Category Archives: Faith At Home

“A God Who Shows Up” – (At Bold Cafe: Women of the ELCA)

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Photo taken in downtown Bethlehem on Jan. 6: Celebrating the Orthodox Christmas (Emily Heitzman

I’m blogging “A God Who Shows Up” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA today). Here is part of what I wrote:

Since I moved away after high school, I always look forward to going back to my parent’s home for the holidays. And since Christmas songs, movies, and holiday TV specials often include themes of magical family “homecomings,” I am guessing I’m not the only one whose focus in December is on getting ready to go home. After all, doesn’t Perry Como say: “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays, you can’t beat home sweet home?”

And yet, what about those individuals whose family relationships are broken or abusive, those who feel unsafe in their homes, or those who do not have homes to go to? Can they find places during the holidays that “beat home sweet home?”

It seems as though the theme lately in the news has been one of violence, instability, and displacement. The economy continues to leave many people jobless or underemployed, families are losing their homes to foreclosure, and more and more people are moving to transitional housing or becoming homeless. Additionally, the past several months, we have heard about the terrified children at the border who are fleeing violence. We have seen horrific images of the attack on Gaza that killed thousands of civilians and damaged thousands of homes, and we are aware of domestic violence that occurs in households.

So how can our cultural emphasis on “holiday homecoming” be good news when this “homecoming” is not a reality for so many? 

Read the rest at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA).

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Ash Wednesday Reflections and Lent Activities for Families

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It is Ash Wednesday: the day we are called to be reminded of our mortality by receiving ashes – the symbol of mourning and repentance – in the sign of the cross on our foreheads…

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

It is on this day that we hear the prophet Joel’s commission: 

Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And it is on this day that we begin our Lenten path: our journey through the wilderness and to the cross…  Our time to retreat from the busyness of life, to reflect on what it means to be human and children of God, and to open our ears to hear and our eyes to see the ways God is present in our lives and around us.

It is our time to recognize that life is short, and therefore to reevaluate how our own lives have and can have meaning in this world.  

And as Jesus wandered in the wilderness 2000 years ago between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry to prepare for what was to come, Lent is also our time to wander in the wilderness in preparation for the journey to the cross and Resurrection.

During Lent, some of us take on the ancient practice of “giving up” something… However, whether it is giving up chocolate or coffee, Facebook or tv, this practice does not serve as a means to prove our willpower or to cut a few calories in our diets.  But rather, it serves as a means to cut out something in our lives that we seem dependent upon or that consumes us and takes us away from experiencing the grace of God in our spiritual lives, in others, and in ourselves.  And some of us also take on an ancient practice of “taking something on” in our lives (in that newly created space) to help us return to God and to focus on the important things in life that we too often miss in our busy schedules: whether it be a prayer or other spiritual practice, a new family activity, a form of community outreach or service, or a physical activity that will improve one’s health.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Whatever we do, let us be intentional this Lent.  Let us return again and again and again to our God with all our hearts.

“[This is] what Ash Wednesday and Lent is…a thousand opportunities to return to God with all your heart. Returning again to the only thing in which we have any true self-hood …and that is the eternal and divine love of God. The eternal and divine love of God which created you from dust and breath. The eternal and divine love of God to which you will return after your last breath when again you are dust.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber

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RESOURCES AND ACTIVITIES FOR LENT PRACTICES AT HOME:

1. Individual practices and devotionals.  Some of my favorites are:

D365 devotional (There is a free app for this.)

3 Minute Retreat (There is a $1 app for this.)

Presbyterian Daily Readings

Sacred Space Lent Retreat 

Daily Lent Devotionals (by Presbyterian Mission)

Daily Lent Devotional (by Michelle Derusha in conjunction with Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE)

2. Devotionals and rituals for Lent to do as a family:

Weekly or Daily Lenten Family Practices:

Lenten Candles (Family of all ages) – weekly devotional and candle lighting ritual

Bedtime Meditation (Young Families)

One Time Lent Activities/Discussions:

Intentionally Celebrating Lent and Easter as a Family (Family of all ages)

Family Activities for the 40 Days of Lent Ideas (Family of all ages)

Ash Wednesday (Adult or Teen Family) – the holy season begins. Learn about this holy day.

