Children’s Spirituality

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!

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Let us Give Thanks!

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Introducing: Seamless Faith Videos! #SeamlessFaith #KidMin #Fammin #cmconnect #stumin

So… I’m going to start doing a few videos about some of the practices in Seamless Faith. Most will be about individual faith practices, but some will tackle other topics about faith and family. Planning for future videos to be 3-5 minutes long, but some might be longer or shorter. It’s sort of an experiment! The first video is one I made a few weeks ago, and it’s for Children’s Ministry Leaders and Pastors. It’s a 15 minute “how to” for creating a workshop. If you download the planning guide and watch the video, you should be ready to present a 90 minute workshop with about 90 minutes preparation time. Watch the video, fill out the guide, and voila! In my experience, these workshops are rich times of discussion with families and yield productive conversations without a lot of effort.

 

You probably need at least one copy of Seamless Faith, but if you’re hesitant about whether or not it’s a good resource for your congregation, the Kindle version is $1.99 until the end of September, so grab it on the quick and check it out.

The next video I’ll post is a very simple nighttime practice for preschoolers! Look for it next week!

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

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

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

Family Paschal Candle Tradition:

Designed for All Ages

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

Materials:

How To

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

Notes

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

Variations 

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

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

Emergency Children’s Sermons – Volume II

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I think children’s messages are best when they are very, very simple. Rather than a sermon or an object lesson, I think it’s a great moment for children to connect with their pastor or children’s leaders, and practice faith together. Here are five “emergency” (read: last minute. It happens. I know) sermons that you might try. They are stripped down and super simple. At first glance you might think they are too simple. I assure you they are not. The most basic moments can sometimes be the most powerful.

1. Teacup Prayer: This takes very little preparation. Watch the YouTube video HERE a couple of times and learn it. When children come forward, talk about how a lot of times we think the way to pray is with our hands folded and eyes closed, but we can also learn to pray with our whole bodies. Ask the entire congregation to join with you on this one.

2. Tower of Gratitude: Requires some sort of blocks ( blocks, wooden blocks, I like the big cardboard blocks) – Talk about the importance of gratitude and being thankful. Invite each child to put a block on the tower and say one thing that he or she is thankful for (either aloud or silently in his or her heart.)

3. Bubble Prayers: Requires a bottle of bubbles. Tell everyone that when you blow bubble prayers, you breathe in the breath of your prayer (a request, or a thanksgiving or a confession) and then breathe out into the bubbles as a visible sign that God hears our prayers. Let everyone have an opportunity to blow bubbles and watch their prayers being released.

4. Teach a Bible Verse with Hand Motions: Just like the teacup prayer, this takes a few times of practicing and memorizing for the pastor or leader and then simply teach it to the children (and entire congregation!) during the children’s message. Love this example from Deuteronomy 6:5 

5. Read a Psalm line by line and have children repeat each line: 

Try Psalm 100 or Psalm 148 (both in the easy to read version)

Did you enjoy these easy children’s moment ideas? Check out volume 1 here.

The Confirmation Project: Guest Post by Katie Douglass, Co Director of the Confirmation Project

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Traci’s Note: One of the things that always seems strange to me in the protestant tradition is that of confirmation. If done right, I think confirmation can be a rich time where young people grow to understand their faith and their role in it. Many times, though, students report confirmation as a time where they are asked to “jump through hoops,” or are “kicked out of the church.”  It makes me sad and angry to hear stories of young people who are experiencing a normal part of faith development — questioning — and are then made to feel unwelcome in the church. I don’t believe the church should get rid of confirmation, but I do think it needs some serious evaluation and discussion.

Enter the confirmation project. The confirmation project, co directed by Katie Douglass and Richard Osmer is an academic study of confirmation. I can’t tell you what they’ve found yet because, well, they’re still finding it. Read a little from Katie below and if you are interested in participating in the survey, please get in touch with them via http://www.theconfirmationproject.com  I’ll keep you posted on their findings. This research is important to how we pass on faith to our kids!  

