How can your family prepare for Easter?

I recently learned something new:

The 40 days of Lent is a tithe of the year.

40 / 365 = 0.109589041096

Lent is indeed pretty close to one-tenth of the year!
(I had to prove it to myself by doing the math. Broke out my trusty abacus.)

These 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter, is a time when we traditionally prepare our hearts and minds for the awesome truth of Easter; a day that is so special that it deserves ahead-of-time forethought.

A tithe is one-tenth of something, traditionally thought of as one-tenth of one’s income given to support the church and other charitable organizations. In this case we are talking a tithe of time; taking time-out to think about the meaning of Easter.

Of course it’s not possible for most of us to spend all day, every day during Lent, contemplating Easter. What can your family do to intentionally put God at the center of your life – say for about for 10 – 15 minutes a day?

Here are ideas for your family’s Lent experience. Try one (and repeat daily)!
  • Ask questions: Agree to spend 12 minutes a day with your family discussing the story of Easter. Use these discussion questions as a guide, or dig deeper into the reading-the-Bible-a-bit-a-day plan for the story of Holy week.
  • Experience God in nature: Go for a walk outside. To give your walk some focus make it a discovery walk (to notice one new thing) or a smelling walk (what smells come to your attention) or a prayer walk (pray for everyone whose house you pass).
  • Journal through Lent: Leave an open notebook on the counter with a pen handy. Ask everyone to jot down or draw instances where they have seen God at work in their daily life. Review the entries over dinner.
  • Bless your child(ren) and yourself! Read about this way to enrich your child’s life here. For blessings to choose from check out here.
  • Give up something: Can you fast from using anything dependent on electricity? Can you turn off the phone, the TV, the refrigerator? (Hey, it’s only for a short time. As long as you remember to turn it back on!) Eat dinner by candlelight. Tell stories of past Easter celebrations.
  • Add something: Silence. Can everyone agree to be silent for a set amount of time? (Okay, age appropriateness may come into play here.) Ask everyone to think of when they experienced beauty. In their mind return to that particular scene. Study it in silence. Talk about it afterwards. Where was God in your picture?
  • Improve upon your “silence” experience by having everyone chip in to create a “sacred spot” in your household. What visual reminders will enhance this place? A cross here, scripture written on an index card there? Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions.
  • Serve others some happiness: Look for opportunities to be the difference in someone’s day. Compliment janitors at work on how nice the building looks, how you appreciate the work they do. Whom else can you thank?

How will your family prepare to take in the full meaning of Easter?

Need more Lenten family activities? The list continues here.

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Photo credits…
An old-fashioned way of calculating by Leo Reynolds, licensed under Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).

For Lent: Add one small thing

Coffee and chocolate

We are in the season of Lent. Have you heard the standard question?

Open quote mark What are you giving up for Lent?

Rather than giving something up…

what about adding something?

Just one small thing, every day?

If you’ve been around these parts you have read what I have to say about blessing your child(ren) and/or yourself. And about how…

  • Offering a blessing for someone means you see them as very valuable.
  • Blessings are words that communicate your child’s (and your) high value to God.
  • They are special words that your child (and you) can take with you into the world.

I’d like to suggest that the small thing you add for Lent would be to bless your child(ren) and/or yourself. But I know that that can be hard to start. (For those of you who already practicing blessings… Bravo! Keep it up.)

For those who haven’t yet started, may I suggest a small something for you to add for Lent?

Give yourself a blessing.

Here is one to try. This blessing was written especially for you. It is based in part on 2 Corinthians 13:14, in the Message translation. Print it out if you’d like, here.

Fill in the blank with your name. Post it on the bathroom mirror or the fridge. Go ahead, speak these words to yourself; out-loud if you’d like! Every day.

Add one small thing for Lent.

Open quote mark _______ the amazing grace of Jesus, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, are always with you. Go, be a child of God, reflecting God’s love to all those around you.

Lenten blessings!
— Carol

A cross decorated with palm branches It’s Lent! Here are some resources for the season:

Lenten activities for your family.

Short spiritual practices to try during Lent.

A way to tell the Easter story using plastic Easter eggs.

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Photo credits…
Coffee & chocolate by Andrew Crookston, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
FUMC’s palm-covered cross from my archives.

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?

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

How to add one small (but critical) thing to your day?

When was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back? Really! After all, you do hard work in the trenches — shepherding kids! (Whether they are yours or someone else’s.)

Shepherd with sheep

Nurturing children transpires into a mighty challenge! You spend time with them, read to them, carpool them all over town, offer healthy foods, make sure they brush their teeth, enforce a respectable bedtime… you love them! You are doing a great job, especially because you push through when it gets hard.

Because, sometimes you don’t have all of the answers.

It is the same way with talking to our kids about their spirituality. Do you feel inadequate? (I do.)

I’m giving you permission to add one small, but critical thing, to your parenting portfolio.

Keep on trying to add conversation about faith issues.

