Practicing Affirmation: Highlights & Discussion Questions

Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God

by: Sam Crabtree

Despite the fact that Crabtree can be a little black & white in his communication style at times and you may have to nuance some things, if you can get over some of those things, the content of this book is pure gold.

CS Lewis wrote, “The world rings with praise- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars, I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.”

Rather than seeing encouragement and affirmation of others as stealing glory from God, Crabtree suggests that “we rob God of praise by not pointing out his reflection in the people he has knit together in his image.”

He also gives lists some benefits that come from affirmation:

1 Affirming others earns us the right standing from which to make suggestion. It gains us a hearing.
2 Affirmation lifts morale in the home, office & any where.
3 Affirmation energizes people. It not only lifts their spirits but motivates them to action.
4. Affirmation of others makes us easier to live with.
5. Striving to affirm others puts us in the practice of looking at them positively.
6. Affirmation constructively uses time that could have a been wasted complaining.
7. By commending Christlike qualities and celebrating them when we spot them, affirmation showcases the character of God, giving him honor for a being the kind of God he is.
8. Behaviors that are rewarded and celebrated are more likely to be repeated.
9. When we comment God’s image in people, God is glorified, and that why we were made—to glorify God.
Another highlight was thinking through how affirmation can heal broken relationships & the “importance of proportionality”- that corrections and affirmations are not weighed equally and there must be an over-abundance of affirmations, especially in relationships that weather the test of time… And that there’s a difference between affirmation and flattery: one is a free gift with no strings attached, whereas the other is empty and from a self-centered motive.
While I do not agree that every affirmation must be tied back to an attribute of God in the conversation, it pushed me to consider how I see God in people. Overall, I enjoyed the book and it’s been something that I hope shapes me as a mother, wife and friend.

Practicing Affirmation- Intro PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 1 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 2 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 3 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 4 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 5 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 6 PDF

Practicing Affirmation- Chapter 7 PDF


Let me know if you were able to use the questions & what you thought!

What did you think of the book? Were you able to filter & get past some of the points that seemed a little rigid and benefit from the overall heart of the book?

 

Carried Away With Ballons Birthday Party

Have you just had a baby? Are you a tired mama? Are you looking for a super simple birthday party theme? Then, why not balloons? Yes, just balloons. Do you remember that every child LOVES balloons? Period. They love them, that’s all. What you’re imagining- yes. Lots of kids playing with just balloons. It’s the toy that never disappoints.

All you need are three things: invitations, cake and… BA-LOONS.

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Can it get more simple than just balloons & cake? I’m not sure it can unless you just throw a cake party- which is also a kind of a good idea, now that I think about it.
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My first food dye.
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All I ever needed to bake my first fondant cake.
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Fondant balloons.
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My first cake!!!!
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When you say you’re throwing a balloon party, there better be balloons, right?
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Consider googling how to make a balloon arch, it’s actually not that difficult. We were pretty proud of ourselves!

So, get carried away, my friends. Because time flies when you’re turning one.


What’s your easy-I-just-had-a-baby-or-don’t-have-the-energy-to-put-much-time-into-this-party-but-still-want-it-to-be-special idea?

A Darling Neverland Party on a Dime

When Ginger asked for a Neverland party for her & Pearl’s last birthday, I thought “There is no way I can pull this off.” I’m looking at Pinterest and seeing parties I’d die for and it’s probably just me, but I can’t justify selling our TV’s, computers & cars for a party. Sooooooooooo…. yeah. But as we dreamed and brainstormed, we realized there was a lot we could do. And the girls were all eager to help paint, stain, bake, etc! It ended up being one of our favorite parties yet! Hope some of these ideas are helpful to anyone planning Peter Pan on a Budget!

First off, the INVITES. I’m pretty much all digital now. Partially to save on stamps, but moreso it’s just so much easier to do an invite on picmonkey or pages, do a little photo editing & text to my friends.

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We went pretty old school with the invites with all the original classic Peter Pan characters.

Next off- GAMES! We did Walk the Plank, Hook Toss and Feed the Croc. I had old colored stain & paint, a game of bags (aka: corn hole), a piece of cardboard and some plywood… so it just cost me the board from Home Depot for the plank and the hooks & rings and some blue balloons (for pretend water) from amazon.

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The hit of the party: Walk the Plank game. I used some very short child’s chairs to keep it low to the ground so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves.
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My husband was a champ as Captain hook. We also downloaded the soundtrack from Jake & the Neverland Pirates while they were playing, which was a big hit as well.
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Kids LOVED the Hook Toss!
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The Feed the Croc beanbag game was another great game for kids to jump in on. Especially since it cost me NOTHING! Same with the favors bags on the right.

Next, there were the DECORATIONS. Total I think these cost me $15. I did a Peter Pan clothesline, a Mighty Colossus photo booth, a birthday treasure map, a Neverland sign and some lanterns & treasure chests that I borrowed.

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This took me 2 hours I think. It’s just paper from one of those large rolls and super easy if you’re looking for something to make a statement that’s cheap and you don’t mind the “homemade look.” I added some felt for each of their accessories.
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This was my most expensive prop- a $13 piece of dry erase board that Ginger and I painted and my husband used his jigsaw to shave down the sides. I used some old fabric for the sail.
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My mother in law had these lanterns, so how lucky was that?! I used an old white sheet for the map (died with tea leaves) and then turned it into a Happy Birthday Sign.
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Ginger, Pearl & June all helped with these- they each stained them by hand with some colored stain I had and then I painted the words. The only problem with this was that we struggled to make the base sturdy.

