Category Archives: Church

Encouraging generosity, global awareness and perspective in kids

During our engagement, my husband and I read an article about a family that encouraged generosity and global awareness in their children by involving them in decisions about charitable giving.  We knew we wanted to adapt their method for our own kids, but 9 years – and 4 children – later, we were still talking about our plan to do that someday.

Well, for Lent this year, we decided to stop waiting until we had time to really come up with a perfected system for our family and just dive in now.  I feel a little weird writing about this, but I’m sharing what we are doing for 2 reasons: (1) we benefit so much when others share their ideas and (2) we know we could be doing it a lot better and are open to suggestions.

Here are the basics:

(1)   We told the kids that every Sunday during Lent this year, they are going to learn about one problem in the world and one organization that is trying to help address that problem.

(2)   Each week, we are going to pray for the people affected by the problem and the organization trying to help them.

(3)   At the end of Lent, we’ll review the different organizations (and problems they address) and the kids can decide which organization will receive some money from our family.

So far, we’ve focused on organizations that have short video clips on their websites, but we’re hoping to expand to other mediums this week.  So far, with the videos, we have been very careful about what we show and we talk to the kids about what they’re going to see in advance.  Only one of our kids can read, so we read the captions for them during the video.  And I talk over parts of the videos as I offer explanations for what the kids are seeing.  (The explanations are important as these videos aren’t made for the purpose of easy understanding by young kids, but they are powerful if shown in conjunction with explanation.)

Here are the videos we’ve shown so far.

(1)   From “Project Night Night” (http://projectnightnight.org)…We  summarized their efforts (detailed on the homepage) for our kids, then showed them the video.  The organization basically makes sure that kids in shelters receive a bag that contains a security blanket, a stuffed animal and a book.  A $20 donation buys a bag.   The video is a simple photo montage of kids who give, and receive, bags. We also suggested to them that one of the places that currently needs bags is located in their Nana’s hometown, and we could actually buy the objects to put in the bag and send it with Nana if they chose that organization (and if Nana was willing to do the delivery…what do you say, Nana?!).  Here’s the video…

Project Night Night Video/Photo Montage

(2)   From “Charity: Water” (http://www.charitywater.org/)… I was initially nervous about showing this video due to the soundtrack and some hard images (our oldest is 6), but I’m so glad we did.  Our kids’ reaction was amazing.  As they were watching, we emphasized that some people had to drink that dirty water and that helping build a well would mean clean water for everyone in a village.  Almost 2 weeks later, S pointed at a ditch full of dirty rainwater beside the road and said, “There are people in the world that have to drink water like that, but I’m sending pennies to help them.”  Another powerful thing about this video is that is says the average lifespan in this part of the world is 39.  We told our kids that dad and mom would both be 39 this year and aren’t we lucky that we live in a place with peace and clean water so that moms and dads live so much longer.  That really made an impression on them (but was a risk, as we don’t want them thinking about the possibility of us dying!)  Anyway, this video really made our kids think – in a good way.

(3)   From the Make a Wish foundation (www.wish.org).  We chose a video about a girl who wished to meet a real ballerina (1) because our girls totally related to that and (2) because the girl in the video gets better.  To introduce this, we emphasized that some kids are very sick and that Make a Wish offers them something fun to think about instead of thinking about being in the hospital.  (Like being able to focus on the sucker, instead of the shot sort of thing.)  Our kids still talk about the girl in this video too.

After this video, we also emphasized to the kids that giving money is not the only way to help.  If the girl had wished for a chance to play at our house, would we have let her?  Of course.  The dancers in the video gave their time, etc.  My husband works for UNC and we talked about how if someone’s wish was to do something there, would they help dad arrange it?  In short, making the point that giving time, energy, etc. is very important.

Here’s the video:

(4)   Not sure what we’re showing the kids tomorrow, but may read them part of a letter about a family in our town who just lost their home to a fire and ask if they would like to contribute to a community effort to assist them.

What has amazed me so far about this:

(1)   I needed to be reminded that the blessing comes back 10-fold.  Since watching these videos, my own perspective has received a wonderful adjustment.  Instead of feeling like money is tight, I am overwhelmed by how rich I feel simply having a bed, clean water, healthy kids… I need that perspective and so do my kids.

(2)   The kids’ generosity.  At random points, they say “I want you to send our family money to that one when it’s time, mom”, but in the meantime, they have each individually come up to us and said “please send some of my pennies to all of them”.  One night, S disappeared after the video and we thought she was playing her Dora tamborine in her room.   Turns out she was shaking pennies out of her piggie bank so we could send them for her.  And she was very thoughtful about it.  6 pennies to this place, 6 pennies to that place, and 13 to the other…

(3)   The kids’ attention.  Several times this week, they have asked me if we’ll see another video on Sunday and if there’ any way they could watch it early.  And they are totally focused when the videos are on.  We’ll see how they do if tomorrow is me reading part of a letter.

What we still need to work on :

(1)   I need ideas for organizations and materials to introduce those organizations to our kids.  This is my real Lenten sacrifice…the time to search to find the right images and words to talk to our kids about this.

(2)   Our kids don’t get allowances and we haven’t talked to them much about money.  I would love to use some kind of system (they get 10 dimes, one goes to charity, one to savings, etc.) but we haven’t figured that out yet.  This would be a better project if they had some an understanding of money and some of their own money to give.

