps “when do I feel most spiritually connected?” or “When am I most at peace with myself and others?”

4. How have my beliefs changed over time? How are they in the process of changing? What season or shape is my faith and spirituality taking right now?

Faith and spiritual wellness seems to change with seasons. Some describe “dry” or “dark” times of the soul when things are challenging or difficult. Others talk about “mountaintop” experiences when things seem to be going really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what season one is in at any particular time, but it’s helpful, I think, to take a look behind and consider how beliefs have changed over time, or are in the process of changing.

5. What spiritual practices are nurturing to me?

For this question, it might be helpful to think in terms of past spiritual practices, present ones and those that we’d like to try in the future. For this, it’s helpful to think of spiritual practices folks might label as “traditional” (such as prayer, meditation, fasting or acts of service) as well as those that might be unique to you: silence, poetry, art, walking, gardening, journaling, running. Whatever practice helps you to feel most spiritually alive and connected and able to hear God’s voice. Perhaps there is a practice that was valuable to you in the past which has somehow faded away, Write down those that were valuable in the past as well as those in the present. If there is no spiritual practice currently alive and active in your life, note that as well.

6. What goals would I like to implement in order to be more spiritually healthy?

By now, you have laid out a clear foundation of what you believe, what doubts and questions are brewing in you and what season of life you might be in. You’ve also taken the time to think about what spiritual practices are nurturing to you. Now is the time to think about some goals for spiritual wellness. I would caution against jumping straight to this question without doing the reflection that comes beforehand. Though it takes some time, it will put things into sharper focus and help refine what kind of spiritual practice you might want to embark on. A few “refresher course” words about goals. Goals should be as specific as possible and as quantifiable as possible. So saying “I’d like to meditate more” is far less effective than “I’d like to do ten minutes of meditation from Headspace per day for ten days in a row to see how it works for me.” When goals have specificity and can be measured, it’s much easier to see if you’re on track and, if not, to make a course correction. One helpful tip for goals is to make sure not to pile on too many. One or two is a great place to start, you can always add more, change or refine as time goes on.

7. What steps do I need to take in order to make my goals a reality?

Perhaps something needs to be moved off of your schedule in order to have the space and time to focus on a new goal. Perhaps you need to enlist the help of another person to encourage or help you stay focused. A word of caution here: be wary of thinking that your spiritual goals can only be reached by investing a lot of money. Particularly in North American culture, we’re trained to believe that if we just purchase the “right” (fill in the blank) we’ll have what we need. This is a lesson I feel like I’m still learning. Whenever I want to tackle the clutter in my house, I am tempted to buy more baskets or boxes or clutter busting devices when, in reality, what I need to do is this: get rid of the stuff that’s creating the clutter in the first place. There are so many great products, tools, services and “gadgets” to help with spiritual heath and wellness. Over time you may find a natural way to incorporate some of them into your life. At the same time, when you’re laying out your goals and vision, try to resist adding a long list of things to buy.

8. What resources do I have that will help me with my goal?

Here you can list personal resources (motivation, strength, kindness, attention), people resources (friends, spiritual mentors or leaders, family members.) and stuff resources (supplies, books, videos, songs.)

9. When will I begin?

The sooner the better!

10. When will I re-evaluate?

I think it’s a great idea to give yourself a relatively short timeframe (say 6-12 weeks) in which to try a new practice and then re-evaluate with a mini version of this inventory to see how things are going and try something new!

There you have it! My attempt at a spiritual inventory. I’ve done variations of this myself and found it very helpful. If you try it either on your own, or with a group, let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Don’t forget to snag your printable worksheet!  Click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF!

I would love to know your thoughts! Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking!

