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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.






3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

In an age when we have so much–so much entertainment, so much busy-ness, so much noise and bustle–it’s hard to find time for stillness. I know, because I fail at it all the time. Add in even a little bit of internal stress and we find ourselves completely ungrounded. We lose touch with the inner calm that would allow us to weather work stress, family stress or even just the evening news. And the ability to listen to that still, small voice? Completely gone.

Perhaps even more concerning is that our children are also missing out on this. Bombarded with stimulation from all angles, they lose the chance to simply sit in quiet.

Reintroducing children to stillness takes patience and skill. A no-holds-barred approach is likely to lead to rebellion and cries of “I’m booooored.” Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate prayer and quiet that provide guidance and focus. Prayer beads are one of these ways. Beads provide guidance for praying as well as tactile stimulation–great for fidgeters and people with active minds. Even better, children love making them. I’ve done prayer beads with two groups of children and adults in the past few months and all of them have enjoyed them. Here are three examples of prayer beads:

1. These beads are made up of the traditional sets of seven beads.  You can say a different prayer for each set of beads, as the folks at King of Peace suggest or use each set as a reminder to prayer for something in your life.  I like to use the sets to remind me to pray for things I’m grateful for, sorry for, people and a last set for anything else on my mind.  Here’s a version I use with kids and youth. Prayer Beads


2. Over at The Little Ways, there’s a great tutorial for making “Good Deed Beads.”  They recommend using them to keep track of good deeds you’ve done through the day.  Because the beads stay in place once you slide them, they’re a great tool for counting throughout the day.  One teacher I know uses them to teach children to take calming breaths, sliding the bead along the cord with each breath they take.

sacrifice beads2

3. And there’s this set of beads, which is easy to make and features simple prayer reminders.

Prayer beads for protestants - great for Lent:

(Pic only.  The picture links to a private blog but it was too good not to share!  What a fun way to use some special beads and it could easily double as a bracelet.


I’m linking up this week with #wholemama prompt stillness.  Katie Faulk has a great post this week on stillness and loss.  I, on the other hand, am going with a list-style post because it has been a crazy 3 weeks.  Thanksgiving travel followed by starting a new job and getting a major writing assignment–due before Christmas, naturally.  All in all, I’m thrilled by everything but thank heavens I did my Christmas shopping early!


5 Children’s Books to Encourage Mindfulness

5 Children’s Books to Encourage Mindfulness

Are any of you nearing the end of school?  You know, with the field days and the field trips and the teacher appreciation and the volunteer appreciation combined with the “I’m so ready for summer I can’t stand it?”  This is what it’s looking like at my house:FB status

I’ve got the beginnings of 7 different writing projects and a few more blog posts but none of them are readable yet.  (However, the laundry is done and we haven’t had popcorn for dinner yet this week.  Small victories.)  With all that, it seems like a good week to share some of my favorite books for working on mindfulness with children.  Mindfulness is one of those deceptively simple ideas…it is exactly what it sounds like: paying attention to what’s going on in you and around you.  Easy, yes?  Except when it’s not, as is so often the case these rushed, crazy days

This is probably why I like the idea of introducing it to children.  First, there are benefits.  Children who learn mindfulness techniques are happier and less anxious.  More than that, though, I think that with all the distractions in our lives, the sooner we can start working on inner stillness the better.  I’m a big believer in the science behind mindfulness and love that it’s being incorporated into everything from school to therapy but for me it is primarily a spiritual practice. (Take a look at Sharon Salzberg’s post for a look at benefits and limits of measuring meditation scientifically.)

No matter how much we might like the idea of teaching mindfulness to children, it can be a challenge.  “Sit still and listen to your breathing” sounds like a punishment to most children and some adults.  This is where books come in.  I use books to introduce all kinds of ideas, at home and in the classroom.  Reading a story about something is often the quickest way to engage a child’s attention and introduce a complicated idea.  From there, we can build to personal practice.

Listening WalkThis is the first book I ever used to teach mindfulness and I used it with preschoolers.  Read the book, take walks, repeat






SilenceI checked this book out from the library with high hopes.  Then my daughter said it was boring.  I’m including it anyway because I think it has huge potential, the words are simple and the illustrations are lovely.  Plus it’s hard to tell whether it was actually boring or just more boring than Selena the Sleepover Fairy, which is what she was reading when I tried to get her to read this with me.  That’s probably a lesson in choosing your timing.

