Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Different Kind of Lent: Corrie Ten Boom, Rape Survivors and FGM

On Wednesday our family went to the Catholic church  around the corner from our house (we're not Catholic, but I love the Ash Wednesday service at this church) and began our Lenten journey.

Our Lenten plans this year are a little different than in the past. My children are older now, ages 10 and 12. They are in late childhood and able to decide what they want to give up or add into their lives during this season of reflection. My son, in particular, really thought through his choices this year, and I was so encouraged to hear his decisions.

We still, however, do a few things as a whole family during Lent. We have once again become vegetarians (which is definitely a sacrifice for my husband, who grew up in Texas!). This year, we are also reading a book together. Although we frequently have family read-alouds (I have raised my children on MacDonald, Tolkien, L'Engle, Rowling and Lewis), we've never read a book specifically for and during Lent. Before I reveal to you which book we're reading, let me explain my thoughts leading up to it.

My husband has been listening to a singer/songwriter the past few months, Father John Misty, who has a song called "Bored in the USA". I have no idea if this artist has a Christian background or not, but the song is prophetic. It calls into question what values and sense of purpose in life we are teaching our children. Is consumerism the main religion that we are giving them, and if so, does the resulting boredom and emptiness lead to the depression and violence that has so afflicted the US in recent years?

We live in Germany, and while there is definitely less violent crime here than in the States, there is still a tendency to communicate to children that the most important thing in life is doing well in school and leading a nice, comfortable life. My prayer and goal has always been to raise children who are courageous  - not just my own children, but the children that I am fortunate enough to pastor at church and in school. In fact, it means much more to me when my own kids go to Serve the City events and my daughter gives a manicure to a 90-year-old nursing home resident and my son gives guitar lessons to a homeless man at a Salvation Army cafe than when they bring home good grades. School is not everything in life, and stepping outside our comfort zones is way more important.

So this year for Lent, we are reading a book that once inspired a lot of courage in me and hopefully will inspire my children as well. We are going to read The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, the extraordinary story of one ordinary woman who found courage in the midst of an impossible situation. I can only hope that we would make similar choices in the same type of situation.

On for my personal Lenten plans, I've been thinking a lot about Isaiah 58 lately, particularly the verse about how fasting can loose the chains of injustice. I have felt led to fast and pray for two topics that have been heavy on my heart the past few months. Topics that people don't readily want to talk about, because they are uncomfortable. I have been asking myself what I as an individual can do and I hope to find some answers during our Lenten fast.

1) Survivors of Rape on College Campuses - I've been aware of and concerned about how unsafe it has become for young women at universities for a while, but it recently became really personal because of the situation at Baylor University (I am a Baylor graduate) where young women have come forward with stories of having been raped and their testimonies being more or less blown off by the local authorities and the university administration. Please read Stefanie Mundhenk's story, this article at CBS sports, and this one at the Star Telegram if you would like to know more. I would really like to see Baylor respond to this problem in a transparent, constructive way that honors every young woman on campus.

2) Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) - Something else that we'd rather not talk about. And most people are largely ignorant of the problem to begin with. I certainly was. While I had heard the term and knew what FGM was, I was ignorant of how widespread of a problem it is, not merely isolated to developing countries, but also practiced among immigrant communities in the western world. If you want to know more, there are some informative articles at The Guardian, an on-line newspaper with a year-long campaign to make people aware of FGM.

As a children's minister and teacher, I am all about empowering little girls to grow into strong, courageous women. So this Lenten season, I am asking these questions about what I as an individual can do to help future generations of young girls and support the young women who are already dealing with the aftermath of huge societal problems.

If you have any thoughts for me, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent Club 2015 Week 4

Letzte Woche besuchten wir einen Seniorenheim um ein gemeinsames Adventsfest mit den Einwohnern zu feieren. Our last week of Advent Club was spent at a local nursing facility for Seniors and others in need of on-site medical care. 

Wir haben mit einigen solchen Einrichtungen über die Jahre gearbeitet, und ganz ehrlich war dieser Nachmittag eins von den besten Erlebnissen, die wir je gehabt haben. Warum? Weil die Kinder so viel persönlichen Kontakt zu den Einwohnern hatten. Man kann unten im Foto sehen, dass wir einander direkt gegenüber saßen, sodass die Kinder die Senioren in die Augen gucken konnten. We've worked with several senior residences over the years and I have to say this was one of our most pleasant experiences. Why? Because of the personal contact that the children had with the residents. As you can see in the picture below, we sat at the table together and the children could look everyone in the eye and talk to them.