 

Someone You Should Know: Matthew Paul Turner

I guess you could say I have Amazon.com to thank for my emerging friendship with Matthew Paul Turner, the author of When God Made You. You see, whenever I checked the Amazon listing for Faithful Families *ahem* yes, I look up my own book *ahem* I noticed it said “frequently bought with When God Made You.” (Seriously, check it out, I do not tell a lie). Now, just FYI, in case you don’t know how Amazon’s “frequently bought with” works, it’s basically saying “Here’s a *really fancy* book that people who like your book also like.” And so I thought “hmm…. what’s so fancy about this book?” I mentioned it in an email to Chalice Press’ publicist, (mutual friend of Matthew’s and mine) and she was like “Squeee! Great author! Great book! Gah!” and so I ordered the book.
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Y’all. I cried when I read this book. “Mommy, why are you crying?” my children asked. “Because this book is talking about how much God loves you and it’s just like how I love you, and sometimes when you think about all the love, you cry.” I said. I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. The illustrations are captivating. The words are true. I fell in love with the book. Then I got it. The book has sold like wildfire for one simple reason: It’s an amazing book.
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Matthew Paul Turner’s book is written for children. It’s a “bedtime story” type a book. But oh my goodness if you are the type of parent who likes Faithful Families type stuff, you will want this book in your library. If you are a parent who wants to connect with your children in ways that make them know in their hearts that God loves them, this is your book. This book is by my people for my people. Go get it.
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I asked Matthew if he’d consider answering some questions on the blog about the book for y’all and he very graciously said yes. The answers to the questions made me love the book even more (if that were even possible.) Just hearing the stories about how the illustrator took on the book as a first foray into faith based stuff and how the book was inspired, over time, by looking into the face of a newborn baby boy… sold. Done, done and done. So, without further ado I present: Matthew Paul Turner.

Matthew Paul Turner, Author

TS: You are the author of the bestselling children’s book When God Made You,  a beautifully written and illustrated book for children about their amazing worth in God’s eyes. It’s one of the favorite bedtime stories in our home right now and I love reading it to my children. So excited to have you stopping by the website to talk about the book. How did you get started writing children’s books? Is it something that you always wanted to do, or something you stumbled upon? Tell us the story! 

MPT: First of all, thank you for inviting me to your online home. I’m truly honored.

When I became a parent and started reading picture books to my oldest son, Elias, I was surprised by two things: 1) I was blown away by how involved in the story Elias became as I read to him. Even when he couldn’t say words and sentences, he was fully engaged when I read to him—smiling and clapping and pointing out objects on the pages. Even though I’d always loved children’s books, I’d forgotten how intimate and sincere the connections are between kids and their favorite books. And 2), as a person of faith who wanted to read stories about God and faith to my kids, I became frustrated with the selection of books that are available. So often, I’d be reading a Christian storybook to my kid and I’d think, “this is kind of boring” or I’d sigh, “I wished they’d not included that piece of information.” Now, there are certainly many books about God that are just lovely, delightful reminders of God’s love and goodness. But even many of those books were presented in such a way that they didn’t create the connections with my kids and I that so many other books about everyday things seemed to created. So, amid those experiences, I began to wonder if I’d be able to create a children’s book about God that was fun and positive and easy to read. At some point I mentioned the idea to Jessica (my wife) and she loved the idea. In fact, she started pushing me to do it.

[TS: Interruption — Do y’all know who Jessica is? She runs the Mom Creative, a blog full of all kinds of amazingness. I’m also a fan of the FB live videos she does on her page. Back to the regularly scheduled programming.]

Jessica kept encouraging me for a few months before I actually started putting time and energy into the process. Maybe a year and a couple months later, I’d written what I believed could be my first kids’ book. Little did I know that I would go on to receive some variation of “no, we’re not interested” from 11 publishers. A year or so later, Jessica and I decided to self publish my book. That book—at the time, called God Made Light, but it re-releases in February as When God Made Light—sold 5000 copies in 9 months.

As I was starting to write When God Made You, one of the publishers that had initially said no, came back and said they were interested. Eight months later, I was contracted to release 2 children’s books with Waterbrook Press.

