Why is it called Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is approaching.

Your family is invited to the Ash Wednesday service at 7 PM at FUMC at the downtown location…

Yes, kids are invited to attend.

Which means they would get something out of it.

Are you squeamish—for your kids—about the part with the ashes? (You know, the part of the Ash Wednesday service where the pastor using ashes, marks a cross on your forehead.) Okay, I’ll admit that back in the day, I was.

The sign of the cross in ashes on a forehead

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble

What is it with the ashes on Ash Wednesday?  What is that all about? And what is “Lent” anyway?

Here are some details to share with your family. Print out a copy of this discussion guide here.
(Why not a cheat sheet to have with you when you talk about Ash Wednesday/Lent?)

Even if you don’t plan to attend the Ash Wednesday service, this is still important material to look over and share. (And don’t feel bad if a family discussion doesn’t happen until Thursday or even Saturday next week! Or whenever!)

  • What is Ash Wednesday? It is the first day of Lent.
  • What is Lent? Lent is the 40 days before Easter. (For the fact-checker, Sundays are not counted.) It marks the time period when we “prepare” ourselves for Easter. This preparation can be a deeply personal event, or it is okay to share your thoughts with others if you feel like doing so.
  • What are we preparing for? It is not about stockpiling lots of chocolate bunnies! It’s about asking ourselves tough questions like how much do we invite God into our daily lives? What are ways to foster a closer relationship with God? (Because God would really love to be your close friend!) It’s about putting our hearts and minds in order, so that when Easter finally arrives, we are ready to celebrate—to shout Alleluia!
  • Why do we celebrate Easter? It’s an important holiday because of what happened on the first Easter. Jesus was crucified on a cross. But rather than this being the end, the cross is a way of showing us the full extent of God’s love. In Jesus’ suffering on the cross he demonstrates a love that will not give up! The happiest news: After three days Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus showed us that God’s love and forgiveness is more powerful even than death.
  • What is the significance of Ash Wednesday? Since it starts off Lent, it specifically reminds us of our need for the whole point of Easter: we all make mistakes. We all sin. (Sins are anything we do that separates us from God; that pushes God and/or other people, away.) We all need forgiveness, over and over again! At the Ash Wednesday church service we hear that it is okay for us to admit we aren’t perfect; we can let go of what has happened in the past.
  • Why ashes? Ashes are produced when something is burned. It means that something has “died.” In Bible times when people were very sad or sorry, they put ashes on their heads and dressed in “sackcloth”—very scratchy clothes. (Read about such an instance in Esther 4:1.) It was a symbol of how bad they were feeling. When the ashes are placed on your forehead the pastor will say, “The old has died.” Your response can be to say, “The new has come.”
  • Why ashes, in the sign of a cross? It is a symbol of your need for God’s love and forgiveness. Because the ashes are marked in a cross this says: “There is hope. Though I have messed up, I am marked as a child of God. I will try, during Lent, to live closer to God.”

Even if your family doesn’t attend the Ash Wednesday service or if your child balks at getting marked with ashes, how about following the following routine during bedtime prep:

As your child washes their face, place your hand on their shoulder and say… God washes away all of your past mistakes. God loves you and promises to help you live as a child of God.

By following this simple step…

You have just blessed your child!

Click on a box if you would like to…
A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless your child.
A check-box View other suggested blessings.


Photo credits…
Forehead with ashes by mtsofan, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How To Add More Intention To These Ordinary Days

‘Tis the season for vacations! Though perhaps in these COVID times, they are only virtual? But hopefully, you’ll have a chance this summer to spend time building family stories. You know; the sagas that start with: “Remember the time…”

lots of air time at the state fair

Back in the days when we could go somewhere on vacation, you planned for it, right?

What about the other, oh-so-ordinary family-together-times?

  • Meals around the dinner table?
  • Trips to the grocery store, post office, and other mundane errands. Maybe not with the whole family but at least with you and the kids? (Thinking of pre-COVID days!)
  • Chore time, reading time, or just hanging-out-together time.

All these seem pretty routine and ordinary. What about using them as a chance to build memories of a different sort?

Spiritual growth memories.

