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Sabbath Notecards: Helping Families Rest – (Spiritual Practice) #FaithfulFamilies

Sabbath, to rest. Rest. Rest. So many of the parents I know are desperate for rest. Incidentally, rest isn’t the same as sleep. One can be well rested on very little sleep. Conversely, one can get many hours of sleep and still not feel rested. True rest comes from a sense of peace and calm and sabbath. Sabbath is the opportunity to reflect, recharge and renew. Often people use the metaphor of a cup filled with water to represent Spiritual well being – one can not help fill the cup of others if her own cup is empty. This is as true in parenting as it is in ministry.  Sabbath keeping for parents can be a challenge. As my friend Nicole, a family therapist writes, many of us make excuses for why we don’t have time for self care or Sabbath. We’ve got deadlines, and busy lives. Children have needs around the clock. That said, developing a routine of Sabbath is so important to spiritual well being and health.

The Sabbath Practice in Faithful Families uses Sabbath Notecards. In order to help families save time on this practice, I made printable notecards to download and use. They can be downloaded HERE.

It’s easy to use them, just print out the one minute Sabbath Cards on a different colored paper from the five minute Sabbath Cards. When your family has time for a short rest, choose either a One Minute Sabbath Card or a Five Minute Sabbath Card and do what it says.

Use them regularly and come up with your own ideas for for one and five minute Sabbath!

As I was revisiting these and typing them out for the notecards it occurred to me that many of these activities are geared for older children and parents. Five minutes of silence, for example, is a definite “yeah, not going to happen” for preschool families. Start small, though, and work your way up. Enjoy these Sabbath Notecards! I look forward to hearing how your Sabbath practices develop.

For Further Reading: Sabbath in the Suburbs, A Family’s Experiment With Holy Time

 

Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, and the Abraham Kuyper Lecture

When I was in my early 20s, I was unclear about whether or not I was “allowed” to be a minister. By “allowed” I mean if it was something that I thought the Bible permitted. Even though I grew up in a denomination that ordained women, I went to a college that was a part of a denomination that did not, and so I was confused.

See, I loved (and still love) my faith and I took (and still take) the Bible very seriously. Some Christians said I could be a minister, and some said I could not. At the time I was working as a youth director at a great church. The pastor of the congregation listened to my struggle and said something to the effect of “I respect your high view of Scripture, it’s the same as mine.  I want you to know our denomination allows for the ordination of women from a reformed perspective.” He went on to tell me about that reformed perspective and how it included women in ordained ministry. He even told me about all the women he met in seminary and how gifted they are. He further went on to tell me about the gifts he saw in me. He challenged me to rethink my views and consider whether or not the Spirit was leading me to ordained ministry. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary. Without his influence in my life, I would have neither attended Princeton Seminary nor become a Minister of Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elder) in the PC(USA).

I’m thinking about that story this evening because I did a double take (ok, a TRIPLE TAKE) when I read that The Reverend Dr. Tim Keller is Princeton Theological Seminary’s choice of speaker for the Abraham Kuyper Lecture. He will also be awarded a prize for excellence in Reformed Theology and Public life.  Spoiler alert: Rev. Keller is arguably the most influential pastor of a denomination that is very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.

I’ll let others argue finer points of Rev. Keller’s theology (hello, this is Princeton Theological Seminary here, arguing finer points is what we do.).  My personal soapbox is much less refined. It boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings. 

But he’s not even talking about “women’s issues” or “LGBT issues,” some will argue. The lecture is on church planting. Who can argue with church planting? Can’t we look past what divides us find common ground? Of course we can find common ground. Let me state clearly and without equivocation: I believe Rev. Keller loves Jesus. I believe he is a man of faith. I believe he works hard and has a respectable career. I would happily go to the church he pastors and listen to him preach. He’s absolutely invited to come to the church I pastor and listen to me preach. We can totally hold hands during the hymn sing.  The reason that’s not enough in this case (and the reason he shouldn’t have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn’t some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor.  There’s a place for common ground, but unless Rev. Dr. Tim Keller is prepared to argue for the ordination of all the women students of Princeton Theological Seminary, the The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is not that place in my opinion.

I would love to talk to the people from Princeton Theological Seminary who made this decision to better understand their position. Give me a call. Let’s chat.