The Meaning of Lent (Adult or Teen Family) – questions about Lent? Answers here.

Purpling Your Home (All Families) – some home decorating may get you in the mood.

A Song of Ashes (Young Adult) – what does a popular Bastille song have to do with Lent?

Get Your Ash On (Teen Family) – Did God make mud pies?

Gang Up on Lent (Teen Family) – we’ve got each other’s back.

Planting Alleluias (Young Family) – plant an Alleluia garden and come Easter, celebrate new life!

Lent: Learning to Love (Just for Kids) – it’s a season to practice love.

 3. Doing Random acts of kindness:

Random Acts of Kindness Resources: (For everyone!) website with all sorts of ideas

Acts of Kindness: (Teen Family)

4. Sharing what we have with others (our time, gifts, compassion, and money) through volunteering in the community.  There are great opportunities in your community where you can volunteer and serve as a family (such as homeless shelters, women and children shelters, community or soup kitchens, etc.): *You and your family will often be surprised at how much you receive from those you planned on “serving.”

Volunteer Match: website that can help locate agencies in your area in need of volunteers

H2O Project for Lent: (For everyone) make water your only beverage during Lent and help give water to those who don’t have access to clean water

Learning to Love (Families with kids)

Family Shield (Young Family)

If you live on the north side of Chicago, some great places to volunteer at are:

Care for Real (Edgewater’s only food and clothing pantry) – hand out food or help sort winter coats and clothes

A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (community kitchen that serves meals every day in Rogers Park) – serve a meal

Bethany Retirement Community or Breakers at the Edgewater Beach Assisted Living  – Sing Christmas carols to residents

Sarah’s Circle (women’s shelter in Uptown) – there are many different ways to volunteer

The Night Ministry – serve meals to people on the street (multiple locations)

Advent Activities for Families at Home and Youth and Children’s Ministries

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It is Advent: the time of year where we are called to expectantly wait and prepare for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love!  So how do we expectantly wait and prepare for this coming of Jesus Christ?  I thought I’d share some Advent activities for my fellow youth/children’s ministers and for other singles, couples, and families with children and youth.

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ADVENT IDEAS FOR SINGLES, COUPLES, AND FAMILIES AT HOME

Advent is an intrusion upon our crazy lives this month.  And yet, it is a season that calls us to wait in expectation and prepare for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love and light in the darkness of this world.  In the midst of the December chaos full of parties, decorating, hosting family or traveling, and Christmas shopping – take some time as individuals and as a family to remember the reason for the season.

Some ways to expectantly wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus (both as a baby boy 2000 years ago and who will one day return) are: individual reflection and time with God, reflecting on Advent as a family through rituals and discussions, taking time to do random acts of kindness for those around us, sharing what we do have with others who have less or are in need (time, food, clothing, resources, gifts), giving gifts this year that matter and help others in need.  I am echoing my last post by providing several resources for each category below (as well as adding a few new resources):

ADVENT RESOURCES:

1. Individual practices and devotionals.  Some of my favorites are:

D365 devotional (There is a free app for this.)

3 Minute Retreat (There is a $1 app for this.)

Presbyterian Daily Readings

Daily Readings with the Irish Jesuits (scroll down and click on Advent Retreat)

Advent Breath Prayer (breadnotstones.com)

2. Devotionals and rituals for Advent to do as a family:

Why Wait? (Adult/Couple, Young Family) – Advent is about more than just doing nothing.

Advent Chain (Young Adult) – a creative way to pray for friends and family.

Advent: A Time of Waiting (Teen Family) – as a family, talk about how to wait well.

