Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Tangible Way to Bless Sandy Hook Elementary

Pinned Image
We all wish there was something we could do. More importantly, we want a way for our families to process this together.

The National PTA has shared news that while the students are away on Christmas break, a team of volunteers will be decorating the school and turning it into a Winter Wonderland so that when they return it feels fresh, new and different.

Isn't that what God does in our lives - His mercies are new every morning.

I am thankful for fresh starts.
New mornings.
The clear skies after the rain.
The start of a New Year.
Fresh beginnings.

We can help.

If you are a teacher, you and your class can make snowflakes to send to Sandy Hook to decorate their school.

As a family, create snow flakes as a family activity.

You can go old school and fold the paper and make the cuts. Or, you can go new school and use coffee filters or popsicle sticks, or whatever else you want to create.

Each snow flake will be unique, just like each precious student who has ever graced those halls is unique, and uniquely loved by God. When you are done - hold those snow flakes in your hand and say a prayer for hope and peace and comfort. Here is a tutorial for making paper snowflakes, which I found on pinterest.

Please send all snowflakes and donations to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514

Monday, December 17, 2012

Turn this {Merry} into {Mighty Christmas}

It is difficult to escape the heaviness that lingers in the air right now.  The tragedy in Connecticut stands in heavy contrast to the "Christmas spirit" that 'tis the season.

I have a 6 year old son.

It's hard not to see his face when I hear the news and contemplate how this could have happened.  It's difficult for me to shut off the questions that come as I think of him ever being in a situation like that.  I cannot even begin to process the pain of searing loss if I were dealing with the aftermath as these parents are.

I am a teacher.

I am entrusted these beautiful children, these souls, to instruct and shepherd as they are in my care.  It is unfathomable to ponder a moment like that in my classroom.  Innocence shattered.  Fear unbridled.  Ugliness and evil screaming out.

I have prayed many prayers over the past few days.  Small prayers whispered under my breath as my brain tries to wrap itself around this news.  Prayers of gratitude for messy craft tables and sticky fingerprints.  Prayers of gratitude for "one more hug" at bedtime.  Prayers of comfort for the families experiencing this searing loss and unfathomable pain right now.  Prayers of protection for my own children and the children I teach.  Prayers for peace that transcend our understanding.  For, truly, this is something no one can understand.

The one thing that I continue to come back to is my favorite line from one of my favorite Christmas carols ("O Little Town of Bethlehem"):

"The hopes and fears of all the years 
are met in Thee tonight."

For the past two weeks I have been sharing this line with my students as we work on our Christmas art projects.  It is awe inspiring to me.  I think about all the hopes and all the fears from the beginning of time to the end of time, and I try to stack them on top of each other in the tallest tower that stretches higher than the heavens.  I then see Jesus, and he knocks it over and they crumble.  He came to be Emmanuel and to know and share in our highest hopes and the deepest fears.  He came to live with us the mess that is this life, and ultimately defeat those ugly fears.  He knew longing like we know longing.  He knew pain and loss and brokeness and ugliness.

The fears in that classroom in Connecticut alone are too much for my heart and mind to comprehend.  And yet, this Jesus, my Jesus, takes those, and the fears of the mothers through the ages, the whispers from the darkest moments of the Holocaust, and all the other crazy painful moments in history, and he carries them on his shoulders.  It makes the gift of the cross bigger today.  I cannot even sit in the reality of what that classroom must have felt like for longer than a few seconds - it is just too much.  Jesus doesn't walk away.  He doesn't say, "It is too much."  No - he walks towards it.  And more.  And he carries it and he defeats it.

The celebration of the angels and the stars blazing in the sky at His birth make more sense now.  Light in contrast to darkness.  The hope that arrives in contrast to the darkness that has lingered is just so beautiful.  I believe heaven shudders at these ugly moments in history.  It aches to see pain and darkness and evil.  That moment in time when the plan for redemption was put into motion - that moment when Jesus was born - that was the moment that heaven celebrates that an end to the darkness is near.