That’s the longer, less glorious answer. *Smile*

TS: I love long answers! When God Made You is a story about every person’s worth. It is a story where children are able to delight in the fact that God delights in them. (Gah! Just writing that gets me a bit teary.) How did you come up with the vision behind the story and the words? 

Writing When God Made You took much longer than many might imagine. As I started the process of writing a second children’s book, the only thing I knew in the beginning is that I wanted the theme to be about God creating us. I jotted down ideas and hooks for at least a month, but I was not happy with any of them.

At the time, Ezra (our youngest) was only a month or so old. I was rocking him one night, singing hymns as well as words I was making up on the fly. Somewhere in the middle of that, I sang something like, “You, you, oh Ezra I love you…” The “you, you” part clicked and as soon as I put him down to sleep, I went and wrote down the first line of the book: “You, you, when God made you, God made you all shiny and new.”

From there, my goal was to create a prose that moved me. I wrote words and phrases and ideas that I not only wished I’d been told as a child, but also messages that I needed to hear today.

I’ll never forget this one moment… Sometimes, for a change of scenery, I’ll drive somewhere and walk around and write on my iPhone. On this occasion, I was walking around a grocery store parking lot on a Saturday afternoon when I wrote the words, “So be you—FULLY YOU—a show-stopping revue. Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue…” I still am prone to get teary when I read that line or I hear Adeline (my 6-year-old) read those words to her little brother.

But that’s how the words to When God Made You came to be… I wrote words that moved me. I wrote words that I wanted my kids to know. I wrote words that I wished I had known as a child.

TS: The illustrations in the book are captivating. Can you tell us about the process of collaborating with the illustrator? How did you two find each other? Did you give direction on what you wanted the illustrations to be or look like? What do you know about the illustrator’s process? 

For years, I have loved and worked with Shannon Marchese, my editor at Waterbrook Press. She’s one of those people whose talent and skill I trust. Between 2008 and 2011, she and I worked together on my two memoirs, Churched and Hear No Evil. I learned so much about storytelling and humor and story arc under her guidance. I really trust her instincts. She’s a big reason I landed a children’s book deal. She believed in what I was doing almost from the beginning. In fact, even when her publisher said no, she took my idea BACK to the editorial board in hopes of changing their minds. That didn’t happen then. But after we self published the first book, she took my ideas back to the editorial board again and got a yes. So, needless to say, I love her dearly, as an editor and a friend.

And she believed in this book as much as I did.

Anyway, as soon as we signed the contract, Shannon and I started discussing possible illustrators. She’d send me portfolios and then we’d talk.

Toward the end of the process, she sent me David Catrow’s portfolio and said, “What do you think?”

I knew David’s art, but I didn’t know his name. I knew of his beautiful and colorful and sometimes humorous approach to illustrating a story, but I honestly didn’t know who he was or how I knew his talent. But after like 2 seconds on his website, I wrote back to Shannon with an exuberant “Yes! I LOVE him.”

But I honestly didn’t get my hopes up. Because my book was about God and as far as I could see, David hadn’t illustrated any religious content before. Which I thought was a huge plus. But still, I didn’t start cheering until his agent said that David was in and that he loved the manuscript.

But contrary to popular opinion, David and I didn’t work together on the illustrations. He’s the artist. And while I saw and approved and offered a few thoughts here and there, the visual magic of When God Made You is all David’s doing. He brought my words to life in a way that I could never have imagined. It’s both human and supernatural. God is present throughout. But God is never seen.

I just got his penciled drawings for When God Made Light a few weeks ago. And oh my gosh… he’s just brilliant.

TS: When God Made You uses gender neutral language for God (on behalf of a bajillion people, thank you for that!) Can you share a little bit about that choice and what it means for you? 

MPT: Thank you for asking this question. I grew up believing God was a “he”. And I engaged God as a “he” during my 20s and well into my 30s. I didn’t realize to what degree my “he” perspective limited my understandings and interactions with God. That started to change in the last 10 years or so. Over the last decade, I’ve come to see how pronouns have affected my view of God—specifically, the male pronoun, since it’s by far the gender that people of faith have used and continue to use the most when talking about the divine.

