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for all sorts of reasons, i'm taking a break from conferences in 2016. specifically, i'm putting the kabash on traveling to large out-of-state events. i'm thankful to have been to a whole heap of events in the past which have helped further my thinking. but this year, i'm focusing my personal learning + growth locally. doing all i can to participate in webinars, workshops, meetings with leaders, teachers, experts from chicago so i can learn from those working specifically in my context.

along those lines, i will be speaking at the Teamworks event on March 5, which is not too far from me -- in Rockford, IL. i love what leslie and her team have done to create a local event for the leaders in their community. which, ahem. might be my most favorite thing. 

i'd love if you'd join us! we can chat all things CHICAGO. and, kidmin of course. if there's time.


on mindfulness {for children}

i'm big on noticing. SO big that each week, at willow chicago, we include noticing stations so that children can practice seeing each other. because WE all need practice seeing each other, right? 

in our multicultural context, our top value is that children would notice, respect, and care for each other. we want to create a safe space for children to practice and experience love for the other. 

recently, i came across a fascinating project for chicago public school students -- a team at erikson institute is directing a project aimed at exploring the idea that mindfulness strategies can help kids manage the toxic stress often associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. 

ultimately, the motivation for practice is gradually taught to be an 'other focus,' not a self-focus. when it's taught in a way that's authentic, the practice of mindfulness is a radical act of generosity for those around us. when a child has a calm mind and more of an open heart, it's going to totally influence his interactions with others. --richard j. davidson (erikson, 2015)

the project focuses on mindfulness activites such as: guided breathing, stretching, social mindfuless (peer interaction). teachers encourage students to participate 3 times throughout their school day: after arrival and prior to content, after lunch or recess, and prior to test or challenging activity.

of course, all of this has got my mind swirling about how i might introduce a few mindful activities into our kidmin environments. encouraging children to be present, notice others, and develop a mindful perspective towards others is exactly what we hope + dream for our kids at willow chicago.

a few ideas: 

entrance prayer: as children enter their classrooms, they take a deep breath and say a short prayer, "God, help me notice and care for others." 

large group prayer: as large group begins in our grades 1-3 class, we typically do a simple body prayer. this gives kids a chance to focus their bodies and prepare to hear from God. last week, as we began a lesson on jesus + his disciples, we stood to say a friendship prayer. (children put their hands on each others' shoulders and asked God to show them and their friends his story.)

small group breathing: as children sit and prepare for small group discussion, the teacher leads them to take several deep breaths in order to prepare for the activity. 

activity station art: encourage children to draw art that reflects a peaceful place for them, or a friend they've noticed needs peace, or even a way they might help someone experience God's peace.

being mindful towards developing mindfulness. LOVE. 


no white JESUS {christmas, part 1}

i love christmas SO MUCH. i love sharing the stories of God's peace and His Son Jesus' birth with the children + families of my church. 

there's just one problem i run into each year when looking for nativity play sets, christmas books + bibles, and biblical images of the nativity family. 



thus making it very difficult to teach the biblical story of Christmas in an accurate way to children. {jesus was born in the middle east, and many scholars believe jesus had brownish skin.} 

seriously, though. have you ever tried to buy a nativity play set at target? impossible. 

last christmas, our insanely-gifted graphic designers molly + aaron created artwork for us to use at willow chicago. this led me to wonder if other church leaders were experiencing similar issues. 

i give to you: no white JESUS. this christmas, let's say no to: white dolls wrapped in blankets representing baby jesus, and bibles, books, videos that only show white pictures of jesus' family.


if it's helpful -- download our images. we'd love to share them! {also, you can click the "God Brings Peace" image on the left sidebar anytime to download the images.}

oh, and while we're on the topic: use the hashtag #nowhiteJESUS on twitter to share what you're doing this christmas. let's turn this tide around for good -- and for our children. 

next post: my favorite #nowhiteJESUS resources that do exist. 


on community, sunday suppers

maybe you know this -- it's tough being on staff at a church and finding safe spaces to experience non-pastoral, deep meaningful community. also, i'm just not good at it. it's WAY easier to encourage others to share their darkest secrets and in return offer advice, encouragement, love, a tidy Bible verse all without ever disclosing anything personal of my own.

no joke -- i literally just received an email from a fantastic young guy in our church who was following up after a meeting we recently had in which he trusted me with many details of his life. in his follow up email he said, "maybe next time we meet you can share your faith story."


yes, my job is to listen, pastor, encourage. of which, i LOVE.

but, also, i need a place to share and be encouraged, loved, challenged. and, ALSO ALSO, how can i truly expect the people of my church to be vulnerable and move towards community when i'm unable or unwilling? 

mic drop.

