Month: November 2015

Advent Writing Prompts, 25 Days of Writing #writing #write #writingprompt #writersblock


Whenever anyone says “I don’t know how I could ever find time to [write a book/write an article/maintain a blog] I’m reminded of the writer’s refrain:

Writer’s write.

There’s a similar one Ph.D. students love to tell one another when they’re writing their dissertations. The key to writing a dissertation can be summed up in three words: butt in chair.

In other words, writing isn’t birds chirping and lovely wooden desks and poetic words flowing from the pen in an endless stream of inspiration. It’s hard work.

A few years ago I started doing an advent photo challenge with my congregation whereby we took a list of words and snapped a photo to go with the word each day. We’re doing it again this year. In addition, I’m adding a list of writing prompts to the mix in case folks want to kickstart their writing. Folks can use the prompts however they wish, but here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to set the timer for 30 minutes and whatever I have at the end of that time will be it. I’ll publish the results each day on the blog, even if it’s just a sentence, even if it’s unfinished. Join along if you wish!

Here are the prompts:

Day One – Write about something that gives you peace or robs you of it.
Day Two – Write about one ordinary moment that happened yesterday.
Day Three – Write about being renewed.
Day Four – Write about a time when you failed to reach your destination.
Day Five – Write about a time when you were restored to health or wholeness.
Day Six – Write about what the word solo means to you.
Day Seven – Write about something hopeful or hopeless.
Day Eight – Write about a time when you were fearless.
Day Nine – Write about a great delight.
Day Ten – Write about something ancient.
Day Eleven – Write about a time when you were burned.
Day Twelve – Write about perspective.
Day Thirteen – Write about something you wish to reclaim.
Day Fourteen – Write about a joyful moment in your life.
Day Fifteen – Write about what it means to nourish your own soul or someone else’s soul.
Day Sixteen – Write about water.
Day Seventeen – Write about a friendship.
Day Eighteen – Write about whether you are restful or restless and why.
Day Nineteen – Write about asking for something.
Day Twenty – Write about being blessed or blessing someone else.
Day Twenty One – Write about something that sparkles.
Day Twenty Two – Write about a favorite memory.
Day Twenty Three – Write about something you have received.
Day Twenty Four – Write about something you have given.
Day Twenty Five – Write about someone you love.

If you’re interested in the photo challenge, the words are:

  1. Peace
  2. Moment
  3. Renew
  4. Destination
  5. Restore
  6. Solo
  7. Hope
  8. Fearless
  9. Delight
  10. Ancient
  11. Burn
  12. Perspective
  13. Reclaim
  14. Joy
  15. Nourish
  16. Water
  17. Friendship
  18. Rest
  19. Ask
  20. Bless
  21. Sparkle
  22. Memory
  23. Receive
  24. Give
  25. Love


On “Rescuing” #Refugees #refugeeswelcome #syria


This week on Medium, there was a lovely collection of statements from various faith leaders speaking about our collective need to protect refugees. All of the statements are worth reading. I originally wrote a much longer statement, but was asked to shorten it a little bit. Thought I’d publish my full statement here.

View at

Rev. Traci M. Smith, Pastor, Northwood Presbyterian Church
This week Stephen Mattson, writer for Sojourners magazine, wrote this: “Although there might be many political, financial, and logistical reasons for citizens to reject the influx of global refugees, there are no theological ones.” As a Christian and a minister, I can’t think of a more succinct way to sum up my beliefs on the question “How many refugees should we let in to our country?” The answer is as many as we possibly can. Scripture is full of commands to take care of the most vulnerable in our society and the list always includes strangers and refugees. If we refuse to accept and protect immigrants we are denying one of the most core beliefs of our faith. There is simply no reason to reject refugees on the basis of faith. 
It seems to me that the rhetoric against welcoming refugees is largely rooted in fear. Though I have compassion for the fearful, I refuse to let my moral and ethical choices be guided by fear. Welcoming someone with a different language or customs or religion can be scary, and we should be slow to judge another person’s fear. At the same time, the angels consistently tell us “Be not afraid.” It is their constant refrain. Be not afraid. Be not afraid. Be not afraid. 
Finally, when we think about accepting and welcoming refugees, we might consider something very basic, yet undeniably true: when we help and “rescue” refugees, they help and rescue us. My family once hosted a Central American refugee and her eight year old son for a few months. People were constantly praising us for our generosity, but they shouldn’t have. In hosting and welcoming refugees I learned the true meaning of Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” 
There is no season more profoundly rooted in the symbolism of welcoming someone who has no place to go than advent. Christians must search our hearts and scriptures and pray for faithfulness as we consider how to respond to the need of immigrants around the world. May we be faithful. 

Fasting During Advent: A Spiritual Practice


Crying in the Toilet Paper Aisle

Last year during advent I went to the grocery store to get toilet paper. Doesn’t seem like something I’d remember a year later, except for the fact that I know began to cry, right there in front of the toilet paper. I can’t remember what the underlying sadness was about, but I do remember the tears began to flow when “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” started playing really, really loud. It was late at night, probably 10 p.m., and there was nobody else around. It was me, the absurd number of toilet paper choices and Mr. Holly Jolly, on full blast.  Instant tears.

I don’t know exactly how many people for whom this story might resonate, but I suspect I’m not the only one. The holidays are challenging for a lot of people, and for a lot of different reasons. For some there are feelings of loss and grief as we remember loved ones who aren’t around. Some are far from family and wish to be near. Some are near to family that is constantly fighting. Sometimes there are additional work or social obligations that pile up and pile on. For some it’s a time of financial strain. Whatever the reason, I don’t think we talk about it enough. I think we do what I did last year when I was crying in front of the toilet paper. We take a deep breath, buy the toilet paper, and muddle through.