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Katherine M. Douglass, Co-director of The Confirmation Project

Princeton Theological Seminary

December 2, 2014

Thanks for inviting me to share a guest blog post on your website Traci. Like you, I want to help parents and ministry leaders encourage growth in the faith of youth and their families. Confirmation is one of those traditional practices in the church that is meant to do just that. I currently co-direct a research project called The Confirmation Project with Richard Osmer that is aimed at discovering how congregations practice confirmation and equivalent practices. We are interested to discover how participation in confirmation intensifies faith in youth and integrates them into the body of Christ, the church.

For this project we are only studying five mainline Protestant congregations that practice infant baptism: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. Through the survey and site visits we hope to hear from youth, parents, volunteers, mentors, and ministry leaders.

Every church in these five denominations is invited to participate. If your church has not received an email invitation, you can request one through the “Contact Us” link at our website. http://www.theconfirmationproject.com

The survey takes 15-20 minutes to complete and asks questions about what people believe, their involvement in the church, their interest in various topics, and what they think the point of confirmation is. The parent and leader survey ask many similar questions and, in a more detailed way, about how confirmation is conducted.

Some confirmation programs happen all year and some happen in the spring. Because of this we are keeping the survey open for almost all of the year (fall 2014-spring 2015). The goal is to have youth, parents, and ministry leaders take the survey at the beginning and at the end of confirmation. We are interested in seeing how participating in confirmation brings about spiritual formation in youth.

This study was inspired by a research project happening in Europe. In some European countries, like Finland, confirmation was something almost everyone participated in (over 80 percent of youth!), however, it did not result in high levels of congregational participation (only 2-3 percent of Finns attend church weekly.) In other countries, like Austria, only 10 percent of youth participate in confirmation, however, those who do are much more likely to be regular members of congregations. This study also showed that confirmation gives youth the opportunity to volunteers in ways that are otherwise inaccessible to them. Their study was very well received and as a result they have been awarded further funding to conduct two more waves of the study.

From talking with ministers and pastors early in our research we are interested in knowing if there is agreement between parents, youth, and ministers as to what “confirmation” actually is. If what we heard from the ministers is correct, there is quite a big disparity between what people think this practice is.

We also believe that we will see a higher correlation between participating in confirmation and being an active church-goer. In the US, congregations seem to have higher levels of retention than in Europe anyway, however, we have a hunch that “believing” and “belonging” will go together (i.e. when youth are convicted about their beliefs, they will be more likely to see these beliefs as part of their identity as a Christian, to belong to a church).

Our goal for this project is to help ministers grow in their awareness of what this practice can or could look like. Many ministers we have talked with feel like they are at a loss as to what they are supposed to be doing.  Many, although not all, feel frustrated that despite their efforts to help youth “confirm” their faith, they are seeing this function as the final graduation for youth out of the church. Some have seen great fruit from their confirmation ministry – and through our site visits, we plan to share these stories. I am hopeful that through our research, we will be able to help those frustrated ministry leaders have the resources they need to change confirmation into a practice that integrates youth into the body of Christ and intensifies their faith.

5 Simple Spiritual Practices for Advent (for individuals or families)

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More and more, advent feels like lent to me: a time of darkness and waiting and preparation. The older I get, the less I am attracted to the hyperactive frenzy that our culture tries to impose on us during advent and Christmas. I’m starting to relish advent as a time to snuggle in, sit in the darkness and gaze at flickering lights. Though it doesn’t seem to be the image on TV, I think advent can be a time of shadows, of yearning, and of waiting. Here are 5 spiritual practices you might want to do this advent either by yourself or with your family or community. Give them a try!