(3)   As kids get older, there are deeper conversations to have about all of this.  The point for our crew now is: (1) There are problems and good people working to fix them. (2) Our family helps.  You can help, and we’re so proud when you do. (3) We are blessed.  Appreciate what we have.

(4)   The prayer part.  I think the prayer for the people should be a bigger part of what we’re doing, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

Again, I feel a little weird writing this.  I don’t want to make it seem like we’re giving a lot.  And I don’t want to come across as anything other than someone who has procrastinated too long on an idea we learned about 9 years ago.  But I did want to share in case anyone else has ideas about how this can work, what resources we could use, or if anyone has been looking for an idea for their own kids.  So far, this has sparked some good conversations in our house and given me a reminder about the perspective I need to keep.

Hugs,

K

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cute, creative & confined to the house…all while preparing her to take on the world!

I could write pages about E’s style.  Suffice it to say that since she was a tiny girl, fashion has inspired her creativity.  From

– fingernails painted 10 different colors to

hours in her room drawing new designs for her dolls to

asking mama to help her make those designs come alive in fabric (I wish I had any skill at all in this area…)

E simply sees things in fabric and thread that I would never see without her.

As a result, she has the uncanny ability to surprise me with what she’s wearing, even though I am very familiar with every stitch in her wardrobe.

Take her green skirt, for example.  It is a simple skirt, designed for a 5 year old girl in that it has shorts sewn in underneath.  Perfect for sitting on the Kindergarten mat.

Well, recently E came down from her room with the skirt worn in a way I had never anticipated.  She put on the skirt, and while the shorts remained covering her lower body, pulled the skirt overlay up and inside out to create a strapless shirt.

It was creative, cute, and (since my 5 year old will not be wearing strapless outfits), confined to the house.  I didn’t make a picture, but it’s basically a green version of this (except that the armless mannequin could never wear it since E had to hold the top up with her hands, as there is no elastic on what was intended to be the bottom of a skirt…I did help her pin it so it would stay during her fun “dress-up” hour).

You can imagine if the top were folded down at the waist, this would be a skirt with shorts underneath. E just transformed it the other way, making it look just like this outfit, without ever having seen anyone wear this before. Is this how Ralph Lauren got his start?  Or am I raising Lady Gaga?

This wardrobe alteration was not an isolated incident…

The next week, E surprised me by announcing she was dressed for choir practice while wearing a midriff-bearing, one shouldered shirt.  Since she owns no such items, I looked closer and discovered that her “shirt” was actually a pair of blue shorts worn upside down.  She had put her head through one of the leg holes and her right arm through the other to create this look.

Can you tell that the shirt is actually a pair of shorts worn upside down?  When she moves her arms and it becomes a full midriff-bearing, one shoulder ensemble, which is why I posted a photo that happened to catch her while her face was covered.  No need to show her fully on display in this outfit.

Anyone who knows me knows that I think some of the best and most important childhood moments when kids are given license to create.  And E absolutely has license to create in our house. And room what I’ve seen so far, art & fashion are absolutely her creative specialties.  Her mind just looks at fabric and sees things I don’t see, and I think it’s fantastic.  I want to encourage it, not stifle it.

At the same time, E and I had to have two conversations before we headed out to choir practice that day…

(1) modesty… I am confronting this issue earlier than I thought I would have to and am admittedly unprepared.  Any pointers on discussing modestly with a 5 year old are greatly appreciated!  In the meantime, I will say that before she went out of the house, she was required to (a) put another pair of shorts under her skirt and (b) add a tank-top underneath the upside-down shorts to cover her belly and the exposed shoulder .  Which meant she left the house looking like this:

I also had to talk to E about…

(2) Being who you are:  I was up-front about E that (a) I loved her mind and vision and creativity, (b) seeing and doing things differently is celebrated in our house, as long as you are being true to who you are and expressing/not contradicting important values (like modesty), and (c) once you leave our house, you may get teased for seeing and doing things differently.  She should be ready for that, but not let it scare her away from something that she wanted.  (The world needs people who see some things differently, and it makes things a lot more fun too!)

But reigning it back in to the issue at hand, I basically told E that someone could recognize that she was wearing shorts upside-down as a shirt and tease her about it, and asked her if she would be ok when that happened.  She said she would, so we practiced her response in case that happened:

“I like the way it looks!  But I don’t like to be teased, so stop.”

And off she went to choir…

As it turns out, no one said anything to her.  And I am proud that she had a vision, was comfortable doing things differently, and learned a little bit about how to brace herself.  I will be the first investor in her design company, if her interest continues.  (I will also be the first to send her back upstairs if something is not modest, with suggestions about how to make it work while still being fun, accompanied by clear instructions to put some more clothes on.)

(As a side note, I would like to say that I uber-impressed with my mother-in-law, who witnessed about 75% of this exchange with E, let me handle the whole thing, and just smiled and said at one point, “You are both just wonderful!”  I got extra lucky that she came as part of a family package with my amazing husband!  More on their visit in an upcoming post…)

I also got lucky that we happened to be ready for choir early that day, which left enough time for a conversation.  Because a few days later, she came downstairs a few minutes before she had to leave for school wearing this dress.

random, fuzzy photo of E that I snapped as she was putting on an “art show” on the kitchen table…but she happened to be wearing the dress I’m referring to…a dress we both love, by the way…

No problem, right?

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that she was intentionally wearing it backwards.  Which means this part…

became a midriff-bearing bikini in the front.  With no time for a real conversation or the addition of a tank-top, I simply had to ask her to turn it around and let her know we would talk again later about how to make her clothes both modest and fun.

Egads.

The next person who suggests we just make departures simpler by having the kids pick out their clothes the night before is going to get an earful.  I can look at what E is planning on wearing (sweet green skirt, cute blue shorts, pretty pink sundress…), but honestly, I’m not creative enough to imagine exactly how she’s going to put the things on!  I mean, this is the height of looking “different on the rack” than they do when the child actually wears them!

As another side note, I racked my brain to think of where E might have gotten any inspiration for the outfits…especially since with all the end-of-school commitments, we haven’t even really hit swimsuit season yet.  The only think I can think of is Princess Jasmine, which got me wondering why Disney, with all their creative thinkers, couldn’t come up with an outfit slightly less revealing than this for the princess so many little girls are obsessed with:

Love ya, Disney.  But I think you can do better by my 5 year old – who is certainly in your target age demographic and desperately wanted to be Princess Jasmine last Halloween.  (Which begs the question: why did I not see this coming?  E was a more modest version of the Princess Jasmine for that holiday.)

Anyway, a reminder to readers that I’d love tips on how you explain the importance of modesty to a five year old, and how you decide what is appropriate and what isn’t…

And a quick note to E…

E,

I Love your style.  I Love your brain.  I Love your spunk.  I love you.

Be who you are always!

(While modestly covering your five year old midriff.)

Love,

Mom

Tiny Souls; Big Responsibility

Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff, author of “Will Our Children Have Faith?” (full disclosure: I have never read the book), hosted a Q&A in our Christian Parenting Sunday School class this weekend.

My husband asked him if he had one piece of advice for the parents of young children, what it would be.

He responded by saying he would say three things:

 

(1)  Relax.

(2)  Be yourselves, and

(3)  Do things with your children, instead of for them or to them.

 

That’s pretty good advice, in my opinion.

He also answered lots of questions about how to teach children about spirituality.  The questions approached the issue from a variety of angles: how to help a child sort out real vs. not real (e.g. Bible stories, childhood characters, etc.), how to help children pray and understand prayers that seem to have gone unanswered, etc.

His answers had one basic theme. That theme was, work on your own faith, and you will more naturally become an example for – and understand how to help – your children.  From a slightly different angle, instead of trying to figure out what to teach your kids about a particular topic, figure out what you really believe and tell them that.

That seems like such a simple principle, but I will admit that it had eluded me until Dr. Westerhoff said it so plainly.  Before we struggle with how to convey our beliefs to our children, we have to know what we believe.

Maybe the kids are struggling with the reality of some Old Testament stories as they learn that their favorite Disney characters are make-believe.  Well, before answering their questions, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we really believe about the Bible?”

Before dealing with a child’s frustrations over prayers for a grandparent who is still sick, we need to ask ourselves “Well, what do we really believe about prayer?”

The shift in thinking struck a particular chord with me because my husband and I have been trying to figure out how to expose the kids to two different strands of the Christian tradition (My husband is Catholic; I considered myself a non-denominational Protestant until joining a Methodist Church several years ago and still prefer to be simply identified as “Christian”).

As we do this, I have been constantly asking myself, “What parts of each of our traditions would be important for the kids to experience?”

After hearing Dr. Westerhoff, I now believe I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of making the primary inquiry, “What would be good for the kids?”, my husband and I should be asking each other, “What parts of your faith background are important for you to experience as a part of your spiritual journey and commitments?”    If we both (1) carefully consider that question, (2) answer it honestly, (3) commit to experiencing those essential elements as a family (when it is age-appropriate for the kids to be involved and church-sanctioned to have a non-member spouse participate), and then (4) really think about all of it in terms of what overall experience that creates from the perspective of the kids, then we have our family’s spiritual roadmap.

I was greatly relieved to have a new framework, until I realized how much thoughtful work was going to be involved in this new approach.  So I leave you with this question:

Does anyone have any advice on how to answer such big questions relatively quickly while spending the bulk of our days chasing young children?  Because it would be nice to figure out what we believe and how to teach that before our kids are completely grown!

(I say this somewhat facetiously, because honestly, one of my key beliefs is that there are a few BIG TRUTHS we need to affirm over-and-over with our children (this is important), but the rest of the kids’ questions are ok for me to answer with, “Different people believe different things about that”, then ask the kids what they think, and admit that aside from those BIG TRUTHS, there are a lot of things I just really don’t know…”)

 

P.S.   I am still sorting all this out in my head and have mixed in my thoughts about specific issues (like beliefs about scripture and prayer) with my thoughts about an overall approach for choosing our family’s spiritual path.  That may mean this post comes across as confusing…My apologies if any part of it doesn’t make sense.

Update re: Lent

If you read the post about our preparations for Lent, then you know we had three family goals:

(1)  a devotional with the kids every day

(2)  a better bedtime prayer and routine

(3)  40 bags in 40 days (decluttering and donating)

Here’s the update:

(1)  The devotional: We’ve done the devotional almost every day (not perfect, I know, but a big improvement for us.)  The key was switching from evening to afternoon (a more relaxed time at our house, in contrast to a busy bedtime routine with a tired mom and dad).  It has also helped that I made two rules: (1) only one devotional is allowed a day (the kids like the book, so before this rule, they would ask for several one day then want to read something else the next), and (2) we have to read them in order (i.e. no flipping through, looking at pictures and arguing about whether we’ve read one before or who gets to pick).  We sit down, pick up the book, and read the next one.  What a relief to have a simple process at a time of day when we can really enjoy it.