Now, any time I sing a song that uses a pronoun, I almost always change the lyric to reflect how I think about God and to reflect how I talk about God with my own children.

So, all of that said, when I set out to write children’s books about God, I intentionally set out to create a prose that avoided any language that would assign God a gender. Inserting a pronoun into the text of When God Made You would have immensely changed the book and its message. I wanted this book to be one that, if you believed in God, you could read it. For children who have troubled relationships (or no relationships at all) with their fathers or mothers, I wanted this book to be a safe place for them to engage God’s story. I take very seriously the idea that something I write might help shape a child’s concepts of God. And so, with that in mind, I avoided pronouns because using “he” (or “she,” for that matter) can limit or shape our understandings of who God is and how God sees us and how comfortable we feel interacting with God.

And you know what? As far as I have noticed, only 1 person has complained in a review about me never using “he” in this book. And yet, I’ve received a plethora of comments and messages from people who are grateful that they have a book about God that they can happily read to their kids without tripping over a pronoun for God.

TS: One of the things I feel is true about your book is that it  has great potential to reach folks who have been disillusioned by the church and frustrated with narrow minded messages about who God is and who Jesus is. Have you found the book has that sort of “crossover” potential?  

MPT: The response to When God Made You has been amazing, honestly overwhelming. I’ve received so many messages from a variety of readers from all different backgrounds, and yes, many have come from people disillusioned by church and religion and from those outside of the Christian demographic. It’s been so beautiful to hear from people who are agnostic or followers of Islam or Buddhist, sharing with me how they read my book with their children or how my book is the first Christian book they’ve kept on their bookshelves. Those kinds of letters/messages been a really cool part of this journey.

TS: Resources like When God Made You are so rare. What other resources for children and parents are you excited about these days? 

Some of the books about faith and God that I love are these…

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval

Maybe God is Like That Too by Jennifer Grant

Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[TS Note: I fully approve of all of these books as well… gold stars!]

TMS: What’s next for you? I seem to remember seeing that you have another book coming out, illustrated by the same illustrator. Is that correct? Is it a new work or a second publication of one of your former works? 

MPT: My next children’s book comes out in February 2018. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the republication of God Made Light as When God Made Light. It’s been re-edited and David Catrow completely re-illustrated it for Waterbrook Press/Random House.

 

And God willing, I’ll be writing more. I’ve got a few ideas I’m working on now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more soon.

But I have to say: I’m truly enjoying this new creative venture. Writing children’s books has surprised me in many ways—for one thing, it’s more life-giving than anything I’ve worked on before and the process has offered my own soul much healing. So, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue doing it for at least a little while longer.

TS PS (ha! that rhymes!): I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know what MPT’s career trajectory will be. I do know that the “books about God that don’t make us say ‘ugh, this is boring,’ or ‘um, I wish they didn’t say that'” niche is exploding. And, if the sales of Faithful Families and When God Made You are any indication, it’s a shift that will continue. I hope that Matthew continues to write lots of children’s books.

Find Matthew

on Insta, matthewpaulturner

the interwebs: www.matthewpaulturner.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/matthewpaulturner

Twitter @heyMPT

Obviously get When God Made You and preorder When God Made Light.

Thank you so much, Matthew! Congratulations and good luck! Thank you for bringing so much life and joy in to so many homes… keep doing what you do. Can’t wait to see it!

 

 

Mental Clarity and Peace for Parents: 4 Apps I Recommend

 

Last night on Facebook Live, I got to talking about some of the apps I use as Spiritual Practices. As I said on the broadcast, for me doing a spiritual practice isn’t an  “all or nothing” enterprise. I don’t use all four of these apps every day. Rather, I pick one up for a season in life and use it for awhile and then I’ll go to something else. Someone asked for a post with links, so here you go! Leave a comment with your favorite ones, or with questions about these! Ta da!

