Seamless Faith

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

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Blessing: A Simple Tradition

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I can’t believe my little guys are two and three already! It really is true that the days are long and the years are short. In the book, I have a birthday tradition that is fabulous and it allows children to think about others on their birthday. This birthday blessing idea, though, is one of the things that ended up on the edit reel. Maybe I’ll but something like it if I do a second book, but I wanted to share it here in honor of Clayton and Sam’s second and third birthdays, respectively. It’s really simple. Just choose a time of the day and say this blessing (or your own variation) to your child. I think as the children grow older, we’ll tell them the remarkable stories of their births and then conclude with this blessing. It’s a simple way to remind your children how important they are and acknowledge the gifts God has given.

A Birthday Blessing 

________, Today you turned __ years old. I give thanks to God for another year of life and give you this blessing: May you always know that your mama and your papa love you. May you always know that your friends and family love you. May you always know that God and Jesus and the Spirit love you. This year, may you have peace in your heart, rest in your mind, and health in your body. May you have these things not only today, your birthday, but every day of your life. Amen.

 

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Forgiveness and Assurance of God’s Grace — A Spiritual Practice for the Guilt Parents Carry Around

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The moms and dads that I meet carry around a lot of guilt.

I include myself, first and foremost.

I lost my temper. 

I let them watch too much TV while I worked. 

You don’t even want to know what I fed them for dinner. 

I’m not making enough money to send them to college. 

I’m not doing as well as I could or should or must… 

In my Reformed Christian tradition, we have a practice of confessing and then receiving God’s grace. I think this practice is a great one for parents who carry around a lot of guilty feelings. Some of these guilty feelings are valid and due to true “wrongs” committed against themselves or their children. Others, though, are heaped upon spirits that are striving to attain an unattainable ideal of perfection. This practice addresses both kinds of guilt. Here’s how it works: 1. Say a prayer for forgiveness (I’ve written one for you, but you can write another one that works for you) and then 2. Say (and internalize) the assurance of God’s grace, so that you might begin to feel that you are forgiven, not just of the wrongs you commit as a parent, but of setting a standard that is unrealistic and damaging. 3. Repeat as necessary.

A Prayer of Forgiveness for Guilty Parents 

Good and loving God, I come to you feeling guilty.  Often I am not the parent I wish to be. I fall short of the ideals and ideas I have for myself. I cut corners, lose patience, lose my way. Forgive me for all the ways I fall short in my relationship with my children, my partner and You.  Forgive me, too, O Lord, for the times in which I am unkind to myself, heaping on unrealistic demands of perfection. In all these things, teach me patience, compassion, goodness and kindness. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Assurance of God’s Grace 

Parents, hear the good news: God’s grace is from everlasting to everlasting! When we confess our wrongs before God, God hears us, forgives us, and gives us endless opportunities to get back on track, start anew and begin again! You are forgiven! Amen!

Note: This prayer appeared first in the Seamless Faith Newsletter, a monthly resource featuring excerpts from Seamless Faith, links to valuable resources and other info about parenting and faith. The newsletter is free, email addresses are protected and it’s easy to sign up. 

 

Sermon Remix: Jesus is a Brother + Jesus is Messiah

sermonremixgenericSo… I missed a week on the sermon remix and people noticed! Yay! I promise this was not a test to see if people would notice, but it’s nice to know that a little remix of the sermon is a good thing.

This week I’m offering up a double remix! Wooot!

Last Sunday we talked about Jesus as a Son and a Brother. Isn’t it true that we don’t often think of Jesus as being a part of an earthly family? I certainly don’t think of that very often. We talked about families. And then we talked about the 11 words that families need to say most often to each other:

I’m sorry.

I love you.

Please forgive me.

I forgive you.

I mentioned a podcast interview of a man who talks about people who are at the end of life who wish they had said those words more.

I also mentioned the ancient practice of ho’oponopono which is also based on those words.

This week we talked about Jesus as Messiah. I explained that Messiah means “anointed one.” We talked about the fact that there are many many prophesies in the Old Testament that talk about what the Messiah will be like.

