Tag Archives: Children’s Spirituality

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. And the Children…

It’s the first time there’s been no room for me to sit on the steps with the children as they gather to hear me read.

I look around, at all those little ones peering up at me, and somehow, it feels totally appropriate to kneel, in front of them, under the cross and flame. You’d think, with all those children, I’d be in a huge United Methodist church, perhaps in the big city of Grand Rapids. But I’m not… Continue reading

Where’s God?

So my husband said something from the pulpit that bothered me. Don’t get me wrong…. his sermons are great (okay, I’m a little biased).

He was talking about where we find God and how, with the advent of Facebook, we’re able to share our precious God-given moments with the world.

Our sweet granddaughter in Portland, Oregon, just started walking. He said. She’s adorable! Her parents post pictures all the time, and when I look at her, I think I see the face of God.

Of course he does. So do I. Just look at her….who couldn’t see God in those blue eyes and that big, toothy smile?

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But last week on Facebook, I saw another child’s face.  I didn’t want to see it. (That’s the trouble with Facebook…you end up seeing things you never wanted to).

It wasn’t my sweet smiling granddaughter. It was the boy everyone’s talking about, the boy everyone’s writing blog posts about, the Syrian boy covered in dust and blood, sitting motionless with haunting eyes. The boy who didn’t look like a boy at all.

When I first saw that image as I scrolled through my news feed, I just quickly zoomed right along. What on earth was that? I thought, in shock. Was that a doll? That couldn’t possibly have been real. I pushed it to the back of my mind. I didn’t want my thoughts filled with horror like that, I didn’t want my mind seeing those images. I didn’t want my nice, joy-filled day interrupted like that. So I didn’t even read the headline.

His name is Omran. The image of him, bloodied and covered with dust, sitting silently in an ambulance awaiting help, is another stark reminder of the toll of the war in Syria.

Whatever that was, it must be someone’s idea of a sick joke. I thought, and continued scrolling until I came to my smiling granddaughter again.

But it wasn’t a joke was it? It was real. This little boy is real! His name is Omran Daqneesh. He was pulled out from under the rubble of his home in Syria. He is five years old, the same age as my eldest grandson, the one who just moved to a beautiful new neighborhood surrounded by trees where he rides his bike with his brother.

Omran’s brother died yesterday from his injuries.

And even though I’m a strong believer I just can’t help asking….. where’s God in all of that?

Why do some children die and some children live?

Why is it that my grandchildren can ride their bikes in safety while other children are blown to bits in Syria?

It’s so easy for me to see God in the happy, smiling face of my granddaughter, but where’s God in the haunted face of Omran?

If I believe that God is in every child, (which I do), then God can’t just be in the face of the happy – God has to be in the face of the hopeless, and the haunted, and the hurt. God IS there… in the face of little Omran.

God is there, crying in silent agony for what was meant to be a beautiful world where babies die and children are bombed.

I don’t know the answers to all my questions. But I do know that I can help.

I don’t understand God. But I understand my responsibility.

I cannot turn away. I am called, ALL believers are called, to be part of the healing in whatever way they can.

Only healing can take away the hurt.

*****

Sign this British PETITION to help 300 refugee children who are stranded in Calais.

Sign the petition or donate to the WHITE HELMETS.

 

Why Your Church Needs to Celebrate Children’s Sabbath

She could have been at home, watching cartoons or playing outside.

She could have been out shopping with her mama, or enjoying a pancake breakfast in the restaurant on this Sunday morning.

But instead, she’s here, this little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow. She’s here, breaking the bread, and smiling, holding it out at arm’s length well before we’ve even reached the altar, as if it’s really important, as if to say:

Come and get this! It’s just for you! Its special!

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And it was.

In fact, my whole morning was special.

It was Children’s Sunday in this United Methodist Church, a special day set aside to celebrate the children in our midst.

Everything about this service said: We love children. Children are special to us.

From the bulletin cover,

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to the Call to Worship…

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From the prayers of blessing,

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to the benediction…

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everything involved children, and told them, over and over again:

You’re important here.

And so it’s not really surprising is it, that the little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow should be here at all? Because isn’t this the place where she knows she’s welcomed, and loved, and needed, and important?

I’m watching this little child.

I notice how she crouches down to one who is smaller than her.

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I see how she fixes her eyes on one who is older than her.

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And when it’s my turn, she gives me the biggest smile and tears off the biggest piece of bread, and she tells me, quite confidently and with no doubt in her voice:

 Jesus loves you.

I don’t know how many people received communion from this little girl.. but she managed to make me feel like I was the only one who mattered that morning.

I don’t know how she did that.

But she did.