Figure out where you are regularly gathered all together. (In the car, at the dinner table, or at getting-ready-for-bed reading time). Make a new daily habit.

Ask just one question: Where did you see God today?

That’s all you have to ask. Just listen. (And don’t worry if it doesn’t happen every day.)

Allow time for digging deeper. Empower your family to wonder at the mystery of what God is up to and how he wants to be in your life!

a blue line


Photo credits:
Shepherding sheep by Biegun Wschodni, who has released this photo to the Public Domain. Offered at unsplash.com.

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What sort of fascinated fan are you raising?

Young sports fanAre you raising a “Go Blue” sports fan? (Or perhaps a “Go Green”?) If you are a fan of a certain team, it’s very likely that your kids are too.

You are probably not intentionally raising such a child – drilling the Michigan fight song every night or teaching them player nuances – it just sort of happens doesn’t it? Because you are interested, they become predisposed.

What about raising a Jesus fan?

Is that just “happening” in your household without any effort on your part?

I’ll admit, when my kids were young, I did not focus much on raising them to be disciples of Christ. My thinking went along the lines of:

  • Who me? I can’t do that. (That’s the church’s job.)
  • I don’t know enough. (I didn’t go to Bible school.)
  • I’ll screw them up / turn them off to religion. (I’ll probably say something wrong!)
Raising a Jesus fan takes some intention.

Does it help you to know that Jesus struggled with the role he was to play in God’s plan of redemption for the world?

We see it prominently in the Garden Of Gethsemane, the spot where Jesus and his followers went after the Passover meal (the one we now call the Last Supper). Jesus knew he faced imminent distressing events — arrest, torture, and death on a cross. At this critical juncture, Jesus is compelled to spend time with God in prayer.

Spend Time in Prayer.

Share your feelings of uncertainty with God. Jesus did. Matthew describes a time of intense agony in amongst the olive trees, with Jesus’ words expressing his anguish:

Open quote markMy Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me.

This is like Jesus saying: “If it is possible, can’t we do this in some other way?”

Christians believe that in Jesus, God became fully human; he was a human being who faced temptations and feelings of anxiety! Isn’t it freeing to realize that we don’t have to stand up to pressures and trials with super-sized strength? It is okay to be fearful, questioning, angry, and to feel agony.

It is okay to struggle!

We know from the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden, that in the very same sentence of asking for a different path, Jesus turns and submits completely to God, “I want your will, not mine.” This is not an admission of defeat; he says it with a cadence of perfect trust.

Acting as Jesus did can be a tough pill to swallow. Here’s what I tell myself when faced with something I’m unsure I really have the guts to do:

Do the next thing. Do it with prayer.

a blue line

Here’s something to pursue this week: Be on the lookout for a “trigger” which prompts a short burst of prayer.

A collage of green thingsTaking a cue from the Garden of Gethsemane, when you see something green (a houseplant, some produce, a stray toy) thank God for the ability to speak openly with him in prayer!

Try this out yourself for a couple of days. Then report back to your kids. Get them onto the hunt for a little green prompting.

What spiritual practice can you include in your family’s life this Lent? How will you plant seeds of faith in the lives of your Jesus fans?

Stay tuned for other Lenten prayer hints.


Photo credits:
Young sports fan by PublicDomainPictures, and the collage of green things – from other artists – all who licensed these photos on Pixabay under a Public Domain Dedication.

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How quiet contemplation revealed a hidden need?

purple paramentsWith the start of the season of Lent, a sharp-eyed churchgoer/church on-line watcher will spot changes in the Sanctuary. Ask your family members what they notice. First up, the colors have switched! The purple paraments are back. (Paraments are the hangings that adorn the pulpit, or the extra “garments,” the stoles the clergy wear. Did you know that each season of the Church Year has a different color?)

Wonder with your family: why purple for Lent?

cross in the sanctuary on Ash WednesdayAnd secondly, the empty, “old rugged cross” is back… watch it progress slowly—week to week—on it’s Lenten journey from the back of the church all the way to the front.

Do you wonder what if it blocks your view in church?

Discuss with your family what the recurrence of this on-the-move cross says to you.

Both of these alterations are relatively innocuous.

Or are they signals of something bigger? Something like…

Hey, it’s Lent! It’s time to intentionally put God at the center of your life.

But how is that suppose to happen?

Going into Lent I was conflicted. I knew that I needed/wanted to “do” something specific to mark my travel through Lent, to turn my thoughts toward the reason why Easter is important… but I wasn’t sure what to do. Give something up? Take something on? Then I got my answer at last night’s Ash Wednesday worship service.

It was a Taizé style service, consisting of meditative, repeated songs and scripture interspersed with periods of silent contemplation.

And in that quiet… I found peace.

Ah ha! I needed an injection of peace—some sacred time.

I needed to pull back from my day-to-day stuff and experience the divine.

imparting ashes on Ash WednesdayAt this service there were the sacred rituals of the sharing of bread and juice in Holy Communion, and the imposition of ashes—the part where “dust” gets etched onto our foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe.”

Lent begins with this sign—ashes. The ashes are symbolic of death. I need to let my old ways die. I need to try something new.

So I went home and created an “altar.” On an old board I placed a few “special” rocks, a sprig of fake flowers, a pinch pot made by my son when he was 5 years old… It is a place for me to linger, to allow my soul to be in quiet contemplation.

I plan to add and subtract from my holy space as I feel the whim. I plan to “visit” every day.

Lenten altar

How will you create your sacred Lenten space?

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Photo credits:
Copyright photos from my archives.


Does your crammed calendar announce commitment to church?

I have always considered that September trumps January in the “starting-anew” arena. September means a multitude of fresh possibilities!

Here’s something that may be new to you: Adding “church” to your family calendar.

Here is how my Sundays look:
(It may be how your Saturday looks if you attend at Green Wood)

Is church on your calendarHave you considered the life-giving reasons why “church” should be on your calendar?

(a) Because research shows that active involvement in a faith community is a important factor in children becoming happy, healthy adults. (Want even more statistics? Here are 52 reasons to go to church — one for every week!)

(b) Because church provides folks with a built-in extended family of positive role models.

(c) Because at church you can get to know a loving, forgiving God!
 

Get started with purposeful participation: delegate a block of time on your calendar for church!

a blue line

On another chronological note, we’ll be restarting the Workshop Rotation Model soon, after a break featuring our summer movie series.

Our first story of the new year will be The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Read about our story in Luke 10:25-37. (To see a growing list of opportunities to foster faith learning at home for this month’s story, click here.)

On Sundays, at the downtown location, here is the schedule….

Date Activities for 1st through 6th graders
9/6 Worship with your family. Read ahead of time, the scripture Nancy Lynn will be using: Luke 10:38-42 and James 2:14-17. Last week’s sermon was part one. Listen if you missed it.
9/13 Everyone participates in a Video Workshop in the Social Hall.
What a great way for all to be introduced to our story!

For the rest of the month, the 6th graders will do things a bit differently… (including special projects around our current Rotation). On 9/27 they will videotape a puppet show of the story that will be shown to the preschool and K’s on 10/4.

Date Activities for 1st through 5th graders
Cooking Cooking Art Art
Social Hall A Social Hall B Room 211 Room 212
9/20 3rd grade 4th grade 1st grade 2nd grade 5th grade will also do Art in Room 215
9/27 1st grade 2nd grade 4th grade 5th grade 3rd grade will have a special Bible presentation class in the Wesley Lounge.
10/4 Worship with your family. It is World Communion Sunday. Read ahead of time, the scripture: Acts 11:1-9. I’m wondering what this will teach us about what it means to live out “Disruptive Christianity.”

And on Saturdays evenings, at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Activity
9/5 Wrap up the summer movie series and find answers to the question: How can we show respect to God through our actions? See here for your family discussion guide.
9/12 The Good Samaritan Video Workshop.
9/19 Worship with your family. Read the scripture ahead of time: Matthew 20:20-28.
9/26 Worship with your family. Read the scripture ahead of time: John 8:2-11. (How do you explain adultery? For young children: A broken promise made between a husband and a wife. For older kids: Adults who did not stay faithful to their husband or their wife.)
10/3 The Good Samaritan Art Workshop.

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Video Workshop students will watch portions of the animated Veggie Tales video Are You My Neighbor? They will also participate in a “Golden Rule” activity.
  • In the Art Workshop students will decorate cards for the visitation team to distribute to our home-bound neighbors.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will create homemade granola bars to distribute to a “neighbor.” Includes coming up with a broad definition of “neighbor.”

On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings at FUMC our Cool Disciples experience Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops. If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

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The Great Commission says to go. You don’t have to go far. (Start at home)

Open quote markGo out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.
— Jesus

United Methodists take Jesus’ words seriously. We say that our mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Sounds very lofty! How about we start at home?

How about we start by discipling the people who live with us?

It doesn’t have to happen in a formal, sit-down-and-study sort of way.

It happens when we apply faith to every-day life with our words.

For example, today, when springtime is bursting out around us, try pointing out God in simple ways.

a Redbud tree in bloomWhen you see bright colors…
Say: Notice how God is painting beauty all around us!

a single tulip next to a tree

See a single flower (all by itself)?
Say: God planted that one just to cheer someone up.

For the sounds of spring…
Say: Listen to the birds chirping; God gave them voices to announce spring.

When it rains…
Say: God is watering the flowers.

baby birds in a nestFor springtime babies…
Say: Jesus was resurrected from the dead because God promised new life. Isn’t it fun to notice new life?

 
fog in the morning in the valley

When fog swirls…
Say: God wanted to just kiss the trees.

 
For a sunset…
God’s got his paintbrushes out again.

a sunset through the trees

When Jesus says “Go” this applies to our everyday going about – going to church, going to school, going to the mall, going to play sports, or going to a concert – It means going about our daily lives. It is a process with rich rewards.

Learn the language of faith. Together as a family.


Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives.

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