Letting Go of the Stuff We Love

This week a fixture in my living room for the last 13 years moved on to a new home. I wrote this on Facebook to commemorate the occasion.

After 13 years of faithful service, it is time to say good-bye to my dear friend, the purple sofa! Thanks for being a comfortable place to sit, sleep, watch tv, read and enjoy many a cup of tea! You were sat upon by friends and family and were the site of our first kiss! Although my husband never loved your delightful purple color, I will miss you and fondly remember all the times you were present for life’s important moments!

The act of giving away my lovely sofa made me reflect on all the stuff I have and my attachment to it. Don’t worry! I am not getting rid of everything or encouraging you to do the same. Instead, I am thinking about the season in which things are with us and how we discern when it is time for them to move on or be with someone else.

As you look around your home, what do you see? How long have some of these things been part of your life? What moments have they witnessed? Do they still bring you joy? How is your stuff part of your story?

Creator of All, We are attached to our stuff. We move it. We live with it. We love it. Help us to be thankful for what we have for the time we have it. Help us to be responsible citizens of creation who share with others and do not waste. Help us to pass along what needs to find a new home. God this is hard, holy work and so we ask for your help. Deliver us from our stuff and help us to know when we have enough. Amen.

Youth Ministry Overnight Essentials

Years of working in youth ministry have taught me many lessons. I’ll share one with you. Invest in the necessary items to make sleeping away from home easier. This will be slightly different for each person. Here are some essentials for me.
-A fun sleeping bag. This Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag is a gift from my husband. When I use it while not sleeping at home, it always makes me think of him while staying warm.
-A good air mattress. Do not try to rough it by sleeping on the floor at a lock-in or mission trip. Buy a good air mattress and use it.
-Comfy Pajamas. Sleep in comfort and style with sleepwear that makes you smile. Remember to pack something that will keep you warm or cool (depending on the season) and still be appropriate for spending the night with a crowd. I’m enjoying these pajamas which are a souvenir from last summer’s Alaska trip.
-Board Games. Nothing says quality time with youth like a board games. I recommend you keep your own personal board games at home and only bring what you want to be used.
-Secret Snack. Whatever you need to help you through the overnight and next morning, bring it. Coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.
What would you add to this list of must haves for a night way from home with a crowd of your favorite youth?

Youth Ministry Conference Questions

This weekend I and a good friend are leading a workshop entitled “Balancing Marriage, Ministry, and Bi-Vocational Life” at a Youth Leader Conference. This week I have been pondering these questions as they relate to my ministry. I encourage you to consider how you would answer them (change the wording if needed) as you seek to live our your faith in the world.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself?
What do you wish you had known?
What is the best part of youth ministry?
What is the hardest part of youth ministry?
Why in the world are you still doing this?
What wisdom have you gleaned from your difficult days and years of experience that you want to share with others?
What gets you through the hard days?
Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
How does your work affect your family/spouse?
Talk about what it is like to do this work while single.
What boundaries/time management skills are essential for this work?
What surprised you most about youth ministry?
Blessings on your week as you spread joy and love in your corner of the world.
Photo taken on youth ministry beach retreat where I was very cold, and
some of my youth were probably swimming in the ocean!

Take Time for Reflection (Confirmation)

Too often, we rush from one activity to the next without allowing ourselves any time to reflect on our experiences. We need to slow down and look over what we have done and then move on to the next thing. These are questions I shared at the final session of a confirmation class to give us time to reflect on what we had done together and what we would do next.

I hope you’ll use these questions in your confirmation classes or adapt them to help yourself reflect on an ending before moving on to your next thing.

What is left?

Any last minute questions?

What do you wish we had done?

What was the best part of confirmation?

What was the worst part of confirmation?

What would you change?

What books of the Bible did you read? And what did you think of them?

Say a little something about your time with mentors?

What did you think about the meeting of the church you attended?

What about your service project?

So where do we go from here? After confirmation, you have the opportunity to be a member of this congregation. We’ve talked about what you plan to do as a member. In youth group, we filled out the time and talents surveys.

What are your hopes for your church?

What do you think you’ll remember about confirmation in 10 years?

Celebrating Earth Day with Faithful Families by Traci Smith

In my work with children, youth, and families, I was always searching for great ideas and resources to share with others. One of the resources that I highly recommend is Traci’s Smith, Faithful Families. In this new book, you’ll find all the information you need to create a variety of spiritual practices for your family or for yourself. My review of the book will be shared soon, and in the meantime, I’d like to highlight one of the practices from the book.

Earth Day is coming up soon and Traci does a wonderful job of helping us combine celebrating Earth Day with God’s love of creation. (In fact, all of the practices are ways of acknowledging God’s presence and our connectedness to God and each other in our regular, daily lives).

Earth Day-Feeding the Birds begins with a brief reflection and introduction. “This practice is designed to help children honor creation every year on Earth day by reading the creation story and making a bird feeder” (56). This practice is recommended for ages 4 and up and can be completed with only pipe cleaners and O-shaped cereal. You can make this bird feeder in about 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll want to gather your family outside on Earth Day with a Bible and bird feeder making supplies. Read Genesis 1 together. Next you’ll talk about creation as a family. You can use the question provided like “What is your favorite part of creation?” (56) or use your own questions. To create the bird feeder you simply string the cereal on the pipe cleaner and bend it into the shape of a ring. Place your bird feeder on a tree and say a prayer together.

Each practice includes notes and variations to help you. The practices are written as a script so you can easily follow along or pass the book to older children or other family members to share the reading responsibility. The script includes options for everything you need to say including prayers, introductions, and questions. As you can see from the Earth Day practice, the intention of the practices in this book is to make it easy for your family to find ways to “create sacred moments at home.”