Nach einem leckeren Snack und Weihnachtsliedern,  haben wir ein paar Spiele gespielt um das Eis zu brechen und einander bisschen näher kennenzulernen. Das erste Spiel war eine Art "Reise nach Jerusalem", wo wir ein großes Geschenkpaket herum gegeben haben. Wer das Geschenk hatte, als die Musik aufhörte, dürfte es auspacken. Drin war natürlich ein kleineres Paket, das weiter herum gereicht wurde. After a snack together and some Christmas songs, we played a couple of games to break the ice and get to know one another a little better. The first one was a version of "Hot Potato" where we passed a present around the room. When the music stopped, then the person got to open the present, which contained another smaller package inside.

Unsere Kinder waren sofort da, wenn jemand Hilfe haben wollte! Das kleinste Paket hatte Süßigkeiten für alle drin. (Wir hatten ein Tipp vorher bekommen, dass die Einwohner sehr auf Gummi-Bärchen und Lollis stehen!)  Our children were available and eager to assist anyone who might need help with the wrapping! Inside the smallest package was candy for everyone! (We were told by the staff that the residents were particularly fond of gummy bears and lollipops.)

Ein anderes Spiel ging um Teamarbeit. Wir bildeten Teams aus den Kindern, den Senioren und den Plegern. Einer müsste die Augen binden, und der andere gab Hinweise, wie man den Stern auf den Weihnachtsbaum hinkriegt.  Another game we played was a version of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey". We made teams of one senior or staff member and one child. They then agreed who would be blindfolded, and the other partner directed him/her to place the star on the Christmas tree with verbal instructions.

Danach erzählten wir die Weihnachtsgeschichte als Puppentheater mit den Puppen, die die Kinder in der AG gemacht hatten. And finally, we presented the Christmas story in the form of a puppet show with the hand/made puppets that the children have been working on the last three weeks. 

Unsere Schauspieler beugen sich am Ende zu großen Applaus . . . 
Our actors taking a bow at the end  . . . 

Danke, dass ihr mitgelesen und euch mitgefreut habt! Wir wünschen euch allen eine gesegnete, besinnliche Weihnachten!
Thanks for reading along with us!  Have a wonderful Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Club 2015 Week 3

Diese Woche bei der AdventsAG reisten wir nach Bethlehem mit den Heiligen Drei Königen. Wir entdeckten Ihre Geschenken von Gold, Weihrauch und Myrrhe mit den 5 Sinnen. Danach überlegten wir zusammen, was die Drei Könige vielleicht sagen wollten durch ihre ungewöhnliche Wahl von Geschenken ans Christkind. In our third week of Advent Club we journeyed with the Magi to visit to the Christ child. We explored their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh with our five senses, and wondered together what the Three Kings might have wanted to communicate with their choice of gifts.

Der Weihrauch machte einen großen Eindruck auf die Kinder. Wir mussten sogar das Fenster danach öffnen, da die Duft so stark war! Manche Kinder haben's geliebt, aber manche haben die Duft gehasst (man kann das im Foto unten ganz gut sehen!).  The frankincense made quite an impression on the children. Some absolutely loved it and some hated it (as you can see in the picture below!). It was the same thing with the myrrh!

In der Kreativphase haben wir den Puppentheater geübt, den wir im Seniorenheim zeigen werden. During Response Time, we practiced our puppet show for the seniors at the nursing home.

Einige von uns arbeiteten weiter an die Holzskuplturen.
Some of us worked on wooden sculptures . . .

Und andere haben mit Ölkreide, Filzstiften und Buntstiften gemalt.
 . . . and others created things with oil pastels, markers and colored pencils.

Danach wurde es gesungen, gegessen und getrunken.: ) Then, we rehearsed Christmas songs for next week with the Seniors and celebrated our small feast together. 

Bis nächstes Mal im Seniorenheim!
Until next time! 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Advent Club 2015 Week 2

Letzte Woche machten wir uns auf dem Weg nach Bethlehem. Diese Woche haben wir eine Pause gemacht um zu überlegen, was für einen Menschen aus diesem lang erwarteten Baby geworden ist. Was sagte er denn als erwachsener Mann über sich selbst? Ein mal sagte er, dass er Der Gute Hirte sei.  Last week, we set off on our Advent journey. This week we paused to consider who the awaited baby grew up to be and what he had to say about himself. One of the main ways he described himself was as "The Good Shepherd". 

Dann hörten wir "Das Gleichnis des Guten Hirtens",  eine Geschichte, die aus Psalm 23 und Jesu eigenen Wortern im Johannes 10 besteht. We then heard the Parable of the Good Shepherd, which is a combination of Psalm 23 in the Old Testament and Jesus' words about himself in John 10.

Danach entschieden sich ein paar Kinder weiter mit der Geshichte zu beschäftigen. Several of the children chose to work with the story materials further in the Response Time. 