Tell Me the Day BackwardsWe love this book!  It’s not mindfulness in the sit-and-breathe way but it’s definitely mindfulness in the paying-attention-to-your-life way.  It’s also been a whole new way to asking about her day.  “Tell me the day backwards” gets answers and giggles. When I say “What did you do today?” She helpfully answers, “Stuff.”


I'm in chargeBack to the nature theme.  This is a classic, for good reason.  There is so much here!  It’s wordy so take it a little at a time with young kids but it’s an amazing meditation on simple pleasures and mindful attention.




The Angry OctopusThere are talking sea animals, a mermaid and an octopus who is angry about others ruining his toys, what’s not to love?  I borrowed this on CD from the library and renewed it so much we ended up buying our own copy.  The story is actually interesting and relatable for young kids plus it introduces breathing techniques that can be used to deepen relaxation and improve focus anytime.


I’m always on the lookout for kids books that tie into Deep Ideas.  I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found some good ones! (And seriously, if you’re feeling the end of the year pressure and this post hit you more like a to-do list than an inspiration, come back to it later. Have courage…summer is around the corner!)

5 books to teach mindfulness to children
5 books to teach mindfulness to children
Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

It is finished

I was done blogging for the week.  Then my schedule worked out in such a way that I wasn’t able to attend any services on either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.  Being me, I decided to just put one together for myself and my daughter.  (Totally normal behavior, right?  Let’s tag it “prayer project” and pretend I planned it that way.)  Here are the readings I’m using: Tenebrae Home Service Mark.

Since our church building will be open from now until Easter Sunday I’m going to take my daughter there for a short time of prayer and to walk ourselves through this mini-service of shadows.  However, there’s no reason it can’t be done at home.  I’m just craving the silent emptiness of the sanctuary.

If you’re not familiar with the Tenebrae service, the idea is simple.  There’s a prayer and reading, followed by the extinguishing of a candle.  The readings can vary a bit but they trace the last day of Jesus, from the Last Supper to the crucifixion.  Normally readings are drawn from all four gospels but our congregation has been reading from Mark this Lenten season so I pulled all my readings from there for continuity.  A standard outline and explanation can be found on Ken Collins site.

As for the number of readings, that can vary.  I have seven which is actually is a mystical kind of number but in all honesty, it’s just because I have seven candles.  Many services have 8 or more readings.  So if you’re home with more or less candles, do whatcha gotta do.

I hope this reaches you if you’re in need of centering, prayer and reading today.  No matter how you’ve observed the week, remember: Easter is coming!



Finger Labyrinth: Prayer Project Weeks 10 and 13

Finger Labyrinth: Prayer Project Weeks 10 and 13

Finger Labyrinth(For more on my Prayer Project resolution, go here.)

A few weeks ago, I printed out a handy-dandy finger labyrinth from The Labyrinth Society.  If you need to keep little fingers busy and minds calm during a service or prayer vigil next week, this is a great resource!

If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they’re an ancient Christian practice of prayerful walking.  They can be in a variety of shapes but a circle or half circle that spirals inward is most common.  They can even be a simple spiral shape. Although some purists argue that a true labyrinth allows you to go out without having to turn around, I’ve seen plenty of complicated labyrinths that break this rule.  Plus, you know, whatever.  Tomaaaato, tomahto–the overall point is that they’re a path for centered walking and praying.  For some helpful tips about using a labyrinth, check out the Creative Prayer site.

I’d never experimented with smaller labyrinth versions but was intrigued by the idea of a finger labyrinth.  These printable labyrinths are meant for tracing with your finger, making them more portable (but also obviously less of a whole body experience.)

The first try at a finger labyrinth was a little discouraging.  My daughter mistook it for a maze, raced through it and declared, “I’m done!”  Pretty standard kid reaction, I guess, but it left me puzzled about what to do next.  (I would say that it’s worth taking a minute to explain the idea of a labyrinth to your kiddos.  I thought she’d remember walking one but she could have still used the reminder about what they are, how they help us pray, etc.)

