A Back-To-School Practice from “Faithful Families”

Excerpted from Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith.

First Day of School – New Beginnings

Heading off to school on the first day can be daunting for parent and child alike, as there are so many questions in one’s mind. “What will the new year be like?” “Will I like my teacher?” “Will my child be happy?” This is a yearly tradition involving making a copy of your child’s footprints on the first day of school and saying a simple prayer for the year to come. This tradition also relates to the graduation ceremony listed next.

Designed for Ages Preschool—Senior in High School

Materials

1. Construction paper

2. Washable tempera paint

3. Wide paintbrush

4. Shallow pan of soapy water

5. Washcloths and towels

Time Investment: 30 minutes

How To

1. On the night before or the morning of the first day of school, paint the bottom of your child’s feet with a wide paintbrush and ask him or her to step on a piece of construction paper. As he or she does, say, “Your feet remind us of the journey you will take this year at school. I know that you will learn so many new things and go so many new places. I hope that you will go with courage and strength and know that God goes with you too.”

2. Before the child steps off the construction paper, say this short prayer,  “God please be with [child’s name] as [he/she] heads off on [his/ her] first day of school. May the year be full of new experiences and knowledge, and may [he/she] walk in light and truth every day. Amen.”

3. Wash off the paint from the child’s feet and head off to a new year!

Notes

• The time investment for this activity is listed at 30 minutes, but it actually takes much less time. The reason for the inflated time is simple: nobody should be rushed on the first day of school! Take the extra time to avoid a stressful morning, or do it the night before.

• Those who are coming to this tradition with older children might be tempted to skip it, thinking, “Well, we haven’t done it in the past, we should just skip it.” I think it’s never too late to start a new tradition, and this is an easy one to start at any time! Go ahead and start it, no matter how old your children are!

Variations

• Do handprints instead of footprints.

• Show the footprints from previous years and notice how the child has grown and changed.

• Trace around the hand or foot and make handprints or footprints that way.

• Do this every year on the last day of school instead of the first, and talk about all of the places the child has gone in the past year.

This practice, and more than 50 more simples ideas for turning everyday family moments into sacred ones, can be found in Traci’s new book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home.

Creating Connections in the Chaos: A Mother’s Day Reflection

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.” 

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing. 

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.” 

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are. 

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so. 

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon. 

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Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day, our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, below, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Traci Smith is the author of two books with Chalice Press, Faithful Families (formerly Seamless Faith) and Fellowship of Prayer (2015), and a contributor to Out of the Deep: Pastoring in Creative Space. Traci has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband and children.


An Appeal to the Methodist Council to Defer Action on Bishop Oliveto’s Case

By Rev. Frank Schaefer

On this day deliberations have begun by the highest United Methodist judicial body (Judicial Council) whether our first openly gay bishop, Karen Oliveto, can remain in office after being elected and consecrated less than a year ago.

My thoughts and prayers are especially with Bishop Oliveto, as I personally know what it’s like to face the possible loss of your career in front of the Judicial Council. I remember going before this body just two years ago knowing that not only my personal career was at stake, but the fate of so many LGBTQ members including my three gay children. When the ruling came out that I would not be defrocked again, I counted it a victory for the LGBTQ community as much as a personal victory. That was a good day. I was certainly not ready to face another defrocking—an experience I have described with intimate details in my book Defrocked published by Chalice Press.

Our beloved United Methodist Church has been stuck at an impasse over this for many years and show-downs like this are becoming more frequent and more intense. Representatives on both sides of the issue are aware of just how high the stakes are. The biggest fear, which appears to become more real with every show-down is that our denomination could split, splinter and become irrelevant.

I do realize that there there are two sides of course. No matter what the Judicial Council decides, there will be grief. I do realize that the church law, as currently written, forbids the ordination of openly gay persons in relationships (“self-avowed, practicing homosexuals”).

However, it should be clear to everybody after General Conference 2016 that our Conference Delegates have acknowledged that the United Methodist Church is divided over the human sexuality doctrine as currently written. General Conference 2016 voted to authorize the council of bishops to put into place a special commission to determine a way forward.

In my opinion, as long as there is official debate on this doctrinal issue, the Judicial Council should not make a drastic decision. While I personally long for the Council to affirm the election of Bishop Oliveto, I think the wisest outcome of this hearing–given the ongoing Way Forward process–would be to defer action.

I appeal to our Judicial Council to please consider deciding this way. And should a decision be made to defer action, I also appeal to the entire body of our denomination to embrace this ruling. May God be with us in these times of struggle!

For news of the Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, see here.

Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He is married to Brigitte and has four children. He was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2013, Frank Schaefer was tried by a United Methodist court for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage and was defrocked over his refusal to uphold the Book of Discipline, which meant virtually to denounce gay marriage rights. In June 2014, a regional appeals committee decided to reinstate him as a minister; in October 2014, the highest court of the United Methodist Church upheld that reinstatement. Now leading a United Methodist campus ministry in California, he is a speaker and human-rights activist.

Order your copy of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the Methodist Church here.