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Easter Visual Design

i'm LOVING the branding + visual design the team created for our Easter unit at Willow Chicago. all art created by the super talented Molly Z and Aaron M. 

Unit Branding: 


Story Image:

Stage Design:


Last Supper Story Scene:

Palm Sunday Story Scene:

John 3:16 Verse Cards: 

Cross Image:


on leadership, and tough conversations

here's something i'm finding is consistent about my job: hard, tough conversations. you? 

when i started the job as family pastor i imagined that truth-telling, difficult conversations with volunteers, parents, and staff would be occasional. i found myself managing energy and marking time from conversation-to-conversation. like -- ok, gear up for this one, then you can relax. 


that lasted all of my first week. since then, i've noticed a significant part of my time involves tough conversations that require me as the leader to go first in saying the hard words. the conversations often include giving feedback, or sharing a hurt someone felt, or challenging a family to make a hard choice. let's be clear. these are NOT FUN. but, they're necessary. and i'm learning to embrace this part of my job and grow through each conversation.

just say it: when a situation arises and a conversation is needed, i usually want to take time to get my words together PERFECTLY. of course, it's helpful to take a pause, think about the right words, and move forward cautiously. BUT, sometimes i can use this space to put off the conversation. and, that's not helpful because typically a tough situation needs a conversation quickly. i'm trying to push myself to think, get my words together and get to the conversation as fast as is possible. 

seek advice: plenty of tough conversations have felt WAY over my head. and, i've become the master at making excuses for why i'm not the right person to have the conversation: my experiences, my education, my background have not prepared me to handle this. someone else would do FAR better. and, for the times that's true, i'm learning to lean into my teammates to guide me. i'm asking for their advice, or even to join me in the conversation when appropriate. the beauty of team is that together you've got a multitude of experiences. 

demonstrate a non-anxious presence: when i can anticipate a conversation might become heated, or i'm feeling anxious, i do my best in the minutes before the conversation to center my breathing and calm my spirit. i take a walk to get out my nervous energy, and then i sit and pray calmly for a few seconds. i'm finding that if i come to the conversation peacefully, there's a good chance we'll find peace in the tough words together. 

{side note}: some conversations require peace PLUS an expression of appropriate emotions. if the situation calls for me to show sadness, anger, frustration, i'm learning to show that appropriately while moving towards a peaceful resolution. 

tough conversations, and leadership. i'm slowly embracing the fact that engaging and initiating in these are signs of a loving leader. someone who loves his/her people will work to say the hard words for the purpose of faith growth and unity.

this is who i want to be. you? 


the parent {cheat sheet}

the BEST ideas come from the BEST volunteers. 

a few months ago, i was meeting with one of our best volunteers, asking if she'd help develop a system for integrating new families. she said, sure. and, ALSO, she had an idea for something else she'd like to discuss. an idea she'd had for connecting church + home. OK.

the very lovely volunteer mentioned how much she loves bringing her two-year old to church, but often finds it difficult to meaningfully discuss the lesson at home {given that two-year olds aren't the chattiest bunch}, and is never really sure how to spiritually + practically encourage her young daughter during the week. after i finished HUGGING her, i said, PLEASE. share your idea. 

i was curious to hear her idea, because i thought we were experiencing some good success with our sticker system. in place of a take home sheet in the Age 2 + Age 3 classrooms, we'd been creating a simple, colorful sticker that we place on the child's shirt as they're leaving to give parents a verbal cue for discussion. i'm a BIG fan of the stickers. i mean, adorable, right?

yes, the stickers were fantastic, she said, but we could do MORE {still hugging her at this point}. she mentioned that when she's home with her daughter, she needs ideas for activities. and, if those activities could reinforce the lesson from church, WIN. 

drumroll, please. her idea: the parent cheat sheet. a simple half-page sheet that summarizes the activities the child did during church with the purpose of encouraging parents to replicate the activities at home. use the toys you've already got, there's no pressure, no timeline, just ideas when you're home and need some ideas. so much YES. 

we're just a few weeks in, experimenting in the Age 2 + Age 3 classrooms only, but so far, VERY good. we'll keep at it a bit, tweaking + improving as we go, and then, we'll roll out to the older classrooms. a different format, i'm sure, but with similar goals. oh! and, if i could get this whole thing ONLINE, even better. all for the sake of helping parents encourage faith at home.

the BEST ideas, i'm telling you, don't often come from us, the leaders. our job is to keep our eyes open--giving the BEST volunteers opportunity to contribute, share ideas, and use their skills to implement. and for me, that's the best part about being the leader. 


lent devotional {AWANA}

i'm absolutely THRILLED to be a contributor on this Easter Devotional from Awana. an eight-week collection of devotions written for parents + families with 3 versions: standard, rural, urban.

when my pal brannon contacted me with the idea he had to create various versions, i was SOLD. easter is often experienced differently due to context, and i LOVE that awana is mindful of that.  

sign up here to recieve a free email devotional each week from now until Easter. and, maybe consider choosing a version that's wildly different from your own context in order to experience a fresh perspective this season. i chose the rural edition and am LOVING it so far. 

blessings for this season of Lent. may we all grow closer to Jesus and His ways during these days. 


Stations {current favorites!}

In our new curriculum, we place a BIG emphasis on station time. I like to say -- let's create stations that will do the heavy lifting. Typically, in children's ministry, we use station time for fun and building relationships. ALL GOOD. In fact, I want those things PLUS intentional learning. 

Because of this, we no longer have stations that aren't connected to the lesson. We offer a variety of learning experiences: Building, Art, Play, Reading, Games, Sensory -- that all connect to the Bible story. The goal is for kids to enage in the story during station time so that when they move to large group + small group, it's a continued experience. They continue interacting with the story in various formats and engage in a journey as the Holy Spirit leads them. And, we give volunteers verbal cues so it's simple for them to play alongside the children while facilitating the story. LOVE!

A few of my current favorite station activities: 

Tent Reading: We created a quiet reading area for all classrooms (Age 2 and UP) with a variety of children's Bibles, soft rugs, and comfy cushions. We do our best to add a post-it note in each Bible to mark the story for that day. These canopies are the perfect, cozy addition!

Activity Mats: Just this Sunday, we added these in the Age 4/5/K and Grades 1-3 classroom as a "follow me" game for our new unit on following Jesus. Perfect for engaging the active kids and introducing the idea of following someone. LOVE!

Puppet Stage: Since we've been creating original Bible character images for each unit, I thought -- why not create stick puppets with those same images so that kids can act out the story. And, these table puppet stages are simple way to host a puppet show every Sunday. 

Fingerprint Kit: Noticing each other is an important value to us -- We want our kids to see each other and respond in care and love. For this reason, we typically have a noticing station, and recently added these fingerprint kits to the rotation encouraging kids to create art on butcher paper reflecting the friends they see in the classroom. It's fascinating to see what others look like to them!

Peg People: It's important to us that children have space to imagine the Bible story for themselves. We added these peg people and a whole bunch of thin markers so that older kids have space to read the story and design the peg people as they see the characters in the story. 

Up Next: Dry Erase Tape. I ordered this for next month's Easter unit. I'm thinking we'll place it on the table and encourage kids to create a timeline of story events. C'mon!

Share the love! What are your current favorite station activities?