Attempt Two

Last night I printed another labyrinth and sat down at the table with her.  She announced, “I remember that!” and then asked me to remind her how it was like prayer.  So I explained that it helps you get centered and calm to listen to God.  She tried it again and smiled.

Then I announced part 2.  “Tonight we’re going to do something different.  We’re going to write our prayers along the labyrinth path.”  She took out her pen and got going.  Ranger, our cat who ran away last summer was first.  He is always at the top of her prayer list.  Then prayers for a good day at school tomorrow, a happy playdate and gratitude for a friend at school.  Her prayers went only a little ways along the first path, giving me the idea to continue praying the labyrinth this way for the next week.  The writing along the curvy lines is fun and she enjoyed the finger tracing, too.  All in all, a happy re-do of an initially ho-hum experience with the labyrinth.

Hand Prayer: Prayer Project Week 4

Hand Prayer: Prayer Project Week 4

After a few weeks of prayers that were a little more intensive in the project department, I wanted to focus on a way of praying that was more “portable.” I was kind of floundering but then, while sitting in prayer pose in a yoga class, I was reminded of the hand prayer. I’m pretty sure that I’d once dismissed this as being outdated and old-fashioned but when I revisited it, I realized it’s actually a good building block. I did rework some of the language to make it work for a 7 year old but you’ll know how to adapt it for your own children. The basics of the hand prayer are that each finger reminds us to pray for a different person/thing. My daughter really got into this part. So much for it being outdated. Young children just don’t care if it’s new or not.

Hand prayer

Thumb: Reminds us to pray for the people who are closest to us, like family and friends. (It helps if you hold your hands in the classic prayer position to demonstrate this.)

Pointer finger: Reminds us to pray for the people who “point the way,” that is teachers, etc. (7 years appears to be a big age for puns so this made her giggle.)

Index finger: The tallest finger, this one reminds us to pray for our leaders.

Ring finger: This is the weakest finger. We demonstrated this by trying to snap with it. It reminds us to pray for those who are weak right now—the hurt, sick or sad.

Pinky finger: Reminds us to pray for ourselves because it’s the last finger and the smallest one; others needs should be first in our hearts. (That’s a worthwhile thought to ponder, isn’t it?)

For this first time praying this way, we traced our hands on paper and wrote the names in on the fingers.  The visual seemed like it was helpful. That being said, you could really teach (and continue to use!) this prayer anywhere.

Isabel hand prayer

Some of her prayers actually were personal for her and/or the people she named so they’re blocked out but you can see that praying for “leaders” was a hard idea. We talked about what that meant, then settled on just saying leaders without anything more specific.  Older kids will have more of an idea of specific world, city or school leaders they’d like to pray for.

I barely got this in before the end of the week but I’m happy we tried it.  I’m going to make it a goal to use it several more times this upcoming week so that it becomes more of a go-to way to pray.

Prayer Chain People: Prayer Project Week 3

Prayer Chain People: Prayer Project Week 3

I remember begging my mom to make me a people chain.  It was unbelievable to me that she’d cut out just one person then unfold the paper to reveal a whole chain of people holding hands.  I tried and tried, my little hands anxious to repeat the magic.  Somehow my chain of people always came out as separate little people.  So…the most important thing I can tell you about this project is that your person must reach all the way to the edges, which is actually profound because that’s where connection happens in real life too.

People chain

The rest is easy.

Make your chain of people.  (More detailed directions at the bottom, in case you’ve forgotten.  No judgment, you wouldn’t be the only grown-up who has forgotten this simple trick.)  Practice ahead of time if you need to but if you are ultimately doing this with children, absolutely positively do that part with them.  Magic!  It’s also a great “hook” to get their attention.

Once your chain is made, write down people for whom you’re praying this week.

Wrap up by saying something simple like, “God, bless each of these people” or praying more specifically for each person’s needs.

Prayer people

You can either hang your paper chain up as a reminder to pray for those people every day this week, OR make a new paper chain each day.  This is a great way to really focus on intercessory prayer for a while.

Go barefoot, friends.