We also did FAVOR BAGS & a few PHOTO PROPS:

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These cost me $0 since I already had the brown paper bags & construction paper. I filled them with pixie sticks, gold coins, an eye patch and candy.
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Photo props: free.

Lastly- and most importantly, the FOOD! We did a Peter Pan cake, pixie dust (pixie sticks), fish & chips (gold fish & potato chips), cannonballs (malted milk balls) and Pirate’s Booty (Pirate’s Booty!). I’m also into printing my own labels on cardstock because it’s another free thing you can do & I think it gives it that extra special touch.

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The spread. I also borrowed treasure chests from a couple people & filled one with some gold beads.
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So obviously, I am new to cakes. And yes, it turned out to be like the leaning tower of Peter Pan! But I was super excited about it, especially given that it was my second time using fondant. But this was a huge highlight getting to try something new & fun!
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Nothing like 30 kids on a sugar high.
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Saw this on some pinterest site- how cute is that?!
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Yummmmm.
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Aldi’s also sells Pirate’s Booty from time to time, fyi.
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Serving Ginger & Pearl their cake. And yes, that’s an actual dress I wear for realz- not just when I’m posing as Tiger Lily.
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My birthday girls!!
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Yo ho ho! What a fun parrrrrrrrty!

How do you save when you throw a party?

What IS the Disney Summer Mission?

I always kind of giggle sheepishly before answering peoples’ question about where we’re going this summer… “The Disney Summer Mission.” But in addition to our kids getting to meet princesses and Goofy and Donald Duck, the purpose of the Disney Summer Mission is something we can really get behind.
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What is the Disney Summer Mission?

There is a year-round Cru staff team at Walt Disney World who aims to be a spiritual resource to the 12,000 college students who work at Disney every year. These students represent 500 campuses from 60+ countries all over the world. In the summers, we join what they’re doing by providing our summer mission leadership track for Christian students who want to grow in their faith while working at Magic Kingdom. We then equip these students (who are a part of the Disney College Program) to engage in spiritual conversations with their co-workers (cast members at the Parks) who are spiritually seeking and would like to explore the Bible & questions about Jesus, the existence of God and their purpose in life.

Partnership with Disney:

A friend of ours who is on Cru Staff worked in the Disney College Program when he was a student. He got excited about potentially providing some Biblical exposure to these 12,000 students from all over the world. He started what has been a 10 year recruiting partnership between Disney & Cru. Disney loves hiring Cru students because of their positive attitudes & good work ethic. Because of this, Disney goes way out of their way to be flexible with us, letting all our students live together on non-Disney property, giving them specific hours based around our project and letting them all work together at the same park. And true to Disney’s value of diversity- they allow our students’ ministry focus as developing friendships with their co-workers & engaging them in gospel conversations after hours.

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Emily (left) joined the Disney Summer Mission last summer from  Hope College in Michigan. She is returning this summer as a student staff & I am planning to disciple her.

International Focus:

We have a diverse group of Cru students from campuses all over the United States that come to be a part of the Disney Summer Mission. Part of what draws them is the fact that they will get to work alongside other college kids from all over the world in the Disney College Program. Last summer, one Bible Study started specifically for just Chinese students. Year round, there are students involved from Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and many other countries.

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Students come from all over the world to be a part of the Disney College Program. Over the last 10+ years, the staff team that is there year round has kept a map where students have marked their home countries. It’s amazing to see the global influence of Cru at WDW.

Where do we live? 

I think some people think we actually live in Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom- I wish. Overall, Disney tends to want those participating in their college program to all live together in housing that they provide. However, because of the great relationship Cru has developed with Disney over the years, they make an exception for our project to live off of Disney property in condos/time shares about 15 minutes away from Disney World. This allows us to keep costs down, while being together where we can create a sense of community, just us. I’ll be honest- as a mom, all the mold in Florida kind of freaks me out. And sometimes you do have to be up for the occasional Florida cockroaches… but overall, it’s a nice place and there are great pools, which is awesome. I mean, I’m a homebody and as a mom of 4 littles, I just don’t love packing up my family for 6 weeks… But after traveling to Africa, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and other developing countries, I’m thankful for a nice, safe place to stay for the summer. And getting to take our kids to Disney World doesn’t hurt.

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Disney Cru Summer Mission 2015

What do the students do?

In the mornings, the students have project activities such as Bible Study, Weekly Meeting, Prayer, Discipleship, Evangelism and Men’s & Women’s Development times. In the afternoons and evenings, they work at the Magic Kingdom theme park where they’re connecting with fellow Cast Members and Guests from around the world. They work 40-45 hours a week (often times late at night, as the parks can stay open as late at 2am) in entry-level positions such as Quick Serve Food & Beverage or Merchandise.

On their days off, they might meet up with a friend/coworker from China or New Zealand. Or they might head over to a Disney park for a night of rollercoasters and fireworks.

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Students on the job at Magic Kingdom.

What do we as Cru staff do?

We run the program for the students- so, leading the Bible Studies, Discipleship, Teaching at the Weekly Meeting, Men’s & Women’s Times, etc.. Last summer, Chris & I both discipled students, meaning we met with them weekly for their spiritual development. We also did quite a bit of teaching, which we enjoyed.  Chris taught an overview of God’s big story throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis 1:1, moving through the Scriptures until the book of Revelation- and how our lives fit into His Story.