1. Word a day creative challenge. (Photo challenge, art challenge, journal challenge). This one is easy. For each day in December (from the 1st to the 25th) meditate on a word and what God might be telling you through that word. Take a photo to represent it, paint or draw or create something. Do it together as a family, a community, or on your own. My congregation is doing this as a photo challenge this year and posting their photos online. I think I might do some paintings this year, too. Make up your own words, or use these:

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2. Gratitude paper chain – Make a paper chain throughout advent (use blue or purple pieces of paper for a liturgical connection or use the traditional green and red). Each day write one thing you are thankful for and put it on your chain. On Christmas morning, put the chain on your Christmas tree or hang it in your home.

3. Advent Poetry/Devotional Reading – Find a book of advent poems or readings and read one each evening in the darkness or in the early morning. Suggestions: Luci Shaw, Accompanied by Angels or the Anglican resource Love Came Down or Chalice Press’ lovely (and inexpensive!) Partners in Prayer. It’s not too late for any of these! They’re all available in e-formats, or get them by mail and just wait a few days to start.

4. Color Your Way Through Advent – Coloring pages. Coloring is not just for kids, you know. Check out these fantastic daily coloring pages produced by Ann Voskamp, author of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

5. Adopt an Advent “Fast” – We usually think of fasting as something that happens during lent. We “give up” something sometimes as a sacrifice or a symbol of repentance and returning to God. In the frenetic “more more more” of our culture during this season, it’s a great idea for people of faith to adopt a “less, less, less” approach. Fast from buying (what would that look like?) or fast from busyness. Perhaps you are able to give up one weekly (or daily) meeting during advent in order to listen to God’s voice and prepare for Christ to be born anew.

Happy Advent!

Like these? Check out my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which has ceremonies and traditions for families in addition to a variety of spiritual practices. Available at Chalice Press or Amazon.

7 Reasons Family Dinner is Worth Fighting for & Resources to Make it Happen

family dinner

Last week there was an article posted on Slate called “Let’s Stop Idolizing The Home Cooked Family Dinner.” The basic premise of the article is this: a research study published by two sociologists from North Carolina State University points to evidence that the stress of putting together family meals is not worth the tradeoff and that we (as a culture) should stop idolizing/perpetuating the “stereotype” that family meals are necessary and important. How can I put this delicately? I call bull poo-poo on this article. Let me be clear — the challenges to making family dinners happen are real. The stress for women to “do it all” is unimaginable but the way to deal with these stresses is absolutely not to do away with family dinners, in my opinion. Family mealtimes are beneficial to children and families on just about every indicator available. See research here, here, and here,  — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t have a research study, but I do have lots of stories from people who eat dinner together, as well as the experience of the family in which I was raised and the growing family I’m shepherding with my partner in crime, Elias. Here are seven reasons I think family dinner is worth fighting for.

1. It forces a disciplined schedule – If we can’t find an hour (more like 40 minutes, start to finish) to sit down together on a regular basis, something is off. We’re over scheduled and we have to fix it. Sure there are days when we can’t all do it –of course there are. I know that as my kids get older and sports and school activities and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) creep into the schedule, it’ll be even harder to find that time to get everyone together. All the more reason to make it happen.  It’s hard, hard work, and I see families having to guard their calendars like ninjas to make it happen, but they do.

2. It’s a time for connection and conversation – Let me tell you, dinner conversation in our house is pretty dull right now, especially if Elias or I is absent from the table and it’s just one of us with the boys. “Hey, boys, what else starts with the letter ‘A?” Then there’s the ever popular “What are you going to do tomorrow?” conversation with a 2 and 3 year old. Enthralling. Except not really. I look forward to days when our conversations will be more complex and I really really cherish memories of my family conversations at the dinner table when I was growing up, though I am pretty sure I didn’t really value them at the time.

3. It’s a great time to pass on faith and values to children – Of the 50 family faith practices in my book, five of them can be practiced right a the dinner table, and a good many more (if not all) can be talked about at the dinner table. That doesn’t even include blessings over the meal, reading sacred stories after dinner is over or other traditional faith practices. Even families who don’t identify with a particular faith tradition can appreciate that the dinner table offers a moment for reflection about the day and about the choices that day had to offer.