Can some intentionality be brought into play? (Let’s face it, raising kids takes a little bit of planning!) How about some of these ideas:

  • Perhaps at the dinner table you play a game that leads to discussion? (Try this one or some of these.)
  • Perhaps as a part of your next walk around the block, you allow a certain happenstance (every dog seen or every blue car) to spark the announcement of a grateful. And let that lead into talking about how being thankful is good for your health! (Read here for other family-friendly ways to practice gratitude.)
  • Perhaps the next time you are chilling together you brainstorm a place in your home to remind you that God is near?

How are you using every day, even ordinary, non-vacation days, to intentionally work on building your family’s spiritual growth?


Photo credits…
A remember-when story in progress, copyright by my niece, Sarah Clouse. Used with permission.

Can written words expose hidden, heartening truth?

I contributed the following on Good Friday to the 2019 “PictureLent” daily devotional series, written primarily for adults. PictureLent is a ministry of the Rio Texas and the Michigan Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

Each day’s devotional is based on a word found in the Lectionary scripture, which for Good Friday was John 19:14-22.

My word was “Write.” Here is my devotional. I hope that you find meaning in it. May Easter be a restorative time for you.

The daily word is “write”?? Where does that word show up in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

A slow re-reading reveals the answer:

Pilate wrote a sign and put it on the cross. It read: ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’   (John 19:19, ICB).

Showing the placard on the cross above Jesus' headDid you know that it was customary at a crucifixion to attach a placard above the condemned person, with their name and their crime?

This makes sense. Romans performed crucifixions in public locations as a deterrent.

To ensure that everyone could read an edict, it was composed in the three major languages of the time—Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin. Those observing would want to know what sorts of activity to avoid!

Written words proclaim Jesus’ identity: The King of the Jews.

John’s gospel reports that this phrasing caused consternation among the Jewish Temple leaders, who protested to Pilate. They didn’t want Jesus labeled as their King, giving the impression that this claim was in fact acknowledged.

They told Pilate: “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews.’ But write, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews’” (verse 21b). Pilate’s answer: “What I have written, I have written!” (verse 22).

It was as if Pilate issued a proclamation of the gospel: Here is your King!

Follow this thought: Perhaps Pilate was constrained by the size of the piece of wood. What if he had a bigger piece? There could have been so much more to write! But Pilate was also limited by his understanding. With our post-Easter view of the situation we would add more, writing:

Here is your suffering King. (But see how this means he understands your suffering?) Don’t worry, death will not be the end; it will be a new beginning! You can live free from the hurt and pain of your past! You are forgiven! All is grace. Welcome to the new you!

What words do you wish could be written about who you are – this new you?

Undertake another exercise with me: Imagine you have died. (Don’t worry; it was painless.) Your family and friends have gathered together to write your obituary. In the manner of Pilate’s defining epithet, what would you like them to write—not what do you think they might write about you—but what truths do you long to hear?

For me, I would hope they could write:

Creative Carol, a survivor, a life-long learner, one who embodies a meaningful picture of Jesus for others, who bravely points out God-present, and always with us.

Many of us lack healthy self-worth. Today, let the cross change you!

Who do you aspire to be?

Me with 'who I am' words written on a clipboard

Surprise: God already sees you that way!

A Short Prayer:
Nurturing God, the words that you use to describe us are so different than the ones we use on ourselves! On Good Friday, when darkness and death take center stage, may we be reminded that our old ways of thinking can change. Help us to see ourselves with the same delight and expectation with which you see us. Amen.

An Action Challenge:
For friends and family that you encounter today, consider what sign would be placed over their head.
Name a positive trait you see in them. Tell them about it.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:
1. Who is Jesus to you? What would you write on the sign above Jesus’ head?
2. Do the obituary exercise. (Don’t worry about the exact sentences; just write key words.)
3. Write some of these better-feeling thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper. Take a selfie holding your new words. Share on social media tagging #pictureLent


Photo credits…
Placard above Christ by Luciano Ramos Solari from Pixabay, released under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
Selfie with defining written words, copyright from my archives.

Messy ashes mark a messy life

Ash Wednesday is next week. Put this on your calendar: 7 PM, Ash Wednesday service at the downtown FUMC church. Mark this as a family event. Your kids need the experience.

