Category Archives: church year

I Wrote a Book Chapter

During my forced hiatus, a book chapter I wrote about celebrating Pentecost was published. First it came out as a small volume, but now you can get the whole thing. Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home is an affordable guide to celebrating the church year in meaningful ways.


Obviously, I find comfort and meaning from celebrating the church year at home with my family. I’ve shared over the years through blog posts about some of the ways we’ve observed the seasons. Each year I am encouraged to hear how others are keeping the church year with their own families.

Let Us Keep the Feast provides an introduction and explanation of each season of the church year with ideas of how to celebrate and relevant recipes, readings, hymns and prayers. It is perfect for someone who is newer to celebrating the church year or looking for ideas of how to bring the church year into family life.

A few people over the years have mentioned turning my blog posts into a book, and honestly this is exactly what I had in mind. I am thankful that Ed Eubanks at Doulos Resources connected me to this project after it was already underway.

The book is only $3.99 on the kindle or in PDF / epub. The publisher offers free digital copies for those who buy a print edition, if you are the sort who likes your books in multiple formats.

As we wind down the last few days of Christmas, I am already thinking about how we will celebrate Epiphany; it was a treat to see what Anna had written about in her chapter as I started to plan. Of course, I will keep all my old resources up if you’d like the quick blog version. Either way, I’d love to hear how your family keeps the feast.

Ash Wednesday



[ download PDF | download JPG ]

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. If you’d like ideas about how to keep Lent at home, particularly with children, I have some for you.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

A meditation for Epiphany

This is from Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. Waugh’s favorite of his books, it follows the quest of Helen, the mother of Constantine to the Holy Land to see and feel the places where Christ was and to find relics of the cross on which Christ was crucified. In the historical novel, Helen prays to the magi in a church in Bethlehem and has a vision of the wise men, which inspires this soliloquy.

“This is my day and these are my kind.

Like me, she said to them, you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed among the disconcerted stars.

How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculations, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!

You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!

Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room at the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life there was room for you too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

You are my especial patrons, said Helena, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have had a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

Dear cousins, pray for me, said Helena, and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly…

For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Amen, Evelyn. Amen.

Celebrating Ascension & Pentecost 2012

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord! Pentecost is coming up, too. If you need ideas for how to celebrate at home, I’ve got some for you.

I am grateful for the hope and peace that Christ’s ascension brings. Our Savior rules and reigns from the right hand of the Father, advocating on our behalf. That’s good news.

Failing at Easter

Last month, I wrote about failing at Lent. I expected Lent to humble me, showing my lack of conformity and discipline. Lent is about falling short, and I was ready to fail.

I’ve been a bit more surprised by my failing at Easter.

I’ve always thought of Easter as easy. It’s happy and full of chocolate and alleluias and “He is Risen, Indeed!” It’s celebrating what we affirm every week: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

But over the last week, I’ve found myself again and again defining myself by what I am not, focusing on my failure and lack and sinfulness. Comparing myself to other people, I felt small. I’ve acted like a person who has no hope.

That’s not the way Easter is supposed to work. Easter is joyous celebration, not for its own sake, but because of the truth.We have joy because we have hope, real resurrection hope. Christ is risen, he’s at work in this world, and we are a part of his story of redemption far greater than we can imagine.

Sometimes I think if I could believe 1% of what was true about me in Christ, and the transforming work that God is accomplishing in and through me, I would be free of the paralyzing self-pity and doubt that makes my life feel meaningless sometimes. I’d be able to do what God made me to do, and be who he wants me to be, without worrying about who I am not.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I don’t believe nearly enough. And so I’m left to pray “I believe, only help my unbelief” and remind myself of the truth of the gospel. I cling to the hope that if I long to believe what is true more deeply, God will grant it to me.

Keeping Lent at Home 2012

Lent starts in one week. I’ve added several new ideas to last year’s lenten ideas post. And free printables, for the few of you who might like that sort of thing.

Celebrating Epiphany 2012

I am adding new ideas to my celebrating the church year posts as we come around to them again. This Friday is Epiphany! I am really looking forward to blessing our new home for the first time.

(like this, but with 2012!) If you’d like some ideas, you can see them all here: Epiphany and Blessing Your Home. I am excited about all the possibilities, I think every family (newly married, older or younger kids, all types of learners) can find some meaningful way to celebrate together. I’d love to hear about your plans, if you’ve made any.

