Family-centered Valentine’s Activity Calendar

If you have followed my Christ-centered Thanksgiving and Christmas activity posts then I hope you love this one as well.  I wanted to put together activities last year to make Valentine’s day more meaningful, but then my Grandma died and life got crazy and I didn’t have a chance to get to it.  This year I started early, because February is actually going to be crazier this time around with a wedding and a baby blessing, but those have been planned with ample notice, whereas funerals just happen when they need to happen.

As I was thinking through incorporating the wedding and the baby blessing into the calendar, lines from the Family: A Proclamation to the World kept coming to mind.  Initially I put it out of my mind and thought it wasn’t really related to Valentine’s day, and then it hit me that if I want to make Valentine’s Day meaningful then really Valentine’s Day is ALL about the family and the teachings in the Proclamation.

Obviously some of our bigger activities are not universal (unless you also have a family member getting married in February and another family member who recently had a baby, in which case we should be friends!), so I’ve tried to include a few ideas for alternate or extra activities that go along with the same theme.  And if you are a member of another faith, I’m sure you can still incorporate these ideas based on your beliefs, and I think you will find more similarities than differences in the beliefs outlined in the Proclamation on the family.

  1.  I love to see the temple- walk around the temple (or if you live too far away look at pictures) and explain it’s importance.
  2. THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan… The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” Wedding time!
    • If you don’t have a wedding to go to this month, or even if you do, you could pull out wedding albums, pictures, that wedding DVD you watched like once, and any other mementos from your wedding and show them to your kids.  Talk to them about your wedding day and how special it was.
  3. “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” Baby blessing time!
    • Pull out baby pictures and any mementos from when your kids were blessed (or Christened).  Tell them about their blessing and how much of a blessing it is to have them in your life.
  4. Learn the song Love One Another, Children’s Song Book pg. 136.  Including the sign language could be really fun.  This is a really great activity to throw in on a day you know will be very busy.
  5. HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ” Trade off date nights with the kids.  Obviously this is going to look different for each family depending on the number of kids, but for us we’ll do this over two nights, I’ll take one kid and my husband will take the other and then the next night we’ll switch.  Go as simple or as big as your budget and your calendar allow.  Maybe it’s just a walk or ice cream (or a walk to ice cream so it cancels out!) or maybe it’s bigger like a performance or game.  The biggest thing is that it’s dedicated time to them and their interests.
  6.  See above (and if you’re family is big enough you could just do one on ones the rest of the time until Valentine’s day and ignore the rest of the list!)
  7. We love our cousins!  We’ll be blessed to have cousins visiting so we’ll party hard with them, but if cousins aren’t available you could make Valentine’s to mail to them.
  8. We love our grandparents!  Make Valentine’s for grandparents
  9. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Do a wholesome recreational activity as a family.  For us this will probably be the Renaissance Festival.
  10. Heavenly Father loves us so he gave us a Prophet.  In Arizona we will have a special fireside with President Nelson and President Oaks this day.
    • If you’re not in AZ you could talk about going to church to take the sacrament and read John 3:16.
  11. Make a fun heart craft
  12. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Focus on compassion, do some kind of service project.  We will probably take a meal to a refugee family through Gathering Humanity.
  13. Make Valentine’s for friends and classmates (and by make, I mean write their names on little store bought cards, but if you’re crafty and into really making cute Valentine’s for everyone then POWER to you!)
  14. Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself- take treats to neighbors.  We started this a few years ago and our neighbors LOVE it.  Christmas time always gets so busy and we always end up getting sick so I decided to stop pretending like I was going to take around Christmas treats and now we just do Valentine’s day treats.  It’s way better than hunting down a babysitter and trying to get in to an overcrowded restaurant.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope this helps you make the time very meaningful for your family!

#LightTheWorld Countdown for Little Children

I am so excited about this year’s light the world campaign and the opportunity to combine it with our annual tradition of having a Christ-centered advent calendar.  My kids call them circle activities because we use muffin tins to create our calendar so they take a circle off each day to find out what our activity is.  I have been doing them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the past couple of years (hoping to add Valentine’s day this year!) in order to keep our celebration meaningful, deliberate, and focused on the Savior.