1. (In the top left of the photo) Gratitude 365. I’ve tried a few different apps for gratitude, and this is the best one. You take a photo each day and add (in journal form) your gratitude. There are several different views and layouts each day.

2. (Top right in the photo) Five Minute Journal. Most people who are talking about the Five Minute Journal are talking about the great physical book/journal. I’ve seen it: it’s gorgeous and great. For me, the actual book doesn’t work because it’s just one more thing to carry around. I love the app. The morning takes you through gratitude, an intention and affirmations. The afternoon has a reflection on the day. As the name suggests: it’s a five minute process each day.

3. (In the bottom left of the photo) Headspace. (The link goes to the Amazon subscription, but also available for iPhone and other phones) Headspace does what it says: gives you space inside your head! It’s a meditation app, but instead of being cheesy or hokey or weird, it’s really good and clean and methodical. There are guided meditations, unguided ones, short ones long ones, and “packs” that take you through whatever you’re trying to work on. I love it for personal spiritual practice, but we also use some of the short kid meditations, either at the dinner table or at bedtime. Love Headspace!

4. (Bottom right in the photo) Forrest App. I don’t use this as much as I did at one time in my life, but it’s still on my phone. Forrest is a way to focus and leave your phone to the side by growing virtual trees on your phone. For each tree you grow, you get little coins that can be redeemed for fancier trees or (if you get enough) to plant a real live tree somewhere in the world. Fun, and great for teens, I think.

 

There you have it! What are your favorites?

 

 

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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

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!

 

How to Help Your Grandchildren Grow In Faith: Ideas for Grandparents

 

I’m speaking about faith practices and families this week at Mo Ranch in Hunt, Texas. I’m half-way through the workshops (two down, two to go!) but one of the things that I’ve found so far is the same thing I find nearly every time I present about faith practices and children: a lot of grandmothers show up.  They tell me the same things, these faithful grandmas:

  • “I am the person who is present to pass on faith to my grandchildren, I want them to grow in faith and I need some ideas.”
  • “My children don’t go to church, but they don’t seem opposed to the idea that I would share faith with the grandchildren.”
  • “I want to share my faith with my grandchildren, but I’m worried about crossing a boundary or interfering somehow.”

Grandmas (and grandpas too!) I have excellent news for you: I have a TON of ideas to help you pass on your faith to your grandchildren in ways that are easy, respectful of your children, and create memories that will help your grandchildren to understand and love the faith you so want to share with them. Keep reading! 

  1. Be the initiator (or guardian) of tradition for your family. Grandparents and tradition go together like peanut butter and jelly! So many among us remember how every year grandma and grandpa would (fill in the blank). Create a tradition with your grandchildren that you stick to as much as you possibly can. Perhaps your tradition is to take the grandchildren to church on particular holidays or to say a special prayer with them before every meal. My book, Seamless Faith has traditions for every day and traditions for Holy Days (holidays) that you will want to use. Whatever tradition you choose, make it your own.  Traditions should be memorable, they should be simple, and they should happen frequently.
  2. Make faith connections with your grandchildren about the things you already do with them.  Do you go out and look at stars with your grandchildren at night? Take the opportunity to talk to them about how God made the stars and the world and everything in it. Do you have bird feeders outside? Let your grandchildren fill them up and talk to them about how important it is to take care of God’s creatures. Do you cook or bake with your grandchildren? Make extra goodies and take them to folks who need them, explaining to your grandchildren that you do this because you believe it’s important to care for others. Your grandchildren will get the message, I promise. It’s not necessary to have a separate “faith time” with your grandchildren, just weave it in to what you are already doing!
  3. Provide faith connections with your grandchildren during key transition moments in their lives. In the book, I call these “ceremonies” but you can call them rituals, or celebrations, or whatever you like! Find a way to “mark the moment” with your grandchildren in a way that honors faith. Perhaps it is the first day of school and you’d like to honor that moment with a remembrance that God is with your grandchildren wherever they go. The same is true of graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild. Ceremonies can also be valuable with your grandchildren when they experience hard times. Be there for them when they are anxious, lose a pet, or have to deal with the hard current events stories they are sometimes faced with.
  4. Think creatively about spiritual practices that you can teach your grandchildren. Often when we think about spiritual practices to practice with our grandchildren, we remember prayers and meals or bedtime. This is great, but there are so many other spiritual practices we can use, too. Again, if you’re not interested in coming up with your own, you can use the ones I lay out in Seamless Faith, some examples are: creative prayer, imagination, and meditation. There are also plenty of ancient spiritual practices that speak to children today. Things like the daily examen, the labyrinth and lectio divina can all be used with your grandchildren.