Christmas at Home

Part of a continuing series on celebrating the church year.

Before I jump in with my usual list of ideas, I want to note that for some people, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It reminds them of old pain, or of all the ways things are not the way they are supposed to be. This advent sermon by Jeremy Jones is worth listening to if you or someone you love is suffering this Christmas.

The twelve days of Christmas stretch from Christmas to Twelfth Night (January 5th.) It is one of the great feasts of the church, and a time of joy. For me celebrating Advent is the only way to stretch Christmas out throughout the season without hitting fatigue. So, consider these suggestions with that in mind!

Obviously, most people celebrate Christmas by giving gifts. It’s a good opportunity to share joy with ones we love. Perhaps you can start some fun family traditions for the Christmas season, like playing games or a special read aloud.

One of the ways you can continue your Christmas celebration is by keeping up your decorations for all twelve days. Leave out your nativity scenes to play with, moving the wise men as they follow the star (to arrive on Epiphany.) You can sing carols and light your advent wreath (all four outer candles and a center Christ candle) at meals.

We will probably select from this devotional to study some of the characters of Christmas more deeply than we did in our Jesse Tree (or, finish in years we get behind!)

Many families have Christmas traditions that emphasize Jesus’ birthday, serving a special cake or decorating with Happy Birthday Jesus signs.

Save your new years dieting resolutions one week, and keep baking and feasting throughout Christmas. The last several years, I haven’t started baking until Dec 15th at the very earliest, and gave most of that away.

Later in Christmas is a good time to throw a party. In both Richmond and Birmingham, we had friends with that tradition. Most everyone is back home for Twelfth Night, and there are less conflicts than in December!

In the spirit of the season, here are a few free printables for y’all, sized at 8×10:

gloria | luke 2hark the herald

What are your family Christmas traditions? Any good ideas for celebrating for 12 days? May your days be filled with joy!

More Advent Resources

I will add these to the big Advent at Home post, but a few things for this last day of the first week of Advent:

City Church Philadelphia has a good Advent Prayer Guide that is simple and not too time-consuming.

I made a few Advent printables (8×10) for y’all. Absolutely free decor to put next to your wreath or Jesse Tree.

FILES: Savior of the Nations, Come | Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Advent & Christmas Music

Seems like everyone needs some good Christmastide songs on the cheap. Have you downloaded these two Argyle Project eps? Some really good songs for free. Noisetrade has some great downloads too, like Drew Holcomb’s A Neighborly Christmas.

Friends of this blog know how much I love Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, you can stream the whole album here.

Finding good advent songs is a challenge, so I will share a little playlist on spotify. Unfortunately, some songs aren’t available if you don’t own them. If you want to stream or purchase a few, check out Cardiphonia’s By All Adored for a few obscure songs that are really good. Kate keeps requesting Mike Crawford’s Life Up Your Heads, which is also available to stream or buy at bandcamp.

Advent at Home

Part of a continuing series on celebrating the church year.

Advent means coming. It is a season of waiting and expectation where we remember the longing of God’s people for a savior and our own longing for things to be made new in Christ’s second coming. We live in the in between, and Advent is a time of focusing on the hope we have in His return. Advent is the first season in the church year, beginning four Sundays before Christmas and ending Christmas Eve. Celebrating Advent at home is a way of focusing on the incarnation during the busy holiday season.

I love to gather and give ideas for celebrating at home, there are so many great things we could do! One helpful way of thinking about it is to determine what you want to make a solid tradition, what you are growing into, what you are doing for a season. The backbone of your celebration might be something as simple as lighting candles, but it is something you can do with children of any age and something they will remember for a lifetime. You can fill in with activities and practices more tailored to where your family is at right now.

A basic symbol of the Advent season is the advent wreath. Traditionally it is an evergreen circle with four candles for the four weeks of Advent, and an optional center Christ candle. Most traditions use three purple candles, one pink, and a white Christ candle. Different people have different ideas about what the candles stand for, but the pink candle is typically used the third week of Advent and represents joy. You light one candle during the first week of Advent, two during the second, and so forth. Redeemer San Antonio (PCA) has put together a good weekly devotional to use with an advent wreath.