Chris also did some teaching from the book of Mark on “God’s Grace Despite our Unbelief” and led the men’s times on Biblical & Authentic Manhood. I (Elizabeth) spoke at a women’s time on “Grace for the Real Self” based off of the book of Galatians and facilitated a learning activity to go along with it called “The Grid: Grace, Legalism & Total Excess.” I also served on a Moms, Marriage & Ministry panel and we both gave our Dating by Faith talk.

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Elizabeth speaking at a women’s time and on a Moms, Marriage & Ministry panel, Both of us giving our Dating by Faith Talk (top middle) and Chris speaking on God’s Big Story: An overview of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

What are some Disney highlights/benefits from the summer?

In the past, we have been able to take our kids one time over the course of the summer to  Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom…  almost totally for free!  This was because of the buddy swipes that our Cru college kids are given. Since then, Disney has become more strict with those, so we may have way less free tickets this year. Regardless, we still hope & plan to take our kids to Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom (for a day in each park) over the course of the summer. Plus, there are many other fun free/ inexpensive things for families to do. Whether it’s the Chip n Dale Campfire Sing-a-Long at Fort Wilderness, watching an outdoor Disney Movie at one of the resorts (they don’t require you to stay there to come for a movie) or just walking around Downtown Disney… there are a lot of things we’ll get to do with the kids. Not to mention, it will just be fun for our kids to get to rub shoulders with all the college students that are there. We’re so excited to head back!!

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What a huge gift for our family to get to “do Disney” while we’re there!

What other questions do you have about the Disney Summer Mission?

Any suggestions for other fun things we should do while we’re there???

 

Ain’t No Party Like an Arbor Day Party

Planting a tree together on our neighborhood grounds.
Arbor Day is my new favorite holiday. Here’s why: It’s a chance to get outdoors, see my neighbors, get my kids involved in planting some trees and caring for our yard, and it’s a pre-party that greases the wheels for the block party. My husband told me that casting vision to my neighbors for an Arbor Day Party would be as easy as pitching an Encyclopedia party, but on the contrary- people were really excited! I was shocked when we had between 20-30 individuals & families participate by coming to the event and/or ordering 345(!!) trees!

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I’m a firm believer that a happy image can create a sense of fun & momentum ahead of time.
Here’s all of what we did & my suggestions for making your Arbor Day party a success…

The event lasted a little over one hour & was held outside in our clubhouse parking lot. We encouraged neighbors to bring their coffee and walk up with their wagons. Thankfully, it was 70 degrees and gorgeous or we would’ve had to meet for most of the time inside the clubhouse. People came and mingled around the tables, saying hi to neighbors. The tables all started with the letter “S”:

1. Seedlings Table. We ordered seedlings through the Missouri Department of Conservation. They were only $6 for 10 trees and although our city offers free seedlings for Arbor Day, we wanted something super convenient and neighborhood-centered, where they could walk up to the clubhouse, get their trees, some fun snacks & kid-friendly stations. I admit it was a little complicated trying to order trees for people because they come in bundles of ten and not everyone wanted 10 trees- a lot of people just want a few and want to mix and match. But people were able to switch out with other neighbors and one neighbor who shares my love for trees (and actually works at a local nursery) ended up graciously taking over this part of the event for me, which was a HUGE help. She also got us several door prizes and picked out the large tree for our planting “ceremony” (see below). It really helps to have other neighbors who are in it with you and want to jump in as there are needs- I couldn’t have pulled all this off without her!

The 345(!!) trees that our neighborhood ordered!
2. Sensory Table. One woman from our neighborhood who is really into gardening ran with this. She was amazing! She brought a snack-shaped dried gourds she painted & cut open… Kids got to play with worms, see inside a birdhouse gourd & count tree rings. They also got to taste and smell coffee beans & herbs (i.e.: chocolate mint, fennel, thyme, oregano, chives, sage, purple sage). And last but not least, they got to plant their choice of seeds (pumpkin, carrot, lettuce & watermelon) in some potting soil. They had a blast! Next year, I will bring somee magnifying glasses (I forgot them) with some twigs pulled open they could look at and maybe some succulents for them to feel. I also brought some leftover bug headbands I’d had from June’s Junebug party a couple years ago.

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3. Share the Wealth Table. The idea was that people can bring any extras they have & would be willing to divide or share- bulbs, veggies, grasses, seeds… Not a ton of people brought things to share, but I’m hoping this could catch on in years to come.

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A few families brought some seeds and herbs to share. One family from China brought these Eastern melon seeds.
 
4. Snack Table. Pinterest was so helpful. Another neighbor ran with this completely & did a fruit platter, bran muffins and dirt pudding in plastic cups with gummy worms (you could also use tiny terra cotta pots). There’s more you could do, too- like donut acorns,  earth muffins, mud pie cookies… there are so many cute ideas! 

Bran muffins.

5. Play Nature Bingo and do drawing from local nursery. Make sure you bring rocks to cover the spaces in case it’s windy.

Nature Bingo
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6. Five minute Tree Education Time. We had a friend who is studying Plant Science & Horticulture share briefly on how awesome trees are and their many benefits- anyone could do this.

7. Tree Planting Ceremony for the kids. This was the best part! We got 6 kids shovels and a bunch of spades and gathered all the kids around to plant a gorgeous Shortleaf Pine on our neighborhood grounds. We had the hole already dug (highly recommend!) and the kids loved getting to plant the tree together!

Here are a few more pics from the day:

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It was an awesome morning & I love that neighbors left and were all in their yards, planting their trees! Consider doing something for Arbor Day, even if it’s just you & a couple other friends or family members. The kids will love it and you will, too.

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What sensory activities have you done related to Arbor Day?  Or what’s a fun snack you’ve done that was fun!