Sie nahmen die Figuren der Heiligen Familie (Krippenfiguren) dazu und verwandelten den Schafgatter zum Stall, wo Jesus geboren ist.  Sehr passend, dachte ich.  They brought the figures from the Holy Family into the parable and turned the sheep pen into the stable where Jesus was born (below). Very fitting, I thought. 

Andere arbeiteten weiter an die Puppen fürs Krippenspiel im Seniorenheim. 
We worked more on our puppets for the nativity piece at the nursing home. 

Hier sind ein paar Könige, das Christuskind, und ein Esel. 
Here are two Kings, Baby Jesus, and the donkey. 

Es gab eine neue Aktivität: Holzskulpturen. Die Kinder bekamen Holzstücke, Kleber und Farbe, und sollten etwas daraus machen. Dies ist natürlich kein traditionelles Adventsbasteln, aber es bietet die Möglichkeit an, zu reflektieren und das, was auf dem Herzen und in den Gedanken liegt. auszudrücken. We added a new activity this week: wooden sculptures. The children were provided with a variety of wooden pieces, glue and paint, and were then asked to make something of them. Not a traditional Advent sort of craft, but one in which the children are encouraged to reflect on what they have heard and express whatever happens to be in their thoughts and hearts.

Mindesten 2 Kinder haben einen Hirten mit Schafen gestaltet. Man sieht eine solche Szene unten links. At least 2 children made a shepherd and sheep. You can see one of these works in progress below on the left. 

Legos und Birkenkerzen waren auch im Angebot. 
Legos and birch candles rounded out our other activities. 


Noch 2 Wochen!
Two more weeks to go!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Club 2015 Week 1

Los nach Bethlehem! Melinda, ich u. 15 unglaublich tollen Kinder machten uns letzte Woche auf dem Weg. Einige von den Kindern waren letztes Jahr mit uns gewesen, aber es gab auch ein paar neue Reisenden mit. : ) A week ago Melinda (my co-teacher in our after-school clubs) and I started off on our annual journey to Bethlehem with 15 amazing children from our local elementary school. Some of these children made the journey with us last year, but there were quite a few fresh faces as well!

Wir haben gemeisam die unterschiedlichen Adventssonntage überlegt und die ganze Weihnachstgeschichte gehört. Wir haben uns dann Gedanken gemacht, wie das alles uns helfen könnte näher an das Geheimnis der Weihnacht zu kommen. This week we thought together about each Sunday of Advent and how they can help us prepare to enter into the Mystery of Christmas.

Wir fingen bei den Propheten an, die den Leuten damals den Weg nach Bethlehem gezeigt haben und sie für das Kind vorbereiten, das alles ändern würde. We began with the prophet who pointed the people long ago in the direction of Bethlehem and prepared them for the birth of a child who would change everything.

Wir liefen ein Stück mit Maria und Josef, besuchten die Hirten auf den Feldern, und lernten die 3 Könige kennen. Dann kamen wir zur Geburt des Königs, der damals kam und immer noch jedes Jahr zu dieser Zeit kommt. We traveled a little while with Mary and Joseph, visited the shepherds in the fields, met the Three Kings and finally came to the birth of the King who came once long ago and comes again each year.

Nach der Geschichte haben wir uns ein paar Fragen gestellt. Zum Beispiel, welcher Adventssonntag errinert uns an etwas in unserem eigenen Alltag? After the story, we asked ourselves some questions about it. For example, which part of Advent reminds us of something in our own lives?  

Ein Kind meinte: "Der 1.Sonntag mit den Propheten und Heiligabend, wann Jesus geboren ist."
One child answered, "The first Sunday with the prophets and Christmas Eve where Jesus is born." 

"Warum?" fragte ich.
"Why?" I asked?

"Weil wir alle Geburtstag haben und feiern sowie Jesus. Und wir haben immer Einladungen, sowie die Propheten die Leute eingeladen haben!"
"Because we always give invitations to our birthday, and the prophets are inviting us to come to birthday celebration. And Christmas Eve where Jesus is born, because we all have a birthday!"

Nach dem Geschichtenkreis gibt es eine Kreativphase, wo die Kinder sich bewegen können und gleichzeitig die Geschichte weiter überlegen durch Spiel und Kunst. Obwohl wir manchmal traditionelle Weihnachtsbastelangebote haben, sind die meisten Aktivitäten bei uns da, damit die Kinder Gedanken zum Ausdruck bringen, die sie vielleicht nicht so leicht mit Worten können. After our circle time comes a Response Time where the children can  go deeper into the story through the mediums of play and art. Although we sometimes have more traditional Advent crafts or games, most of our activities are designed to help the children make meaning out of the things they have heard or express things that easier to "say" through play or art. 

Es gibt unterschiedliche Stationen:
We have different stations set up that the children can move between: 

1. Mit dem Geschichtematerial spielen. Hier ein Mädchen zündet die Kerzen an und löscht sie aus.
Playing with the story materials. Here a child lights and exstinguishes the Advent candles.

