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Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

In some churches, a Watch Night service is held on New Year’s Eve. While the service likely originated with the Moravians, it has strong roots in the Methodist tradition. However, it gained new life in Black church communities in 1862 as traditional Watch Night services gave way to a literal waiting and watching for the dawning of 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect. So strong is this association that some have associated the invention of the Watch Night service with this event.

Since we can’t attend a watch night service this year, I’m creating my own ritual for our family at home. It’s brief, because that’s just practical. While Watch Night was traditionally held to coincide with midnight, much like our secular celebrations to ring in the next year, I plan to do it shortly after nightfall. Mainly this is because I’m battling a cold and probably won’t be staying up late myself. (Who am I kidding, I’m not a late night person even when I’m operating at 100%!)

My plan is pretty simple: light a candle, read a Bible verse, do a family reflection/goal setting time and close with a prayer.

For our reading, I plan to use Isaiah 65:17.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

(Since one of my goals is to help our daughter become more familiar with the actual, physical Bible, I’ll be having her look this up herself instead of printing it out like I usually do for better flow.)

I created this printable for our reflection time but there’s a bunch of great printables out there. Last year, I compiled these. I like the opportunity to think about the things we liked about 2016 as well as looking forward to 2017. It’s a great opportunity to think about what goals we want to let go of as well as what ones we want to keep.

Here are 5 prayers I like for New Year’s Eve.

A Prayer at the End and Beginning of a Year

Lord, give me I pray:
A remembering heart for the things that have happened.
An attentive heart to what I have learned.
A forgiving heart for what has hurt.
A grateful heart for what has blessed.
A brave heart for what may be required.
An open heart to all that may come.
A trusting heart to go forth with You.
A loving heart for You and all your creation.
A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.
A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will
– Leighton Ford

 A Prayer for the New Year

God, thank you for a new year. May everyone in our family be willing to begin anew with a clean slate. We know that you are always ready to forgive us. Help us to be willing to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.

As we begin a new year, remind us of our truest values and our deepest desires. Help us to live in the goodness that comes from doing what you want us to do. Help us to put aside anxiety about the future and the past, so that we might live in peace with you now, one day at a time.

Looking Forward 

In this time we turn our thoughts to how we can
touch and be touched,
love and be loved,
forgive and be forgiven,
heal and be healed,
so that the goodness of our lives is a shared blessing.

-Marta M. Flanagan

For Making All Things New

Lord, You make all things new You bring hope alive in our hearts And cause our Spirits to be born again.

Thank you for this new year For all the potential it holds. Come and kindle in us A mighty flame So that in our time, many will see the wonders of God And live forever to praise Your glorious name.

A Prayer for the New Year from Marianne Williamson

Dear God,
May my life be of use to You this year.
May my talents and intelligence
help heal the world.
May I remember how much I have
by remembering how much I have to give.
May I not be tempted by smaller things
but serve my larger mission of forgiveness and love.
Thus shall I be lifted, God,
and know joy this coming year and beyond.
Bless me and work through me
to bless the entire world.

 

Thanks for reading along in 2016 and cheers to a new year!

 


 

 

Raising World Changers

Raising World Changers

My daughter “got in trouble” at school a couple months ago. “Got in trouble” is in quotes because, like all sensitive children, her perception of trouble is a far cry from any actual trouble. Still, the recess teacher did talk to her and that counts in her book.

The problem happened during a game of 4-square. There was a disagreement over whether the ball was in or out of bounds. Eventually the disagreement escalated into a full-blown argument and my daughter weighed in on the side of the underdog, a fellow new-kid in school who was now in tears over being yelled at by the others.

By the time the teacher got involved, both girls were crying. When my daughter relayed this part of the story, the hurt and outrage was still fresh in her voice. What really got to her wasn’t the disagreement about the game or the boundaries, it was the response of the teacher. In a reasonable effort to calm down two crying girls, the teacher said to them, “This isn’t a big problem, just let it go.”

But bless her heart, in my daughter’s eyes this was a big problem. Someone had been treated unfairly. “She’s new, mom! And no one would listen to her. They’re all friends already so they just believed what they wanted to believe.”