The Sacrifice of Thankfulness: Lessons from Leviticus

“In ancient Israel, the depth of their gratitude was so great that singing a song wasn’t enough… Saying a prayer wasn’t enough. Their sacrifice was costly…
…The depth of their thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.”
– Dr. Jay Sklar, Covenant Seminary
(Adapted from a talk I am giving at a Cru at Mizzou Women’s Conference)

In college, you have your whole life before you. You have opportunities to see the world, give a year or two of your life to go somewhere you’ve never been and serve in ways that push you out of your comfort zone.  There is a call to take steps of faith, broaden our horizons and climb new mountains. The New Testament book of Matthew tells us that Jesus himself tells us to GO and make disciples. And all of that is scary and unknown and exciting.

But eventually, wherever you go and whatever you do will become less scary because it will be known and then eventually and naturally less exciting, too. Unless you keep GO-ing to new places for the rest of your life (which I do believe some, but very few are called to do) for most of us, the abnormal will become… just normal and what felt so extraordinary will eventually become… just ordinary. What if much of the Christian life is about walking with God in those normal, ordinary moments and more about being thankful and faithful in the boring, unseen events of life than continuing to GO, do something grand, and have some big cause? What if the big cause is just walking with Christ in wherever He has you? Whether as a wife or a mom or a teacher or a neighbor or whatever?

That’s where some of our expectations may be in conflict- the Christian life that was supposed to be so exciting (and still is in some ways) is also kind of… boring. That camp or summer mission high just isn’t able to be sustained and there are real life responsibilities and boring things like washing your dishes and buying groceries and responding to emails and maybe someday wiping little bottoms like me. As much as fun and exciting and biblical to motivate toward GO, there may not always be the training and encouragement for when you’ve GONE and now it’s time to STAY. When real life settles in and you’re tired of your boss or kids or your neighbors or your husband or your church and in STAYING  there are real hurts and real disapointments. How do I keep relating to God and giving thanks in those places that aren’t so exciting… or do I just GO…again?

A recent book that’s come out called The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a daily apprenticeship with Jesus talks about what it means to walk with God in faithfulness in the unseen, ordinary, often mundane places.

He calls it the anticlimax of the Christian life.

As I was preparing my thoughts about what it means to give thanks in the mundane, I couldn’t help but browse a little on Kara Tippen’s website. Maybe you’ve heard of her- her story has become well known- she’s s a mom of 4 who devastatingly lost her life to cancer recently and she chronicled her journey on a blog called Mundane Faithfulness. As I scanned a few posts I found this verse:

I will offer to you the sacrifice of THANKSGIVING
and call on the name of the LORD. Psalm 116:17

It got me thinking about the sacrifice of thanksgiving, about the cost. The cost for that mom to give thanks in the midst of dying and leaving husband and four children behind. The sacrifice that that must have been. What had it cost her to give thanks in that?

What does your mundane look like?  What are the monotonous things that happen over & over again that wear on you?

My mundane is sippy cups & stoppers. Wrapping poopy diapers in plastic bags and walking them to the trash in the garage. Lots of Crying. Screaming. WHINING!!!!!!! And that’s just my husband, let alone my kids 😉 Making sure the girls have socks to wear in the morning (no thought if they match- I seriously don’t care). Singing to them at bedtime and yell at me to change the song as I’m singing from Silent Night to O Holy Night to Jingle Bells without finishing even one… Sitting down at night and hearing one the girls’ sound machines as they open their door again or hearing a baby cry when I just want to relax.

My mundane, ordinary, non glamorous world.

What does it cost you…  What do you feel you personally sacrifice when you choose to give thanks in your mundane world?  What is in direct conflict or mutually exclusive with thankfulness that has to die if thankfulness wins?

For me, it’s my entitlement, my “rights”- my right to sit down or be sad or grouchy or to wallow. I deserve this hour off. I can’t keep going. You’re interrupting my down time.


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Leviticus 1:14 by Ohlin on ImageKind.

Interestingly enough, the idea of thanksgiving being a sacrifice goes deeper and broader than just a thought this psalmist had. In fact, for God’s people in the Old Testament, it was built into their lives and into their very way of relating to God. We see that in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus.

In the story of God’s people throughout the first 2 books of the Bible- Genesis & Exodus, God and the Israelites had been through some highlights and some lowlights. They had seen God do great & wondrous things on their behalf… and they had also had long seasons of feeling abandoned by God and then grumbling and complaining and unbelief and wandering around aimlessly- both literally and figuratively in their “walks with God.”

And when the book of Leviticus begins, the Israelites- God’s people- had come out of Egypt and were standing at Mt Sinai. In spite of all their up’s & down’s, God has decided not to leave them but to dwell among them and to go with them into their future, as their “next door neighbor” so to speak. And to do that, he sets up some rituals and laws as a way to frame the way they are going to relate to one another. These are recorded by Moses in the book of Leviticus.

Generally, we look at the book of Leviticus- full of these laws and rituals- and think of it as obsolete and irrelevant. Maybe you’ve done the 1 year Bible and got to Leviticus and thought Nah, maybe I’ll read the Harry Potter series this semester. We feel like it doesn’t apply and we just need to get to Jesus in the New Testament.  But the new testament writers thought Leviticus was important- so much so that it’s the 6th most quoted book of OT. Recently, I’ve listed to several online lectures by Jay Sklaar, one of my husband’s professors at Covenant Seminary, who devoted over 10 years of his life to studying the book of Leviticus, and I owe a lot of these thoughts to him.

How can the holy God of the universe live in our midst?! God’s answer: Leviticus.

