Happy Chinese New Year Everyone!

When I was a kid and we’d go for Chinese food, one of my favorite parts was pouring over the paper placements and figuring what animal everyone according to the year they were born.

I was a sheep (also translated ‘goat’). I loved it. To my American ears it sounded better than rat or dragon or snake.

Year of the Sheep

And then I grew up and moved to China and loved it even more.

1. This is my year! As people get older, they are less inclined to claim their year because people can figure out how old they will turn that year. There are 12 animals and it doesn’t take a math genius to crack the code that on your year you are 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 or 96 — with 60 being the best since it’s a multiple of 10. Since it’s also my year of practicing celebration, I don’t really care that you know my age. I am what I am. And guess what … it’s my year!

2. The word for sheep/goat in Chinese is pronounced “Yang” and my Chinese family name is Yang. Yang shi yang! Young is a sheep. It sounds better in Chinese, trust me. And I know that’s not how you say in Chinese which of the zodiac animals you are, but my Chinese friends always got a smile out of my mixing of the cultures and languages. Not only is it my year, it’s my name.

3. And best of all, Jesus says he’s the good shepherd. Sheep hold a special place in explaining how much God loves us and will protect us. Psalm 23 was one of the first scriptures I memorized in 1st grade. So, in a sense, it’s all of our year. 

Happy New Year Friends!

Chun Jie Kuai Le!

From one of your favorite sheep, Amy

P.S. thanks to my sister Elizabeth for working with two challenging sheep to get just the right photo. I’ll spare you the ones with one of our rears in the air, a bit unlady-like!

Valentine’s Day is for Everyone! {Said the single gal}

With Valentine’s Day soon upon us, it would be easy to rant against Hallmark and other marketers. (Sorry Hallmark, I do so enjoy your commercials!). But all they’ve done is put a message out there …we’re the ones who’ve bought into it.

Guess what, Valentine’s Day is about so much more than romantic love, Cupid, or “rotic” gatherings (when single women get together without a “man”). At its essence, it is about love. Yes, yes, I’m sure the origins are about blah, blah, blah, but right here in 2015, let’s take back Valentine’s Day!

share love

Here are four ideas for anyone to put the LOVE back in the day:

1.Paul reminds us that love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Choose one attributes of love that you want to focus on this week. This book reminded me of how “manically verb centered” love is.

2. Make a list of the people in your life and be reminded of how blessed you are. When my dad died, I thought of the friends I hadn’t seen in years and realized if I wasn’t careful, more years would go by. The above photo was taken when I was in Scotland visiting my dear friends the Petries. Who is on your list?

3. Tell those important to you that you love them. People will die, grow old, or move away. Don’t live with regrets, tell them you love them.

This valentine gets to me every time I look at it:

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Valentine-now-555x492

 

If you want to know why it’s faded, you can read about it here. In part: So I hung it where it would be exposed to day light and not packed away, with false safety, in a drawer. Much like the love we share, exposed to the elements and not guarded out of fear.

4. Review the love languages and be sure you’re aware of the love languages of those who are important to you. I wrote about them this week at Velvet Ashes.

5. And a bonus one! Why, because we can never have enough love. Sending personalized postcards is a great way to communicate without taking much time or money. I use Amazing Mail (formerly Premium Postcards). Several years ago for Valentine’s Day a friend helped me take four photos and the recipients could spell out “I love you this much!” Amazing Mail is just that (and fun!). What sentence would you spell out?

I love you

So, dear marketers, I know you’re just trying to earn a living and I respect that. But I’m trying to live a richer life and part of that involves a broader definition of love than the one you’re peddling.

I’m not buying it. I’m interested in more.

Will you join me in putting more love out there?

Why I love “We Three Kings” {even though I was screamed at}

My favorite Christmas Carol is “We Three Kings.” Between the beautiful tune and the lyrics poetically telling why each gift is important, it is the only song I’d sing for my students in China. I’d make them all look at the lyrics saying I couldn’t sing if they were looking at me.

I have a new reason to love this song. My seven year old niece was in a Nativity play this year (OK, with me and her sisters) and she insisted on singing the line, “Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a deity nigh.”

This line is now seared into my soul.

Seared.Star

Through tears of frustration she admitted (aka screamed at us) she had no idea what many of the words meant so how could she ever memorize it?! Um, precisely. This is why we all wanted her to sing the line, “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again.” But no, she wouldn’t have it. Would. Not. Have. It.

There were whispered practices in the bathroom with her sisters (whispered because this was to be a surprise performance). Whispered practices at meal times when in the hubbub she’d put her little face in mine and say, “Let’s practice, Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a deity nigh.” Whispered practices in the car with her sisters.

She practiced and practiced to the point we can now all sing this line in our sleep.

When the moment came and she handed a candle to Joseph, she sang with utmost sincerity and accuracy the line she chose without understanding the meaning.

And can’t the same be said for us as well?

We may say we understand worship or the Holy Spirit or prayer or any number of elements of the faith, but do we? Thankfully through community and practice and, at times, screaming and tears we make progress and are able to do things that had been impossible for us.