2. Birkenstammkerze - Die Kinder haben entweder Bibelversen oder die eigenen Worte am Kerzenständer geschrieben.
Birch stump candle - The children could choose between two verses in the Bible to write on the base of the candle or write their own words.

3. Malen mit Ölkreide und Buntstifte.
Drawing with oil pastels and colored pencils.

Maria, Josef und der Esel auf dem Weg nach Bethlehem. Mary, Jospeh and the little donkey on the way to Bethlehem.

4. Puppen fürs Krippenspiel machen. Wir werden einen Seniorenheim besuchen und dort ein Krippenspiel zeigen.
Making nativity puppets  - We will visit a nursing home together in three weeks, where we will act out the Christmas story with our handmade puppets.

5. Legos - Die Spielmöglichkeiten sind unendlich!
Legos - There are endless play possibilities with Legos! 

Nach der Kreativphase kamen wir in den Kreis zurück um ein kleines Fest zu feiern, das Melinda für uns vorbereitet. After Response Time, we return to our circle for a small feast that Melinda prepares for us. 

Bis nächster Woche!
See you next week!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Unto us a Child is Born

The weekend of First Advent is always a bit of a whirlwind for our family, because we usually celebrate American Thanksgiving on the Friday or Saturday before and then turn around on Sunday to re-decorate for Advent. Remembering all the things we are thankful for is actually a great prelude to Advent, but I have to mentally switch gears fast to begin some of our Advent traditions.  I don't stress out if I don't have everything out for the first Sunday of Advent (I never do!), but I do try to have our Advent candles and one Advent calendar ready to go. 

After our Thanksgiving celebration on Friday, I ended up with a cold on Saturday and had to cancel some plans outside of the house. That turned out to be a blessing, because the children and I put together our Advent candles. 

We made four Advent candles out of beeswax plates and decided to place a Christmas candle in the center, which we've never done before. It will be nice to have a special candle to light on Christmas Eve. 


If you have read my blog before, you will probably recognize the Advent calendar below. My children are now 9 and 12 years old and have sadly out-grown some of their other Advent calendars, but they still treasure this one. 

Each year I set it up a little differently. This time, I used my purple and white underlay (from the Godly Play story "Faces of Easter") to distinguish the journey from the arrival. The 24 stones and seashells representing each day are from a very special family vacation that we were able to enjoy earlier in the year. 

The prophets point the shepherd and the sheep in the direction of Bethlehem. Usually it's the Three Kings making the journey here, but we used the shepherds this time.

Mary, Joseph and the little donkey await the baby who will appear on Christmas Eve. 

On each Sunday of Advent, we have a simple family tradition. We gather at the table and light the appropriate Advent candle and read a passage of Scripture having to do with the theme of that Sunday. Today, we focused on one of  prophets, who showed the people long ago, as well as us now, the way to Bethlehem. We turned out all the lights and I read Isaiah 9:2 about the people who've walked in darkness seeing a great light. Then, my daughter lit the first candle. We wondered together about how darkness can be a metaphor for separation from God. 

Then, we copied Isaiah 9:6 into our prayer journals. (My kids really don't like to sit still unless they are doing something, so the writing keeps them engaged!) 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Then, we wondered together about which name of Jesus we liked best in this passage and why. Afterwards, my husband had us listen to the part of Handel's Messiah, where the choir sings this verse. 

I hope that your First Advent was peaceful and joyful, but even if it wasn't, you can still make the journey to Bethlehem this year. And you can take comfort in knowing that it most certainly wasn't peaceful for Mary Joseph so many years ago.

Happy First Advent!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Getting Ready

My dear friend and co-teacher in the Godly Play after-school clubs, Melinda, recently told me a story about a recent visit to another church. At the end of the regular service, the pastor quickly transitioned things into a communion service without giving her much time to switch gears and get ready for it. As a result, she felt a bit rushed and jolted. I laughed and said, "It's Godly Play! We've spent the last 6 years teaching children to 'get ready', so they can fully experience what God has for them. It's in your blood now!"

Next week, she and I will begin "getting ready" to experience the mystery of Christmas with a group of 14 children at Advent Club. And this week, we've been getting us and everything else ready for the after-school club to begin. : )

I don't think I'll ever get tired of accompanying children on their Advent journey. I need to see things through their eyes and hear with their ears as much as they need to see and hear what I have to show them. Hand-in-hand we come closer to the mystery of the living God being born into our world as baby. 

With the backdrop of the recent events in Paris and the many homeless families from Syria seeking refuge in our city, we need more than ever to come close to this mystery and be saturated with hope and love. 

May your Advent wherever you are be blessed!