UPDATE: The Seminary responded by referencing this email to the seminary community:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

I am aware that many in our community are deeply concerned by the invitation of the Kuyper Center at our seminary to have the Reverend Tim Keller come to campus next month. He will speak on the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, and receive their annual prize as one who embodies their aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society. The focus of the concerns that have come to me is that Rev. Keller is a leader of the Presbyterian Church in America, which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained ministry to Word and Sacrament.

Our seminary embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church. We clearly stand in prophetic opposition to the PCA and many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations. We know that many have been hurt by being excluded from ministry, and we have worked hard to be an affirming place of preparation for service to the church.

The seminary has many student organizations and several theological centers that bring speakers to campus. While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don’t practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers. It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions.

So my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

If President Barnes and I were chatting over coffee or margaritas, I’d gently challenge some of these assertions and we’d probably have to agree to disagree on what his role is or should be in this. I admire many of the things he’s done for the Seminary, and I also appreciate that his job is unimaginably difficult in so many ways. It’s also worth mentioning that, though the buck stops with President Barnes and though he had (and still has) the option to be much stronger in his response, he’s not the one who extended this invitation. Those who still feel compelled to respond ought to write, not only to President Barnes, but also to the Kuyper Center who can be reached here: http://kcpt.ptsem.edu/contact-us-2/

Onward.

UPDATE #2 on this. From President Barnes:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

On March 10 I sent a letter to the seminary community addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller to speak at their annual conference and receive the Kuyper Prize. Those who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

As I indicated in my previous letter, it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. This commitment to academic freedom is vital to the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community. In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom.  Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions.

I have also had helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.

However, the Kuyper Center’s invitation to Reverend Keller simply to lecture at their conference will stand, and he has graciously agreed to keep the commitment.  We are a community that does not silence voices in the church. In this spirit we are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry.  Reverend Keller will be lecturing on Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church – not on ordination.

I want to thank all who have communicated with the administration of the seminary as this important conversation has unfolded on campus. We have heard many heartfelt perspectives from both sides of the debate. It has been a hard conversation, but one that a theologically diverse community can handle.

In the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

Well done, President Barnes. I appreciate this response, and you. This is the right move. Yes to academic freedom. Yes to listening to others whose opinions are different from our own (no matter how distasteful they may be.) No to giving large fancy prizes that can be confused with endorsement. Some may not be satisfied with this response. I think it’s a great compromise. Yes to this! -T

Art School at Home or Church :: Marbled Paper: Shaving Cream & Liquid Watercolors

So, as I explained last week, I’m on a new mission to teach art (not crafts) to my children. I’m not an art teacher or formally trained artist, but I do love to do my own art, and this maternity leave has been a rich time to peruse Pinterest while up at 4 in the morning with little miss Marina Lynn, the cutest baby in Texas. Proof:

What? She’s holding a copy of Faithful Families? I didn’t even notice.

I’ll get right to it. This week we did three different works. Full disclosure: one of them was a bust. This is one of the reasons I’m excited about blogging our adventures — so I can save other parents from embarking on other art adventures only to have it not work out at. all.

This one, though, the marbled paper, was great. I was so focused on taking photos of the process (and the actual prints have already been mailed to the grandparents) that you have to look closely to see the end result, but if you look to the side of this photo, you’ll see it. Trust me, it’s cool. Here’s an example of the finished product to the side of the tray there, and an almost finished, just still wet, one in the tray itself:

So here goes:

Materials:

Shaving cream (Dollar Store for the win!)

Two trays (whatever you have — we used aluminum baking pans)

Liquid Watercolor Paint (aka the most amazing art supply ever in the whole wide world. Srsly) Note: I am the queen of “we don’t need expensive things to have fun or be creative” so I hear you if you’re thinking “Nope. Those are 10 dollars!” I assure you, they last a very long time are vibrant and colorful and there are a ton of projects they can be used for. Got some coming up! Also, they’re washable.

Watercolor Paper (not linking to the paper we used because it wasn’t thick enough. Get some nice thick watercolor paper.)

Something to scrape off the shaving cream from the paper — a piece of cardboard or plastic. We used a wing from a plastic airplane that broke off and was sitting in a drawer. Ha!

How to:

  1. Squirt a whole bunch of shaving cream in a tray (you probably don’t need to use as much as we did but, c’mon! This is the best part!)

  1. Dribble on some water colors — we were making the ocean, so we used only blue and green, but this would be great with any colors or lots and lots of colors.

2. Run a pencil/back of a paintbrush through the shaving cream to make a marbled design

3. Press the paper to the top of the design

4. Scrape off excess

Voila!