(2)  The bedtime prayer: I have found a prayer that works better for us.  Our new prayer (which is still a little long, I think…I may take a stanza out soon…) is based on one I found online, then adjusted to fit our kids vocabularies and the things I wanted to emphasize.  The original is the fourth one down at this link.

And here’s our version…

 

Jesus, help my eyes to see

All the good you’ve done for me.

 

Jesus, help my ears to hear

How I can help others far and near.

 

Jesus, help my hands to do

Things that are good, like you taught me to.

 

I love you God.  Thanks for loving me.

Help me be the best person I can be.

 

Since having the kids add items to the end of the prayer was creating issues for us, we have stopped doing that for now, but plan to pick it back up once we’ve established a better rhythm.  We have remembered to do this almost every night, but have been a little thrown by some sleep schedule adjustments this week.  Again, not perfect…

(3)  40 bags in 40 days: I have to confess that we started this a little before Lent and are approaching it in spurts.  So far, we have tackled the following areas:

  • my closet (seemed like a fair place to start, before hitting everyone else’s…I want some credit for getting rid of my softest T-shirt, even if it did have about 8 holes in it)
  • the garage, including the collection of small appliances we “might be able to get fixed someday” (goodbye, rice cooker that has been broken for over a year!)
  • the attic, including lots of furnishings we used in old apartments and just don’t fit our current place
  • part of the kitchen (I had replaced all our kids’ plates with BPA free versions several years ago, so why had I stored all the old plastic plates on a high shelf?  I honestly have no idea…)
  • my computer (so far I have unsubscribed from 7 e-mail lists that were cluttering my inbox on a daily basis…I end up on these lists when we need to make a large purchase and sign up to receive e-mails and a one-time huge discount…I am tired of deleting the daily mailings and have decided clicking “unsubscribe” that many times counts as at least part of a “bag”.)

Anyway, I have read that the best way to do this challenge well is to commit to touching every item in the house.  I won’t hit this mark, but I like having the idea in my head.  I have also read that you cannot count a bag until it is out of your house, which means our current total tally is five.  However, we just received a mailing from an organization that will be visiting our neighborhood mid-March to collect used clothing and household items, and we do have six more bags ready for them.  I just need to commit to not looking in those bags again!  And of course, we still have many more areas around the house to tackle.

The bottom line is that our efforts have been imperfect, but I hope as the season goes on those efforts will become routines and then eventually habits.  (And there has to be some sort of recognition that Easter is being about grace, rather than perfection, right?!  I mean, we are trying, but I recognize that I am certainly relying on grace, all the way around…)

Blessings and God’s grace to you and yours too this Lenten season!

Unique experiences; equal love (Alternate title: seriously, why do the roses hate me?)

Our church hosts a Daddy-daughter Valentine’s Day dance for girls ages 5 and up.  That meant that this year, E (age 5) was able to attend with her dad.  So fun…

Unless you’re S, who (turning 4 less than a week after the dance) was both too young to attend and too little to grasp the concept of “be happy for your sister; your time will come”.

So with a goal of “let’s create a special event for both girls and encourage them to celebrate each other’s good fortune” – my husband and I came up with the following plan:

(1)  Thursday night: Dad would take S to a Valentine’s event at a local kids’ museum.

(2)  Friday night: Dad would take E to the church Valentine’s dance

Two great events, positioned back-to-back… a perfect way to celebrate each girl in a way that would be unique and fun.

To perfect the plan, we used info from friends who had attended the events in previous years to make the nights match as much as we could in terms of tangible experience. For example, since E was getting a rose from the church on her date night, I took S to a flower shop and let her pick out any one flower she wanted for her date with dad.  As it turns out, the woman who ran the flower shop so appreciated what we were trying to do that she gave S a whole little bunch of lavender flowers for her special date.  And the man at the ice cream store next door caught wind of it and gave everyone with us a free miniature cone.

Have I set the stage completely enough?  Is everyone ready for the disaster to unfold?

On Thursday night, S – who loves her dates with dad more than anything in the world – cried at the ice cream shop because she wanted mom to come on the date too.

Mom explained that she could come too, but that she couldn’t leave E & T, so it would be a whole family event.  That was fine with S.  In fact, she was thrilled.

I was suspicious, because I know S is smart.  She is usually about 10 steps ahead of me in the emotional game.  But I am learning, so on this occasion, I recognized what was coming, and made sure to carefully explain that while it was fine for the whole family to go to the museum if that was what S really wanted, that would not mean the whole family was going to the church dance the next night.  The invitation had only been for kids 5 and older; it was not up to us.

S said she understood.

The whole family had a wonderful time at the museum (although mom had only packed dinner for S since everyone else was supposed to be traveling home, which meant we all had museum-served yogurt-covered pretzels for dinner.  Oh well.)

The next night was dad’s date with E.