I’m by no means anti-Santa, I love Santa, we do Santa.  But, I have had to DO nothing in order for my 4 year old and 2 year old to learn about Santa. He’s everywhere- in fact he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…

However, I do have to be deliberate and intentional in making sure they learn the true meaning of this time of year.  It’s not all strictly “religious” but I make sure that we find ways to tie the “just for fun” things back to the Savior.

As I mentioned I love the #LightTheWorld campaign for this year especially.  This time it’s broken down by week:

1- Light the World (global focus)

2- Light your Community

3- Light your Family

4- Light your Faith

As I sat down to start brainstorming our calendar I struggled a little to figure out how we could make sure the kids were actually involved in and understanding global service.  I reached out to friends for help and got some great ideas to incorporate into our calendar.  A really cool idea that didn’t make it on the calendar is the Light the World vending machine.  There is one in Gilbert by the water tower (also one at Temple Square in Salt Lake, Manhattan, London, and Manila- and if you can’t get to any of those there is a way to donate online at that hyper link).  This is a vending machine for charities- you choose to donate a pair of glasses, or a chicken, or clean water, etc!

Additionally- we’ll be kicking off our celebration before the calendar actually starts, I could just add it but it would throw off the perfect 24 spaces on the calendar and that might make my slightly obsessive brain explode.  But, we’ll be attending a local Live Nativity on November 30th at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  It runs the 30th-1st.  There is also the Walk through Bethlehem in Chandler that sounds amazing but as I looked at our crazy calendar for the month I realized I needed to pair down a little and the time and distance on that was going to be a little too much for us this year.  That one runs the 14th-16th.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking through how to incorporate these ideas for my little ones, and I really hope this helps others find ways to serve and make this season meaningful no matter the ages of your children or if we belong to different faiths- together we can Light the World!

 

1- Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad!”- We’ll be attending a Christmas party- this is an example of how I incorporate a “just for fun” event and still make it meaningful.  This day has also been set aside as a Day of Service.  We will be bringing food and toy donations to the party as our service for the day.

Week 1- World

2- Jesus speaks to the world through His prophet- watch the Christmas Devotional

3- Missionaries are sent around the world to share the gospel- color pictures to mail to a missionary in a foreign country

4- Refugees have had to leave their homes in other parts of the world and come here to be safe.  Take a meal or other donations for refugee families.  If you’re in AZ then Gathering Humanity is an amazing organization!

5- Jesus created the world- Decorate the Christmas tree and talk about the days of the Creation

6- Jesus is the Light of the World- go to a light display (probably Glendale Glitters for us)

7- We believe in a God of miracles for the whole world.  Tell the Hanukkah story.  I’ve purchased this children’s book which tells the story and has beautiful illustrations.  I include Hanukkah each year for my kids because one of my best friends is Jewish and while we won’t be able to celebrate together this year, I have cherished memories of lighting the menorah with her growing up.  Also, I want my children to know and understand that God loves ALL of His children and provides them with miracles even if they believe differently than we do.  This also fits in so well with the global focus, no coincidence that Hanukkah lined up with week 1 this year, amIright??!

8- Asylum seekers come from different parts of the world and arrive here with nothing hoping to find safety.  Make and donate a backpack asylee kit.  We will have the kids pick the backpack and stuff it with the necessary items (my 2 year old LOVES backpacks right now so this will be a good way to get her involved).  We will be partnering with Gathering Humanity again for this one.  And special thanks to my cousin for guiding me to this idea!

Week 2- Community

9- Donate to the Humanitarian/ Fast offering fund.  We typically just do this online, but in order to get the kids involved we are going to go old school and use the paper slip and envelope and actual cash then have the kids hand it to the Bishop.

10- Angel craft

11- Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Make little ornaments and take them to our neighbors

12- Nativity Craft- I bought a cute little foam kit at Hobby Lobby.  They have a few different ones depending on your kids skill level (and your capability for handling messes!)

13- Take toy and clothes donations to Maggie’s Place.  One of our Thanksgiving activities was to clean up and clean out the playroom- this is where those will be going.

14- Jesus was born in a stable- go to a petting zoo to see the types of animals that might have been there.  We will be heading over to Superstition Farm.  This might seem silly, but we have done this a few years in a row now and the kids LOVE it.  Two years ago my son ran around the petting zoo yelling, “Jesus, where are you!”  Apparently when I told him we would see animals like the ones that were there when Jesus was born, he figured we would also see baby Jesus.  Last year we went after we saw The Star and they started calling all of the animals the names from the movie.

15- Jesus healed the sick- take treats to the NICU.  Our daughter was a NICU baby so we make sure and take treats to current NICU parents this time of year.  Be aware if you decide on a NICU for service it is best to call ahead and you really will just drop off the treats with the desk.  Small children will most likely not be allowed into the NICU.   We walk to the door together as a family and then my husband takes the kids to a nursery viewing window while I take the treats in to the actual NICU.

Week 3- Family

16- Jesus said, “Ye shall meet together oft.”  Church!  It might seem like cheating because we do this every week anyway, but I call it being creative with my resources.  Also, I think it’s good to periodically talk about WHY we go to church.

17- Light your family- Make little gifts for Grandparents

18- Cards for cousins

19- Jesus asked us to pray together as families- have family prayer and review how to pray

20- Gingerbread Stables

21- Family Movie Night- The Nativity (8 minutes- live action) Christmas Story videos (more very short videos telling the story) Joy to the World (about 45 min total), and we’ll probably do a VeggieTales or The Star

22- Make memories with Family- activity with extended family and open presents with them

Week 4- Light Your Faith

23- Sing Choirs of Angels- sing Christmas songs at church and with our opera singing relatives coming into town!  My husband’s brother is engaged and we will finally get to meet his fiancee this day!  Their common interest in opera brought them together!

24- Bethlehem dinner- I make lamb and other foods similar to what they would have eaten at that time in Bethlehem.  I’m hoping this year to eat it by light of a candle from that era as well.  Then we’ll read the story from Luke 2 and hopefully have the kids act it out!

 

Merry Christmas!!!  I hope this has given you some good ideas to incorporate in your own family’s celebration!

IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

Thanksgiving “Advent” Activities

Last year as the holiday season was approaching I felt strongly that I wanted to do a Christ-centered advent activity calendar for my then 2 year old.  As I was collecting ideas…in October…don’t judge I was sick and had a lot of time to scroll Pinterest…I realized, why not do the same for Thanksgiving.

Fun fact- Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday.  It’s like the underdog of the Holiday season, and I feel like it needs way more attention than it gets.  When trying to shop for Thanksgiving related items towards then end of October there’s like 5 double sided aisles dedicated to Halloween, there’s already several dedicated to Christmas, but Thanksgiving gets this tiny little display that takes up part of one side of an aisle.

I mean what gives!  We go from dressing up and asking for candy straight to asking for gifts and forget to be grateful in between.

So in an attempt to give Thanksgiving it’s due attention, and to help teach my son about gratitude, “circles” were created.

Pinterest has tons of ideas for super cute and creative ways to make advent calendars.  As mentioned in previous posts, I like to follow the KISS method- Keep it Simple Stephanie (or stupid, or smarty, whatever is appropriate for the given day).  I went to the dollar store and bought muffin tins, so $4 total right there.  Then I cut circles out of construction paper and put a slip of paper and a piece of candy in each of the sections and use double sided tape to attach the colored circles over the tins.  It’s pretty simple, keeps me organized, and my son LOVES the candy…and the activities, but the candy definitely helps keep the motivation.

For my list of ideas I scrolled through Pinterest for inspiration but couldn’t find any specific posts that fit us exactly so a lot of things I came up with on my own.  I’m not super crafty and I hate messes so I don’t pick a lot of the craft ideas, when I talk about coloring pictures for people, I happened upon a pack of cute Thanksgiving coloring pages last year at Goodwill, so sorry, no link for those, but if you are reading this blog then chances are you may have been introduced to this thing called the internet which contains Google and Pinterest, between the two of those you can pretty much find anything your little heart could desire.  Now if you are one of those crafty sorts of people and you don’t mind chasing feathers around your house, then you could definitely incorporate some pretty cute crafts into these ideas to give away to people.

Another thing to keep in mind with this list is that my kids are currently 3 and 1 so this is very much targeted towards that age group, mostly the 3 year old.  I also try to incorporate activities we already do but find a way to make them focused on the holiday.  So when you see things on the list like, going to church or tee ball, and you think, “wait, that’s cheating!”  Not cheating- simple, smart, resourceful.

Thanksgiving Activities:

  1. Heavenly Father led the Pilgrims to America so they could go to church how and where they wanted.  Make a Pilgrim Hat.
  2. Pilgrims came on a boat called the Mayflower.  Float boats in water (I have a little bin I use for water play on the back porch, or you could do this in the bathtub or sink).
  3. We show gratitude by serving.  We will be visiting an older lady from church who recently had surgery.
  4. We are grateful for our bodies.  Go to tee ball with Daddy.
  5. We are grateful for Grandparents.  Color pictures for Grandparents.
  6. We are grateful for nature.  Go for a walk, pick up trash if we see any.
  7. Family Home Evening- begin Thankful tree (we will add to this each week for FHE).  I bought a Thankful Tree from Target, but there are also a lot of cute ideas on Pinterest for making your own.
  8. We are grateful for Nursery.  Color a picture for Nursery leaders.
  9. We are grateful for books.  Go to story time at the library.
  10. We are grateful for animals.  Go to the zoo.
  11. We are grateful for the temple.  Visit the temple grounds.
  12. We show gratitude to Heavenly Father by going to church.
  13. We are grateful for cousins.  Color pictures and mail to cousins.
  14. Continue Thankful Tree.
  15. We show gratitude for our food by sharing.  Donate food (either to a food drive or make a meal for someone who is sick or a refugee)
  16. We are grateful for friends.  Make a treat for a friend.
  17. We are grateful for our minds and imagination.  Go to the Children’s Museum.
  18. We are grateful for Preschool.  Color a picture for teacher.
  19. Learn Thanksgiving songs and hymns.
  20. We are grateful for our food.  Color a picture for the grocery store cashier.
  21. Continue Thankful tree.
  22. We show gratitude for toys by cleaning them up and sharing.  Clean up and clear out play room (also helps get ready for Christmas gifts coming in and toys to donate to toy drives).
  23. Thanksgiving feast!
  24. Talk about first Thanksgiving, watch video, and visit Indian Ruins.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope this list helps you get some ideas going on how to teach your children about gratitude and give Thanksgiving the hype and attention in deserves!

I’ll post my Christmas ideas as well as we get a little closer.

 

 

 

Kindness and Charity- Part 3- Breaking Down the Barriers

Now that we’ve discussed the definitions of kindness and charity, and the barriers that get in the way, let’s get on with how to break those barriers down!

ASSUME PEOPLE ARE DOING THE BEST THEY CAN

I recently read Rising Strong by Brene Brown.  Amazing book, definitely encourage people to read it.  She tells a story about part of her personal journey with how she views people.  It was brought on when her therapist asked her if she thought people, in general, were doing the best they can.  Her response was no, no way people are doing the best they can.  So she began asking other people she encountered the same question and got varied responses.  As I was listening (because when I said I read it, I actually meant I listened to it, ain’t nobody got time for reading!) I thought about the people I’ve encountered that I knew there was no way they were doing the best they could, and myself, I know there are definitely times when I am not doing the best I can.  But then as her story continued she changed her mind, and so did I.  She recounted getting together with a friend and asking the question, knowing that the friend would agree with her about people NOT doing the best they can, which the friend did.  The friend then went on with a rant about breastfeeding and how people just are not doing the best they can and if they weren’t up for breastfeeding then they shouldn’t have even gotten pregnant, and if they really loved their kids they would give it their all.  This hit Brene really hard, and it hit me really hard as well.  Sounds like Brene and I had a very similarly unfortunate experience with breastfeeding and the judgment, whether direct or indirect, at failing at it.  My experience was difficult, I didn’t produce well, and baby didn’t latch well, and it hurt, it hurt so bad.  It made me go to a very dark place so with my first I started formula very early on, and blessedly was able to continue nursing part time with him.  But when people would say things like, oh- you just gotta_____, or keep trying it will come, it made me want to scream, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!!!”  And for me that best was making sure he was fed and that primarily came from a bottle of formula.

Then I thought about other times in my life where looking from the outside it probably didn’t look like I was doing my best.  My second pregnancy was rough.  I was in debilitating pain from 10 weeks on, my energy level was non-existent, those things combined with the hormones put me in a pretty bad depression cycle.  My house was a horrible mess, and my son watched way more TV than I ever would have thought possible, and I was doing the absolute best I could in that moment.

Let’s think about others, now of course there are times when they are not doing their best, but put that aside for a minute.  You don’t know if they are battling debilitating physical pain, mental illness, a recent crisis, disease, addiction, the list could go on.  The lady that yelled on the phone, the student who didn’t get their homework done, the mom down the street that’s always drunk and letting her kids roam the streets- is it possible that they are actually doing the best they can in that moment?  Yes, it’s actually possible.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t help them or just let it slide.  In the case of a neighbor or someone in your life that is suffering from addiction or putting children in harm’s way, that doesn’t mean that you don’t make phone calls to appropriate resources at appropriate times.  That might be what they need to help them bring their best up to an appropriate level.  What it does mean is that you approach them differently, from a place of love and compassion rather than from a place of judgment and disdain.

SERVE AND BE SERVED

Serve

I have always loved doing service.  One of best friends and I started a club in Jr. High whose primary purpose was to support students in Nepal by paying their tuition for school.  The club is actually still around almost 2 decades later (that makes me feel really old).  To this day when I meet someone from Nepal I have this immediate love for them, which might freak them out, but serving them has made me feel connected to them across the globe.

More recently, as in last year as opposed to almost 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to serve a refugee family recently arrived from Syria.  I got connected with a group that arranged for meals to be brought in to families as they arrived.  There was not an apartment immediately available, so this family of 8 (the parents and 6 kids) were split between 2 motel rooms, they had limited finances, limited access to transportation, and their English was even more limited than everything else.  So I volunteered to bring them a meal.  They are Muslim so it needed to be Halal and it happened to be during Ramadan so it needed to be delivered after the sun went down.

This gave me the opportunity to do research on what Halal even meant (for those that don’t know, it’s similar to the Kosher laws that orthodox Jews follow), and to learn more about Islamic customs.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go and meet this family.  My only impression of Muslim men, especially coming from the Middle East, was unfortunately negative.  I pictured someone stern and oppressive, I thought I would need to keep my young son away and quiet as that would be the woman’s duty.  I assumed the wife would be quiet and afraid of her husband.  I had been programmed with a lot of misinformation, like I discussed in part 2.

My experience was so different from what I imagined.  The husband was incredibly welcoming, warm, and kind.  He did seem a little surprised when I put out my hand to shake his, but was not upset by the gesture.  He loved my son who was not quite 2 at the time.  He threw him in the air and tickled him.  He let him jump on the bed with their two young daughters.

Despite the very difficult language barriers (even with Google translate), we had a lovely visit with them.  They kept offering us food and drinks.  I kept refusing until I finally realized how much it would mean to them to serve us, to show some amount of hospitality as they would have done in their former life before war, oppression, and persecution took everything away from them.  We finally accepted a glass of coke and they were so happy to give it to us.  (Not being a regular caffeine drinker and being around 9 in the evening, I actually didn’t sleep at all that night- but it was totally worth it!)

That act of service, for a group of people I was so misinformed about, changed my heart.  It broadened my horizons.  It made me look at them as “brothers instead of others.”  It helped me develop charity.  It started me on a path with Lifting Hands International that has allowed me to continue serving in meaningful ways which lifts the hands of refugees but might lift my heart and my spirit even more.

I have found no better way to develop a bond with others besides selfless service.  Try it, in your community, in your family, in your workplace, and in your marriage.  Your love will grow for them as well as their love for you.  When I have served others that are going through a particularly trying time I feel invested in their trial and in their life.  We need to be more invested in the human family.

Be served

When I was the ripe old age of 20 I had an arch nemesis.  We’ll call her Jesse.  See at the time I had started dating a guy, we’ll call him, Jake.  We weren’t exclusive, but things were moving in a good direction, slowly, but I just thought that was sweet that he was a slow mover.  Jesse moved into our apartment complex the end of January and Jake met her briefly as he was friends with some of her room mates, nothing of consequence.  Valentines day was coming up and I was planning all sorts of cute things, like decorating his truck, baking cookies, and making a mushy card.  But the week leading up to Valentine’s day he became a little distant, and like I said nothing had been established that we were a couple so I got a weird vibe and decided to just give him a little Valentine like I was giving other friends.  I went to deliver it and Jesse was there with him, looking at his computer with him, but not just looking at something together, in the words of While You Were Sleeping, they were “leaning.”  I was a little rattled and confused and I think I spent the rest of the evening crying to my room mates.  Guys, less than a week later they were officially a couple and a week after that they were ENGAGED.  They had known each other less than a month and for two of those weeks he was dating me.