No wonder that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

***********

Eight easy ideas to include in Children’s Sabbath:

  1. Have a child design the bulletin.
  2. Use the Call to Worship included in this post.
  3. Have children read the scripture.
  4. Invite them to extend their hands during prayers of blessing.
  5. Have children lead the benediction, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ in sign language.
  6. Let children serve communion.
  7. Decorate the altar with balloons and toys.
  8. Before the service begins, hand musical instruments out to every child and invite them to play along whenever music is heard.

My thanks to Pastors Mary Ivanov and Erin Fitzgerald for these wonderful ideas, and for reminding me in powerful ways to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.

Who Knows?

On a snowy afternoon in a little Michigan town, a blue-eyed three-year old with wavy hair opened an early Valentine’s day gift from his grandma.

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She took photos of him as he snuggled with his mom to read his new book.

He lifted the flap to read his love letter from God, and his little face just lit up when he saw his own name written inside. IMG_20160122_174607And who knows how God is at work in young hearts and minds as they open those books, and read their letters, and hear God call their very own name?

Who knew that when God called the name of Moses from within the flames of a burning bush, an entire nation would be rescued?

Who knew that when God called the name of Samuel in the quietness of the temple, that little boy would grow up to anoint kings?

Who knew that when God called the name of Mary in the stillness of a Jerusalem morning, when all hope was gone, hope would be restored to the world?

Who knows when God calls the name of Austin through the letters of a little book, what that young boy will do?

Who knows?

Visit the link below to read 50 ways for your family to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and enter the giveaway to win your own copy of the little book that Austin holds.

Valentines Traditions & Little Love Letters from God!

Blog Stop #2!

How exciting for me to participate in a tour for the release of Little Love Letters from God from the comfort of my own home!

Little Love Letters Cover

This week’s stop in the virtual world is with Jenn, a homeschooling mom of eight! (Did you know that I’m one of eight too?)

Jenn blogs at Treasuring Life’s Blessingswhere she agreed to post a review of the book. Be sure to stop by to read the wonderful review and enter the book giveaway too!

Jenn started writing during one of the darkest times of her life, when she found out that her baby son was going to die. Jenn and her family held little Noah for just nine precious hours. So it’s really not surprising that her favorite story in the book would be this one…..

Inside Noah's Ark

I know that Jenn has already claimed the wonderful words contained in God’s love letter for that story, which say:

Just like I carried Noah, I will carry YOU too.   With All My Love, God.

No matter how long or short our days, God carries each one of us, in those big strong arms that hold us tight, even when we don’t know it.

Sam and the Red Balloon

It’s Sunday morning, bright and early. I’m excited to be here, in Portland, Oregon, to meet my wonderful new granddaughter and spend time with her big brother.

Sam is not yet two and a half. He is utterly adorable, and utterly sweet. I didn’t realize quite how sweet he really is until I got to spend seven precious days with him.

Sam in tree

We arrive at Montavilla United Methodist Church and jump out of the car. It’s cold and rainy in Portland this morning. We pull our coats up around our ears, put our heads down and get ready to scurry inside.

But Sam has seen something. He pulls on my hand, makes a squealing sound and points upward. He can’t quite say airplane yet, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s seen.

We all turn to gaze upwards, and we see a tiny red balloon, floating far, far away, being carried on the wind through Portland’s cloudy skies. It’s only there for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Wow Sam! We say. Good job! You saw a balloon!

And that’s it. That’s my little story. Except I think there’s so much more to it than that. I’ve thought a lot about that tiny red balloon since Sam saw it, less that a week ago. And I got to thinking:

Why did he see that balloon?

How did he see that balloon?

He was the smallest person there. My husband is over six feet tall, my sons are taller still. But Sam is only two feet tall. You could argue that us grown ups were closer to the balloon, and therefore, shouldn’t we have been the ones to see it?

But we didn’t. Sam did.

And the only possible explanation, the only possible reason, is that he was the one looking up. And why would he be doing that, if he wasn’t expecting to see something… something surprising, and wonderful?

And that makes me think about God too.

We grown ups, we think we’re the ones closer to God. We think we’re the ones who know more, who read the Bible, who know how to pray, who study the scriptures.

But maybe, just maybe, our children are closer to God….because they are the ones looking up, the ones expecting to see God, the ones knowing that God will show up in surprising and wonderful ways.

Like little Sam, who looked up one Sunday morning and saw that tiny red balloon, as it floated across Portland’s cloudy skies and far, far away.

Why You Might Want to Listen to that Little Voice that Prompts You to Action…

On a crisp autumn morning one year ago, I drove to Kalamazoo, a little town in Michigan, on my way to present a workshop at a Children’s Ministry event. Nestled in the back of my car were two boxes holding treasure:  hot, off-the-press copies of my newly published children’s book, Love Letters from God.

box of books!

That autumn day would be the first time I would sell my book; the first time I would read a story out loud to an audience; the first time I would sign the inside cover; the first time I would meet Jess.