As anticipated, the wonderful S (who is really still so very little…) cried when dad left for the dance with E and reminded all of us that she had included everyone on her special evening.  Mom decided to cushion the blow by offering dinner in a bowl with popcorn and a movie.  (And may I say, “whatever” with regards to the rapid decline in my mealtime offerings that week.  I decided in that moment that the whole concept of good nutritional choices on any days near a holiday – including Valentine’s Day –  is overrated and bunk.)

While at the dance Friday, E sweetly (unprompted by any adults) put the director of the event on the spot by asking if she could take home an extra rose for her sister.

(I hope the sensitivity and niceness of my children is coming through here…S making every effort to be all-inclusive; E doing everything in her 5 year old power to include S in the fun.)

The director of the event (who is God’s gift to children and families, in my honest opinion…I just love her…) commended E on her thoughtful nature and selected the two most beautiful roses – and I mean absolutely equally gorgeous – one for E to keep and one to surprise S with at home.

But here’s what those equally gorgeous roses looked like after a few days.

Can you tell from the image that one rose is blooming beautifully and one is totally dark and shriveled?  Fortunately, neither girl is focused on which rose is whose.  (Thank goodness I put all the flowers in the same vase without even thinking.)

But seriously, what are the chances?

We did everything we could – not to treat the girls the same… but to make them both feel as loved as possible in unique ways.

My final attempt at conveying a positive message to the girls is posting this story so that if someday, they ever feel like someone is being favored, they can see how – from the very beginning (I mean they are too young to even remember these events!) – we were working very hard to celebrate them individually, in different ways but with equal vigor!

Even when the roses fail us, we will never give up on that effort!

(I may give up on the roses, though.  Can I ask again… what are the chances of that after everything that was done?!)

Oh well.

Love you, S.  Love you, E.  (Both of you, so much.)

(And T, so you will know you are equally loved and were not forgotten in this post, I will reveal that you enjoyed the yogurt-covered pretzels and popcorn more than anyone, and were the only member of the family who rolled through the whole week wondering what on earth all the fuss was about.  Ah, the joys of being one!)

Lots of Birds (and two chick-flicks)

Note to self and husband: Do not park under the tree at the northeast corner of the church parking lot.


If you can't see the image clearly, know that the car is covered in approximately 5 billion bird turds.

I decided to torture you with a close-up.

Additional note to self and husband: Next time, if the car looks like the pictures above, one of us should keep the children at a safe distance while the other moves the car to a safer space to load all the kids.  (Dibs on staying with the children, by the way.)

Note to dry cleaner: Our apologies.  Clearly, these were not healthy birds.

Note to Birds:  I believe my husband is in danger of going all “Steel Magnolias” on your tail feathers, should you leave the sanctuary of the church parking lot.

And a final note, to readers (because I can’t resist): When I asked my husband if he felt “going all ‘Steel Magnolia’ ” on the birds was too feminine a reference for his intended actions (despite the guns and firecrackers involved in that scene of the film), he said, “Isn’t ‘Steel Magnolias’ a movie?  The only part I’ve ever watched is the scene where Kathy Bates rams that convertible over and over again in the parking lot.  I didn’t even know about the birds.”  (Extra point to anyone who can name that non-Steel Magnolias movie!)

Clearly I can use whatever reference I like, as this man is in absolutely no danger of being too closely associated with chick-flicks.

These birds, on the other hand, are in more danger than they know.

Preparing for Lent

Lent is coming, and with it our family goal of growing closer to God through prayer, fasting and giving.

With the Lenten season approaching, I have really been thinking about what obstacles create distance between us and God, and how a focus on these three areas could help us remove those obstacles.

Here are my thoughts about our family commitments, arranged by element.

(1)  prayer: We’ve had problems with family prayer time this year.  The kids used to do a rhyming type of prayer at bedtime, then pray for family members at the end (i.e. God Bless Grammy and Grandpa, Aunt A, etc…).  It was good in theory, but  honestly, the whole prayer became a lyric the kids didn’t really understand followed by an exercise in remembering family names, and then an argument over who would say the girls’ names vs. the boys’.  At some point, all meaning was lost and I threw up my hands in frustration.  This Lent, I am committed to finding a format for kids bedtime prayers that works better for us.  I am begging for suggestions!  Particularly for a prayer that kids can really understand (or I can explain)…  I also need to get better at my own, grown-up prayer life, but that is a whole ‘nother blog post.

(2)  fasting: One of the barriers between our family and Christ is the way my general level of business and fatigue distracts/prevents me from spiritual time with the kids.  This year, to the best of my ability, I am going to empty our minds of everything for 5-10 minutes a day except a focus on a family devotional.

Here’s my confession:  Last year, I had a Lenten goal of doing one devotional a day with the kids, in hopes that 40 days would be long enough to make it a real family habit.  Although I managed to purchase the devotional book I wanted to use, I absolutely failed at making it part of our daily routine.  I think part of the problem was that I envisioned doing it at night, but it required enthusiasm and energy I just didn’t always have at that time of day.  This year, with my husband’s support, I am going to do it during our after school story time.  He will still be at work, but I think it will work better for the kids and me, and we can reinforce the devotional message by taking turns telling dad about it over dinner.  This may seem like an odd form of “fasting”, but the reality is that our afternoon quiet time begins right after stories, and prioritizing a devotional will delay or cut into that quiet time on some days.  The kids and I both need that time, but we need this devotional to become a part of “what we do” more.  So we’re going to*try* to alter or give up whatever we need to make a family devotional happen during this Lenten season.

(3)  giving: We are embracing the 40 bags in 40 days challenge.  The basic idea is to move 40 bags out of your house, whether it is to a good will, a dump, or wherever else.  For me, this challenge is important for three reasons:

  1. I feel at peace and free (and believe I will be better able to focus on the two Lenten elements above) when the house is decluttered and organized.  This is just an element of my personality, I think.  I don’t care if a surface is mopped, dusted, etc. but if it’s covered in stuff, I feel like I’m suffocating, and it’s hard for me to focus on anything.
  2. Decluttering is a great way to think about “want vs. need”.  Not that we will get rid of everything that’s a want (or even close), but we will get rid of some, and it will put the “wants” we keep in the proper perspective and us in the right frame of mind: gratitude for what we have instead of stinginess about the things we need to let go of.
  3. This exercise is going to challenge me to truly live in the present, which requires perspective and faith.  I think we currently have too many things that are about the past (some nostalgia is great, but we don’t need to hang onto everything…I am planning to take photos of some items then let them go), or things that are “stored up in barns” for the future (to cover all those “but what if this happens?”).  There are plenty of people who could – in this present moment – be served by the things we are hanging onto because of a past attachment or a possible future need.   And we would be well served by (a) a less cluttered environment, (b) the reduction in effort needed to care for or clean those things, and (c) the peace of mind (i.e. sane mama) that results when the house has less stuff and more empty space.

I am still working on all the details, but these are the general thoughts at this point.  I also have one other Lenten goal that is less about the family and more about me (at least at this point), but it’s private…I will likely share at some point, but need to think more about what it means.

Finally, I want to share some of the ideas that my friend Queen B posted last year that I find absolutely inspirational.  I’m not sure if we’ll get to these this year or not, but they are on my mind for future years, and definitely worth passing along in case anyone else is looking for ideas.

(1)  prayer: having the kids add a link to a prayer chain each day during Lent

(2)  fasting: in addition to abstaining from meat on Fridays, the kids would select one item from the pantry to be placed in a box that would go to a food pantry

(3)  giving: a jar of dried beans placed next to a small empty easter basket, and each time a family member does a good deed or something especially nice, they move a bean into the basket.  She then explained to the kids that “on Easter morning, when Jesus Is Risen, the dried beans will be replaced with jellybeans, representing the new creation we become through Christ: the old is gone and the new has come!  (2 Cor 5:17)”.  I must also say that Queen B has one of the best posts about love and justice I have ever read, and she credits reflecting on this jellybean activity with providing those insights.  Inspirational, especially since I can imagine this activity is somewhat difficult to manage with kids.

I’ll end by reminding you that we are struggling with regards to kids’ bedtime prayers, and would love suggestions via e-mail or comments.  Is there a childhood prayer that is particularly meaningful for you?

Here’s wishing you a meaningful Lenten season that brings you and yours closer to God.

Christmas Recap, Part 3, the Final Chapter (Alternate Title: A focus on Christ during Christmas…what we tried, how it went, and what we want to try next year)

This is the last long post about our Christmas season. I have posted about the joy of being with family and the fun of elves and Santa.  Here I want to recap how we try to keep the focus on Christ.  I feel a little strange about the post for two reasons:

(1) Sometimes an effort to focus on The True Meaning of Christmas comes across as a judgment against all the other parts of Christmas.  For the record, I am not someone who necessarily believes that our tinsel and lights and Santa distract from our focus on Christ.  Quite the contrary, for us they are an absolute expression of joy, faith, generosity and love.  While I respect the act of quiet contemplation and seek it out when I can, I think part of being a parent is finding God in the hustle and bustle.  I love finding Him in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, especially when the kids and I are happily bustling around doing fun Christmassy things together.  (This does not include shopping, which I do try to finish early.)  Someday I will write a whole essay about this, but today is not the day!

(2) I worry that an explanation of how we try to keep the focus on Christ will come across as a “look what we do, we have it all together” kind of thing.  I assure you we don’t.  The reality is we are trying to get it together, and part of that process for us is learning what other people do.  I have benefited tremendously from dialogue with friends (and other bloggers) about holiday traditions, which encourages me to continue that dialogue here.

With that in mind, here’s how we tried to keep the focus on Christ and how I am hoping to improve on our efforts next year!

We begin by framing the holiday as a big birthday celebration for Jesus.  Our preschool makes this easy by throwing Jesus an actual birthday party, and a friend told us about a family tradition that we have adopted as our own: making the dessert at Christmas dinner a birthday cake for Christ.  I forgot to make a picture of the birthday cake, but the reality is that no one ate ours this year anyway, since S coughed all over it as she was helping Jesus blow out his candles.  In case you are wondering, yes, that did mean that I served Twix bars for dessert at Christmas dinner!

We have three nativities at our house.  The one in the yard is from my childhood home.  I asked Nana to bring it up because (1) she was looking to share it with someone (i.e. we didn’t take it and leave her yard bare!), and (2) it is a big, gaudy display of neon Jesus-spirit that just feels so right sitting in front of a home during the holidays.

(E had two funny reactions to this when Nana brought it to us.  The first was asking if she could keep the three foot high Mary in her room as a nightlight.  Already, she is finding comfort in the Virgin Mother, I suppose!  The second was about a week before Christmas when she viewed all our lawn ornaments and noted that Jesus and Santa had completely burned out.  This left all the adults within earshot humorously wondering – if Jesus and Santa were feeling that way, how the rest of us were supposed to make it through the rest of the holiday festivities?! : )

Anyway, here’s a photo of Mary, who did a quick detour into E’s room en route from the attic to the yard:

I would be comforted by this as a nightlight in my room as well, I think!