Several weeks ago, a fellow parent asked me how we’re supposed to raise children in a world like ours. With acts of violence splattered all over the news and fear running rampant, what can we do to keep our children safe?

I hear this question with a mother’s heart. My first instinct is to say, “Lock them up in a safe-house.” And when that turns out to be impractical, maybe we could let them out on occasion, with full-body armor and clear instructions to stay away from any trouble.

Of course this isn’t the response of my best self. This is the voice of my fearful self, worried about my child. This is the part of me that wakes up at 3 a.m. to worry about how I’ll keep her safe when all I see is danger. But that part of me forgets that there’s a whole world of children out there and every one of them is precious.

This is why the real secret to raising children in today’s world isn’t to create safety, it’s to build courage.

The world is full of unfairness. It’s full of people banding together against the powerless, watching out for their own interests. But it’s also full of people who are standing together to create a new power structure. It’s full of people who are willing to cry over injustices that aren’t their own, and to demand that people listen when they might not want to otherwise.

Raise those people.

When my daughter told me this story, I just hugged her and assured her that I knew the teacher hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings. “Tomorrow will be a better day,” I said.

What I wish I’d added was this: you did the right thing. Standing up for someone who is hurting is the best way to be human. Sometimes people won’t listen. But sometimes they will. That’s what makes it worth it.”

This is how we raise children in a world like ours: we do it bravely.

 

 

The One Thing All Kids Need to Hear

The One Thing All Kids Need to Hear

I was in fifth grade the year I discovered that girls were supposed to be squeamish. This was a painful and puzzling thing to find out. Up until then, girls and boys mostly played together. The cool girls were the ones who could keep up with the boys. They were athletic and daring. They rode horses and chased cows, had beat up jeans and practical t-shirts. The rules of our universe were that everyone competed to be bravest and toughest.

                Until one day, all the rules changed.

                It happened like this:

                After school, we were all waiting for our respective school buses when one of the boys found a garter snake. A garter snake! We’d all been catching garter snakes for years—and really, they’d sort of lost their appeal in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade. But this was a whole year later and when one of the boys advanced on the girls, holding the snake out at arm’s length, the rest of the girls knew to squeal and run, acting for all the world like the snake was a dangerous weapon instead of 5 inches of harmlessness.

                I didn’t know the new rules so I failed to squeal and run, a social mistake that it took me weeks to recover from. I was left out while all of the others repeated versions of this game—brave boys finding overrated items in nature and torturing frightened girls, only to be rewarded with giggles once the threat had passed.  Eventually, though, I learned to shriek and run along with all of the others, convincing myself that I was so grossed out by grasshoppers and spiders that I’d lost my senses.

                The message was reinforced in subtle but life-altering ways over the next few years. Girls began to list “shopping” as one of their hobbies. We giggled about how hard math is , asked boys to help us in science and dreamt about when we’d be allowed to wear make-up.

                 Middle school passed in a haze of uncertainty. It was impossible to pin down my identity when the rules kept changing so quickly. Being smart wasn’t cool. Being athletic was—but only if you were daintily athletic, and never quite as good as the boys. The lines we had to walk were more like tripwires, always shifting just as we began to figure them out.

                I probably would have stayed adrift well into high school except for a speech given to us by an 8th grade teacher. On the last day of school he gave the entire class a lecture about the importance of staying true to ourselves in high school. It was pretty standard stuff—remember your values, don’t get too caught up in the search for popularity, stay away from alcohol—except that he added a crucial element, just for the girls.

                “Ladies, do not dumb yourselves down just to fit some stereotype. I have seen the most amazing, talented 8th grade women go off to high school and when I see them later, they’ve become empty-brained giggling idiots. Do not do this. It’s not worth it. That’s what you think people want from you but it’s not true. The people who matter want you to be your best selves, not some dumbed-down stereo-type.”

                In that moment, something clicked. All of a sudden, I understand what had been happening. For the past 3 years, we’d all been participating in the gender-ification of our brains and interests. Not only did I understand but my puzzlement and frustration suddenly made sense. Someone had named what I didn’t have the wisdom to recognize. I was being pushed to embody someone else’s idea of who I should be.