So many things to do with this… use the marbled paper as a jumping off point for something else… cut it in to shapes…. let it be what it is, etc. I’ll show you what we did with ours in a future post. Stay tuned!

 

Introducing Art School at Home/Church: Homemade Spray Chalk

Psst… come here. I’ll tell you a secret.  I often write simply for personal motivation. I’ll tell you what I mean. When I first got married, I was a terrible cook. Really awful, like “just throw the pan away” awful. I wanted to become better, but I wasn’t excited about the process. So, I created a cooking blog. I figured the process of journaling my culinary adventures would make learning to cook more enjoyable. It worked! I now have plenty of confidence in the kitchen, and it’s fun to have an online journal of all my experiments. I continue to try new recipes, though I don’t update the cooking blog very much anymore.

It’s in the spirit of my cooking blog and journaling my journey that I’m starting a new series on this blog called “Art School at Home/Church.” I really want to teach my sons (and when she’s old enough, my daughter) how to express themselves through art. The fact that there’s no formal art education in our public school makes me more determined to do it. In addition to being a great motivator for me to follow through, I’m hoping the resources and projects I share will be useful to some of you.

Arts vs. Crafts

Before I get to the actual project, a word on the difference between “art” and “crafts” that will guide this series. I think the distinction between the two is key. Craft projects are mostly about creating a replica of what someone else has shown you. “Take these google eyes and glue them here, then glue on two circles there, then bend the pipe cleaners like this and attach them.” Craft projects are great and they help develop all kinds of skills: following directions, fine motor, using tools, and more. My children receive a lot of instruction in craft projects at school and church, and we have a wall full of adorable projects to prove it! What I’m more interested in teaching them is art instruction and opportunities. (As well as some knowledge about famous artists and their works). Whereas crafts approach the experience with a very specific end “product” in mind, art is more about providing tools and technique and letting the artist create what he or she would like to create. When I surveyed the masses via Facebook for Resources about this, someone recommended the book The Artful Parent. I got it from the library and gobbled it up in a day and a half. It’s currently on my “wish list” because all of the projects look amazing. I highly recommend it.

Making the Spray Chalk

I’ve done plenty of projects with my boys in the past, but since I’m starting this journey of “art class at home,” I wanted to make sure that the first few activities were super fun for them so that they’ll begin to associate “art time with mom” as something fun to look forward to rather than a drag. I knew they’d love this activity, and it was such a hit.  My first idea was to buy this sidewalk paint. It has great reviews and looks wonderful, but the price seemed a little steep for something like this, and after scouring the all mighty Pinterest, it seemed like the spray chalk version would be just as good (or better) with the option of allowing us to make it ourselves.

The recipe I found was:

  • One cup of hot water
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda
  • Plenty of food coloring. We used this neon food coloring with excellent results.

I got the spray bottles at the dollar store and I’m sure we’ll find other projects to use those for (or maybe we’ll do this chalk one again!) It was a fun bonus that the handles were in the same colors of the food coloring we had at home. Here’s how we made the chalk:

  • Dump the cornstarch and baking soda in to a Ball jar and add the hot water + food coloring
  • Screw the lid on tightly and shake until the powder is dissolved
  • Pour into spray bottle

So easy! We repeated the process three times with the three colors and headed outside to see how it worked. The recipe could be easily doubled our tripled (as you see from the photo, there was more than enough space in the spray bottle.) Contents need to be shaken again after awhile as the water and powder separates (a lot like a salad dressing!). We used the entire recipe up in the one afternoon, so I don’t know how this would hold up over time. If you try it, leave a note in the comments!

The results were great. For the blue, the color didn’t show up much when it was wet, but then when it dried we could see the splatters:

The pink and green were more vibrant, even when wet:

Of course, part of the fun was spraying the playscape outside as well as creating an artful tree!

Overall, I was thrilled with this activity, and the boys were too. Someone commented that this would be a great VBS activity. Yes, it would! How fun to have children spray paint the church parking lot or sidewalk!

Thanks for joining me on this adventure. Look for more activities every couple of weeks or so (we’ll be having “art class at home” every week, but I don’t plan to document each adventure). You can also follow some of the projects I’ve curated on this Pinterest board.

 

 

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.