The other two nativities are inside the house: a breakable one that was my Grandmother’s and is displayed on a table that used to belong to her (and still smells like the perfume that she kept in the cabinet), and a cloth one that the kids can play with.

The cloth nativity set contained the Jesus that was offered a room in the Barbie Mansion.  Innkeeper Barbie and her guests are pictured below.

note that several of the characters have either been knocked down amid the daily chaos that engulfs the Barbie mansion, or they are bowing before the Christ child...I prefer the latter interpretation

and a close-up…

I learned of another interesting tradition this year that I’m going to think about: leaving the nativity’s manger empty until Jesus appears in it Christmas morning. I love the idea of this, and we might do this with the more fancy nativity.  However, I think I like having the one pictured above around for the kids to play with throughout the season.

During Advent, E also sang (like an angel) and bleated (while dressed as a sheep) in the church Christmas pageant.  There are no pictures, as my husband was ill that evening and I had to choose between holding T, S and the camera.  Fortunately, there was a wall of parents taking photos and I have already seen some I am planning to get copies of!  But here’s a photo of E & S caroling with E’s church choir at a local nursing home, which was another activity that kept us in the spirit.

Note to caroling children: avert eyes from scantily clad lady on the TV in the background...yikes! Can someone please change the channel or turn off the TV?! By the way, E & S are the ones in the turquoise shirts absolutely fixated on the the television screen...oh well...

We also tried to keep the focus on giving with fun projects like:

– the kids making small treat bags for teachers and whatever friends we happened to encounter over the season.   (I love this activity because the kids can actually do most of it themselves…I gave the kids a bag of Hershey kisses, a box of fold top sandwich bags and a spool of ribbon.  They put three kisses in each bag and cut the ribbon.  I tied the ribbon on the bags.)

– coloring pages…I printed out a whole batch of these and the kids spent several afternoons coloring pages that they gave to people for Christmas

– shopping for Angel tree gifts: the parenting Sunday school class at our church did this and we intentionally signed up to bring clothes for kids that were the same ages as ours.  The kids were happy giving clothes (toys might have created more of an “but I want it” issue…we will tackle that soon, but for now we just wanted them to feel good about giving).  Selecting kids the same ages meant our kids were able to really help pick things out (e.g. “I bet she would like this shirt because I think it’s pretty”)

– We also made sure to tell Santa that we were busy making cookies, etc. for him (in addition to telling him what we wanted).

Still, to keep it real, I’ll show this picture of the kids writing their letters to Santa…

(OK, I wrote this and just realized I don’t have any pictures of that…sorry!  But we did write the letters!)

and I’ll end by mentioning an idea that I heard about for the first time just after Christmas, but am thinking about for next year.  Here’s the link, and here’s the excerpt:

When my oldest was a baby, my Mother-in-Law gave us a beautiful wooden Advent cabinet with 25 tiny doors. This year, along with the gifties that Granny sends, there will be a note with an act of kindness to be carried out that day. Some will be strategically placed…like on the 10th when we’ll be joining my husband’s Rotary group to lay wreaths on gravesites at Arlington Cemetery. Or, on the 20th when we’ll be volunteering as a family to organize donations at the Salvation Army warehouse. But, others will be less grand…like picking up litter anytime you see it throughout the day. Or, feeding the birds

And there you have it— a simple plan for 25 days of serving, giving, and helping others.


Me talking again here…

I like the idea of this because of its active nature (with kids this young, we do better with active than contemplative acts of the spirit!) and because it can be mapped out in advance.  Then each morning, you pull out a reminder of one way you can refocus the family during the season.  I can already think of simple ones like making it a point to notice someone doing a good job that day and telling them you noticed…

I’d also like to try a “David tree” activity, but need to learn more about that.  And I definitely want to do a better job with our advent wreath next year: setting aside a quiet time to really explain to the kids what each candle means.

OK, I just read back over this entry and know there is no way I can do all of that.  The nice thing is that I have many months to figure it out!

I’ll leave you with one last photo:

The men of the house, clearly exhausted from all the festivities! (Yes, that's T asleep on the floor next to his dad, asleep on the couch!)

and a final Merry Christmas to all!

With that, it’s back to our regularly scheduled blog programming (with a few random belated posts about our Happy New Year to come at some point!)

Updates and Holidays!

So I can already see that my blog posts will be less frequent during the holidays.  Things are joyfully busy around here (i.e. lots to write about, but no time to write it!)

Our updates:

(1) Thanksgiving: wonderful time with Nana, Aunt B, our cousins, and not a single kitchen disaster (this totally makes up for the time I cooked the turkey upside down…)

(2) Happy Birthday to my husband (!):  so grateful for the day this guy was born, the day I met him, the day I married him, the birthday we just spent with him and all the birthdays we hope to share with him in the future.  Happy, happy birthday!

(3) Advent:  As we prepare our home for the holidays, we are trying to prepare our hearts for a celebration of our Savior’s birth and our souls for the day He returns.  How’s that for a “to do” list entering each day?!