Let’s practice together.

Behind closed doors.

In the hubbub of daily life.

As we travel.

Every now and then we’ll grab each others faces and say, “Let’s practice.” And together we’ll go over this part or that part of our faith.

We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him, even though parts of the story are beyond us.

Amen.

I’d love to hear of your favorite Christmas Carol or really any thought this stirred in you :)

Photo Credit: Sheila Sund via Compfight cc

Holy Stalking at Advent: A Look At Restlessness

“We are too quick to seek meaning.”

The spiritual director said. I shared this insight on Tuesday and days later, here it is hanging out in my soul. When something sticks, pay attention.

Combine with this wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas)

Not everyone can wait.

If  you are sated or satisfied or a jerk (modern translation), you have no need for waiting.

Only those who carry restlessness around with them can wait.

This seems so backwards, doesn’t it? Yet if I have something in completion, I’m not waiting for it.

We don’t just have a child, we have children in progress wondering who they will become. We don’t merely have a job. We have a job that is either fosters  growth or close in. Holy restlessness to see which it is. We don’t simply have friends, some are for a season and others are lifers.

A walk I took with Niece #1 last January came to mind as I put flesh to this ida of, “The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around in them.” When we ask if she wants to go for a walk nine times out of ten, the introvert book reader in her says “No,” making the rare yeses precious.

This photo, taken near the start of our walk, disappoints me because it’s nearly in focus, but not quite. Argh! So close, yet so far. When the goal is meaning and clarity, I don’t want to share it with you. With so many gorgeous images out there, who needs a slightly out of focus stump?

Restlessness

About 15 minutes into our walk, #1 laid down on the path.

Fifteen!

Not fifty.

Restlessness within me abounded. But so did joy. Joy we were together. Joy mixed with fear, if you’re laying down now, are we in for a long haul? 

#1 laying

Later she grabbed my camera and took this picture.

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#1 on the move

the sound of laughter
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I have three distinct memories from this hike related to carrying restlessness.

1. The sound of this walk is laughter. Restlessness doesn’t have to be synonymous with drudgery.

2. It can also involve experimentation. After the laying down, #1 tested out crawling to see if it used less energy.

3. Restlessness can fortify. I look at these pictures and think, “Dad was still alive. Her grandpa was still alive.” We didn’t know a few weeks later we’d be thrust on a trail where we’d want to lay down and crawl. This time in the mountains fortified us as a family for the road we didn’t know we’d be on.

In this season of waiting, I am thankful God doesn’t limit us to kum-ba-ya waiting. instead he’s comfortable, maybe even desiring, us to carry restlessness.

10 ways to be unproductive {but happy} at Christmas

This was one of my favorite posts from last December (one of the hardest months of my life). On Saturday I was part of a Spiritual Direction Advent group and the leader cautioned us about seeking too quickly for meaning. We Westerners do like information and meaning, don’t we :). It was a timely and gentle reminder the tug culture has on us all. The tug isn’t the problem, it’s the complete buying into and and not differentiating between tugs. I’ve added a few comments below just for fun.

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I hit a small wall last week with the amount of tips out there on how to be more productive. With the new year around the corner, I fear we’re only just beginning the goal setting, productivity tips, YOU CAN DO AND BE MORE, phase our liturgical productivity calendar. 

Who says productivity is all it’s cracked up to be? I’m a disciplined person and like lists, don’t get me wrong. But enough, ok, enough!

Has the paradox of Christmas taught us nothing? I have a feeling how we view productivity is not how God does.

10 ways

Here are 10 ways to be unproductive in the traditional sense:

1. Sit in the dark and look at Christmas lights. Better yet, lay on the floor and look up at them.

2. Eat a cookie or some other holiday treat guilt free.

3. Look at the world through the eyes of a three-year-old. Can you imagine how much more fun we’d have if we got excited about the little things of life? Family coming?! SO EXCITING. Hot chocolate? Is there anything more delicious to drink?

4. Read a children’s Christmas book, complete with voices. Fun with a child, true. But children are not required for this to be unproductively productive. I wrote about nine children’s books I love. Last Thursday I was with a small group of visiting scholars from China hanging out at a Wendy’s and I read Wombat Divine by Mem Fox to them. It was a blast!

5. Light a candle and watch the flame flicker. Let your mind and soul rest.

6. Conjure up a happy childhood Christmas memory. Sit and enjoy it. Maybe share it with someone.

7. Ask an elderly relative about Christmas when they were a kid.

8. Read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory or Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. This year my in-person book club decided to read short stories for December and we chose four from this list and recommend them all.

9. Sing Christmas carols out loud.

10. Recall getting one of your Christmas trees and call to reminisce with someone who was there.

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Which of these will you do today? Anyone else a little gagged at productivity talk?

photo credit:  Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton

Boys 10-14 Still Need Us — But I’m Filled With HOPE!

We’ve done it. We have.

We’ve started a small movement for boys ages 10-14. Lest ye think it matters naught, stick around.

OK, I’m bad at surprises so I’ll get to the punch line.