 

So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252840

http://www.success.com/article/john-c-maxwell-6-tips-to-develop-and-model-an-abundance-mindset

 

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

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

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

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

 

 

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

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

 

 

 

 

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

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

 

 

 

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

Ages: 4-8+

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

 

 

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

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

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

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

 

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

Ages: 4-8+

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

 


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

Ages: 6-10+

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

 


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

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

 

When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

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

 

 

 

Bonus Recommendation

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

Ages: 5-12+

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

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

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

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

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

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

 

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

5 Things NOT to Say to Pregnant Women and Why (and What to Say Instead)

This post is a little “off topic” for me, but it was inspired by THIS POST  I wrote awhile back on helping speech. Since I was pregnant for the better portion of 2016, I feel like I know what I’m talking about on this one. Having heard other pregnant women concur with the challenge of some of these comments, I thought I’d post them here as food for thought. Interested in shoring up your helpful commenting when it comes to pregnant women? Read on!

“You look huge!” 

Variations: “Wow, I hope you don’t have the baby right here!” “Are you sure there’s only one baby in there?” “You’re gigantic!” “You look like you’re about to pop!

 Why you should avoid saying this: Unsolicited comments about the size of one’s belly are never welcome, but for some reason, people feel like pregnancy is an exception to this rule. Few people would walk up to an overweight person and say “Wow, you’re ENORMOUS!” Yet to pregnant women, it happens all the time. Baffling.  By the end of pregnancy, many women feel bloated and awkward, huge and uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be told that she is huge or large. It’s impossible to know how to respond to this. “Thanks?” “I know?” “You’re right?” What’s the proper response to having been told that you are gigantic? When these comments start coming when a woman has 3 or more months left in pregnancy, it makes the end of pregnancy feel even longer. I know women who had extra large bellies throughout their pregnancy who ended up dreading the daily comments about their size from friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

What you might say instead:  “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You look tiny!” 

Variations: “You hardly look pregnant at all.” “Are you sure there’s a baby in there?” “I can’t tell you’re even pregnant.”

Why you should avoid saying this: I have firsthand experience with this one. In a culture that values thinness and being small, I think many folks said this to me thinking it was some sort of compliment. What they didn’t know was that my baby was measuring small for her gestational age and was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction. Every day I was praying for growth and a bigger baby, and every comment that I was small or that nobody could see a baby in there reminded me of this. Toward the end of the pregnancy a stranger asked when I was due (I’m taking that one on next!) and when I told her she said “Wow, your baby must be really small!” I burst in to tears right there at the grocery store.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“When are you due?” 

Variations: When is your due date? When is the baby coming?

Why you should avoid saying this:  I completely understand why people say this as a conversation starter, and it may not be a problem for all pregnant women. It didn’t bother me when people would ask me when my children were due. On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of women say that this question can get tiring when it’s asked all the time, particularly by strangers. (In part because the answer is often followed up with unwelcome commentary, but more on that in a different post!) Babies seldom arrive when they are “due” and they day they arrive can be wildly different than expected. Also, depending on the mother’s medical situation, the “due date” might be  a source of stress or uncertainty, and asking what seems like an innocent question might bring up topics the expectant mother would rather not discuss.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You look tired.” 

Variations: “You look like you don’t feel well.” “You look exhausted.”

Why you should avoid saying this: Personally, I think “you look tired” should be stricken from everyone’s vocabulary. It feels like a socially acceptable way to tell someone they’re looking terrible. I’ve been told I look tired when I was feeling great and happy and wide awake. After being told I looked tired, though, I felt a responsibility to say “Yeah, I am sort of tired” and then high-tailed it to the bathroom to put on more lip gloss or eye liner. The same applies for pregnant women. What is possibly intended as concern comes across as a critique or insult.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You know how this happens, right?” 

Variations: “Pregnant again!” “You and your husband need a different hobby!” “Don’t you have a TV at home?”

Why you should avoid saying this: I was subjected to endless comments in this category when I became pregnant with my second child a few months after giving birth to my first. Aside from being really awkward (Um, please stop talking!) it felt rude and invasive and judgmental.

What you might say instead: “Congratulations” “What a blessing!”

Pregnancy is a wild time for women. Some love it, some feel “so-so” about it. Some can’t wait to be done. For most women, though, simply being told that we’re looking wonderful or hearing a concerned “How are you” is more than enough commentary. If a pregnant woman has more information she’d like you to know, she’ll probably tell you.

So, what do you think? What unwelcome comments have you experienced during pregnancy? What would you add?

 

 

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!

 

 

 

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.

 

On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Links:

Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide