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

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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 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 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 if you will find it blocking “your spot” 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 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?

a blue line

Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives.

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A challenge: What does your Advent look like?

Advent Collage for #pictureAdvent

Advent is here!

Rather than posting weekly on the blog, I’m participating in a photo-a-day challenge based on Advent themes. For example, today is “Prepare” and tomorrow is “Abound.” This has been fun!

Take a look at my photos so far. (If you click on a photo you can read my thoughts that go with each theme.)

Join in if you’d like, just tag your photos with #pictureAdvent. Or have your kids draw a picture that represents the day’s theme. You may also choose to read the short Bible passages that go along with each day’s word.

Days of Picture Advent 2015Here are the daily Advent words.


One of the best distinctions of Advent? There is no reason why you can’t talk about Jesus every day!

Use some of these family-friendly Advent ideas to help out.
    Wandering wise men

  • Follow along with the antics of these guys on a whimsical quest to find the infant king — the Wandering Wisemen Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar along with their faithful camel, Hezekiah. (You don’t need to be a Facebook user to see these daily posts.)

    Why not make use of the characters in your manger scene/crèche? Take turns moving them (not just the magi!) around your home on their way to the stable. What adventures will they experience?

  • A grazing sheep made out of LegosThere are a multitude of ideas here, for LEGO®-maniacs, bookworms, and “RACK”-makers! (RACK stands for “Random Acts of Caring Kindness.) Oldies but goodies.
  • More ideas including ways to find peace amongst all of the frantic-ness. Yes, I need this!
  • Live Nativity

  • Plan on attending the comedic drama performed by our youth at 5pm on Sunday, December 20, 2015, in the downtown Sanctuary of FUMC.

    Afterwards there is a live nativity and Christmas caroling. Carlos the donkey will be there.

What is your Advent looking like?

Photo credits:
Photos in collage are from my archives. Challenge list from Wandering wisemen borrowed from the creator of the series. Sheep from LEGO® bricks, by Leo Dorst. Reproduced by permission.

a blue line

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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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Advice from David: Stop and contemplate

In our Rotation this month, we’ve been asking how a person develops faith in God. So far we’ve covered some ways to grow our faith. Let’s expand on the one that suggests we spend time alone with God. How does one practice doing that?

What if you followed David’s lead?

Not the part about hitting Goliath in the head with a rock, but what comes before the actual battle: What David likely did as he picked out stones.

Stop. Think. Take time to ponder as you carefully choose your rocks.

A child contemplates rocks

The Bible doesn’t give us many details about the picking of these stones but I can imagine there was some thought that went into it. Let’s call it “Meditative Time.” Can we practice that? Yes!

You might first think of meditation as something that Buddhist’s do. It may be surprising to learn that meditation is found in all religious traditions. In Christianity it is the heart of the contemplative teaching of Jesus on prayer.

Here are the simple steps to begin meditation:

  • Sit with your back straight and lightly close your eyes.
  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or “mantra.” Try the Aramaic [1] word that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha
  • Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and words. When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back and continue repeating your word.

(For a graphic with these steps refer to this website.)

Other questions:

  • How long should this last? With young children start with one minute. When it becomes apparent that they can handle one minute, “praise them and say that since they are so good at it now, you will reward them by increasing it to two minutes. Every time they are at ease with the length of time, increase it by one minute till you reach their age – 4 minutes for age 4, 5 minutes for age 5 and so on.” [2]
  • What if your child asks: Why say “Maranatha.” Is that some sort of magical word?” An answer.
Give David’s plan a try: stop and contemplate.

[1] Aramaic is the language that Jesus spoke.
[2] Suggestion from the website of The School of Meditation, of The World Community for Christian Meditation.

Photo credits:
Contemplating rocks by Hagerty Ryan, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image is in the Public Domain, provided by Public Domain Images.

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Choosing the good road

This Lent at FUMC, as a congregation we are walking once more to the cross and to Jesus’ resurrection. Along the way we are looking at “road options” that Jesus and his disciples chose along their journey. How might these same decisions be open to us? Which road will we take? Will we recognize the best choice – the good road? Let us journey together this Lent as we “Walk The Good Road.” See you in church!

Last weekend Rev. Doug Paterson’s sermon on the “Good Road” series spoke to the quandary that the “The Good Road is Not Always Smooth.” I don’t think he mentioned David and Goliath, but he could have.

When the road is not always smooth, perhaps we are facing a giant.

Cartoon painting of 'The Scream'

Perhaps that giant, creating yawning potholes in our path, is…

  • A conflict with a person — family or friends or teachers or co-workers or bullies…
  • A situational problem — I can’t figure out math, my grandfather is dying, my dreams don’t seem to be happening…
  • Peer pressure — I’ve got to be the best soccer player. I’ve got to be in the in-crowd. I’m worried about having a bad-hair-day. I’ve got to have a bigger house/car/phone. I’ve got to be thinner/sexier/smarter…
  • Or maybe the giant you’re facing is you! You want to change but you don’t understand why you do the things you do and how to be transformed.

This last one is my current giant! My giant says to me “Carol, who are you to be speaking about faith?” “Who are you to make decisions about Sunday’s Cool?” “Who are you to be a leader in a Christian educators organization with thousands of members?”

It would be easier for me to back away from my giants, letting them win. Sometimes the road we must choose is harder than we would like.

The Good Road is ever before us. Will we recognize it when we see it?

Can I trust God’s definition of me as Imperfect, God-seeking, Confident, Child-of-God, One-who-has-work-to-do?

Thankfully God is always with me (regardless of the road I choose). But I also know that I am called to move in the direction of faith. But how? Here are some ideas:

Intentional Practices for growing faith:
  • Remembering: Where and when has God been with me in the past?
  • Provide a platform for lingering together, for the asking of questions, and for finding hope. Encourage the expression of ideas and inquisition. (Ask: What do you think about ___?) Honor with attention and thoughtfulness.
  • Spending time alone with God. Perhaps practicing a bit like this.
  • What scripture can I learn so that strengthening words roll off my tongue? (How about this Rotation’s Key Bible verse?)
  • A "shrine" of things that invoke the memory of God's goodness

  • What visual reminders will I place in my path? A cross here, scripture written on an index card there? Set up a spot in your home that is designated as a “quiet spot.” Fill this space with objects that invoke memories. Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions. (Photo on right is such a spot set up at the Nelson home around Easter time.)
  • As well as the usuals: communicating with God through prayer; learning God’s advice by reading the Bible; strengthening my relationship with God through worship; serving others. (Read more here.)

Which of these practices will you implement in your family this week?

Photo credits:
Cartoon “Scream” by Prawny. Used with permission from
“Shrine” photo from Chris Nelson. Used by permission.

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How’s your home environment?

We are blessed to have homes that contain familiar “environments” — times and places where certain events take place. As our kids grow up they presume that at home they will find…

…a designated spot for family dining…

two kids at the dinner table
a space for play

…opportunity for play…

a child reads

…and time for reading (hopefully every day!)

Other environments we set up for our kids include a place to get some much needed shut-eye and an area for study. (Yikes, coming soon!)

It’s the way things are. Eating, sleeping, studying, playing… You could say:

It’s how we do it around here.

But something important is missing.

What about purposefully setting up space and time to experience God?
So it feels normal.

Here are some suggestions for adding this critical environment to your home:

Dad reads The Jesus Storybook Bible
  • Include the Bible in your daily reading roster. And make sure your child “catches you” reading your Bible.
  • Practice being grateful. (Documenting your gratitude brings attention to God’s gifts; they are everywhere! Even in the midst of darkness!)
  • Spend time as a family with everyone sharing one glad and one sad for the day – AKA: Glads and Sads, or Crowns and Thorns! Don’t try to fix anything, just listen and celebrate and commiserate.
  • Start every meal with a table blessing. Try here for some new ones.
  • Introduce new ways to talk with God – prayer. (Get out markers to pray? Yes!)
  • Offer your child a daily blessing – words said out loud that reassure your child that they are loved and accepted.
  • What ideas would you add?


Photo credits:
Dinner table by Sean Dreilinger; Reading by John Morgan; Swing set by Wouter Verhelst; Bible reading by Travis Seitler, all licensed on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.