“Game of Life” Family Worship Night

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This year, our Family Worship Nights are based around popular Board Games. Our kids have been learning about “How to Make Good Choices” on Sunday mornings, so the theme for this night was The Game of Life. I had some trouble finding decorating inspiration for this one. But I figured since Candy Land was so over-the-top, we could tone it down a notch this time!

As families entered, there was a game on each of the tables. There were six “would you rather” questions. Family members took turns rolling a die and answering the corresponding question. As families finished up, we talked about how the choices in the game were silly; life is full of choices, some silly and some serious, some small and some very important.

1After a worship song, we brought out six jars of baby food for each table. The jars were not labeled, and families had to guess the flavor of each jar. They could use their sense of smell or taste. It was fun hearing their guesses and seeing the facial expressions! After about 10 minutes, I gave the answer to each of the jars. We talked about how babies don’t have a choice in what they eat – some of it tastes good and some not-so-good! As we get older, we are able to make more choices for ourselves. We then watched a short video clip from “What’s In the Bible” called “Who do you Trust?” ; which is about Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve faced a choice about what to eat or not to eat, but the real choice was whether or not to obey God.

We passed out a small bag of dominoes to each child (I ordered them from Oriental 2Trading). As the kids made paths from the standing up dominoes, they had to name different choices that they make. As a family, they discussed how the dominoes are like the choices we make. Just like one domino can knock down the rest, our choices affect our future and those around us. The kids were allowed to take home their dominoes as a reminder of the importance of their choices.

The last activity we did was an activity that came from our Maker Fun Factory VBS. I didn’t have time to do it during our VBS, but it fit it perfectly with this event! We gave each child a balloon and had them blow it up (not tie it). The parents stood a few feet away, as a goal post, and the children took turns trying to fly their balloon through the goal. The balloons flew all over the room, and never made it to the goal. I took a rocket balloon and taped it to a plastic straw. I then thread the straw onto a piece of fishing line. My assistant took the fishing line and stood across the room from me. When I let go of the balloon, it flew on the fishing line to my assistant. We talked about how the balloons didn’t have a path to follow, but the rocket balloon had a guide! The Bible is our guide, which helps us make the right choices. The families prayed and discussed ways they could stay on the right path.

We ended with a worship song and small snack. This event wasn’t as themed as ones in the past, but I think that was a benefit. The activities were still hands-on and spoke to the topic. The children were engaged, instead of distracted by decorations. Some of our worship nights are very well attended, and some are not. This one had low attendance but success is not always based on high numbers. As my husband said to me, hopefully the families that were there grew together spiritually. I know that was the case because one of the girls, as she was leaving, said “My favorite part of the night was spending time with my family!” It doesn’t get any more successful than that!

Life in the Slow Lane

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My husband and I joke that we live our life in the slow lane. If we’re at the grocery store, it’s always our lane that needs assistance or the machine breaks down. If we’re driving, no matter which lane we switch to, we end up behind the out-of-state driver going 10 under the speed limit. We laugh about it because the alternative is anger and rage. My husband says that’s why we don’t put a Christian fish on the back of our car. But it’s not just when we’re in a line, our actual life travels in the slow lane.

Sometimes it feels like everyone’s lives are zipping right by us as we’re slowly plodding along. We were married 9 years before we were able to get pregnant. We were supposed to be able to sell our starter home after 5 years; here we are 12 years later and still stuck in it. Successes that seem to come so easy to others, take us twice as long.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but this pace can get old. Sometimes I just feel stuck! Recently, I was feeling frustrated with not getting as far ahead on a dream that I’ve had for over a decade. I concluded that maybe that goal wasn’t the right one for me. Maybe others were having success because they had these extra-ordinary gifting’s or insights and I’m just ordinary. I had resolved myself to believe that I can live with ordinary and this was a good place to stop. I was just tired of trying and getting nowhere.

This week, I heard a training from a woman about the speed bumps we encounter in business and in life. These can be things like discouragement, rejection, fear, and comparing ourselves to others. While speed bumps can slow us down, it’s important to not let them become a stop sign. Speed doesn’t matter, forward is forward! So, I’m getting over my speed bump, even if the road is slow. I’m going to enjoy the company, take-in the scenery, and keep moving forward!

Toddler Homeschooling

The decision to homeschool our daughter was influenced by many different factors; but mainly, I just enjoy teaching! I have my degree in Elementary Education, and I love planning lessons. I look forward to the days of learning as we go through our daily life! When my daughter was about 18 months old, we noticed how quickly she was picking up on things. She loved making animal sounds and observing the world around her. We made the decision to start “Tot School” in the fall, when she would be turning two years old.

I’ve had some people ask why I would start school with her so young. Some even expressed concern of doing too much at such a young age. My first thought is that as a toddler, she’s already learning so I should capitalize on that. Secondly, I’m already spending time with her coloring, reading, and playing games, so there’s no harm in having some structure and purpose behind it.

Our “Tot School” is very loosely structured. We don’t have a specific time of day that we do school, because of my work schedule. Sometimes it’s first thing in the morning and sometimes it’s in the afternoon. School lasts for about 15 minutes, depending on the day’s activities. Of course, we do unstructured and unplanned activities as we go through our day. I usually only schedule 4 days’ worth of activities, to allow our schedule to be flexible.

I planned out our weekly lessons, from September to May, over the summer. I got the idea from a Pinterest post, and you can see our lesson plans Schedule here. Each week focuses on a letter of the alphabet and a corresponding theme. Each week also has a number, a color, and a shape. Holidays are also covered throughout the year. I’ve found that at this age, she’s really enjoying our weekly themes. I’m amazed at the things she’s learning and what she’s gravitated towards. Some of her favorite themes were transportation (which involved a scavenger hunt at the Henry Ford Museum) and music. She’s also doing really well with shapes and colors. She’s not as interested in letters and numbers yet, so we don’t focus on them other than our weekly worksheets.

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 Each week has its own file and folders. 

Every few months, I make lesson plans for the coming weeks. I like to work ahead so that I’m not doing major planning each week. On Sunday night, I pull out that week’s folder and fill the activities into our weekly schedule. Working ahead also helps me plan special activities and field trips in advance.

What kind of activities do we do in school?

  • Field Trips – I try to do a field trip every few weeks that lines up with the theme. We’ll go to a museum, the zoo, or a park. Memberships are key to taking short trips, so we can focus on the theme and not feel like we have to see everything in one day. Even certain stores can be a fun field trip! Her first dentist visit was during our X-Ray theme.
  • Crafts –I get most of my craft ideas from Pinterest. It’s very rare that I come up with my own idea! Through this, I’ve discovered my daughter’s love of painting so we do a painting activity each week. I think it’s important to find what your child likes and to foster that interest. But seriously, Pinterest is a wealth of ideas for crafts, science experiments, games, snacks – you name it!
  • Reading – I like to have 2-3 books that go along with our theme each week. We read them a couple times throughout the week.  I have a fairly large collection of children’s books but I’m always on the hunt for books to add to our collection. I try to buy them used so I look at discount stores (Ollie’s!), used books stores, thrift stores, and the library. img_20170309_203745395.jpg
  • Stickers – My daughter loves playing with stickers. I found these great stickers books
    from Usborne books. You can order them from a consultant, but I found mine at a local toy store & hobby shop.  I’ll stick them in her diaper bag and we’ll do a page while waiting at the doctor or at a restaurant.
  • Worksheets – Pinterest is also a great source for worksheets. We’ll color them, use stickers, or Dot-to-Dot stampers. Each week, my daughter colors the letter of the week. She also places stickers on the number for the week. Of course, the stickers correspond with our theme!

My daughter loves to “do school,” as she calls it. There are certain weeks that go better than others, and certain themes that she’s enjoyed more. It’s fun to see what she’s interested in, and those are topics that I’ll make sure we continue studying in the future. For example, on President’s Day we learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. That week, our theme was money so we looked at the Presidents on our money. She was really drawn to Lincoln and talked about him all week! I hope that this is just the beginning of her interest in history. Looking ahead at next year, I’d like to focus more on letter recognition. That may mean our themes are monthly vs. weekly. We’ll also be adding weekly Bible lessons that go along with her lessons at church. Our goal is to always go at her pace and be flexible!

 

Our Representation

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The word “representation” has been rolling around in my head for the past few months. From elections and policies, to marches and movements – everyone is so quick to point out what or who doesn’t represent them. In fact, there seems to be very little that represents Americans as a whole anymore. Even our National Anthem has brought division. But there is One who represents all people.

1 Timothy 2:4-6 says:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

Jesus Christ is our representation in front of God the Father. Our sin separates us from a relationship with God. When we accept salvation through Jesus Christ, and the price he paid on the cross, we can have that eternal relationship. He did this for all people – for anyone who accepts it.

Jesus represents us, and we are to be his representation to the world. When God looks at us, he sees his son. Does the world? Do we represent Jesus in line at the grocery store? Driving through rush hour traffic? In the work place? To our families? On Facebook?

I guarantee I fail to represent Jesus every single day. Thank the Lord, he doesn’t say “#notmydisciple,” because of my shortcomings. Jesus never fails us. He shows us new grace and mercy every day. He wants us to show this same grace and mercy to others.

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul explains that Jesus represents all people to God. A few verses above that are his instructions on how we are to represent God.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

How do we represent God? As Christians, we are to pray, intercede, and show thankfulness for all people, even those in authority. By doing this, we will live peaceful and holy lives. The more time we spend in prayer, the more we understand God’s heart and can demonstrate his love to all people. Why do we do this? Because Jesus came for all people. Let’s represent the one who represent us, and pray for all to come to a knowledge of him.

Candy Land Family Worship Night

Last year, we started hosting Family Worship Nights for the families in our church. They were such a success, that we are continuing them in 2017. This year, our themes will be centered on family board games. Our most recent worship night had a Candy Land theme and taught families how SWEET it is to trust in Jesus!

This event was different from past worship nights, because families did each prayer experience at their own pace, rather than as a large group. We set up six prayer stations based on different “lands” from the Candy Land board game. Families could travel between the six in any order, to prevent congestion or backups. We provided an hour for the event, anticipating families would spend about 10 minutes at each station. Some were done quicker, while others took their time. All the families ended in our Fellowship Hall, where we enjoyed ice cream cones and photo opportunities in front of the “Candy Castle.”

IMG_20170113_182835320.jpg It was a lot of fun decorating for this event, and we took a lot of ideas from Pinterest. We focused most of our decorating to the hallways (or “game board”) so that children wouldn’t be distracted in the rooms while doing the prayer experiences.  Here is a list of each room, Bible point, and prayer activity:

Peanut Brittle House – When I’m scared, I can TRUST Jesus! The term “brittle” means to break easily. Sometimes our fears can cause us to give up easily or not try new things. Have each person write a fear on a wooden spoon (they’re shaped like peanuts!). Take turns sharing your fears. As a family, pray over each person’s fears. When you are done, break your fears (“peanuts”) in half and throw them in the garbage.

Candy Cane Forest – When I have a need, I can TRUST Jesus! Candy Canes have the same shape as a shepherd’s staff. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and takes care of everything we need; just like a shepherd takes care of his sheep (Psalm 23). Write a need that you have on a piece of disappearing paper. Pray together for all of your needs. Place the paper in a bowl of water and move it around until the paper disappears!

Licorice Castle – When I’m worried, I can TRUST Jesus! Worry can tie us up in knots, just like a piece of licorice. Have each person take a piece of string and share something that you are worried about. As you pray, take your strings and knot them together to make a bookmark. Take the bookmark home and use in your family Bible.

img_20170113_182855786_hdrMolasses Swamp – When I’m stuck in sin, I can TRUST Jesus! In this room, we had a kiddie-pool covered with a black tablecloth. Inside the pool were rolls of black crepe paper. Choose one person to stand in the “swamp.” Family members name different sins as you wrap one person up with the crepe paper. Parents, explain that molasses is a dark and sticky syrup. Our sins are like molasses and can keep us stuck. As a family, pray for forgiveness from your sins.

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Lollipop Woods – When I don’t understand, I can TRUST Jesus! Have you ever been
lost or didn’t know which direction to go? Maybe you didn’t understand something or had questions? The Bible says not to lean on our own understanding, but to trust God and he will give us clear direction! Have each family member write a question or something they don’t understand on a slip of paper. Roll up the slips of paper and place them inside a deflated balloon. As one person prays, have another family member blow up the balloon. Take the balloon home, and spend time reading each other’s questions and finding the answers in your Bible.

Gumdrop Mountains – When I’m discouraged, I can Timg_20170113_182924849_hdrRUST Jesus! For this room, we used a Styrofoam cone and dissolvable packing peanuts. We had some left over from a past Vacation Bible School, but they can be bought at any craft store. When we’re discouraged, we can feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s like we have a giant mountain in front of us! Jesus can give us the strength to keep going. Take a “gumdrop” and share something that is discouraging you. Get the gumdrop wet and stick it to the mountain. As a family, pray that God would help each of you overcome the challenges in your life and give you renewed strength.

 

The families really enjoyed this experience. The kids loved the giant candy decorations and the parents appreciated the conversations that were started with their children. A few commented that they liked going at their own pace and spending one-on-one time with their family. Afterward, one mom told me that in the Molasses Swamp, they were just naming general sins but one of her children confessed that they had been lying recently. They were able to stop and pray as a family, and her child asked for forgiveness. I’m not sure whether or not that child would have confessed outside of the event, but I like to think that they felt prompted because of the activity and they were in a safe environment.  That’s only one child from one family, but it’s why we do these worship nights – to allow families to experience Jesus together and encourage these conversations to continue at home.

Christmas Worship Experience

This year for our Children’s Ministry Christmas Party, I wanted to more of a worship experience than a party. I got the idea from a workshop I took at Simply Youth Ministry Conference on creative environments. The speaker gave each of us a packet with a plastic coin, frankincense, and myrrh.  I liked the idea of engaging the children through all five senses.

The theme of our event was The Gifts of the Wise Men. At the beginning of the night, we talked about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas.  We explained that the Wise Men brought gifts for Jesus and that each of these gifts had special meaning. Each child was given a small gift box to carry with them as they rotated through four rooms.  Each room was based on a different gift. As the children entered the room, the leader explained what the gift was and its Biblical significance. There was a response activity in each room and as the children left, they were given an item to put in their gift box.

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Gold – Mary and Joseph were very poor, and each of the Wise Men’s gifts would have been a blessing to them. Gold was a gift fit for a king. Long ago, God made a promise to David that one of his descendants would always be on the throne. Jesus was part of David’s family tree. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise because he is the King of Kings.  One day we will reign with Jesus! The children decorated gold crowns  with jewels, and wore them the rest of the night. They were given a plastic gold coin to put in their box.

img_20161221_200112399Frankincense – Frankincense was a special incense used in the Tabernacle and Temple by the priests. The priest’s job was to mediate between God and the people. They brought the people’s worship to God through the sacrifices. Burning the frankincense represented the people’s prayers rising to God. Jesus is our High Priest. He is our mediator with God; meaning that it’s through him we can have a relationship with God. We can be sure that God hears our prayers because of Jesus. We decorated this room by hanging cloth from the ceiling to give the feel of the Holy of Holies. Across one wall, we hung long sheets of butcher paper. We burned Frankincense so the children smelled it as soon as they entered. The activity for this room was taken from Danielle Bell’s blog (dandibell.com). The children wrote a prayer request on the wall. They were given a list of names of God and asked God which name spoke to their situation. Then, they wrote that name OVER their prayer request in bold letters. Each child was given a piece of Frankincense for their box.

Myrrh – Myrrh was oil that was used in Bible times for burials. It’s the same perfume that would one day be poured over Jesus’ body, after he died on the cross. This room was dark, crosswith white rope lights around the edges of the room. In the center of the room were a wooden cradle and a wooden cross. The leader talked about how Christmas is about more than Jesus being born. The whole reason Jesus was born, was so he could die for our sins. When we celebrate Christmas, we must also remember what Jesus did on Easter.  When we take communion, we look back at what Jesus did and look forward to his second coming. The children ate a snack to represent communion, which was vanilla wafers and red Jell-O. While they ate, they listened to Go Fish Guys song “It’s About the Cross.” As they left, each kid was given a piece of Myrrh for their box.

My Gift – This room began with a game. We used inflatable Wise Men gifts that I got years ago, but a wrapped present would work just fine. The younger classes played hot potato to Christmas music. The older classes played a game of Left/Right. The leader read a special version of the Christmas story, and every time they heard the word LEFT, the passed the gift to the left. When they heard RIGHT, they passed it right. After the game, the leader asked the children what gift they would bring to Jesus. Each child was given a color-changing paper heart (which was left over from our Cave Quest Vacation Bible School). They warmed the heart in their hands and watched it change colors. Sometimes, we may feel that we don’t have anything to offer. The paper hearts may seem small and flimsy, but they have power. The greatest gift we can give to Jesus is our hearts. He has the power to change our hearts so that we may live for him!

The children rotated through these rooms, so each class did them in a different order. The children seemed to respond well. The night had a low-key feeling versus a party atmosphere, but that’s what  I wanted. My prayer is that they left with a greater understanding of why Jesus came to earth and why we celebrate Christmas.

Keep Walking

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One of my daughter’s current favorite movies is Veggie Tale’s “Josh and the Big Wall.” It’s probably one of my favorite Veggie Tale’s as well. The French peas get me every time!  I teach an Old Testament Survey course at our church’s Bible school and the battle of Jericho has actually become one of my favorite Biblical accounts to teach.

Before Joshua and the Israelite’s got to Jericho, they had to cross the Jordan River. Just as the priests stepped into the River, the water backed up and the riverbed was dry (Joshua 3). The Jordan River sits in the Dead Sea Rift, which is a series of faults between the African Plate and Arabian Plate. If you recall from elementary school, the movement of tectonic plates results in earthquakes. Throughout history, the Jordan River has been dammed multiple times due to earthquakes and landslides. It’s been suggested that this is what allowed the Israelite’s to cross on dry land. And if an earthquake caused the Jordan River to dam, then it is an aftershock or second earthquake that caused Jericho’s walls to fall.

Some people may read theories like that and doubt the Bible’s validity. They explain it away – that it wasn’t a supernatural event but something completely natural. It’s just a coincidence. I, however, find even more hope and promise in this theory. I believe that God uses the natural to do the supernatural. It makes God even more real to me! He is an intimate God who uses his creation to do his will.  He’s not a fairy godmother or wizard that waves a magic wand or makes the impossible happen with a snap of a finger. He is in his creation and interacts with it.He literally has the whole world in his hands!

I believe God gave the directions to march for seven days in order to have the Israelite’s in the right place at the right time. I’ve always had a bone to pick with God regarding his timing on things. “Why” seems to be a common theme in our conversations. But this theory helps me to trust his timing; to trust that he’s in the details. He knows what’s coming and is lining everything up perfectly; all I need to do is keep walking.