Leviticus teaches the people of God how to live in relationship with God.
It shows God’s holiness as a prime/ key motivation for obedience.
The themes & concepts in this book are all central to Jesus’ life & ministry.
And professor Sklar would say that “without understanding the concepts of Lev, you cannot fully understand what Jesus did on the cross…. that you cannot just ignore the book of Leviticus because the law actually “provides a window into heart of god….Because when you study the law, you get a window into heart & values of law giver.” Compelling.
“Without understanding the concepts of Leviticus, you cannot fully understand what Jesus did on the cross…
You cannot just ignore the book of Leviticus because the law actually provides a window into heart of god….Because when you study the law, you get a window into heart & values of law giver.”
                                                        -Dr. Jay Sklar, Covenant Seminary

To give some overall context, there are 5 main types of offerings, or sacrifices- the primary purpose of which were to point to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. That a blameless sacrifice must be given. It all makes Jesus the hero because He is the lamb of God.

We see: The Burnt Offering, The Grain Offering, The Sin Offering, The Guilt Offering…

And lastly, the Peace/ Fellowship Offering. And it’s very different from the others. It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

It’s the offering where God’s people come in response to something God has done on their behalf and give thanks. So, the thoughts I’m going to share with you about what it means to offer a sacrifice of thankfulness, are framed by this old testament tradition in these 3 ways:

GIVING THANKS is ritualistic

GIVING THANKS is relational

GIVING THANKS involves a cost. And that cost is death.

Read Leviticus 7.


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1. Giving thanks is ritualistic. 

The book of Leviticus contains a lot of ritual. But in general, unless you grew up in an Anglican, Catholic or Episcopalian tradition, you may not be used to much ritual in a worship service. And certainly not in the ways you see in this Old Testament book.
So we can tend to think of ritual as a bad thing. We don’t do that today.
But try to think- What are some rituals we celebrate? What about weddings, funerals, baptisms… and birthdays? Some of the most important things in our lives are marked by ritual. Ritual serves to set apart an event as important or that means a lot to us. Or sometimes to help us through a major transition in life.

For the Israelites, God was setting up a ritual of thanksgiving. Just like we sing Happy Birthday and blow out the candles at birthday party, God was setting up a ritual- a tradition- carving out space to give thanks.

But it wasn’t just ritual- it wasn’t going through the motions of giving thanks. It was also highly relational.

2. Giving thanks is relational.

That’s why it’s called the fellowship offering. Unlike every other sacrifice, the peace/ fellowship offering was the only one where the Israelites- the offerers partook of the offering and actually ate the meat. And that is the key to understanding this offering- it was a shared meal between the offerer and the Lord and it centered around thanks. Of course the Lord didn’t really eat it- it was a pleasing aroma. It was symbolic.
And in order to understand the fellowship aspect, we must understand how a meal functioned in ancient Israel- that it was a sign of hospitality- but much more than that- it was a sign of covenant relationship. And covenant represented the closest relationship you could have with someone that wasn’t a member of your family. This was seen as a shared meal with the Lord.

Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel is an example of someone bringing their fellowship offering in response to God doing something on her behalf- She had waited and longed for a son and God heard her prayer. She came and brought a fellowship offering.

The fellowship offering meant connecting with the Lord Himself and celebrating His faithfulness and wondrous provision. It was a ritual– which really meant it was important and on their calendars- they made time and space for it- again and again and again. But it was also relational. They were connecting with God over a meal. God wanted there to be a sense of intimacy, not distance in their thanks.

Lastly…

3. Giving thanks involves a cost- and that cost is death.

When you think about ways to express thanks to God, what do you think of? Praise? Prayer? Hymns? Giving?  In ancient Israel, the depth of their gratitude was so great that signing a song wasn’t enough… Saying a prayer wasn’t enough. There sacrifice was costly… The depth of their thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.
This is what we see in the fellowship offering. It cost them time to get the animal and go through the ritual. It cost them money- sacrificing a bull or a goat or a bird was like losing one of their employees because it brought them part of their livelihood. And God had certain requirements- he wanted their best. He would not allow a lame or blind animal to be given because it did not cost them.
There was also an emphasis on the fat being offered to the Lord (the kidneys with the fat, the covering of the liver also called the “fatty net”)… In our culture, we look at fat as something negative, a health concern. But in reality, it’s the best part of the animal. The fat adds the flavor, the taste. If you’ve ever watched food network, you might be familiar with Paula Dean. She is known for “booder & owl” (i.e.: butter and oil). I’m sorry, but stack any cooking light recipe next to something by Paula Dean and I will choose Paula any day of the week. That’s because the fat is the best. And that’s what God wanted.

 

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Kristin Wiig does an AMAZING Paula Dean impression.

So, what does it mean to offer thankfulness at great cost… to you?

Since Jesus, we no longer need the sacrificial system. But as we peer through the window into the heart of the Law giver and the heart of the One who created those rituals, perhaps we haven’t been the time to ritually (i.e.: regularly) give thanks to the One who has worked on our behalf. Maybe there is still something in us today that when it comes to responding to God in thanks, we come with our blind bird because we don’t want it to cost us much… or we want to withhold the fat- the part of sacrifice that makes it costly. Maybe we can say the words, but when it comes to actually connecting with God- we have things that keep us from wanting to share a meal with Him in the first place.

What would it cost to give thanks in your present circumstances?