Gender roles are complex precisely because they develop in this way. They are insidious, seeping into our identities at a time when we’re most vulnerable. Like racial biases, gender biases need to be called out. As researcher Marianne Cooper says, “We have different expectations for boys and girls, and for men and women, and those different expectations lead us to think that different goals are appropriate for them.”

But as one wise teacher pointed out, the people who really matter want kids to be their best selves, not some dumbed-down stereo-type.

                This is what kids today need, as much as they needed it 10, 20, 60 years ago. They need more people to name for them the truths that they can’t yet name for themselves. They need wiser, braver, kinder adults to point out that gender stereotypes are still shaping lives, for men and women. Because sometimes, simply naming the game is enough to kick start a change.

 

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Violence

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Violence

Here we are again, with another weekend news cycle focused on stories of violence and questions about domestic terrorism. Yesterday, a friend cried, “Are we safe anywhere anymore?” Another said, “How am I supposed to raise children in a world like this?” And several others asked, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” I’m still pondering the first two questions, which are very hard and hurt the heart, but I have some thoughts about the third. 

Here are five principles I use to guide conversations with kids about violence:

  1. Limit exposure to media stories about acts of violence. The 24 hour TV news cycle and constant access to information online means that we’re bombarded with news of tragedy here and around the world. This can be overwhelming even for adults. “I feel like I’m on edge all the time,” a parent said recently. “I want to be informed but I get anxious every time I turn on the news. Even worse, I find that I’m scared of everyday situations, like going to a movie theater or attending a concert, because of shootings that have happened.”

          Children and teens can have the same reaction. The best way to protect them is by not letting them see news stories about violence. Kids in early elementary school and younger should have very limited access to media coverage. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Restaurants, airports and even stores often have TVs showing 24 hour news shows like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Still, any steps that are taken to reduce exposure are helpful for preventing overload. For tweens and teens, explain the symptoms of media overload and ask them to help you set times when access to phones, TV and computers isn’t allowed. This “unplugged” time is crucial for our brains to process information and our souls to regain balance in uncertain times. 

          2. Find out what your child or teen knows. Even when families take steps to reduce media exposure, kids hear about tragic events from other sources. If you’re concerned about a particular event, start by asking your child what they know about it. For example, “There was some hard news about a shooting in Chicago, did you hear about that?”

          Once you know how much they’ve heard, you can decide how much to share yourself. Trust yourself. You know your child, their maturity level and how much they need to know. Leave plenty of room for them to talk at their own pace. They may not have much to say at first but you’re laying the foundation for them to be able to talk to you in the future.

         3. Put news stories in perspective. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, violence is not the norm. Remind your child (and yourself) that acts of hatred and violence are the exception. That’s why they make the news. As tragic and awful as it is when even one act of violence occurs, we can remember that most people are kind and the world is mostly safe.

         4. Talk about the ways you keep your family safe. Security is a primary need for both children and adults. However, children are dependent on the adults around them to provide that safety. If kids are becoming fearful of violence, help them by explaining the steps that you take to keep them safe and telling them where they can turn to for help if they need it. Show them how you lock the doors each night, how you only take them to safe places and that you only leave them with people you trust. Let them know who the safe people in their lives are. “If you ever feel scared at school, you can tell your teacher.” For older kids and teens, this may also mean identifying a safe neighbor they can turn to. “If you need help and I’m not home, you can always go to the neighbor’s house or call grandma.”  

         5. Provide a spiritual anchor. When I was growing up, my family said the Prayer for Protection and the Lord’s Prayer each night before bed. This practice has stuck with me. Even as an adult, the Prayer for Protection is the prayer I turn to when I’m anxious. Several friends of mine rely on Psalm 23 or another inspiring word of scripture. This is the gift of tradition: it gives us the  words to say when we’re too scared or lonely to say them ourselves. The key is to build in a spiritual practice before it’s needed. In a moment of fear, we need something comforting and  familiar to turn to. The good news is that this is as simple as adding a prayer, reading or spiritual song to your bedtime routine. As you repeat this throughout the years, your children will grow up with a practice that can guide them through life’s hard times.