So, today, I pause to reflect on that beautiful thought.  That He came to cover the fears, and to know the hopes.  We still see the ugly because we are stuck in the now and not yet.  It is not yet perfect, but in the now, we can still see that HE CAME.  He entered this yuck, for the purpose of carrying the pain.

My dear friend, Tim Timmons, has written two songs that have become my soundtrack for the last few days.  They are Christmas songs and they are timely.

The first is his version of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" with his own flair added in.
To listen, go here.

The chorus says,
"Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, God is here.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  If God is for us, we won't fear.
Take joy in the comfort of the Prince of Peace,
And joy in the power of the King of Kings,
Rejoice!  And, again we say Rejoice!"

The second in on the album "A Christmas Together", vol 3 and it is called "Mighty Christmas".   The phrase "Merry Christmas" is viewed in our present days as happy, jolly, twinkly.  But, "merry" in the old school language was more along the lines of "mighty".  Robinhood and his MERRY men were not happy men giggling through the forest.  They were MIGHTY men.  A force to be reckoned with.

This song is all about the need for this year to be different.  For Jesus to turn the merry into a Mighty Christmas.  For the hopes and fears and doubts to be broken by the power that is in Him.  If ever we needed a mighty Christmas, I would say it is now.  That is one of the prayers I continue to whisper.  That God, in the way that only He can, would show up for these families.  That He would bring mighty  peace and mighty hope into a very dark and broken place.

To play "Mighty Christmas", click on the play icon and it will take you to Tim's myspace radio page: Mighty Christmas
Here are the lyrics to "Mighty Christmas".  If you are someone who is at a loss for what to pray right now, pray these lyrics.  God is listening...

What if all of this were true?
Emmanuel, how God came through
Is this more than Christmas cheer?
Is this just a story, what if it's real?
Would I still be lonely,
Would I know fear,
Would my worry hold me
Could I be healed?

Crying out loud,
This year Like never before 
Jesus reveal a little more to my soul
Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

What if in my silent nights
You were enough 
You were the light
Angels saying do not fear
Is this still the promise?
You still come near

Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 
You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

Stronger than the weight of gravity
That whisper in my bones reminding me
Everything I'm not, and I try to be
You are

Meet me in my lonely
Tear down my fear
Hold me through my worry
And, Lord would you heal

Crying out Loud - 
This year like never before, 
Jesus reveal a little more

Would you show me just how powerful 

You are more than a manger
Jesus the mighty Savior 
in my soul, turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas
Turn this Merry into Mighty Christmas

I am wishing you a mighty Christmas.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Celebrating A Great Year

Yesterday we celebrated our last day of Kids With A Vision for the year!

I cannot express what a blessing it is for us to get to do this KWAV's thing.  Sure, it is a lot of work.  Sure, there are times where I think, "Is this worth it?"

Here are some random shots of our last day together, and every one of them speaks very loudly that THIS IS WORTH IT!

our kindergarten kiddos on their weekly pilgrimage to KWAV's

... The Jump Over The River Trophies being admired ...

... One of our Junior Counselors leading the kids in "warm up exercises" for the final Jump Over The River contest ...

... Our JOTR Champ, Ryan McManigal!  I cannot believe how far these kids can jump.  The trophy may look like a baseball trophy from 1983.  Just ignore that.  (and, thank you to our wonderful neighbors who donated their old trophies to the cause!) ...

other JOTR champs: Lisi Sanders (top upper grade girl), Kaleb Annett (top lower grade boy), Indy Johnson (top lower grade girl)

 ... The kids hearing from Margo Day - an amazing woman headed to Africa to work for World Vision ...

And then, this year, we started a new tradition.  We gave our "Character Awards" to all of our KWAV's kiddos.  We brought each child up and gave them a certificate and shared the character quality we were honoring them with and why (friendliness, gentleness, courage, respectfulness, responsibility, etc.).

These are just a few photos that captured the moment with some of the kids.  They were so proud of themselves and so proud of each other.  It was MY FAVORITE MOMENT of all of our KWAV's gatherings.  

We are so thankful for the opportunity to partner with these families and to invest in these kids.  Truly.