Maybe it’s your freedom to BAM. A friend introduced me to this term on Sunday night referring to: “Bitching and moaning.” Our flesh wants to play the victim and craves a sense of sympathy from others- I know mine does- but in reality BAM’ing is a black hole that never, ever satisfies. Choosing thankfulness costs me my right to complain, to whine, to BAM. And I love to BAM. But this type of whining is mutually exclusive to an attitude of gratitude. They’re like oil and water- they don’t mix. So I put BAM on the altar as my sacrifice.

“… But this type of whining is mutually exclusive to an attitude of gratitude. They’re like oil and water- they don’t mix. So I put BAM on the altar as my sacrifice.”

Maybe it costs you the freedom to daydream about greener grass out there. Maybe you’re like me and you like to fantasize about future. Maybe it costs you taking your fantasies of greener grass captive and laying them on the altar before God, letting discontentment and unnecessary unhappiness die a painful death.

Or maybe it costs you an actual opportunity. Maybe it’s literally saying no to something that could be an escape from all your current realities. And I’m certainly not saying there aren’t times to get out of a bad situation and just give thanks or that going means you’re not thankful. You guys have your whole lives in front of you and for me, when I was your age, I studied abroad, went on STINT, I went to Thailand, New Zealand, Africa and too many other places to name now- so Go! Do great things! Serve God in your careers, plant a church, travel, whatever. But my point is that eventually even in Africa, once you get there, you still have a mundane life that you have to embrace. And it’s filled with normal, non glamorous things and people who drive you crazy. So sometimes there are “opportunities” that come along that sound appealing or exciting but I’m just saying there are also times to say no and stay and offer your sacrifice of thankfulness. And as we grow in our awareness and gratitude for who God is and His wondrous works in our life, we will grow in our capacity and desire to lay  these things and other “rights” on the altar before God. And He will be there with us and receive that cost as a fragrant offering and meet all our needs through Christ. And then some.

Zech 4:10 says, “Do not despise the day of small things.” Whatever your mundane, whatever those little things in your life that are weighing you down, the people God has put in your little world- do not despise it. But bring to the Lord your best most costly sacrifice of thanksgiving, letting die whatever would hold you back from an attitude of gratitude and trusting Him to meet you at that altar in your kitchen or bedroom or classroom and care for all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.


Discussion questions:

1. “So what if much of the Christian life is about walking with God in those normal, ordinary moments and more about being faithful and thankful in the boring, unseen events of life than continuing to GO, do something grand, and have some big cause? What if the big cause is just walking with Christ in thankfulness wherever He has you? Whether as a wife or a mom or a teacher or a neighbor or whatever?”

How is this different from your expectations for the Christian life- either from what you’ve heard- or just want you hope? What is your emotional response- Disappointment? Relief? Something else?  

2. “The depth of their  [the Israelites’] thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.”

Does the depth of your thankfulness appropriately correspond to God’s faithfulness to you throughout your life? What would it cost you to have a “great expression of thankfulness”? (i.e.: BAM? Daydreaming about greener grass? Saying no to an opportunity and yes to gratitude in the present? Something else?)

Holy Groundhog Day: A Friendship with Thankfulness

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A couple months back, I was asked to speak at an upcoming women’s retreat on the topic of “Thankfulness in the Present.” Something about giving thanks in the mundane, every day, often monotonous, ordinary life. I think I could share a few things (wink).

After all, I understand monotony. As a mom of 4 little ones, my life is pretty much a version of the 1993  Groundhog Day movie. I really do relive the same day. Over.  And over.  And over.  Every morning kids bounding into our bedroom, Annie needs a bottle, get breakfast going, June & Annie need a diaper change… sippys, oatmeal, brush teeth, get dressed (puhlease- that’s Ginger, not me. Let’s be real, my only wardrobe change involves my 2 revolving mom uniforms), make G’s lunch, get her to school (insert lots of screaming, wailing, whining, fighting and more whining all in between here), then come back & put Annie down, do some homeschool for Pearl & Juney (pre-k), (diaper changes along the way), snack, lunch, naps (insert more whining and fighting), pick up Ginger from kindergarten, snack, more diapers, more sippys. And a lot of wiping. Wiping faces, wiping bottoms, wiping countertops, wiping floors, hopefully not all with the same paper towel. I’m sure I wipe other things, too. And I’m tired to think of what comes next.

And poop. So much poop (can be read either literal or figurative).

Get up the next morning and do it again.

And again. And again.

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This may look like Bill Murray, but this is actually me. And the groundhog is four little girls.

So, as I’ve been preparing for the talk, I’ve been looking at the Old Testament book of Leviticus and particularly the fellowship offering, which was in other words a sacrifice of thanks. Maybe I’ll put those thoughts down at some point, but without going into, it got me thinking about the cost of thankfulness.

It also has me thinking about two extremes of what thankfulness is not. Thankfulness is not one of two friends.

Thankfulness is not your friend who always seems chipper and out of touch with reality. She’s not showing up to life’s deep waters and your tiresome same ole same ole with a huge fake smile, denying all things difficult and talking over you. She does not cut and paste unhelpful cliches of how you should be feeling over your fragile, authentic self. Thankfulness is not insincere nor is she unwilling. She is not using her words as platitudes or weapons that wound. She is not standing there with her head in the clouds, humming songs that are guilt-motivated, fear-based or shame-driven. She’s not that friend you wish was a just a little more self-aware, because if she was… well, she probably wouldn’t be so thankful.

Thankfulness is not, on the other hand, the overwhelmed, over-empathetic friend who goes there with you but gets lost in your story. She’s not commiserating or egging you on or pouring fuel on the flames of your bitter heart when you say that all is vanity. Your story is not discouraging her, she doesn’t have a look of pity in her eyes that says: “Woah” and she’s not trying to answer you questions.