A lot of times people ask me some variation of this question: I raised my children in the faith, but they don’t go anymore. How can I get them to take the grandchildren to church?  

This is a tough one, and certainly something that I hear a lot. Each family situation is unique, but I have a few “dos and don’ts” that grandparents I’ve talked to have found to be helpful:

  • DON’T say things that inspire guilt or drive a wedge between your children and you. 
  • DO talk with your children respectfully and with genuine curiosity about why they’re not interested in church. Perhaps you will find that there is something about the theology in which your children were raised that doesn’t seem to fit with what they believe now. Many children who were raised in the 70s, 80s and 90s found that when they became adults, the faith of their parents was too judgmental, too exclusive, too difficult to relate to. They need sympathetic ears who will listen to the kind of faith they are looking to embrace. There are plenty of faith communities out there that are daring to reimagine faith and Christianity, but a lot of people don’t know where to look, or how to start.
  • DO share your faith in ways that are natural and not preaching. St. Francis of Assisi’s most famous quote is, arguably, this: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Your grandchildren and children will continue to remember how important your faith is to you when they see how it affects the way you life your life. When I learned how to crochet, my brother said “Yeah, I remember how grandma used to crochet those little hats for babies in the hospital. I always thought that was really cool.” I never knew she did that, but clearly it had a profound impact on my brother.
  • DO ask your adult children how they feel about your incorporating your faith stories or activities with your grandchildren. If you say “I would love to make a bird feeder with the children and talk to them about how God cares for the earth, is that ok?” your children are likely to say “Yes! That sounds great!”
  • DON’T tell your grandchildren everybody must believe the same way you do. One of the number one reasons hear from parents of young children who have decided to stay away from the church is that they feel the church is too closed-minded and is not open to a diversity of opinions. Even if you have strong beliefs about right and wrong, your children and grandchildren may not. It will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your family if you are clear that you are sharing your beliefs and do not expect them to think exactly the same way you do.
  • DO provide unconditional love and acceptance of your children and grandchildren, no matter what. 

Interested in resources that you might want to use with your grandchildren to help them grow in faith? I have some ideas about those too!

  • Here, again, is a link to my book Seamless Faith. It has 50 easy to use traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. I’d say about 1/2 (or more!) of the people who buy this book are grandparents.
  • Would you like to have a grandma “faith jar” on your counter? You can get the resource here. It’s 48 different faith practices that you cut in to strips. Each time you are together with your grandchildren, pick out a practice from the jar, and do what it says!
  • My favorite Children’s Bible is the Children of God Storybook Bible   I also recommend the books God’s Paintbrush, In God’s Name and Love Letters From God.

Grandparents: What ideas do you have about sharing your faith with your grandchildren? I’d love to hear them below! Also, what questions can I address in a future post? 