Countdown to Christmas (Young Family) – read a scripture a day during Advent.

Decorate Family Advent Candles (Young Family) – create Advent hope, peace, love, and joy!

Saint Nicholas (Just for Kids) – here the story of the real Saint Nick.

Christmas Myths Busted (Teen Family) – activity to talk as family about Christmas myths

Taking the Advent Story Home (For everyone!) – a terrific daily devotional.

Advent Devotional Guide: Preparing for the Coming of Christ (For everyone!) – lighting candles at home (by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts)

Printable Advent Calendar (For kids, families, and everyone!) – with daily reflections/questions (By Loyola Press)

Calendario de adviento para ninos (Para las familias con ninos) – (Loyola Press)

 3. Doing Random acts of kindness:

Value of All People: (Young Families)-  Activity to do together to help kids understand value of all people

Random Acts of Kindness Resources: (For everyone!) website with all sorts of ideas

4. Sharing what we have with others (our time, gifts, compassion, and money) through volunteering in the community.  There are great opportunities in your community where you can volunteer and serve as a family (such as homeless shelters, women and children shelters, community or soup kitchens, etc.): *You and your family will often be surprised at how much you receive from those you planned on “serving.”

Volunteer Match: website that can help locate agencies in your area in need of volunteers

Spread the Christmas Cheer: (Families with children or anyone!) – activity for spreading Christmas cheer to others through music

 Christmas Giving For Children in Need: (Family activity)

If you live on the north side of Chicago, some great places to volunteer at are:

Care for Real (Edgewater’s only food and clothing pantry) – hand out food or help sort winter coats and clothes

A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (community kitchen that serves meals every day in Rogers Park) – serve a meal

Bethany Retirement Community or Breakers at the Edgewater Beach Assisted Living  – Sing Christmas carols to residents

Sarah’s Circle (women’s shelter in Uptown) – there are many different ways to volunteer

The Night Ministry – serve meals to people on the street (multiple locations)

5. Buy gifts this year that matter and help others in need.  (Here is a list of several fair trade organizations.)

31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda

Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda

Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India

B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood

Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices

World Vision – purchase livestock for a child in need

*For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.

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YOUTH MINISTRY ADVENT IDEAS

This week, both of my youth groups gathered to discuss what advent is and to make some space for God and time for waiting and preparing.  They were both wonderful nights!  Feel free to take these ideas and use them in your youth or children’s ministries or even in your home activities.

OPENING:

– Ask youth what season we entered this past Sunday, Dec. 1. (Advent)  Ask the youth if they know anything about Advent (what it means, what we do during Advent, etc.)

– Tell the youth we are going to do an Advent Trivia Game. Tell them that it is okay if they don’t know the answers to the trivia.  This is a learning game.  (The trivia questions were written by Deanna Mascle.)

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ADVENT RUNAROUND TRIVIA GAME: 

Gather in the gym and designate a zone in each corner of the gym (zone A, B, C and D.) Line the youth up in the center of the gym when asking a question.   Tell the youth that you will ask several questions and each question will have four possible answers (A, B, C, or D.)  Explain that after each question, they should run to the zone of the answer they think is correct.  When they arrive at their zone, tell them the correct letter answer and gather them back in the center of gym.  Once they gather back to the center line, explain the rest of the answer to the question (TOPICS).  (Further explanations are included below the letter answer.)

 1. What is Advent?

A. Preparation B. Celebration C. Mourning D. Darkness

 A. Preparation

TOPICS: In the Christian church, Advent is the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

2. What feast marks the beginning of the Advent period?

A. Feast of John the Baptist B. Feast of St. Andrew C. Feast of St. Matthew D. Feast of Thanksgiving

 B. Feast of St. Andrew

TOPICS: Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) which does coincide pretty closely with Thanksgiving many years. In the 5th Century, Advent began on 11 November (St Martin’s Day) and took the form of a six week fast leading to Christmas. During the 6th century, Advent was reduced to its current length and later the fasting was dropped.