4. It provides structure – Not just for kids — for everyone. We need routines, all of us, because this world is hard.

5. It forces us to look our family members in the face – I heard this great interview of poet Marie Howe awhile ago. She was talking about how the number one face she peered into over the course of a day was the face of her phone. This is true of so many of us. Screens, phones, computers, iPads. We need a consistent time, every day, (or as many as we can manage) where we put our screens away and look our family members in the face.

6. It’s the time for individual families to do their own thaaaang. What is your family about? Are you silly? Do you tell jokes? Do you sing together? Do you have a crazy game? Family dinner is when you can practice it/do it/celebrate it/live it. Family dinner is where cultures and traditions can be explored and celebrated, too. Do it your way.

If you’re still with me, I’m guessing you either already have a practice of family dinner or you’re thinking about beefing it up or starting it. I want to share as many resources as I can so that it might be successful. As I mentioned, my family is young, so I’m going to be pointing to some resources from others as well as what’s been working for my family so far.

1. Lower your expectations – The article I referenced at the very beginning is valuable for this warning — parents (and especially women) are so pressured to do too much, be too much, do it all, be perfect. Scrambled eggs and tortillas is a legitimate menu in our household. Ditto fried egg sandwiches, Mac & Cheese from the box, bean and cheese tostadas and pancakes. Sometimes I make fancy food (that the boys usually like less than the aforementioned options) many times we eat very simple, very inexpensive food.

2. Make a Plan – I’m not a fan of planning and lists, but I work hard on this for family meals because if I didn’t, it would come completely unglued. I think it’s probably of very little value to share my system because I would imagine that everyone would need their own system that works for them, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I do:

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– On the inside of my cabinet I have a running list of literally every possible thing we could have for dinner. (Read: things I know how to cook that we all like to eat.) It’s divided up into categories: chicken, meat, eggs, soups, grains, and other.

– Once every week or 10 days – sometimes as many as two weeks, I go through and pick one (or two) things from the list that I am going to make based on how busy the weeks is, what’s on sale, what we feel like and what we haven’t eaten in a long time.

– Off the plan of what we’re going to eat, I make a list based on what we have in the house.

I put the plan of what we’re going to eat on a piece of paper on the side of the fridge (now a fancy whiteboard — ooooh! Fancy!)

I cross off the meals as we eat them. I used to plan what we would eat on which day (Monday: Meatloaf, Tuesday, Pancakes, etc.) I stopped doing that because sometimes I would have planned something complicated on a day I was exhausted and sometimes we had so many leftovers in the fridge I wanted to have a “leftovers” night. I know lots of people who do plan what they have for the specific days, though. I used to save the papers with the weekly plans so I could repeat them, but  that morphed into the master list of all the meal options.

– Another handy thing that I do is post all of the things that we eat all the time on the inside of a different cabinet so I’m not forever checking recipes on the internet or in books. I just folded a paper into eight so there are eight little squares and each time I looked up something I had looked up a million times I wrote it down. Over time the paper grew into another and it’s really handy. One of these days I’m going to type it out all pretty and fancy like. Today is not that day.

There are many, many, systems apps and ideas for other ways to do family dinners, I couldn’t even begin to list them all. A few resources that are worth it, I think:

Once a month meals – I love this in concept – I don’t have the ability or brain capacity to make it happen. Our meals are also way simpler than the meals on this site.

Dinner: A Love Story – Great Blog, Haven’t read the book, but it’s on my to read list.

The Family Dinner – This book was inspiring. The only critique I have of it was that it seemed to prescriptive and limiting in the way it thought that family meals have to be done. I think each family needs to find their own way and have their own rules and systems. What worked for the author wouldn’t necessarily work in my family. Still, I agree with the general premise.

Of course Seamless Faith has loads of ideas and a general philosophy that gels with everything I’m talking about here. One of the practices is “The Sacred Meal”. Sign up if you haven’t already! 

What’s your favorite memory of a family meal, either from long ago, or recently?