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Gratitude Jar: Prayer Project Week 2

Gratitude Jar: Prayer Project Week 2

Have you ever taken a walk and looked around, only to gasp with amazement at the beauty around you? You know, when you suddenly feel a little disoriented because you’re sure that you have walked right into someone’s watercolor painting, a stunning landscape of crisp golden grass against frosty earth? There’s that moment when you take a sudden, audible inhale and you’re filled with deep, deep wonder and thanksgiving that this land, this amazing ordinary always-here earth exists for you. It’s that feeling that suddenly put everything in perspective. The work waiting for you at home seems manageable, or matters less. The person you’ve been struggling to forgive suddenly seems forgivable. The deep hurts and petty disappointments shrink just a little.

I used to think these moments just happened.  I thought that all of the big feelings that spiritual teachers yammer on about were like magic.  Love, awe, gratitude…they just came and went and no one quite knew why.  I wanted to grab onto those moments and possess them because I never knew when it might happen again.

Then I realized that we can learn to be grateful.  I even learned that we should learn to be grateful.  When we cultivate “an attitude of gratitude” all sorts of good things happen to us.  We’re happier and healthier.  We feel a stronger connection to others and we’re more compassionate.  We’re less likely to become depressed.  All in all, gratitude is the magic elixir for a better, longer life.  The good news is that we learn to be grateful just by practicing it.  That’s it.  We say thank you, even when we don’t quite mean it (yet).  We make time during the day to notice one thing–just one–for which we can express appreciation.  We begin our prayers by sharing with God something that just made us smile that day.

Teaching gratitude is high on my list of “to-dos for successful parenting,” but for obvious reasons, it’s really hard.  How do you teach something that’s so ephemeral that perfectly rational adults compare it to magic?  For 2015, my approach is this gratitude jar:

Finished gratitude bucket2

The idea is simple.  Each day, we’ll write down something that we’re grateful for and drop the paper into the container.  Since gratitude is a hard concept and big word, be prepared to explain it to your kids.  I’ve found it works well to describe gratitude as “something you’re happy about” or “something you liked” that day.  That’s it.  Easy, right?

I think kids get on board with something when they have a hand in creating it, so I made the creation of our gratitude jar a family project.  I didn’t have a good container on hand so I emptied this cornmeal into a mason jar in my pantry, then used the cornmeal container.

Cornmeal container

Anything you can glue paper to is fine.  Thanks to our local library’s “free magazine” corner, I had a stack of magazines ready for cutting.  I explained to my daughter that we’d be decorating our container with a collage of things we’re grateful for.  I had to explain “grateful,” and I had to be the first to cut out a picture while she watched hesitantly.  My first picture was a pair of shoes.  “I’m cutting out these shoes because I’m grateful for shoes.  Without them, my feet would be really cold!”  I said this in the exact tone of voice that one of the Wiggles might say it so I felt like a faker and an idiot but it worked.  My daughter added, “And they’d also hurt!”  After that, she was off and running on the collage project.  Cats, rocks and lots of yummy fruits made it onto her container.  As we finished our collage, she said, “I’m out of room and there’s still so much things I want to add!”  My heart melted and I knew my Wiggles act was completely worth it.

A couple lessons:

  • It might be good to cover your container with a base layer of plain paper before you start gluing the pictures.  That way you won’t have to worry about leaving a section of “nutrition information” or brand name showing through and ruining your collage.  I’d do this part ahead of time and let it dry before you start gluing with the kids.
  • With more than two kids, it gets a little crowded for everyone to work on the container.  Measure the container ahead of time and cut a piece of paper to fit around it.  Don’t glue it on yet.  Instead, have everyone collage on the paper.  When the collage is done and dry, glue the finished project to the container.
  • If you’re out of glue, mix flour and water to a thick consistency and use that instead.  Using a paintbrush to apply the glue was fun and I got major mom points–“you know how to MAKE GLUE!?”

I’m putting our gratitude jar on the dinner table for a while, at least until we get in the habit of using it daily.  I think it will be our dinner time ritual.  My big plan is to read the papers on New Year’s Eve this year.

Until next time, go barefoot.


Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

On the 12th day of Christmas…

Wooden magi figures with tealights

I had a great plan for an Epiphany prayer. I wrote the prayer, I set up candles around the nativity and I waited anxiously for it to get dark.  I designed this week’s pray time to be simple, which is nice because after the holidays we all need simple.  The poet in me also likes ending the official Christmas season (Christmas to Epiphany, otherwise known as the 12 days of Christmas) the same way we started it on Christmas Eve–telling the story with candle light flickering in the dark.