3. How many Sundays are included in the traditional Advent celebration?

A. 1 B. 2 C. 3 D. 4

 D. 4

TOPICS: The first Sunday may be as early as November 27th, and then Advent has twenty-eight days, or as late as December 3rd, giving the season only twenty-one days.

4. What shape is the Advent wreath?

A. Square B. Triangle C. Circle D. Rectangle

 C. Circle

TOPICS: The circle of the wreath reminds Christians of God, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end.

5. What colors are the candles in the Advent wreath?

A. Purple B. Pink C. White D. Purple, pink and white

 D. Purple, pink and white

TOPICS: Traditionally three of the candles are purple, the color of kings and of penance. A rose-colored candle is used to mark the Third Sunday of Advent as a time to rejoice over the closeness of Christmas and the coming of Christ. In the center of the circle is a fifth candle (traditionally white) which is lit on Christmas Day. Candles symbolise the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son, Jesus.

6. What color is the Advent wreath?

A. Gold B. Silver C. White D. Green

 D. Green

TOPICS: The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that Christians have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life.

7. Why was purple chosen as an Advent candle color?

A. Represents the common people B. Represents royalty C. Represents peace D. Represents war

B. Represents royalty

TOPICS: Purple dyes were once so rare and costly that they were associated with royalty; the Church has long used this color around Christmas and Easter to honor Jesus.

* I added the question here: Why do we use a “royal” color to honor Jesus? (Explain: Jesus is referred to as our King.  The people of God in Biblical times expected that a Messiah would come to save the world… But they believed that this Messiah would come in the form of a worldly king: with a lot of worldly wealth and power.  But instead, Jesus – our Messiah – came in the very humble form of a baby boy, born of a poor carpenter and a teenage girl, in a manger, among dirty animals. And he proclaimed a message that was unlike the message of the worldly kings: rather than continuing a message of oppression and taking advantage of the poor and the marginalized, he proclaimed good news to the poor and taught a message to love all – including those on the margins.  And we proclaim that Jesus is our TRUE king: the King of all Kings, the Lord of all Lords – who didn’t bring about a kingdom of inequality and oppression as the worldly kings did, but rather one of equality, love, and justice for all.)

8. Two of the five Advent candles are different than the others. What does the rose or pink candle signify?

A. Joy B. Birth C. Angels D. Prophecy

A. Joy

TOPICS: The third week of Advent is marked by the Shepherds’ Candle or Joy Candle. The shepherds represent the message of great joy that is brought to the world about Jesus’ birth.

9. Three of the Advent candles are the same color. Which is NOT represented by one of these candles?

A. Christ B. Hope C. Peace D. Love

 A. Christ

TOPICS: The three purple candles in the Advent wreath symbolise hope, peace, and love. These candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The first candle is called either the Hope Candle or the Prophecy Candle. The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle or Peace candle represents the preparations made for the coming Christ child. The fourth candle is the Angel Candle or Love Candle which represents the love which God shared with the world when He sent His Son, Jesus.

10. The candle in the center of the Advent wreath is called what?

A. The Star Candle B. The Bethlehem Candle C. The Stable Candle D. The Christ Candle

D. The Christ Candle

TOPICS: In the centre of the circle is a fifth candle (traditionally white), the Christ Candle, which is lit on Christmas Day.

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DISCUSSION:

Follow up with the youth on any other important topics or issues regarding Advent that you touched on in the game.

Discuss what Advent means and calls us to do:

ASK: What happens when we light one more candle each week and why is this significant?  (EXPLAIN: In the darkness, the lighting of the candles brings more and more light until we get to Christ’s birth.  This lighting of the candles reminds us that in the midst of the darkness in our world (times of suffering and pain), Jesus brings us light, hope, peace, joy, and love.)