Thankfulness is your friend rather, who is nodding not to confirm or justify- she doesn’t have the power to do that- but to validate and to say she understands and she is going there with you emotionally, even when you say things you both know you don’t mean. It’s a relief to be with her;  She’s the one you want to sit with you at the end of a long day because her presence is a peaceful one and you know she is with you in the tiredness and the tension, in the ambiguity and the doubt. She seems to know many things that you don’t, but isn’t condescending about it, and in fact you find it comforting. And you kind of get the feeling like she might surprise you with some sort of gift from somewhere, but then you realize the gift is just being with her. You can tell she’s been through a lot, but doesn’t seem worn down- How is that possible?? And if she smiles, it’s a sincere and reassuring one.

But it costs to be friends with Thankfulness. Because when you sit with Thankfulness, something inside of you dies. And it’s hard to admit, but that’s why you don’t always choose to sit with her.

Don’t get me wrong. Something inside you dies when you sit beside your “friends” of Invalidation and Commiseration as well. They are all three different types of death, but the dying that comes from a friendship with Thankfulness is nonetheless a long and painful one.

… But thankfulness sounds like a good thing. What in the world could it cost me to have a friendship with something so good?

The truth is that a friendship with Thankfulness requires a death to a victim mentality.  It means the death to have everyone understand how bad the waves of monotony are beating down- how many diapers I’ve changed, how sick my kids are, how long my husband was gone, how bad I think I have it today. It says no to the Woe is Me (aka I’m Alone) campaign, though it tempts so many times. It allows the negativity of self and others to pass over like a warm and gentle breeze. To embrace Thankfulness means to see illusions of greener grasses somewhere out there for what they are and instead allow myself sweet daydreams of being easily satisfied in  my current circumstances.

However counterintuitive it is to choose Thankfulness, when I actually do it… when I give thanks to God in my current, non-exciting, non-glamorous, often monotonous circumstances… When I die to the self-woes of the things that make me tired just thinking about them…  When I come with my worn out self and give thanks all the same, the Lord meets me there and makes what is lacking actually enough. And when this happens, it is not a false imitation of enough- it is a transformation that happens inside me where it really is enough.

And then I forget my old friend and the Lord reintroduces us. Again. And Again. And Again.

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How do you find that Invalidation & Commiseration keep you from giving thanks?

What have been some costs you’ve counted when you’ve given thanks amidst the monotony?

Bare Root Trees: It’s a thing.

I don’t know what’s come over me, but lately all I can think about is Arbor Day. I know. But it’s because I am completely obsessed with trees. My husband refers to me as pacing lioness when I get antsy and start walking back and forth in our family room, looking out different windows to our backyard. Yesterday as we were driving to Denver, he pointed out a tree he didn’t like and gave me a weird look when I responded: “That’s a Canadian Hemlock.” I guess he didn’t realize I’ve been majoring in dendrology at google image university. It’s a thing.

We were blessed to move into a new subdivision almost 4 years ago, but being new comes with its downsides. No mature trees, no tire swings, no canopies over the sidewalks. And we’ve kind of been in a catch 22 with our tree situation. I think we thought at the time we moved in that we needed to save up for some beautiful trees. But beautiful trees are guess what- pricey with a capitol ‘P’. And we have four little girls who apparently think they have more pressing needs than me having trees I can enjoy. Well, they’re right, but I still need trees.

But we blinked and almost 4 years have gone by and we’ve realized that even if we did have the money to landscape our entire yard, we probably would need that for other things. And really, time is money when it comes to trees, so if we’d planted small ones 4 years ago… you get the point.

But I still need trees.

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Our red maple (1 on the right) and my two beloved sycamores (2 on the left)

So after getting 2 gorgeous Sycamores and 1 flowering Aristocrat Pear for my birthday and still feeling like we had a lot of yard left, I decided to take a risk and order some from an online tree nursery. I figured, I just can’t beat 10 trees for $80 and I can literally line my backyard. So, I got 5 Sugar Maples and 5 Loblolly pines.

I knew they’d be small (they were 4′ and came in a package about 1 foot wide and about as tall as me) but I wasn’t totally prepared for the bare root thing. Because trees go dormant in the winter, nurseries can ship them without the potting container and simply “bare root.” As I’m new to all this, it’s nice to know that the company guarantees their trees for the first year, so if they’re not doing well this spring, they’ll send me new ones. But apparently people love bare root trees because they acclimate better & quicker and because there isn’t any new soil to adjust to, so they don’t go through the same shock that potted/ container plants & trees do.

 

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Yes, these are all 10 trees (5 Loblolly Pines & 5 Sugar Maples).

So I watched about 20 youtube videos of how deep and wide to dig the hole and rented my husband and father in law a fence post digger to make the process “easier” since they are digging through straight clay. I get sad and jealous when I watch youtube videos of gardeners who have great dirt.

And that is why I need a worm barrel. 

But yeah, so we got some wood for stakes, mulch, zip ties and BAM: I have trees. It’s not hard, but there is actually actually a (slight) science to planting them. It’s just a few things- soaking the roots, making sure the base of the tree isn’t buried, but level with the ground (slightly higher than you think), root pruning if necessary, getting some wood for stakes (& zip ties- or just get a tree staking kit) for the first year, preventing air pockets as you put the soil back down in the hole to cover the roots, separating the mulch so it’s not touching the trunk once you’ve put that down as a blanket…

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My husband & father in law digging the 10 holes about 10 feet apart. It was a lot of work.
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One of my Loblolly Pines before we put the mulch down.