I know we have quite a few people who have found this blog via pinterest or some other link to our famous "blessing bags" post.  I would encourage anyone who is wondering if they should try to do this in their neighborhood to go ahead and take the plunge.  Grab some kids and moms and start your own version of Kids With A Vision.  You will be so thankful you did.

Water Recap

Last week we had the privilege of hearing from Angela Mason, our special guest.  I think it is safe to say that we all had a crush on this amazing woman!  She had the children completely spell bound by her stories and the way she shares the information about the need for clean water in Africa and other extremely arid, extremely poor areas of the world.

Our kids were left with the challenge to do two things:

1. Conserve.  Angela pointed out that water is a finite resource.  I think it is difficult for the kids to get this concept because they think of water filling the pools, stretching to infinity at the beach just 5 miles away, and flowing out of the tap every time they turn it on.  You turn on the sink and it gushes out and it doesn't show any sign of letting up or turning to a drip.  Angela really helped them see how much water we all use that doesn't need to be used.  She had them take a pledge that they would turn off the tap while they brush their teeth and that while brushing they will say a prayer for the children across the world who are in need.  Love it!

2.  Partner in fundraising.  Angela is an advocate for World Vision's water projects in Africa and she helped the kids understand that $1 per week would pay for a child to have water for a week.  We sent the kids out with the mission of raising money to donate towards this fund.

Here are some ideas we have given the kids:
-collect water bottles, gatorade bottles and other recyclables to take to a recycling center and then donate that money towards clean water.  Its a double whammy of blessing - helping the earth and helping people on the earth!

-lemonade stand for good.  There is something about summer and lemonade stands.  Why not donate the profits to a great cause!

-water your neighbors' plants (sparingly - be mindful of how much water you use) and donate your earnings to a great cause.

Angela Mason shared with the kids that there is this little worm that lives in much of the water in africa that is called the guinea worm.  It is microscopic and cannot be seen so people drink water that they think is clean and then become infected.  These worms grow very long - multiple feet!  They make the children sick and are just nasty.

Over the past week my son has asked me multiple times before drinking the water I have handed him if it has guinea worms in it.

Me: "No honey."

My son:  "Oh good.  But, does the water in Africa still have worms in it?"

Me: "Yes."

My son:  "That's bad.  We need to make the water clean."

It's that simple.  I love how children see things so black and white.  I think there is a reason that Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven belonging to children and his encouragement to us to be like children.  Kids' hearts are close to God's heart - they dream bigger.  They want everyone to have a home.  They want all the kids to have clean water and they don't think about the impractical roadblocks that stand in the way of that like how massive the issue is and how much money it would take to make it happen.

So, we are dreaming bigger.  We have set our goal for our KWAV's kids to raise $4000 to donate to World Vision and their water initiatives.  The beautiful thing is we get to partner with our community in this.  We have 2 swim teams in our neighborhood and they are going to join us in raising money too.

If you are cruising the streets and you see a lemonade stand, ask if it is for "good in the hood".  We are going to make an impact, one drop at a time.

If you are interested in donating towards our KWAV's water project, feel free to mail a check to:
World Vision
Women of Vision, MS 110
PO Box 9716
Federal Way, WA 98063-9969

just mark in the memo:  "for water project with OC WOV"


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This week - a special guest!

This week we will have a special guest - Angela Mason, a British broadcaster now working for World Vision.  She has done MANY trips to feature human suffering in various countries around our world.  Her passion is women and children, clean water and adequate food.  She will be showing the children the water issue the children in arid lands are experiencing.  She will show with visuals and demonstration.  She’ll also be highlighting the lack of adequate nutrition as well. 
Her presence itself is a statement as you will see.  

She is marvelous and passionate about the work of World Vision.  She is so delighted that our children are being taught about need locally and in our world.

One of the Orange County Women of Vision projects is a marvelous water project in Kenya.  Donna Phebus, our resident KWAV's story teller and grandma to all, will be sharing about the Kenya Water Project that she got to visit.

It is such a great opportunity for the kids to see how blessed they are, and how they can play a role in helping out on a local (conservation) and global scale (we are dreaming big to partner in providing a well across the world!).