She was young, and quiet. We didn’t get to talk much. She was in her second year of children’s ministry. She listened intently. She made notes. She asked questions. And she bought a book.

She would tell me, later, that she didn’t have much money that day. But a little voice inside whispered that she should buy a book anyway.

Who is it for? I asked, as I always do when I sign the book.

Jess didn’t know. Perhaps she would give it to a niece, or perhaps she might use it in her children’s ministry. She left, with the book tucked under her arm. Inscribed on the inside cover, I had written the words: May the one who turns these pages be blessed.

And the rest of the story belongs to her….

Well later that day, my husband and I had a sweet surprise. We had been trying to get pregnant for a few months, waiting on the Lord’s timing… I was a few days late – so off to the store I went (to buy another pregnancy test.) Sure enough, the Lord’s timing had arrived. We were almost in disbelief. To be honest, my husband didn’t believe me right away. We were so excited!!!

Lo and behold, God had wanted me to purchase “Love Letters from God’ for my very own son, Josiah!  What’s so cool is that this book walked with us through our entire pregnancy. Mr. Josiah and I read the stories together over the next 9 months as we waited to meet each other. I would flip through the pages, usually reading one or two stories at a time. We would talk, and pray together – I’d fill in the blanks with “my precious child.” I’d describe to him the pictures on the pages (that’s the Art Teacher in me)…

I remember one specific day, maybe 21 weeks in – I read “The Little Boy Who Listened.” We had just found out we were having a son and we couldn’t for the life of us decide on a name… I’d ask my little man what he wanted to be called, I pleaded with the Lord to give us the perfect name… My husband and I just couldn’t decide. It seemed that the pressure was too great!  I read this story about 3 times, all in a row. Something about it stood out to me. It was the last paragraph:

“What a wonderful night for Samuel!” It read. “God knew his name. As the candles flickered and the shadows danced, a happy little Samuel closed his eyes and finally fell asleep.”

It was that paragraph that brought peace to my heart — God knew my son’s name, just as he had known Samuel’s name! I opened my bible and highlighted Isaiah 43:1: “I will send for you by name. You belong to me.” My son, my Josiah, was already named by my Father in heaven, and soon, very soon, I would get to meet him and know his name too!

Called by Name

My husband ended up naming our son, Josiah Thomas, just moments before he entered this world. He said God had just put it on his heart! It was, and is, the most perfect name for our little one.

Here we are, 11 months later, and my little man can just start to see. We flip through the colorful pages of the book, and talk about the love that God has for him, and for me, and for our friends and family! It’s something very sweet. “Love Letters from God,” was just as much a gift for me, as it was to my son!

The inside cover of my book is signed by Glenys: “May the one who turns these pages be blessed.” We were blessed. We are blessed, by the truth on these pages, and with a beautiful son!

baby Josiah

Jess & Josiah

Why a Dead Flower Pod Might be Better For Our Kids than an iPod….

So his little four year old legs are pedaling fast, and his yellow helmet leads the way. I’m almost running with the stroller, trying to keep up. When suddenly, my grandson stops pedaling and jumps down from his bike. He has seen something that interests him, something so ordinary that most would pass by without a second glance. But not him.

He’s mesmerized by a dying flower garden.

Look at this Grandma! He shouts in excitement.

He’s holding a brown stem, with a fat pod at the top. It’s just a dead flower head. Most would think that all its beauty has long since faded. But he knows something different. He knows that inside that pod, a secret is hidden. Something is waiting in there. And no one knows how many seeds it contains. No one knows what color they are.

We stop. Because this is the beauty of being a grandma: we have time.

He collects. Lots.

Back at home, we spill the pods onto the table, where he proceeds to prise open each one, slowly and carefully. He will not miss a single seed. They all go into his bag.

Xander opening seeds

His favorite ones are those that are perfectly black and round, like teeny tiny bouncy balls. And when one accidentally rolls on to the floor, he’s on his little hands and knees, searching for it like it’s missing treasure. He doesn’t stop until he finds it.

And while the world bombards our children with screens, and sounds; with toys that light up, and buzz and flash in their efforts to entertain, I get to share my days with one who is delighted by simple seeds, and mushrooms, and the sound of cicadas in the trees.

And I’m reminded of a dark summer’s night, long ago, when the evening sky was pierced with a zillion twinkling lights, and how that same little boy took my hand in his and said, in his wonderful three year-old way:

Grandma, look at the stars. Aren’t they marvelous?

And these days, these moments, these precious times, they are marvelous to me.

How are you fostering a sense of wonder in your children, your grandchildren, or your children’s ministry?

What Happens When You Let God Sit in the Teacher’s Chair, Instead of You…

So I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair at Central Michigan University.