Now, I just sit and stare.

And think about where I could put a weeping Alaskan Cedar or Quaking Aspens. And then how good shrubs would look. Like a dwarf blue globe spruce- I love those.

And then my husband and I dream about 40 years from now when I’ll be harvesting maple sugar and maple syrup from my sugar maples. Do people my age dream about harvesting maple syrup in 40 years? I might be old at the time, but while we are tapping those trees and making some awesome maple sugar and maple syrup, trust me- you will be knocking on my door wanting to try some.

So, like I said: Arbor Day. I want to try to convince my neighbors to do an order of bare root trees (Maybe a Redbud, Dogwood, Japanese flowering cherry, Crabapple, Birch, Sugar Red or Silver Maple, Spruce Pine &/or other privacy trees)… or worse case scenario, the city gives out 1,000 tree seedlings. I only say worse case scenario, because it would be hard to figure out as a neighborhood how to have people driving to a different location and then all coming back… but they still offer a good selection including black walnut, shortleaf pine, pecan, redbud and serviceberry. I’m hoping the city would maybe let me pick them up for our neighborhood and then we could all meet at our clubhouse and do some kind of event where we pass them out. I’d welcome any ideas! Combining my love for neighbors and trees is almost too much. We’ll definitely need neighborhood Arbor Day t-shirts.

UPDATE 4/17/16: We did end up hosting an Arbor Day Party after all and it was a huge hit! Our neighbors ordered 345 tree seedlings through the MO Department of Conservation and we had all kinds of fun!! The kids LOVED it!!!!!

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Does anyone have any suggestions for how I could coordinate the neighborhood Arbor Day Event or what to do? Some kind of gathering?

 

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Chip ‘n’ Dale Chipmunk Birthday

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Designing invitations is one of my favorite parts of party planning.

This summer, we went on a 6 week summer mission with Cru to Disney World of all places. That is another post for another day (the gist is that we had a Bible Study/Spiritual Development track for Disney Cast Members who are college students and helped equip them to grow in their faith as well as engage in spiritual conversations with other college students who are also cast members). But during our time, we went to a Chip n Dale Campfire Sing-A-long at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. It was there that Juney met Chip n Dale (& let me tell you- that was one of the most fun things we did all summer & it was totally free!). Initially, she was terrified, but Chip convinced her to kiss him on the nose and she fell in love! Over the next few weeks, in her very limited vocabulary, June did not stop talking about getting to kiss Chip 😃

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June meeting Chip at Fort Wilderness Campground.

Naturally, we thought it would be fun to do something chipmunk themed for her birthday party this fall. We decided to go totally old school & play a Chip n Dale movie- which we ended up showing in our garage, partially because it wouldn’t be dark enough to show it outside during the day. It was also super fun having it in the garage because we could give the kids bags of peanuts & popcorn and they could make a huge mess and throw the shells on the floor.

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I love this pic of Juney in the back, taking it all in!
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We streamed the movie from a Youtube site.

There wasn’t much I could find on Pinterest or otherwise for a ChipnDale Birthday, so I kind of just went the acorn route- we have a huge oak tree in our backyard, so for the several weeks leading up to the party, the girls would help collect acorns. It was a fun activity we could do together. I used those as decor (in mason jars) and also drilled holes through them to make an actual acorn garland. My husband also has a jigsaw and I’m also a huge fan of using old plywood to make cheap decorations that can add a really fun look (we did this for their nursery rhyme party too)- so he helped me make some giant acorns for a backdrop.

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I kind of recycle decorations & use them again in different ways. Some of this was just leftover from June’s Junebug party. Plus or minus a few tree stumps & hay bales.

I also really love involving the kids in making decorations, so a neighbor friend came over and taught us how to felt acorns for another garland, which we hung over the garage.

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I didn’t take many good pictures during the actual party, so this is Juney the morning after with what I refer to as PPD, post party depression. But if you look closely, you can see the felt acorn garland.
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Felted acorn garland.

I wish I’d taken more pics of the food table outside. We did a hot dog bar with condiments & toppings like sweet pickles, dill pickles, onions, jalapeños & chill. We also had banana chips and nutter butter cookies.

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Pearl & June reaching for some nutter butters.

Here are a few more pics- for the cake, I wanted it to be simple but look woodland-y, so I used a box & layered it with cheap frosting & put these pirouette cookies on the sides.

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For the favors, I mixed together a little chex mix with some prezel sticks & mixed nuts and printed off some tags.

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The donuts are meant to look like acorns- that was a really fun activity Ginger (5), Pearl (3) & June (2) all helped with the morning of. I put the frosting on the ends, they rolled them in sprinkles and dad stuck the pretzel rod in the end.

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Acorn donuts, because sometimes you need a donut instead of a cupcake.

We ordered way too much peanuts, so looks like we’ll be eating those for a while. I handed out brown paper bags and let the kiddos grab a couple handfuls.

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A friend also gave me these pieces of wood, so I used some old chalkboard paint to liven them up.

All in all, it was a blast! And Juney had fun, which made me happy.

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June may be small, but she can pound a donut hole like nobody’s business.
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Happy Birthday, June!

If you’re looking for a fun idea for a birthday party, definitely consider the movie in the garage route. All the little kids sitting on the blankets thinking this was so cool, when it’s seriously just a garage! And I wish you could’ve seen the looks on the parents faces as we shut the garage door- all the littles inside and all of them standing there outside eating hot dogs and cake by the fire pit. We were all like, “Why didn’t we think of this before?!?!” HA! It was one of my favorite parties yet.

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