I don’t mean that they need experience in worship.

They need to experience the marking process.

Ash Wednesday is an invitation for us to confess the messes we’ve made in our lives. That is what the marking of ashes on our foreheads means: Yes God, we admit it. We need your forgiveness. And thankfully forgiveness is possible!

Official U.S. Navy Imagery - Ash Wednesday aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.

Why would it be important for children to attend and participate in an Ash Wednesday service where ashes are applied to foreheads?
  • To see all of those big people whom they look up to, getting marked with a cross of ash. Picture this thought process: Hmmm, making mistakes and messing up is something that everyone does! I too can be forgiven!
  • To feel the marking of simple strokes of a pastor’s thumb in the shape of a cross on their forehead — the cross reminding them of what Christ did for them.
  • To hear the words spoken by the pastor, which may be something about how the old has died; words that can be scary but not when tied to the gift of Resurrection. I can let go of what has happened in the past.
  • To experience the sense of belonging; they too are marked. I am part of the family of God!

Click here to print out a free, one-page questions/answers sheet on Ash Wednesday and Lent. Use it to discuss these topics prior to or after the Ash Wednesday service.



Photo credits…
Receiving ashes aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, by Benjamin T. Liston. This image is in the public domain.

How I survived All Saints’ Day with help from an impenetrable fog

The day’s first light disclosed a thick, soupy fog. My initial thought:
Drat! Another bleak, dreary day; so common in autumn around these parts.

The weather matched my mood.

A foggy day on the lake

How appropriate, I thought, for this to be my window-view…

On the day we celebrate “All Saints’ Day” in church – an event that I wasn’t sure I could handle.

But then…

(surprisingly)… upon closer scrutiny of the dark greyness…

I discovered…

amiable beauty in this somber landscape!

Curious coloration.
A softness to edges.
An almost mysterious misty-look.

So what is All Saints’ Day (United Methodists? Celebrating Saints?)
and how does it relate to an impenetrable fog with uplifting elegance?


First, All Saints’ Day…

  • Actually occurs on November 1st but is celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
  • Got started for the Western church, around the 4th century, initially honoring those who had died, who had led holy, laudable lives for Christ. (Think of the capital-S-real-stuff Saints.)
  • Later expanded to include everybody – dead or alive! Anyone who has shared their faith; who has leveled the path before us. Often referred to as the great cloud of witnesses.
  • For United Methodists, “saints” are different than those in the Roman Catholic tradition. In the FAQ about what United Methodists believe, it clarifies our tenets on this matter.
  • Includes in particular remembering those who have died in the past year who were members of the congregation, and… well… those who were close to you who have recently left this earth.

The latter point ties the fog to the memory of saints.

I lost both my parents this past summer. Five weeks apart. I wasn’t ready to face (again) a remembrance of so-close, lost saints. (Are we ever?)

It has been hard. Sort of like being in a deep fog.

But then I remembered… As he receives the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain and “approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:21.

Darkness can contain the presence of God.

The fog this morning was a reminder. In what could be seen as dreary darkness, when I looked closer, I found reason to give thanks for beauty. God was with me in my darkness.


Photo credits:
An as-it-was, un-retouched photo from my archives. Shared at Flickr; licensed under a Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).

Hero Central VBC – a check-in

The logo for our Hero Central VBC

At Hero Central Vacation Bible Camp (VBC) at FUMC the week is flying past. But we’ve been learning plenty and…

Discovering Our Strength in God!

Here’s a slide show of photos from our most recent activities! You can visit other posts on our Hero Central VBC, to see more pictures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Every morning, the first thing we do when we gather at Opening Assembly is to engage in some rowdy singing and dancing. Among the songs we’ve been singing are Leap of Faith and Everlasting God and Superheroes. Based on the level of participation I do believe that singing is the favorite activity of the day.

We love to help lead the singing!


Each day during VBC we are learning a character quality that helps all of us be God’s heroes. Wednesday we learned that:

God’s Heroes Have Wisdom!