We also talked about miracles this morning, particularly this fantastic miracle of Jesus rubbing spit on a blind man’s eyes. I wondered aloud if that’s the only reference to spit in the Bible and guess what?! There are many more instances of spit in the Bible and miracles! Coming soon: Blog post on this topic!

This morning I couldn’t help but reference what I believe is a true miracle, and that is the safe return of a classmate and confirmation buddy Michael Blodgett whose story of being lost and then found again has inspired so many of his former middle and high school pals.

 

Seamless Faith Virtual Book Tour

All packed up and ready to take a trip around the internet!

All packed up and ready to take a trip around the internet!

Let me count the reasons I love the Internet… connection to people and friends around the world. All the time. Skype with grandma and grandpa nearly every day for my boys. Recipe finding.  And now, the most recent thing I love about the internet… the virtual book tour! That’s right, my book is going on a tour. I won’t be jetting in to various TV studios across the country, or sitting on John Stewart’s couch — (one day, my people… one day) but the book will be taking a “stop” on a variety of different blogs and websites.

As the posts go live, I’ll link up to them on the website (www.traci-smith.com) and on my twitter and FB pages, but I thought I’d post the whole schedule here so you can get ready! (Ok, truth, the main reason is just because I’m so darn excited about it. It’s true. I can’t wait.)

 

 

 

Virtual Book Tour 

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April 1 – Fidelia’s Sisters – Young Clergy Women Project
April 2 – Melvin Bray – (Traci Guest Post)
April 4 – Jerusalem Greer
April 5 – Saturday
April 6 – Sunday
April 7 – Open – Could be you? Seriously, get in touch if you want your blog here or on April 5 or 6. I’ll make sure you have a copy of SF to review.
April 8 – MaryAnn McKibben Dana (Q&A)
April 9 – Flame Creative Kids  (Guest Post)
April 13 – Sunday
April 14 – Dave Csinos 
April 16 – On The Way Home Blog

 

Heaven… ticketed guests only?

A Ticket to Heaven... The Worst Idea I've Seen in a Long, Long Time.

A Ticket to Heaven… The Worst Idea I’ve Seen in a Long, Long Time.

Like just about anybody who works in a church, I get a lot of catalogues. I mean, a lot. I usually flip through them quickly before dumping them in the recycle bin, but this week, a particular catalog caught my eye. It’s not important which one, but it was for children’s spiritual formation-type things: Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children’s church and other similar things. I took a look at it while I was waiting for the rice to boil and it turns out that my blood ended up boiling right alongside the rice when I came across the product pictured above (side note: I just read some sort of article that suggested I use the time waiting for water to boil to “see how much I cleaning you can get done in your kitchen.” Ha. Ha ha ha.)
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So… color your own “Jesus is my ticket to heaven” tickets for kids. Let me count the ways this product is upsetting to me. I wanted to let this one go. I really did. After all, there are a lot of Christian products for kids out there that aren’t my cup of tea. A lot of it is cheesy, or poorly made, or not my style. This “Jesus ticket” is not your run of the mill Jesus Junk, it’s actually offensive (in my oh so humble opinion). Some thoughts:
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1. I don’t want my children (or any children I minister to) to get the idea that they need a ticket to get into heaven: Not a “be good” ticket, not a “believe exactly this” ticket, not a “if you’re not doing it right you won’t get there” ticket, and certainly not a paper ticket. There is a view out there that you have to have some sort of “ticket” to get into heaven. I think it’s hogwash.

 

2. Though adults can clearly understand that this craft is meant to be “symbolic” (of a ridiculous concept, see point #1) Many young children will view this as a  literal ticket to heaven. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. This is an object lesson, and many object lessons are too complex for young minds to grasp. For more on this, see Fowler or any other writer on faith development. Young children need safety and security not an implicit “You need this or you might not get to heaven” message. If even one child leaves the ticket making activity with the impression that they need that actual piece of paper to make it in to heaven, that is one child too many.

3. Jesus as a ticket to heaven completely misses everything Jesus was and is about.

So… what do you think? What am I missing here?