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on MLK {day}

today on MLK day. 

i promise to do all i can to help children notice + appreciate each other. to help them understand that we're all interwoven, connected, and affected by each other's well-being. 

i want kids to know the world is broken, unfair, and not the way God intended or hoped. that injustice, violence, and selfishness are not the ways of Jesus. ever. 

i promise, today, to remind + educate children so they know that God created them in his unique + beautiful image to contribute to the restoration of his kingdom on earth. 

that their differences, when matched together for the sake of greater collaboration + good, will actually change the world. towards greater love, fairness, kindness, peace. 

today on MLK day.

i recommit my life + ministry to the calling God has placed deep in my heart. to be a voice, advocate and champion of peace for the sake of children in my community. to risk greatly so that every child would know God's love fully, and see herself + himself in God's story. 

in the words of my favorite 5 year old -- "MLK worked to help fix things that were not fair." 

may we all do the same. 

 original image created by Molly Z. for willow chicago custom curriculum. ©Willow Chicago


follow me! {current FAVS}

for the month of january, at willow chicago, we're teaching lessons titled: Follow Me (stories of people who followed Jesus). i LOVE these lessons for so many reasons -- TOP of the list: we have the opportunity to show children that ALL people had + have access to jesus. following Him, being part of His inner circle is not limited to your race, gender, social class, etc. nothing better!

a few of my current favorite things from this unit:

Fishing Set --- we wanted a great fishing toy for our kids, given that many of the people who followed jesus were fishermen. and, let's be honest, land of nod has the best EVERYTHING for kids. so, when this toy went on sale, i scooped it up! if we had the right place to put a fishing curtain, i would have bought this, too!

Foam Stacking Blocks w/Photo Pockets --- i'm LOVING the addition of these photo blocks in our preschool classes. we're currently teaching lessons on people who followed jesus, and we were having trouble finding non-white disciple images. and then, THESE! we added our art to the pockets of the blocks -- thus making the toys a match with the curriculum!

and, this is what it looks like when you combine all the toys to make a new activity. disciples fishing in a giant pond made of brick walls. naturally. 

Kerplunk --- we made these kerplunk games as a small group activity. (they're simple utensil canisters!) after children had quiet time to reflect on how jesus was asking them to follow Him, they played kerplunk. each child had a turn to share how jesus was leading him/her, and then took out a straw. a fun way for kids to share!


Wikki Stix --- have you tried these? SUPER fun! last sunday, the kids shaped the stix to create the crowds that followed jesus. a great way to imagine what the people who followed jesus looked like. 

 now it's your turn---what are your current favorite things? SHARE! we all need new ideas!


on impact {one-by-one}

some days, i act like i'm the superhero CHICAGO has been waiting for. that somehow my prayers, actions, efforts are just what kids + families in the city need in order to feel loved, know jesus, turn from bad choices, and find meaning in their lives.


but, it is easy for me to feel down when my efforts appear not to be changing an entire city. 

these days, when attendance numbers get me down, or anxious thoughts take over my mind, i remind myself that true impact appears to happen life-by-life, one-by-one. one child, one volunteer, one family. not a CITY. one life, by one life. 

in my job as family pastor, i spend a good part of my day walking alongside families in crisis and chaotic seasons. as i imagine you do in your jobs, i see all types of families just trying to do their best, to not only provide food + shelter for their kids, but a brighter future than they had. 

recently, i was supporting a friend in family court. the courthouse might be the darkest place in the city: divorces, child custody disagreements, and a whole slew of ugly, domestic issues. watching the dissolution of family, specifically when it impacts children, really gets me down.

later that day, i walked from the courthouse back to church, feeling heavy hearted and discouraged. i wondered, what difference my effort was really making for the larger good of the world. i pray with people, i offer encouragement, i give advice, and still, on that day it felt like darkness was winning. 

and then, as always, God's spirit spoke to me. not in an audible way, but a quiet whisper in my soul as is often the case in my christian faith. his spirit whispered: one by one, i've asked you to care for, and offer love and kindness to your small community. you want to do big things, i want you to be faithful with each life. be present with one family, knowing that simple act of love will be enough. 

because, here's the thing. each of us, doing our small parts, our small acts of love and kindness will be enough when added together. none of can change the world for good all on our own. but, together, the power of community, each one being faithful to the church, neighborhood, business, village, God has placed us in, called us to, and empowered us to lead and serve, we will overcome evil. we can make a difference, but it will take all of us, offering a smile, a kind word, a forgivable spirit when mistakes are made, a gentle attitude, a generous heart for the poor, a listening ear to those different than us, grace for the unlovable, and above all, love for all. 

today, i'm committed to doing my part. not as a superhero for the city, but as a faithful leader for my community. BECAUSE, when we add together each one of our small parts -- there's the power! the magic! a city, a world might actually be changed for the better. 



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. 

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