EXPLAIN:  Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means “coming.”  It is the time of year when we wait for the coming of Jesus (both as a baby 2000 years ago) and … when? ASK: youth to finish this proclamation that is spoken in our Eucharist liturgy: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will…” (come again.) EXPLAIN: Christ came in the form of a baby boy 2000 years ago and will one day return again to bring about God’s Kingdom fully – where we will no longer experience pain and suffering.  So we are here waiting for that time.  And this Advent season calls us to wait for this coming of Jesus’ birth 2000 years ago when he first brought light to this world AND for his return.  But we don’t wait by sitting around idly twiddling our thumbs.  We wait in expectation and through preparation because just as Jesus brings us light in our darkness – just as Jesus is the light of the world – as followers of Jesus, we are called to be the light of the world and to bring light to others who are experiencing darkness by sharing God’s love.

EXPLAIN: Now it is often difficult to prepare for the coming of Jesus during this Advent season.  ASK: Why do you think?  What goes on during this month? (Christmas shopping, parties, concerts, lots of things to do that distract us from the real reason for the season.)  Discuss the irony and implications of Black Friday that occurs the day after Thanksgiving.

APPLICATION: Challenge the youth to make space for God and time to prepare for the coming of Jesus this Advent season.

– SHARE: Share some ideas of how they can give up a few additional activities in their lives that distract them from spending time with God.  Share some ideas and practices they can take on this Advent season that help them prepare for the coming of Jesus.  (Personal devotions, family devotions, random acts of kindness, volunteering to help others, etc. *See some of the ideas I list below in the section under: “ADVENT IDEAS FOR SINGLES, COUPLES, AND FAMILIES AT HOME.”)

– REFLECT: Give the youth a slip of paper and ask them to write one or two things they can give up to make space for God and one or two practices they can take on this season to prepare for Christ’s coming.

RESPONSE: 

End the evening by allowing your youth to spend some time with God, preparing for Christ’s coming.  Go to a small chapel or quite room, play some Gregorian Chant music, and ask them to (quietly) go to all or any of the advent prayer stations you have set up in advance.  (See stations I used below for suggestions.)

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ADVENT PRAYER STATIONS

(I took these and developed them a little from rethinkingyouthministry.com.)

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ECT Youth Group

(Provide at each station: the materials needed and one or two instruction sheets for that station.  Ask the youth not to all be at the same station at the same time.  The stations do not need to be visited in this particular order.)

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Station 1: Where am “I” In the Nativity?

Advent is the time we are waiting for the coming of Jesus.  Think about which character in the Christmas story you identify with most at this point in your life: the expectant mom, the worried father, the scruffy shepherds, the travelling magi, the angels coming to bring good news, the animals wondering at the spectacle happening in their stable?

Take a paper doll cutout and draw your likeness or name on one of the dolls and place it in the nativity scene as a way of symbolically entering the mystery of this story for the rest of the Advent season.

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ECT Youth Group

Station 2: Letting Go of Distractions

Advent is a time of year where we wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus.  In doing so, we take some time to get rid of distractions so we can make more space for God in our lives.

Take one or a few pieces of paper and write or draw the distractions in your life right now that are keeping you from focusing on your faith. (These distractions might include worries, stress related to school or family, relationship issues, or the everyday things like TV, video games, and the like.)

Place your lists of distractions in the gift bag as a reminder that Jesus is a gift to us who carries our burdens for us.  Placing your distractions in the bag also is a gesture of letting go of some of those distractions during Advent so that you can focus on God.  When you place it in the bag, think about how you are taking the gift of Jesus and letting go of your distractions to him.

 ImageStation 3: Paper chain Prayers

During Advent, we are called to pray for others who are in need, and we are reminded that we are not alone when we suffer or struggle… We are joined together by so many others around us who care and who pray, and our prayers are connected to the prayers of others.