                            Prayer for Protection:

                            The light of God surrounds us;
                            The love of God enfolds us;
                            The power of God protects us;
                            The presence of God watches over us;
                            Wherever we are, God is!

The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

My daughter was four years old the year our church started doing a Blessing of the Bikes. I wrestled her pink and black bike into the back of my silver Toyota Camry, twisting the handlebars and tires into just the right shape until I could slam the trunk closed. My own mountain bike had been recently purchased. It took an equal amount of contortion—and considerably more upper body strength—to load it onto my also-new bike rack.

As I loaded the car, my mind was also working overtime. I wasn’t sure what to think about this whole business of blessing bikes. In the Bible, there are countless examples of people being blessed. Sometimes directly from God, sometimes mediated by a person. In Deuteronomy 28, the people are promised a blessing for obedience:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

Blessings, here, are a transaction. If you do what God says, you’ll have riches, children and land, as the passage goes on to describe.

In an earlier, passage, the people themselves are given the power to bless and curse:

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.
(Deut. 11:29)

And of course we have the favorite story of Jesus blessing the children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.” (Mark 10:13, also Matt. 19:14 and Luke 18:15)

The examples go on and on but from my rational, modern perspective the whole idea is a little murky.

Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26

In the ancient tradition represented in the Bible, it’s clear that words have power. God speaks and the world is created. The first people are given stewardship over the earth, represented by their command to name the animals. Jesus himself is called the Word made flesh. In that context, blessing (and cursing) make sense. By speaking over something, we are creating a future for it. The words themselves bring our intention alive.

In today’s context, that sounds an awful lot like magic. The right words, said at the right time, make something happen. Abracadabra and all that.

This was why, when my mother-in-law laughingly asked whether the blessing had “worked,” I had no answer. What standard are we supposed to measure these simple words by? Were we now safer as we tooled around the cul de sac? More Christian? Were are bikes now holy modes of transportation? I suspect the answer is “no.”

So I’m a little bit self-conscious as I admit that I’m strangely awed by the act of blessing. In a worship service, my favorite part has always been the benediction. That moment when the minister’s hands go up and the people are sent out in God’s power—it makes my spine tingle, whether I’m on the giving or receiving end of the blessing.

It turns out that there is power in words. When we bless one another, we aren’t changing our fate. We’re claiming our reality. The goal isn’t to say the right words and therefore make something holy. “Abracadabra, this bike is now holy!” That puts too much pressure on the right words and actions of the one giving the blessing. No, the point of blessing is to claim—out loud and with witnesses—that even the most mundane parts of our lives can be sacred. It is to remind ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and everything in it should be put to God’s purpose.

Giving a blessing reminds ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and… Click To Tweet

My bike no longer bears the ribbon we tied on our handlebars that morning. It quickly became tattered and dirty, then fell off after a couple seasons. But my heart still holds the reminder that each morning bike ride is an act of faith. Or that each family ride to the ice cream shop is love lived out in holy community.

So this year I’m picking up the mantle. We’re doing a blessing of the backpacks at church before school starts this year. I’m also thinking about doing more blessings here at home, although I’m not quite sure how that will look. And I’d be curious to hear from any of you: what’s your experience of blessing and being blessed? Is it part of your family life? Your church experience?

3 Fun Resources for Family Lent

3 Fun Resources for Family Lent

 

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to seasons of the year.  I embrace iced tea in the summer, pumpkin spice everything in the fall and insist on celebrating Thanksgiving before leaping into Christmas.  So no surprise, I’m also into the seasons of the church year.  We’ll be eating pancakes for dinner tomorrow on Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras and will do something to observe the season of Lent for the next 40ish days.  Still, the whole Lent-as-time-to-berate-oneself doesn’t sit easily with me.  Lent is a time to spiritually regroup and refocus, which means it can be quiet, loud, fun or somber depending on where you are in your spiritual journey.  For kids, a mix is usually called for.  With that in mind, here are 3 resources for celebrating Lent as a family.  Two are kid-centric, the last has an adult and kid version.  Enjoy!