There is an open invitation for parents to attend and hear from our amazing guest too!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Weekly Recap

This week we played our #1 KWAV's game - "Jump Over The River".  The kids show up every single week with that as their big request.  They go crazy for this game.  We are actually in awe of how far they can jump.  This week the longest jump was over 10 feet.  Are you kidding me?

We started the Old Testament story of Joseph and his journey from beloved son to slave in Potipher's house.  The theme of the story is "What man intends for harm, God can use for good."  We will be continuing this story next week.  The kids are truly spellbound during these stories as Donna holds them in the palm of her hands with her amazing storytelling.

The kids also worked on a craft for their amazing mommies since Mother's Day is this weekend.  We had cute little envelopes filled with coupons for their mommies and they wrote a little note and decorated them.  I am excited to cash in my coupons for having the trash taken out and other helpful endeavors!

We also pulled our next "blessing mission" out of our blessing jar.  This is a new KWAV's tradition and the kids are excited to be out in the neighborhood with a secret task.  This week's mission is to give a balloon with a happy note attached to it to someone.  I cannot wait to hear how the kids run with this in different ways.  Be sure to snap a photo of your kiddo in action if you can!  We would love to post their photo on our site and brag about them in front of their friends!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Community Happenings

Our last few weeks of time with our Kids With A Vision have been so fun in a really simple and peaceful way.  The kids show up every week with enthusiasm and excitement to play (and play hard they do), hear stories about Jesus and exercise their generosity muscles.  We have been collecting books for The Shalimar Learning Center and have a very large collection growing.  They will be so blessed by these books for their library!

[the kids listening to Mrs. Phebus's bible story - they are spell bound by her!]

Beautiful things are growing here in our neighborhood.  It seems that everywhere I look I see community sprouting up, and there is even fruit of it in our children's lives.  I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend a luncheon benefitting a charity called Women of Vision.  Women of Vision is a partner of World Vision and they help sponsor our KWAV's group.  The keynote speaker was Father Gregory Boyle, author of Tattoos on The Heart.  His talk was about "Kinship" and he told the most beautiful stories about his journey living amongst gangsters in the inner city.  He is an amazing man.  One of the MANY morsels that I took with me as I left his presence was that we have these opportunities to walk along side of others and remind them that "They are exactly who God thought of when He created them."  He referenced the line in the well-known Christmas song, "Oh Holy Night" that says, "and the soul felt its worth."

I look around me in this neighborhood and see moment after moment of kinship - hands reaching out and taking hold of a soul in need of reminding of its worth.

Here are some glimpses of what I see ...

...Families rallying around families in our neighborhood who have experienced huge losses this year.  Meals are being prepared with love and families are being held up by loving arms that tenderly care.

...One of our 3rd graders at our neighborhood school was recently diagnosed with cancer and in anticipation of his chemo treatment and subsequent hair loss, his fellow 3rd grade buddies have rallied around him and shaved their heads in solidarity with him.

...The young daughter of one of our teachers at our neighborhood school has also been diagnosed with a brain tumor and the students at our school have rallied around Piper by forming the "Piperazzi" and are selling all sorts of merchandise.  Families are rallying around Piper's parents by contributing support and throwing carnivals.

...We got to visit The Isaiah House and help with dinner preparation for the gals staying at the house that night.  The Isaiah House is a home that has been converted into a shelter for women and children who are homeless.  It is a beautiful home in the heart of Santa Ana that is run by beautiful people.  The kids had so much fun helping out and were begging to be allowed to come back soon.  Such a gift.

...I am mindful of the many moms who show up each week to help us pull off this thing called KWAV's.  We have a mom who faithfully shows up every week and without a peep has the entire field set up for soccer games that the kids come sprinting towards after school.  We have moms that drop off snack and moms who help us set up and tear down our activity room.  We have a community that is rallying together to dream bigger for our kids.  We are dreaming of soft hearts, compassionate souls, kids that look to be bucket fillers, and hearts that follow Jesus.  

[our soccer field : the calm before the storm]

And the soul feels its worth.