I didn’t like her and couldn’t take them seriously whatsoever. When word got around that her parents were not supportive of the wedding, I was like, gee whiz, can’t imagine why.  I avoided her like the plague and anytime she did come up I said her name like it was a dirty word.

Flash forward a few months, I was competing in an event called Dancesport at BYU (don’t get excited, I’m not a good dancer, but I was taking a social dance class and that allows you to compete with other people in the class).  Jesse actually was a good dancer, and was in some of the higher level competitions.  I ended up getting horribly ill the night before the event but was well enough in the morning to get there and dance in the first round.  A friend had driven me up there but I didn’t have a way home besides walking 2 miles which I was not looking forward to at all because I was sick and it was cold.  So who should happen to walk up at that time, Jesse.  I did not want to talk to her and I certainly did not want to accept any kind of help from her, part of me kind of hoped she was not heading home at that moment.  But she was, and she offered me a ride, and the practical side of me beat out the hateful side of me because I was really sick.

That moment, changed so much about my attitude.  Humbling myself enough to accept help from her, my arch nemesis, made me see her as a person and realized she actually was kinda cool.  We definitely didn’t become best friends, but I did stop saying her name like a dirty word and let go of the resentment I had been holding on to.  It allowed me to open my heart up and want good things for them, rather than sitting back and wishing the worst on them.  It allowed me to start developing charity for them.

Accepting help can be hard.  We’re stubborn and prideful, and there definitely is merit to being self sufficient and independent.  But what I said above about feeling invested in the human family, it goes both ways.

In the LDS faith, we believe that when we are baptized we make covenants, or promises, with God, one of them being that we will “bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”  We like to focus on bearing the burden and giving the comfort, but sometimes we are the ones that have a burden, are mourning, or needing comfort.  It’s great to be the one serving, but sometimes you need to be the one being served.  You need to allow others the opportunity to be invested in your life, allow them the opportunity to keep their covenants.  Don’t be selfish and keep all the warm fuzzy feelings that come from helping someone to yourself.  Yes, be self reliant, but also reach out for help when it is needed, it might just help you develop greater charity for others, and let them develop greater charity towards you AND others while they’re at it.

DO SOMETHING!

You can’t do everything, you can’t single handedly solve all the problems, and make everyone just get a long.  But you can do SOMETHING.

When Christ told us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc., he didn’t prescribe exactly how it had to be done.  It could include literally handing someone clothing or food. Have you ever given a homeless person a pair of socks?  I cleaned out my husband’s sock drawer and handed clean socks to pan handlers on the street, I got some of the most sincerely grateful looks and smiles I have ever been given.  It could also include giving what you can (money, time, goods) to charitable organizations.  Don’t have the extra room in the finances, socks in the drawer, or time in the day?  A smile and a kind word can go a long way to changing the hearts of everyone involved.

Do something to learn: have a conversation, pick up a book, or at the very least use the Google machine to get more information (from unbiased sources).  You don’t have to become an expert, but the more you learn about other groups the more you will love them.  Knowledge is power!

If all else fails, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all!  Think before you speak or share.  Ask yourself if your motivation is love, will it spread love, and will it help others feel loved.

Realize that charity and kindness are action words.  It is not enough to sit back and not do hateful things (although by all means if this is the first step you need to take, please sit back and stop doing or saying hateful things).  You must ACT, you must do something.

Bringing this full circle, back to post 1, where we defined charity as the pure love of Christ.  Christ did not become the embodiment of charity by sitting back and saying he loved us.  He developed charity by constantly acting out of love, and ultimately sacrificing his life because of his love for us.  If we are to develop anything remotely close to that level of love, we need to look around us and just start by doing something.

What will you do today to break down the barriers?