Take one or a few of the paper strips and write down the names of people, places, or causes you would like to lift up in prayer.  (for example: organizations or issues of hunger, poverty, people in the Philippines, victims of war and other violence, abuse victims, persons in your life who are struggling or ill, etc.) Connect your strips as loops to the paper chain as a way of connecting your prayers together with those of the rest of our community.

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Station 4: Shepherd

As we wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus this advent season, we are reminded of the many times we here about shepherds in our Bible.

In the Gospel of Luke in the Bible, the angels appeared to the shepherds.

The 23rd Psalm in the Old Testament reads: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Jesus is described as a shepherd to his flock many times in the Bible.

As we prepare again for the birth of the shepherd who comes to lead us closer to God, consider who the shepherds are in your life. Who has helped you know and experience God’s love and compassion?   Take pieces of paper and write names of people who have been shepherds in your life, leading you to safe places or bringing you comfort.   Tape these names on the wall as a prayer of thanks for these individuals.

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Station 5:  Waiting

 Advent is a season where we wait for the coming of Jesus (who came as a baby boy 2000 years ago and who will one day come again to bring us to a place where we will no longer shed tears or experience pain.)  So we wait now both as we prepare for Jesus’ coming as a baby and for the day he will one day return.  However, this waiting period means that we wait expectantly and actively by sharing God’s love and light to the world and working for justice and peace in the world.  (We don’t just sit around doing nothing.)

Answer the following questions on the brown butcher paper: (Write it under each question in marker)

1. What are you waiting for this advent?  (What is it that you hope to see or need to see in your life or other’s lives?  Examples: healing relationships, a closer relationship with God, something to do with school or college applications, less violence in your neighborhood, kids to be included in school, etc.)

2. What do you think God is waiting for this Advent season?  (What is it God is waiting for you to do, for others to do?  Is it peace in the world, more people sharing and loving others, less focus on materialism and buying things and more focus on loving others?  Is God waiting for you to reach out to someone in need or for you to spend more time with God?) 

North Shore Baptist Youth Group

North Shore Baptist Youth Group

 

ECT Youth Group

ECT Youth Group

Station 6: Light in the Darkness: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

During advent, we are reminded that Jesus brings us hope, peace, joy, and love.  Each Sunday in Advent we focus on one of these theme words as a reminder of the gifts Christ will bring to the world.  And each week, as we light one more candle, we are reminded of how Jesus brings us light in the midst of our darkness.

Take a few minutes to think about this.  Think about how you or others you know are currently experiencing darkness in your life or in their lives.  (A loss of a loved one, an illness, depression, a natural disaster, loss of a job, struggle to pay bills, a relationship that has been unhealthy or broken, etc.)

Now think about what you need most in your life from Jesus and how he can shed light in your darkness…

Which element(s) that Jesus brings do you need right now? Hope, Peace, Joy, Love?

Which element(s) do you feel you are most called by God to share with others in their lives right now?

Now light a candle as a reminder that Jesus brings light to your darkness and think about how Jesus calls YOU to be the light of the world.

North Shore Baptist Youth Group

   North Shore Baptist Youth Group

 

Station 7: Letters to God

Think back to the time when you were younger and wrote letters to Santa.  What did you ask for?

Now take this time to write a letter to God, sharing your hopes and fears, your joys and your sorrows.  When you finish, you can fold up the letter and put it at the foot of the cross.  When you do so, think about how you are giving up that letter as a prayer to God.

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For more reflections on Advent, see click here for my last post: Advent 1: What To Expect When You Are Expecting.

Related Articles:

2010 Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry #2: Prayer Stations: (rethinkingyouthministry.com)

Advent Ideas for Families: (hemustbecomegreater.wordpress.com)

Interactive Prayer Stations for Installations, Ordinations, & Avent: (Still Waters: http://theresaecho.com)

2013 Advent Home Worship (gbod.org)

Preparing For Advent: (practicingfamilies.com)