 

 

4 Spiritual Practices to Reduce Anxiety and Stress #spiritualpractice #anxiety #stress

Like so many people I struggle to find peace amid stress and anxiety. Anxiety and stress take so many different forms in our lives: headaches, panic attacks, muscle tension, and on and on. Negative effects of stress on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are well known and researched. What to do about it? When stress and anxiety becomes overwhelming, it’s often important to consult a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or all of the above. The advice on this post is not meant to substitute for those important resources.  That said, here are some of the things that I use that have helped me tremendously.

headspace1. Meditation – I’ve wanted to learn to meditate for a long time but never found a system or method that helped me learn until I found HEADSPACE. Headspace is an app that teaches you, step by step, how to meditate. The first 10 lessons (10 minutes each) are free. There is a subscription service after that. I’ve been using Headspace for about 2 months now, and I love it. Give it a try!

biblejournalb2 2. Bible Art Journaling I’ve written about Bible Journaling HERE and HERE and given some tips on how to get started and what resources to use. I find that Bible Art Journaling is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.

 

 

 

 

 

mandalacoloring3. Mandalas and Coloring Books for Adults. Adult Coloring is all the rage recently, and with good reason.  Here is a link to a nice book of mandalas, and here is a lovely one called Beauty in the Bible.

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude4. Gratitude Practices  Gratitude has many scientifically proven benefits. There are many ways to establish a gratitude practice, from writing in a journal every day, to simply jotting down five things for which you are grateful once a week. I have a journal that I write in sporadically, and Elias and I also list five things on Sunday evenings and share them with one another.

 

 

 

 

Bonus: Here are a few other things that have helped me with stress and anxiety. Maybe give them a try!

  •  Relaxation therapy (aka the best nap in the world!): When I have gone in for relaxation treatments for anxiety, the practitioner puts me on a table with cushions under my neck and knees, puts noise canceling headphones on my ears that play nature sounds, puts a lavender scented eye pillow on my eyes, and (the most luxurious part of it, for me) covers me with a  weighted blanket. I lie there and take a 30 minute luxurious relaxation nap break. I have yet to recreate this whole setup at home, but it is one of my goals, because I come out of each treatment feeling great. Your own at home relaxation spa! Give it a try!
  • I try to cut back on caffeine when I’m super stressed and add tea to the mix. One of my favorite teas recently is lavender. (Sensing a theme?) I also use lavender candles, lotion and bubble bath.

 

Those are all my tricks and tips! Happy relaxing and de-stressing!

 

FCC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links! Happy Shopping!

 

 

Family Paschal Candle: Celebrating Easter as a Season, Not Just One Day #seamlessfaith

paschalcandle

This morning 3 year old Clayton said, “Today is Easter Day again! It’s Jesus Day Again!” If I were to guess, he was referring to the joy of yesterday and wanting to repeat it. Butterflies. Candy. Egg hunt. Friends.

I can’t help but reflect on how profound that statement is, theologically. Easter is not just one day, it is a season. Resurrection, in the Christian year is celebrated from Easter day all the way to the day of Pentecost (this year on May 17.) Next year, I think I’ll make a resurrection calendar with activities for each day, but here’s a very simple idea: a Family Paschal Candle.

Family Paschal Candle Tradition:

Designed for All Ages

Time Investment: 15 minutes to make the candle + 1 minute each evening from Easter to Pentecost

Materials:

How To

  1. Place the candle in a jar or bowl and explain to the family that the candle is a special Easter (or Paschal) candle and that it will represent Jesus’ resurrection from Easter day all the way until Pentecost (the day that the Holy Spirit comes to us.)
  2. Every night at dinner, place the Paschal candle in the center of the table and light it saying these words “We light the Easter candle today because we remember that Easter is not just a day, it’s a whole season. Happy Easter!
  3. Continue the practice until the Day of Pentecost, May 24 (don’t worry, there are plenty of Pentecost practices for that day — stay tuned!)

Notes

  • Read more about the history of the paschal candle here, if you are interested.
  • I was inspired to adapt the Paschal candle activity to families from this article. 

Variations 

  • Light the candle in the morning, at breakfast or at bedtime (any time that there is consistent connection with your family)
  • Use a battery operated candle for toddler/baby houses
  • Write your own words to say

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Like this activity? There are 50 more traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices in my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Life. You can also connect  on Facebook and Pinterest where I link to other resources for family faith and spirituality.