I hope you’ll spend some time out in creation on Earth Day creating sacred moments. And I hope you’ll add the book, Faithful Families,  to your family library and your church library. For more information about this book and many other resources, please visit http://www.traci-smith.com.

 

 

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of this book.

Look for Jesus This Holy Week

Look for Jesus This Holy Week
This week can be difficult for people of faith. We know what is coming next Sunday, and we look with joy to Easter. And yet, we can get so busy looking ahead to what comes next that we aren’t present in what is happening now. The stories of this week are familiar to those who have spent their whole lives in the church and less familiar to those who haven’t.
This week I encourage you to look for Jesus. Look for him in celebrations and parades and times of joy. Look for him eating with his friends and laughing. Look for him among those whose friends have abandoned them. Look for him among the dying. Look for him among the lonely. And finally, look for him among the living, in surprising places, and in familiar places. If you keep your eyes open this week, you just might see Jesus in many, many people.
Loving God, We are looking for Jesus this week. Guide our steps, so we may see him in the people we meet, in the people we ignore and overlook, and hopefully in ourselves. Change our paths and routines, Holy One, so we follow where Jesus leads. Be with us this week as it is so hard to understand and comprehend the events of this holy week. Open our eyes to see the beauty and tragedy of this time. In the name of Jesus who first walked this journey, we pray. Amen.

Scripture to Guide the Week

Psalm 20:1

This week as I was reading Scriptures with a patient I read Psalm 20:1 from the CEB. “I pray that the Lord answers you whenever you are in trouble.” This verse has stayed with me. It has been my prayer this week for all I meet. And it is my prayer for all of you reading this. “I pray that the Lord answers you whenever you are in trouble.”

What Scripture has been sustaining you this week? What word or phrase has stuck in your head and heart this week?

40 Things in 40 Days

40 Things in Lent

 

Each year in Lent I strive to give away 40 things. This practice combines my love of making lists with my love of giving things away. I have very few rules around what constitutes a “thing” I give away. One day I might clean out my t-shirt drawer and donate what I do not need. Another day I might sort through the pantry and collect a box of food to share with someone else. If the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to give away a lunch to someone who is hungry. Often I give away many things to the recycling containers too. And I love to surprise a friend with something I give away in a package I send.

I use Lent as a time to give away and get rid of stuff so I can start new in Easter. And in response to my statement I was challenged by this thought from my friend, Brad. “Great idea but the real transformation would be to not start new in Easter with replacing what you cleaned out!” And the challenging thoughts continued with Jim’s statement, “I wonder if that would affect what I give away.”

I am seeking transformation this Lenten season, and so I am going to give away 40 things in Lent with no plans to replace them when Easter comes. I’m going to seek to inspire my sense of giving over these next 40 days.

How are you observing this season of Lent?

Lenten Countdown with Post-its

Lenten Countdown with Post its

 

Those of you who know me well will know that I love post-its. I keep (at least) one pack in my purse in case of a post-it emergency. When I was doing youth and children’s ministry, I found many ways to work post-its into my lessons. Here is one example I first used a few years ago at St. Giles Presbyterian Church.

 

You will need 47 purple post-its for each person.

An Easter Sticker for each person.

Sharpie or pen to write.

 

Helpful Hints-

If you can find purple post-its that have 50 sheets, use those! I found 100 sheet purple post-its and split them in half.

I did this as a children’s message one Sunday morning and created all the countdowns myself. It took some time! If you have friends, a committee or ministry team, or a way of copying onto a package of post-its, I highly recommend doing it another way.

 

We are creating a countdown to Easter for our children/youth/families or yourself. Now the tricky part is that the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays which is why you need 47 post-its. On the first post-it, you’ll write 40. On the second post-it, you’ll write 39.

 

Here’s the countdown for you-

40, 39, 38, 37, Sunday, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, Sunday, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, Sunday, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, Sunday, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, Sunday, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, Sunday, 6, 5, 4, 3 (Maundy Thursday), 2 (Good Friday), 1, Easter!

 

After creating all these countdowns, you’ll be ready to hand them out or you could have people make their own at a Lenten Fair. I recommend giving them out the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (February 26) and having some available on Ash Wednesday (March 1) and the first Sunday of Lent (March 5).

 

If distributing them to families during the children’s message, talk with the children about the season of Lent and how they’ll observe it. Talk about how we are all preparing for Easter in these 40 days and Sundays. Since 40 days is a very long time for most children to understand, this is a visual example of how long we’ll be waiting and preparing.

If you’d like to give this a try and your Lenten plans are already done, make one for yourself and try it out this year. See if the daily act of taking one more number off the pile helps you to visualize and live into this holy season.

 

A Month of Letter Writing

A Month of Writing Letters
When I walk to my mailbox each night, I am hopeful that something fun will be inside. Somedays I open the mailbox, and it is empty. This happened just last night! When my mailbox is empty, I always assume it is a holiday that I didn’t remember. Somedays I open the mailbox and find only advertisements. On the best days, I open the mailbox and find a card or letter from a real person. It makes my day.
I love writing letters, and I love getting mail. For those two reasons, I enjoy participating in A Month of Letters Challenge. During the month of February, I sent out (at least) 23 handwritten letters or cards. As I write I think of the joy I am sending to another person. As I write I pray for the person who will receive the letter. I appreciate that in this wintry, cold month I have a goal to accomplish, and it is spreading cheer across the country.
I invite you to join me this month in writing at least one handwritten letter. Together we can share joy with others who just need a reminder that they are loved.