SO, this summer, kelly + i invited a few friends to join us for sunday suppers. here's what we knew: we desperately needed deeper friendships in which we were able to practice vulnerability WHILE also desiring to cook more {ME} and enjoy chicago's beautiful summer on our apartment's terrace.

sunday suppers. 

we reached out to six people we'd already experienced a level of friendship, safety, and enjoyment with. a few from our church; a few not; a few knew each other; a few didn't. the details: we'd meet every sunday for the summer, at the same time and place, and dinner would always be provided. we'd commit to showing up every sunday, willing to share life, vulnerability with each other. 

to our great surprise + delight: all said yes. 

a few things sunday suppers has taught me: 

--community is worth it. times a million. the care, attention, love i've felt from this group is almost unlike anything. safe friendships might be one of God's greatest gifts. 

--community is hard. almost every sunday afternoon, i thought about canceling. i'm tired from leading sunday morning, and really just want to sit alone on the couch watching tv. but, ALWAYS, the effort, the pushing through, the showing up is worth it. 

--community can't look the same for everyone. in the past, i often couldn't see how i fit into a traditional church small group, and, i think because of this, i avoided participating in any type of formal community. but, creating an experience that better fit me {cooking, entertaining} was the missing piece i needed in moving towards a regular, meeting group of friends.  

--community involves give + take. i'm a good GIVER. but, TAKING? oh no. and not because, i'm a wonderfully self-LESS person. but, because giving to others generally protects myself. it actually can be quite self-ISH. if i never have to open myself up to receiving love, wisdom, care -- i'm protected from ever experiencing deep pain. this summer, the group has not allowed me to ONLY be a giver. they expect me to show up, share, trust, and receive from them. a gift. a re-training for this pastor. 

in fact, last week, kelly + i shared something painful that happened to us this summer. something we couldn't share with the group for a variety of reasons. after we told them the details, we apologized to the group for not telling them sooner, not trusting they'd be able to handle our pain, or guide us as we healed. it was a moment i'll never forget: they shared our tears, were gentle in their words back to us, and reminded us, as lovingly as possible, to never do that again.

all the good stuff. 

so now, summer's ending, of which i DID NOT give permission for, and the group's figuring out what's next. we've decided to continue on a bit longer, going the same way we've been going, because of course you know, finding rich community takes time. it might not always look like this, but we're committed to each other and journeying along the road of friendship together. 

full, full heart. 


on officiating weddings

photo by Erin Hoyt Photography

this summer, i had the amazing honor to officiate a few weddings for the loveliest people from my church. manny + teresa's soiree was next level. a mariachi band played as they kissed and walked down the aisle. i mean. where can you go from there? oh, i know. heartfelt toasts from family + friends which put fully on display the most beautiful picture of two families {different both racially and culturally} coming together as one. i'm not sure i've ever seen anything like it. so much LOVE. 

dana + hartley's ceremony was well-planned, peace-filled, and composed of the kindest, sweetest family + friends, including the mother-of-the-bride who prayed for me before the ceremony. gracious, generous, a beautiful expansion of love. i kept pinching myself. 

and, in just a few weeks, my dear friend courtney will marry her man terry, and you best be sure i'll be doing all i can not to blubber my way through the ceremony. odds of that NOT happening. NONE. after years together, they've been through an incredible amount of tragedy, and through it all -- have been each other's love. i can barely wait to celebrate their wedding. 

i'm still a newbie to officiating weddings. compared to my pals -- i've got a lot to learn. but, here's the surprising thing: it's quickly become one of my most favorite parts of my job. 

here's what i love:

{1} the opportunity to ask good questions. as i prepare a ceremony, i ask the BIG and fun questions. my favorites: what do you love most about each other? what words do you hope will describe your family? what is your vision for your life together? the answers, each time, are brave + inspiring + meaningful. it's not every day that folks are in a place to be able to think about these things, or are even super open to sharing. but, preparing for a wedding is a special time that causes most people to reflect on their futures, and boy-oh-boy, it's an honor to be part of that. 

note: these aren't questions that prepare couples for marriage; they simply help guide the ceremony. couples should participate in some type of marriage readiness: class, counseling, etc..

{2} the opportunity to lead. i see my role as officiant as the leader/facilitator of the ceremony. my job is to keep the ceremony moving, anticipate what's coming next, and respond as challenges arise. i tell couples that i'll be doing these things so they can be fully present to each other and enjoy the moment. look each other in the eye, hold hands, and lose track of time -- i say.

let's be real. i love ANY opportunity to lead. but, when leadership provides a couple the opportunity to express their love on their wedding day without distraction. nothing better. 

{3} the opportunity to encourage marriage. next month, marks twelve years for kelly + me in our own marriage. together, we've journeyed as partners, best friends, life companions through the very best and very worst days. all of which has made me a very BIG fan of marriage. 

now, of course, you don't have to be married to encourage marriage, but, for me, officiating weddings gives me reminder that i'll do all i can to help others who want to be married get married.  

i love LOVE. what can i say?

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