Keeping with ancient tradition that holy days start at sundown on the day before, I’d decided we’d do our Epiphany prayer at sundown on January 5.  We’d talk a little about the magi and the journey they took, then we’d light 12 candles and say a prayer with each candle. In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that part of my reason for deciding we should do this on January 5 was in the interest of keeping on schedule with this blog. I wanted to be able to share with you how it went and perhaps revise anything that was a big fat failure.

Instead, on Epiphany Eve the wind blew. This was literal wind, not figurative wind.  It blew so hard that the windows shook and outdoor furniture went skating across the patio. One small table crashed and broke into a thousand pieces that I will now have to figure out how to get out of my lawn.

More importantly, my 7 year old daughter, who has an aversion to loud noises, reacted to the whoosh of the wind with full fledged panic. I reassured her a gazillion times that she was safe. I explained that the wind was just making noise. I suggested that we make hot cocoa and look out the window so that we could watch the grass wave. I suggested we close all the curtains and not look out the window. I sat and read with her. We turned up music to drown out the noise. She shrieked. This lasted for hours. I became increasingly irritated, finally pouring a glass of wine because now my nerves were shot.

During a brief moment of calm, I told her the story about Jesus calming the storm because it fit and I believe in telling stories when they fit. Otherwise, I mostly tried not to lose it. I worked really hard not to be irritated because clearly my carefully planned Epiphany prayer was not going to happen, which meant that today’s carefully planned blog post with handy tips from experience was also not going to happen.

So here I am, starting off my year of prayer and already failing. I really thought we’d get this project rolling with something that would inspire me and leave my daughter begging for more. (“When can we pray next, mommy?”) Instead, I’m starting with a lesson in grace, humility and a reminder that if we’re going to look for God in everyday life, we’d better be willing to look in the storms. And sometimes, finding God means finding the grace to let go of your plan and just attend to the now.

Epiphany Prayer
The Prayer Project Week 1

12 Candles. I used tea lights. You could use pillar candles or tapers if you have 12 candle holders.
A taper candle for lighting the other candles
A nativity or the magi from the nativity, if you have one handy. A picture or a Christmas card featuring the magi would also work.
Copy of the Epiphany prayer

Set up your candles around your nativity, magi or picture. I arranged mine around my nativity scene. You could also put them in a long row down your dining room table, or in a circle on a coffee table or the floor.


Begin by briefly reminding your children about the role the magi play in the Christmas story. Remind them that the magi were brave and faithful people who traveled a long way to find Jesus.

Read the opening paragraph of the Epiphany prayer. Take turns reading one line at a time and lighting the 12 candles. End with a moment of silence if the kids have it in them. If they’re young, they’ll probably be ready to be done. That’s ok. Don’t stress about perfection here. It’s ok if there are little giggles or a candle doesn’t light or someone stumbles over a word. Gently redirect back to the candle lighting and keep going.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you, especially since I haven’t tried it yet. 😉 Whatever happens…

Be barefoot. You’re on holy ground.

Types of Prayer

Types of Prayer

Really analytical people love to dissect prayer.  They like to know what types of prayer there are.  They also like to know the components of each prayer.  I have no problem with that but I don’t get hung up on it.  I know that sociologists, psychologists and organization experts also enjoy dissecting the types of conversations we have and I approach that research the same way.  It’s interesting and helpful but I can’t go into every conversation I have as though there’s a formula for it.  “Today I’m going to have some generative dialogue with the neighbors.  If that goes well, then I’ll move onto reflexive dialogue.”

That being said, sometimes I do refer to certain kinds of prayer.  Here are words I might use, added to this list as I refer to them:

Centering prayer: A silent, contemplative way of praying.  In centering prayer we don’t focus so much on “talking” to God but on quieting ourselves so that we can experience God’s presence.

Intercessory prayer: Prayer made on behalf of someone else.  Praying for protection for a child, healing for a neighbor or wisdom for a spouse are all intercessory prayers.

Prayer of Supplication: Praying for ourselves.