  1. You know those times when you want to create something and then it’s dropped into your lap fully formed?  This booklet from Creative Children’s ministry is just like that.  Yay internet! This is a great resource for families, with one activity to do each week of Lent.  It’s also free, so bonus!

2. There’s also this one, called Illustrated Lent, a Playful Lenten Resource for Families, which you have to buy but it looks great!  Play, Eat, Grow has a helpful review.  The family version is $10.00.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.03.33 PM

3. And for grown-ups, I’m super excited about this free Growing a Rule of Life workbook and daily videos from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.  There’s a kid version and an adult version of the workbook, plus videos throughout Lent to inspire you.  I’ve been following SSJE since Lent last year and their devotionals, sermons and seasonal stuff is amazing.  Plus, you know me, I’m a big fan of workbooks that help you straighten out your life live more intentionally.

 

 

 

 

 

If You’re Parenting a Perfectionist

If You’re Parenting a Perfectionist

I’m raising a perfectionist.  Not on purpose, just because sometimes kids are born with certain personality traits and parents are left to embrace, change or otherwise deal with them.

Perfectionism, like busy-ness, is one of those idealized traits in our world.  We confuse them both with other, more worthwhile, ways of measuring our value.  Until well into adulthood, I honestly thought that being a perfectionist was a good thing.  “I’m a perfectionist,” was just another way of saying, “I like to do well.”

Let’s get that straight first: perfectionism isn’t about whether you want to do well.  Having passion for one’s work is not the same is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is the gnawing sense that your worth depends on your work.  Passion is being engaged in the world and looking for ways to use your gifts. 

Perfectionism

For the perfectionist, failure is a hard, hard business.  Now obviously, no one enjoys failing.  It’s really about what happens afterwards.  For parents, raising a kid who can recover from failure should be a top priority: 

  • Kids who can cope with failure are more likely to try new things.
  • Trying new things is a crucial part of learning.
  • Distinguishing between “who I am” and “what I can do” is the only way to happiness.
  • Trusting that others will love us, even when we mess up, is a journey of faith.

Last week, in a burst of new year self-improvement, I sat my family down at the kitchen table and asked them to fill out goal sheets for the new year.  Then we passed our sheets around, letting each person fill in some goals for everyone else.  For my daughter, I wrote, “Fail on a test.”

“WHAT!?” She looked incredulous as she read it.  “WHY WOULD I WANT TO DO THAT?”  Seriously.  The look of scorn and disbelief could only be rivaled by a 13 year old.

“Because you’re really good at a lot of things.  And you work really hard on a lot of other things until you get better.  But messing up on something makes you feel like a bad person.  So I think you should mess up on something, on purpose, just to see what happens.”  My husband chimed in with zenlike co-parenting skills. “You know, that’s the hardest thing for me to teach people at work.  I work hard to teach grown-ups how to fail.  It would be great to master it when you’re young.”

I know.  This plan is not perfect:

1) She won’t really do it.    

2) It’s not technically a real failure if you actively try to fail.  That’s actually a success. 

Still, it introduced a topic of conversation that was deeper than the cursory “I love you even if you mess up” talk.  It allowed us to point out that failure could be part of what you love about somebody, not just something you tolerate in them. 

We all talk a lot about loving people “even when” they fail.  But what if more of us talked about loving people “because” they failed?  It would, after all, be another way of saying, “I love you because you’re human and because you’re God’s.”  It would be a step along the path to real, genuine unconditional love. 

Of course, this is all pretty easy when things are low stakes.  I have very little invested in my daughter’s second grade test scores.  I couldn’t care less about one measly score.  But I wonder about taking things to the next logical step.  Could I really, truly, love someone because they failed?  Could I look at the people who have let me down in their human, fallible way and love them because they’d even tried?  Or love them simply because they’d even let me into their life enough so that their failures were noticeable?

I don’t know.  That’s a tall order.  But I’m going to add that to my list of goals for the year.  “Learn to love people because they fail.”  Sounds like we all have a year of big lessons.