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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!




3 Fun Printables for Family Goal Setting

3 Fun Printables for Family Goal Setting

We’ve made it through week one of 2016!  Mine was wonderful–really.  Nothing spectacular, just good ol’ holy ordinary stuff.  I’m getting better at paying a attention to this, a year after starting a blog devoted to the subject.  I’ve never been much of a journal-er but I’ve always been a writer and communicator so it’s been really, really fun and fulfilling (and a ton of work!) to commit to a blog.  I learned so much and met amazing people (Did you know that there is an honest-to-goodness community of bloggers out there?  I only ever saw the back-bitey, snarky side of social media but I have made actual friends this way.)

I’ve also lost sight of some original goals.  My first plan for this blog was to share more practical, down-to-earth ideas for growing spiritually in the family setting.  I kicked off with the “Prayer Project,” which I envisioned would be a once a week idea for praying with kids.  That lasted a good few weeks.  First, I found I really wanted some space just to write about the spiritual life.  I think that became more important because I wasn’t doing a lot of speaking, preaching and teaching about the spiritual life.  I went from a busy schedule to settling into a new community and it took a while to get my groove back.  I also discovered that my format of trying a new prayer practice with my daughter each week and then writing about it was just too much pressure.  First, I had to find something new we wanted to try, then I had to do it, then I had to document the whole experience.  It wasn’t exactly helping me connect with God.

Now that I’m a big expert on blogging, and because I’m back in some physical places where I’m working with children and families, I want to pick that practical spirituality part back up again.  I’d like to commit to blogging twice a week, once with more “spiritual life narrative” kind of stuff and once with more “practical ideas” kind of stuff.  It’s a tentative goal, though.  I’m going to take my own advice and try it through February.  After that, we may be back to inconsistent weekly postings.  Which is, you know, exactly what you shouldn’t do if you’re trying to “GET RICH BLOGGING!” but that was never a goal.

On to the printables..

One of the best things I did last week was sit down with my family and do some goal setting.  You should know that I have said at least once a week for the past year, “Let’s set some family resolutions.”  “Let’s make a family mission statement.”  “Let’s create a family vision board.”  When I suggested that we should each create a personal mission statement last fall, my daughter said, “Your mission is to torture us.”  To which I replied, “Fine, my mission will be to torture us all into better living.”  And that’s pretty much the attitude we went into our Sunday night family meeting with.  Here’s where I get to say, “I told you so, family!”  It was actually fun.  And we all actually did some goal setting, reflecting and Deep Conversation on life.

I owe it all to this handy dandy printable from Heather at Moritz Fine Blog Design.  This sheet is fun and inviting to fill out plus it has some greatprompts.  We started by just filling out our individual sheets, then on a total whim we passed out sheets to the right.  Now we had the chance to add something to someone else’s sheet–either a memory or a goal.  Then we did it one more time so that we’d gone around to everyone.  (There’s only 3 of us.  If you try this in a bigger family, let me know how it goes.)  Now we each have a sheet with our own goals, memories and dreams plus some suggestions from others.  Please do keep your expectations realistic.  My sheet came back with a goal from my daughter that I “be nicer,” and a goal from my husband that I forgive his “stupidity” more quickly.  But with an open mind, that’s actually some good feedback.

I also like this printable from Skip to my Lou.  If I was a scrapbooker, I would absolutely have kids do this every year and keep them.  It would also be great in a classroom or a Sunday School.  I am a big believer in taking time to reflect on things and I think we don’t do enough of that as a society, much less with our children.  So this is a fun and inviting way to get kids thinking about successes, failures and the future.

Finally, there’s this one from Spark Parenting.  It’s tucked in a newsletter about family goal setting so go to the back for the printable.  (The bits of advice are great, too!)  This is pretty different from the others–it’s not as fun looking, for one thing.  It’s also a lot more goal oriented, as opposed to memory and hopes oriented.  Now that I’m on board with torturing us into better living, I’m thinking of using this one to work through one specific family goal that we set.  And also using it personally to work through one of my more intensive goals for 2016.

Next up on our family’s plan for January is a vision board.  I’ll see how that goes and let you know.


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.