What was the Bible story that went with our day about wisdom? It was about an experience Jesus had as a young boy. Read about it in Luke 2:41-52. This was a time in Jesus’ life when he grew strong and wise. (Kind of like our kids are doing!) He was also growing in other ways: he was exploring his calling; he was delving into his spiritual self.

Do we allow our kids the chance to grow spiritually?.


Thursday’s hero character attribute was:

God’s Heroes Have Hope!

Our story from the Bible that illustrates this Hero Code is from The Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes tell us about God’s priorities: being humble and compassionate; working with our community to provide hope for others.


This year we have such a large Grad Group, that they have been able to divide (and conquer) lots of different service projects.

  • Cleaning up the grounds around our Green Wood campus, and tending the veggie garden that is there. (Everything that comes out of this garden gets donated to the Food Gatherers Faith and Food program.)
  • Help distribute food from the pantry at Bryant Community Center.
  • Working with young kids during academic rotations at one of Community Action Network (CAN)’s summer camps.
  • Making and delivering lots of healthy snacks for the CAN summer camps. These camps are designed to prevent summer loss of learning. Having great snacks to eat helps learning!
  • Collecting, counting, and delivering our VBC service project items. Everyday at the closing time they report on our progress towards our goal.


Continue the learning at home!

Here are a couple of questions to talk about around the family dinner table. (Or wherever your family is gathered together – perhaps in the car?)

  • When we say God values wisdom, what is “wisdom”? What are some ways that we can grow in wisdom? (Jesus calls all of us to be his “disciples” – and what is a disciple but a student!)
  • When was the last time you hoped for something? Did you have to wait for what you were hoping for? What are ways we can bring hope to others? How can bringing hope to someone else, end up blessing us?
  • How can being kind (merciful) or working as a peace-maker bring hope? Which of the other Beatitudes can empower us to offer hope?

~~ Carol, on behalf of the VBC Team

Photo credits:
Hero Central images used by permission of Cokesbury.
Rest of photos courtesy of various volunteers at VBC!

What’s happening at Hero Central VBC?

The logo for our Hero Central VBC

Welcome to Hero Central Vacation Bible Camp (VBC) at FUMC where we are…

Discovering Our Strength in God!

Yes, we are ALL heroes; we’re God’s heroes! That is why we are gathering at Hero Central.

Here’s a slide show of photos from our activities! Have your kids tell you more about what they did by sitting down together to watch. You can pause it or go backwards or forwards, if you want to.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Come back to visit, as more photos will be added as we engage in more activity!

And here’s a quick video:

If reading this in an email, you may need to watch the video at this link.


Captain plays pianoOn the first day (Monday) we met our leader for the week, Captain Shield, who has piano-playing super powers!

the sidekick, Flame the Red PandaMost super heroes have a sidekick — Batman has Robin! Well, we have one too and her name is Flame.

Flame is a Red Panda, which means with her masked face, she comes already dressed as a super hero.


Captain Shield and Flame will navigate us through our week together, as we discover our strength in God!

We learned that every superhero has special words — a motto, or a call to action. Ours is a Bible verse:

'Do good! Seek peace and go after it!   Psalm 34:14b

Great words to live by. Ask your child to show you the hand-motions that go with this Bible verse.


Each day during VBC we are learning a different way in which we are truly heroes for God. Monday we learned that:

God’s Heroes Have Heart!

But wait a minute, doesn’t everybody have a heart?

Yes, everyone does have a “heart” in the pumping-your-blood sort of way. But when we say: “God’s heroes have heart,” we are describing the good character qualities they possess; the hidden-inside-you traits. God wants us to look beyond exterior appearances and see the hero inside of other people! Our Bible story for today taught us this; it’s found in 1 Samuel 16:1-12. God choose the next king of Israel – what a surprise choice! A mere shepherd boy as king? God saw what a big heart young David had for God.

How can we combat our culture where the focus is on “appearances”?
Try teaching your child to look inside.


We love gathering up front to help lead the singing!

After our opening time of music, preschoolers go off to their stations…

Preschoolers in Crafts & Science

And elementary kids go to their stations (and in-between, on the first few days, they posed for crew photos).

Crews are gathering for a photo.