But what if there’s a better way?

For Christians, advent is the time leading up to Christmas. It starts this Sunday, November 29th and ends on Christmas Day. Theologically, it’s a time of waiting and preparing for the Christ child to be born anew in our hearts.

Though the culture wants advent to bright and loud, we can make it dark and quiet if we need to.

We can look at advent just like we look at lent: a time to get serious about what these seasons mean theologically.  

To do this, we need to be critical thinkers and questioners. This is different than being cynical or saying “bah humbug!” One question we might ask is is that true?  I saw an ad for diamonds that said something like “Give her the best Christmas ever.” For a fleeting moment I thought “What if I lived the type of life where my husband gave me diamonds for Christmas? I would love that!” And then I thought is that true?

All that glitters isn’t gold. All that sparkles isn’t love.

I’m starting to wonder if Christians need to think seriously about fasting during advent, just as we do during lent. If this appeals to you, I’m going to give some suggestions for types of fasts that might be useful. Let’s give them a try and report back. Let’s see if we can make advent a meaningful time of waiting for the light of the world without resorting to crying in front of the toilet paper. Here are some ideas. Do you have more?

Fast from Buying Gifts You Don’t Want to Buy

Instead of gadgets and plastic and trinkets, thoughtful notes and cards. Homemade artwork. A poem. I’ve never given or received a gift like this and felt bad about it. What if you said to your friends, “Let’s share a cup of tea (glass of wine, bottle of beer, bowl of soup) and laugh for an hour? It will be our gift to one another.” I imagine it would be one of the best gifts you could hope to receive. Gift giving isn’t bad or wrong. It’s a great way to teach children about empathy don’t think about what you want, think about what grandma would like. I’m not suggesting that everyone say no gifts ever to anyone. I am suggesting, though, that we fast from the obligatory gift giving, the giving that doesn’t bring joy, the giving that feels like work. Let it go.

Fast from Social Media (In part or altogether)

There’s a wide range on thoughts about social media and I’m definitely not in the “eww, it’s evil” camp. I love social media. I feel connected to friends far away, I have conversations with clergy colleagues around the world. I get great ideas for artwork and sermon preparation. I’ve also experienced a calm and quiet when I’ve turned it off, only used it between certain hours or taken “social media free” days. Give it a try, maybe?

Fast from your Phone

iPhone users: “Do Not Disturb” is your friend. It’s a setting on your phone where you can set it to not ring, or buzz, or beep, or ding or anything. You can even set certain “favorites” who can get through in case of emergency. Every night at 9:30 I go through a process of setting my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and also setting each app that has banner notifications (in my case text, phone and gmail) to “no notifications.” That means if I check the time on my phone in the middle of the night, there are no texts waiting to be read, no emails staring at me, no missed calls. I turn it all on in the morning and figure out what I’ve missed. It was really hard the first week or two. Now it’s become a place of peace and rest. I know people can get me in an emergency. Freedom.

Another type of mini-fast for heavy phone users (like me). Put your phone far, far away for short periods of time when you’re doing something important, like talking with a friend or playing with your children. I put mine in another room or turn it off for 15 minutes, a 1/2 hour, an hour, four hours. (Four hours sometimes sends me in to cold sweats, but I’m working on it.) I can’t control nuclear launch codes from my cell phone, nobody needs me that badly. I’m redefining urgent. Maybe you are, too.

Maybe an advent fast would mean trying one of these two disciplines every day from the first of December until Christmas Day. Turn your phone off every night at a specified time, all month. Commit to one hour of no cell phone use every day so that you can replace it with something important: being with family, reading a novel, creating art.

Fast from TV

I’ll never forget a sermon I heard from John Ortberg where he said “Nobody sits down for a couple of hours of mindless TV watching and then gets up and says ‘Man, I feel great!‘ Everyone laughed, because we knew it’s true. TV is like a drug, sometimes. We zone out, we just sit there and pass the time. It’s not that we can’t ever watch TV, but we know when it’s getting unhealthy. After I had Clayton I went through this period of TV watching that I think was truly like some sort of addiction. I would get up to nurse him, flip on the TV and just sit there, zoned out and looking at nothing, for hours. The cure for me was the radio.

Fast from Unhealthy Habits 

Maybe advent is a time, just like lent, to think about what we’d like to give up or limit in order to gain something new. Maybe the person who most needs a gift this advent is you. I started to list off some of the unhealthy habits, but it looked judgmental. don’t know what’s unhealthy for you and what you need to limit or eliminate, but I know you do. Give yourself a gift.

Other Fasting 

Maybe some of these will spark your imagination as well:

  • Fast from putting yourself down (“I’m not doing enough at work or home or relationships”)
  • Fast from driving everywhere — Can you walk or bike or take a bus?
  • Fast from paper products or excess trash
  • Fast from eating out or driving through

The point of fasting during advent is not on what you’re giving up, it’s on what you’re gaining.

So, the time with the phone in the other room is time to focus on something else. The money not spent on a gift can be given to a worthy cause, the smoothie instead of the donut helps show respect for your body. All of these things aren’t easy, they’re hard. They’re disciplines. Just like with lenten disciplines, they’re easier practiced in a community. Find a friend or partner and share what you’re giving up this advent. What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? How will Christmas Day take on new meaning?




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let us Give Thanks!