To guide children through the Old Testament story of waiting for a redeemer, many families use a Jesse Tree with ornaments made from symbols that represent the stories for each day. This is a newer practice and there isn’t one set of symbols everyone uses. I ended up creating my own list of symbols and corresponding readings that incorporated both familiar stories and important ones that don’t end up in many story bibles, and wrote some meditations and prayers to go along with them. My friend Stephanie has a different list, with similar daily devotions. The RCA has a guide appropriate for preschoolers. If you like the idea, but want to skip the symbols and tree, a good way of doing this would be to read through the Old Testament stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible during the Advent season. I like Christ the King PCA’s daily Advent devotional, though the emphasis is more focused on Christmas itself.

Some families set up the stable of a creche the first week of advent, with any animals and begin Mary and Joseph’s slow journey to Bethlehem. The shepherds and sheep can be nearby and the Wise men far off. Each day during advent they move Mary and Joseph a little closer to the stable, to arrive Christmas Eve. (This works well if you have a nativity set your children can’t break!) If I had a collection of creches, I’d display complete sets with one coming together through the season. On Christmas, the shepherds come and the wise men start their journey, arriving January 6th.

Advent calendars have become popular in both Christian and secular circles as a way to count down the days. There are so many cute ideas for crafting them. We have a wooden calendar, and I fill each day with a treat or a note about something we are doing that day to celebrate, even simple things we’d do anyway like “make hot chocolate after school” and “bake cookies for the neighbors.” You could make a paper chain of these sorts of ideas as a “calendar” with a stapler and a few sheets of construction paper.

We love to sing during Advent. There are many great Advent hymns, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” and “Savior of the Nations Come” are some of my favorites. When you have already been hearing Christmas music everywhere for weeks, it’s hard to NOT sing Christmas carols during Advent. I prefer to stick to Advent only for the first two weeks and start adding in some Christmas carols during the third week. We also delay putting up our tree until that point as well, to give Advent some time all its own. Some people don’t put one up until Christmas Eve, so I think of my “third week” rule of thumb as a good middle ground. I really enjoyed reading about how Kelly has started putting up her tree at the beginning of Advent and using Chrismons (symbols of Christ) as ornaments until Christmas Eve, when they add Christmas ornaments. If you need some advent decor, I made a few free printables you can find here.

I plan on making every conceivable paper star (and I think I’ve pinned them all on Pinterest) as an Advent craft. Stars are part of our Jesse Tree, and of course, in the Christmas story. And cutting / folding is right up Kate and Lexi’s alley these days.

For teens and adults, Watch for the Light would be great devotional reading. City Church Philadelphia has a good Advent Prayer Guide that is simple and not too time-consuming. Advent is also a good time to try praying the Divine Hours. There are many Advent books for children, I’d love to hear about some of your favorites. And also, please share any Advent traditions you have in your family!

Reformation, All Saints and Christ the King at Home

Part of a continuing series on celebrating the church year.

As Ordinary Time starts to wind down, there are a few feast days you may wish to celebrate at home.

Many protestants, particularly Lutherans and Presbyterians, celebrate Reformation Day, either on the 31st of October or the preceding Sunday. As the name implies, it’s a day that the church remembers the reformation and honors the reformers.

When I taught, we had a reformation day carnival and my favorite activity was “pin the 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door.” That would be pretty easy to do at home. The hymn that is most closely associated with the day is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which is a great one for children to learn.

To learn more about them, you could read some stories of the reformers (Westminster bookstore has a few good ones among the history selections) or watch the movie Luther (which was surprisingly well made.)

Ligoner is offering a free audio download of Dr. Sproul’s new children’s book about a barber’s encounter with Martin Luther: “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray” to celebrate Reformation Day.

All Saints Day falls on November 1st, but is often celebrated on the following Sunday. We remember all the saints who have gone before us, including those we know who have died in the faith and more famous “saints.” It is a good day to talk about and remember the resurrection of the body and the new heavens and the new earth. Roman Catholics observe this as a fast day.

We have loved sharing the book version of the children’s hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” (amazon) with our girls. It’s worth owning. A classic hymn for the day is “For All the Saints.”

The last Sunday before Advent (falling somewhere in the week of November 20th to 26th) is the Feast of Christ the King. As Advent is the start of the liturgical year, it is ending with a bang, remembering the triumphant Lord in his office as king before the more contemplative season of Advent. Jesus is our mediator as prophet, priest and king, and is a good to have a day to focus on how Jesus is our King. We will probably share a feast with friends and definitely spend some time talking about Jesus as king.