A crew takes a break for their crew photo.


making snack mix for CAN.Our “older” elementary kids in our Grad Group are working every day this week on various service projects – both local and global. After some ice breaker games, today they learned more about these projects: a camp for kids in Liberia, and projects at Community Action Network (CAN), including making snack mix for CAN’s summer camp for kids.

They are going to be reporting on our collection progress. Let’s bring them something to count!



Continue the learning at home!

Your kids will enjoy telling you about their day if you ask open-ended questions. Here are a couple of questions to talk about around the family dinner table or in the family vehicle, or wherever:

  • Regarding our story on God choosing David as king… Have you ever been fooled by looking only at the outside of something and found out it wasn’t quite what you expected? Tell about it. (Ever opened a rotten egg?)
  • Why do you suppose God choose David (the youngest son of Jesse) to be the next king? (Need the answer?)
  • God doesn’t look at outside qualities — muscles or money — he looks at our inside, at our heart. Talk about the meaning of this type of “heart.” (The Bible uses “heart” meaning our inner thoughts and feelings; the part of us where we wrestle with life, where we check it out inside.)
  • God values a kind and caring heart. (God’s Heroes Have Heart!) What kind, caring behavior have you noticed in others? What can we do to grow our hearts to be heroes for God — to be more kind and caring?
  • God sees other valuable traits in each one of us. Name some heart qualities you see in other family members. Name at least one heart quality you see in yourself.

~~ Carol, on behalf of the VBC Team

Photo credits:
Hero Central images used by permission of Cokesbury.
Video created by Jeff Wason. Music by one of our grad group members!
Rest of photos courtesy of various volunteers at VBC!

Heroes will be on parade! Coming soon!

The logo for our Hero Central VBC

Vacation Bible Camp (VBC) is coming soon!  has arrived!

See our activity from Monday or all of the days we’ve been through so far, of our hanging out at VBC.

Get ready for Hero Central at FUMC where we will…

Discover Our Strength in God!

Each day, during VBC (July 10-14) we will embark on adventures alongside some well-known Bible heroes and discover the qualities that make us truly heroic in God. We will learn about how we have Heart, Courage, Wisdom, Hope, and Power.

Flame, the Red Panda, is our VBC sidekickAlong the way we will also meet some cool characters including Flame, who is a Red Panda.


Perhaps you’d like to prepare for VBC?

Start off by listening to our theme song, Leap of Faith.   (To watch this video you may need to go here.)


Hero CardsAsk your adults to download the app that goes along with Hero Central. On Monday at VBC we’ll receive a set of five Hero Cards. Scan the day’s Hero Card with the app, and receive a message from Flame! You’ll also be able to play the trivia game to review each day’s Bible story. Or, create your own superhero, for epic adventures around the world of the Hero Central App. Sounds like fun.

One other way to get ready is to learn about the service projects we’ve chosen this year for kids to support.

  1. A local project: Donating a box or two of cereal which will be distributed through Ann Arbor’s own Community Action Network. During the school year many families in this community rely on meals provided by the schools. In the summer months, there is no additional assistance to replace the school meals, so a box of cereal can be a big help.
  2. An international project: For the past several years our VBC (and the entire congregation) has yearly supported a project or camp in Liberia during July. We are planning to do so again this year. Below is part of a message from Rev. Nathan in Liberia who will be organizing Camp Bucalaka for youth and children. (Rev. Nathan has organized camps in several different districts or areas of the church there; this will be the first camp for this area.)
    Our next Camp is scheduled for the Gretta Muffer United Methodist School and the Dean Memorial UMC in John Dean Town, the home of our retired bishop, Rev. Dr. John G. Innis. This will be the first time for such an occasion to reach that part of our church. We are looking forward for your prayers and support.

In either case, have your kids bring their donation(s) to the collection at the front of the Sanctuary.

Are you ready to discover your strength in God?

See you soon!
~~ Carol, on behalf of the VBC Team


a mailbox iconParents and caregivers and everyone who is interested (grandma want to see what the grands are doing?) can sign up to receive an email each day during VBC. Just enter an address over on the right, up-above, and click on the big, blue button. (Or scroll down if you are reading this on your phone.)


Photo credits:
Hero Central images used by permission of Cokesbury.
Mailbox by Danil Polshin, is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).