And yet, we know this is just a drop in the bucket of possibilities as a community.  I think about how we get these little tastes of walking out life with intention and eyes to see others on the fringes and the intention to reach out and pull them near.  I think about what it looks like to slow down and know our neighbors so that we may enter into their highs and lows.  I think about how we can walk down our streets while whispering prayers of hope and blessing for our neighbors.  Our dreams for our children are really dreams for ourselves - that we may ourselves be bucket fillers.  That we may love our neighbors as we would want to be loved and be ready to share God's hopeful whisper: "You are exactly who I was thinking of when I thought of you."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Weekly Recap

Last week we kicked off our weekly KWAV's meetings with our annual Easter Egg Hunt. It was a blast! The kids got to participate in relay races, a fun time of music, hearing the Easter story and a massive egg hunt. At the end of the egg hunt, we had a giant basket out for the kids to donate some of their eggs to The Shalimar Learning Center. It is always fun to see how the kids exercise this option. Some of the kids gave all their eggs. Some gave a few. But, everyone gave.

This week we started off our time with a "Jump Over The River" competition. This has very quickly become a KWAV's favorite. The kids are wild about this game. I cannot believe how far these kids can jump. (Just in case you are wondering what this game looks like - it is so easy and so fun for the kids. You simply need two jump ropes or two ropes to use. You place the ropes parallel to each other about 2 feet apart and the kids all line up and one at a time will jump the "river" between the two ropes. After all the kids have gone you make the river wider by moving one of the ropes. The kids continue to jump and are eliminated when one of their feet touch any part of the rope. The last one to jump the river is the winner!)

We learned about a few parables that Jesus taught. The main focus was on the parable of the Talents, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about what it looks like to use our talents for good. It was really a treat to hear the kids identify what they know they are good at and how they can use that to be a blessing.

We also kicked off a new tradition in our time together. We have a giant jar called "The Blessing Jar". And, in this jar are many slips of paper with little missions to bless others in our community. Some examples:

Write your neighbors a note on their driveway with chalk telling them why you love them.

Bake a treat and deliver it to someone you know needs a boost.

Leave coins taped to the vending machine.

Make dinner for someone who could use it.

Sweep a neighbors porch.

You get the picture. This week the chosen mission is:

"Play with children who are younger than you. Encourage them!"

So, all our KWAV's kids have been sent out on this mission for the week. They are going to practice exercising generosity by being extra patient with the "littles" in their lives. These could be neighbors, younger siblings, or a child they meet at the park.

And, here's the twist - we are commissioning all the parents to act as spies - be on the look out for kids on a mission. Snap a photo if you can, and please share it with us!

We have gotten very fancy and set up a FACEBOOK Page to help make this super easy! You can simply share the photo of your child in action on our KWAV's Facebook page.

We have already spied our sweet first grade Megan lovingly playing with our KWAV's mascot and preschooler Ella for two hours while their older brothers were playing baseball. We love seeing love in action!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Important details for the upcoming months

We are excited to announce that after our Spring Break we will be moving back to an every week KWAV's meeting time.

We will have our 2nd Annual Easter Egg Hunt on Wednesday, April 4th! The kids had so much fun last year scouring the green belt and then they got to share some of their eggs in a basket that was donated to The Shalimar Learning Center. Save the date for our hunt this year and be sure to invite friends to join in the fun. We will be at the Phase 2 Clubhouse on April 4th from 1:30-2:40.

We will not meet on April 11th due to Spring Break.

From April 18th on we will be meeting weekly! We look forward to many fun weeks with these amazing kids.

Lastly, we have had lots of email inquiries from people all over the country asking about KWAV's and whether they can follow our format and do their own group.

Our answer: HECK YES!

Go for it.

We will be cheering you on. Feel free to borrow anything we have done, and tweak it for your own community. We have learned so much from this experience of living missionally with the kids and families in our neighborhood.

We have seen that God works through daily conversations in line at pick up and drop off. He works as we stand at the park. He works at swim meets. He works as we watch kids razor in front of our yard. He uses our front porches as chapels. He allows our messy lives to somehow declare the glory of the Lord and we are convinced that He often does His best work outside of the walls of church.