(4) Update on E: Thanks to all those praying for E, and to the doctors who have cared for her and advised us (this includes her primary care doctors as well as additional doctors in our circle of friends & family who have offered insight and counsel).  It looks like we are on the tail end of a cold that really hit E’s respiratory tract (and then took a short break before hitting it again even harder), and we have learned a lot about what to look for and do if something like that happens again.   Not since E was a baby have I snuck into her room just to listen to her breathing at night.  Let’s just say I have done that several times this week (and into S & T’s rooms too, even though they have been fine, and E is truly fine now…).  Those breaths are so, so precious.  E (and her mama) are breathing very easily now, praise God!

(5) Update on the blog: I’ll check in when I can this month, but there is so much living to be done right now I can barely find the time to write about it.   So think of us as we dress E in a sheep costume for the church nativity play, head out of state for an early Christmas/family gathering, taking E&S to see the Disney Princesses on Ice, help T eat despite his new obsession with the words “no” and “yuck”, welcome family into our home for Christmas, and celebrate every moment of hustle/bustle AND quiet/peace we find in this holiday season.

…and remind me (after the holidays) to tell you about the e-mail I sent to Santa last week  : )

Short version: I will continue to post when I can this month, but will be back to more regularly scheduled programming in January!  Merry Christmas!

Memories of – and prayers for – “Dee” (and others) on All Souls Day

(note added after post was written:  I feel like I’ve been on a string of more serious posts here…I promise my next post will be more light hearted (!), but today I am thinking about “Dee”.)

I confess that I know very little about some religious holidays, such as “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”.  I want the kids to know about these special religious days, which means I need to know something (anything!)

From what I know about All Souls Day (Nov. 2), it seems like an appropriate day to flip through some old family photo albums, tell each of my kids one thing my dad (“Dee”, who passed away 2.5 years ago) would have loved about each of them, and then together say a special prayer for my dad?

I think I am going to tell E today that my dad would have loved watching her run across the field behind our house. 

Relevant memory:  I was required by coaches throughout middle school, high school and college to run as part of my training for basketball, and my dad was my eternal encourager: holding the stopwatch when I had to do intervals, measuring distances in the car when I had to run in new locales (like while on family vacations), and insisting that he should follow me in the car when I waited until too late (i.e. until after dark) to do my runs.

E loves to have people count how many seconds it takes her to run across the field.  It is impossible to emphasize how much my dad would have loved sitting in a chair on our back porch and doing that for her.  Feeling the joy of being her grandfather; and (in the years that were harder for him to be mobile), being able to sit for hours and bring such joy to this out of breath, ever-running child.

E, he would have sat and counted for you as long as you wanted, and you would both have been blissfully happy.

I think I am going to tell S today how much my dad would have loved her company, especially in the mornings. 

Relevant memory: I spent almost every morning of my childhood sitting on the floor of my dad’s enormous bathroom while he got ready for work.  That room had it’s own heater in the ceiling, and my dad always set it on high in the mornings, making it (by far) the warmest room in the house.  I would wake up every morning, and immediately walk to his bathroom and sit under the vent.  He had green towels that he kept in there, and he would let me wrap up in them to get really warm, and then he would lay one on top of my head and declare me “his little green mountain”.  My dad was slow in the mornings – rising early and taking hours to get ready.  I rose early and sat there for hours.  He would play this great music, sometimes “oldies”, sometimes “bluegrass”, and sometimes these old spirituals… Anyway, I would stay in my warm little towel cave as long as possible, usually until he had to leave for work (or – once I was old enough – until I had to get ready for school.)

S is exactly that type of kid.  Yesterday morning she was calling for her dad to come hide under the covers with her at 6:15am because the house was too cold and because she loves her daddy.  Tonight, she didn’t want her hair combed after her bath because “I like being here on the floor curled up in these towels.”  At this stage of life, S warms up slowly (literally and figuratively), and once she has warmed (in a cozy space or to a person) she stays put.  I am like that, and I get that from my dad.  He would have loved turning S into his little green mountain.

I think I am going to tell T that my dad would have loved meeting him.

T is the only one of my kids who was never held by my dad, since “Dee” died a little over a year before T’s arrival.  At the same time, T is the kid who most embodies my dad physically, with that dark hair and those blue eyes.  If my dad had seen those features in miniature, I think he would have begun spoiling T rotten right then.  It is a reminder to me that I should give something to T on behalf of my dad: maybe a photo (maybe a small, T-sized copy of the one of Dee in his basketball uniform?)

T, if your “Dee” was still here, in addition to that photo, he would make sure you had a good grasp of

(a) all the family stories (no one could tell them like he could…though there are entire sections of family lore missing because those are the parts that got my dad laughing so hard that no one could understand what he was saying!),

(b) everything related to Alabama athletics (he was a second generation team captain for “the University”…), and

(c) a steady supply of icing.  (Dee ate his cupcakes like you do… all of the frosting, none of the cake.)

He would also have thrilled you by giving you an endless stream of your favorite greeting: your tiny version of the “high five”.

Prayers for you today, Dee.  In my minimal research about All Souls Day, I learned that I need to pray for you – and all souls – more often.

I wish we were in Alabama for the day, so the kids could help us place a few flowers on the grave in honor of you and All Souls Day.

In lieu of that, we are going to draw flowers and say a prayer for “Dee”.  If you are praying for souls today, please include a much-loved and missed “Dee” on your prayer list!