It’s my first time here- at Mission u, an annual event sponsored by United Methodist Women, where people come together to explore the mission of the church in the current world context. My role is to teach the children about Latin America.

They’ve already discovered and labeled the Amazon River, the rainforest, and the mountains of Peru. They know all about the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas.

Latin America map

We’ve started to talk, a little, about how some of the children there have no homes, and no toys; how some have to work all day, and don’t get to play.

And now it’s time for the Bible Story. The children lie on colorful rugs at my feet.

Close your eyes as I read. I tell them. See the pictures in your mind.

I’m using a book authored by Barbara Bruce, a veteran Christian Educator who has written extensively about learning styles. The story we share is one of my favorites. It takes place on the hillsides of Lake Galilee when the disciples, in an effort to protect Jesus, try to send the children away.

So my little ones close their eyes. And lie. Their feet, adorned with the Caribbean jewelry we made, are still.

Take three deep breaths. See a hillside with many people. See Jesus sitting on the ground talking to the people….what does he look like? What does his voice sound like? See mothers come through the crowd with their children…how old are they? Are they quiet or noisy? Are they boys or girls?

Now hear some men yelling at the children to go away….how do the children look now?  Are they frightened?

Now hear Jesus say ‘Let the children come to me; do not stop them because the kingdom belongs to such as these.’

Now see Jesus take all the children in his arms, hug them, and bless them. How do the children look now? How do the men look now? How does Jesus look now?

When you are ready, open your eyes, and slowly come back to the room.

I barely finish talking when up jumps one of our youngest. He cannot contain himself.

I saw the WHOLE thing! He says excitedly. I saw every page!

Well tell us. I say, laughing.

Well I saw all these children, playing on the hillside……in Peru.

I’m confused. This is the moment when, as a teacher, you feel like a failure. This little guy is mixed up. The story didn’t take place in Peru. The story took place in Galilee. But I don’t say anything. (Thank goodness.) I just nod, and wonder where he’s going with it.

And so all these children just wanted to have fun in Peru. And all of a sudden, these men said  ‘you can’t play here. You can’t have fun here. Go away.’

And then Jesus comes.

Jesus comes and he says ‘no, that’s not right. The children can stay here. I want them to be here…because children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play. And Jesus hugs them. And that’s it. That’s the whole thing.

It’s quiet in the room. For a moment, I don’t say anything. The other children listening- they don’t say anything either. I look at my co-teacher as sunlight streams in through the window and we shake our heads in wonder…. at this eight year old boy, who has just demonstrated perfectly the upside-down kingdom of God, where a child becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the learner.

I am the one who is mixed up!

Don’t I know by now that Jesus is meant to be lifted out from the pages of the bible and moved from the hillsides of Galilee to the mountains of Peru? That Jesus belongs, not simply in a story, but in the streets of Haiti, and in the marketplaces of Mexico, and in the fields of Guatemala, where he yearns to welcome every child who comes to him?

‘Children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play.’

I’m back at home now, thinking about what I learned from an eight year old boy in the last few days. And I just can’t help but wonder…

When Jesus called the little children to him, was it really so that he could bless them, or instead, was it so they could bless him?

Caribbean Foot Jewelry

What a Wonderful Day…

Can we get ice-cream now Grandma? comes the four-year old’s plea.

I’m not sure about that. He is already full of bagel and cream cheese and jam. But as I’m trying to decide whether this is a good idea or not, he has already begun to pedal those little legs towards the ice-cream parlor. Fast. And so I turn the stroller towards it too.

We sit in the shade of a big maple tree with our tubs of soft vanilla ice-cream covered with multi-colored sprinkles. There are three pretty flower baskets swinging overhead. Their petunias dance in pink, and purple, and red. It’s my grandson who points them out.

The brothers don’t talk much as we sit at the table-  just two blonde heads bent over their treat in the sunshine, intent on savoring every last scoop. But then the four-year old in Grandma’s sunglasses starts singing, while the one who is not yet two joins in loudly wherever he can, and conducts in the air with his plastic spoon…

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay,

My oh my, what a wonderful day.

Plenty of sunshine heading my way,

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay.

The family at the next table stop talking. They turn and listen and smile, as I join in the second time around, and we sing it again.

And I look at these boys sitting in the sunshine, swinging their legs, and eating their icecream. And I want to capture this moment, and keep it with me forever, while the sun’s high in the sky, and petunias dance in the wind, and little boy’s voices fill the air.

Life is a gift.

My birthday was last month. I’m nearer to sixty now than I was to fifty. And I want to unwrap that gift slowly, and savor everything it holds.

Life is a gift.

My, oh my, what a wonderful gift.

Every good gift and every perfect (free, large, full) gift is from above. James 1:17 AMP Xander & Brix at the bagel shop