Last week Elizabeth, Niece #1, and I spent four hours at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Denver helping to check and package boxes for OCC. An hour into in Niece #1 called out to me, “Aunt Amy.”

I paused, it’s not really a big chatting job and I was lost in thought about how I tend to romanticize semi-hard labor and then my nails break and my back aches I wonder why all stages aren’t as glamourous and fun as shopping for children and making festive images for blog posts to get you and me off our butts. But I digress. “Yes dear one?”

“I’m packing a box for a boy next year. It’s been an hour and I’ve seen, like two. Two boxes in an hour.”

She added with her wry teenage smile (and the fact that she’s a much calmer personality than me and thinks I’m prone to hyperbole. WHAT? Me?!), “You are very persuasive.” 

Can we please have a moment of silence since asking you to tattoo this on your forehead might be going a bit far.

I told her, it’s not that I’m persuasive, it’s just so damn heart breaking to see girl box after girl box. OK, I didn’t actually cuss at my niece, however, the discrepancy is from the pit of hell. But redemption, she is a’coming! I know many of you packed boy boxes this year. Yay!!

So, here’s the plan for next year:

1. I’m going to call Samaritan’s Purse when it’s not the height of the crazy season and get some facts for us.

2. I’m going to make two PDF handouts. One with the plea for boys and updated gift ideas and another with just gift ideas. That way you can print out copies to share and leave at tables handing out information.

3. I’m now going to give you a short tour of the packing center so you are informed and pumped for all the future boys who will get boxes — without your nails having to break or your back needing to ache :). It is encouraging to know what happens to your boxes!

I love giving tours! Welcome to OCC

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There are nine OCC centers in the U.S. that will process 8.3 millions boxes with total goal of 10 million boxes from all countries. Denver’s goal is 800,000 boxes and from personal experience, a line with six people working for 3.5 hours can process about 1,200 boxes.

Volunteers are trained for about 10 minutes in a professional and effective system. Truly, I’m impressed. Then you are assigned to a  line.

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Elizabeth is in the gray jacket and her job was to open the box, remove and deposit any money and pass it on to her daughter who would go through the box, removing illegal items and, if needed, restocking or beefing up (you’d be surprised how many aren’t full). She then would set it on the top of the white shelf where the lady in orange would tape the box closed. The next person to open the box will be the child!

The taper would then stack the boxes and my job was to sort them by gender (boy/girl) and age (2-4, 5-9, 10-14). The goal was to get at least 14 boxes in a BIG box. Pastors and leaders are told there are at least 14 boxes inside so they can know roughly how many kids to invite to parties and events.

I’m going to show you two pictures. There is a difference — can you spot it? (I’m pretty sure you will.)

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How many “Girl 5-9″ boxes are filled at a time? And how many “Boy 10-14?” Two to one. In full disclosure, there are also two “Boy 5-9″ big boxes, but the number #1 box by far are “Girl 5-9.” I get it, I really do. They are safe and and familiar :). But armed with our lists, we’re going to help boys 10-14 be fun and familiar too :)!

This is what a fullish box looks like. Please, please don’t pick plastic containers that are too large. I felt bad when I couldn’t get at least 14 boxes to fit, knowing there would be disappointed kids and that some kids would get twice as much as others.

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And then it happened! The Red Sea parted and Moses walked forth with the first box for a boy 10-14 our line saw! Give or take, that’s how it want down. I told my new taping friend I needed a picture and could she hold the box?

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Every couple of hours, all work is stopped and everyone one in the warehouse prays together for the boxes, people distributing them, and the kids receiving them.

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And sometimes a gem like this is found in a box. (My taping neighbor apparently wasn’t having the nails issue I was.)

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Doesn’t this just fill you up?! And make you want to pack more boxes for boys? Several of you have asked me how many extra boxes were packed for boys based on you sharing or responding to the gift ideas. Mind sharing in the comments? Which picture was your fav?

Merry Christmas to the boys :). You are not forgotten by us. We love you too.

The Speed of Advent

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:5 (NKJV)

advent

The holy echo for this season came in an early morning reading. Could Isaiah have imagine how far the echo of Advent would ring?

Advent is for us, not just some. O house of Jacob.

Advent is an invitation. Come.

Advent it isn’t about idling or accelerating, the two options most offered by the voices around us. Do nothing, Do too much. No, it is about a steady pace– let us walk. 

Advent is about direction, we aren’t walking for the sake of a nice post meal stroll — let us walk in the light of the Lord.

When I read this yesterday morning my soul whispered, pay attention, this is your posture for advent. We again join the Church universal, invited to walk in the light of the Lord. The light of anticipation and waiting.

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the Lord.

Will you join me in this posture toward the season?

Knowing it is for a season, these weeks will pass. I was reminded of this when a post went live Sunday on a site I’m a monthly contributor. The post is a VLOG I filmed last summer, sitting outside surrounded by green, life, and high temperatures for a series called “Who do you think you are?” The season will not always be as it is. What do I want the echoes of this advent to be?

P.S. My favorite line from the VLOG is “I”m tempted to believe that ordinary is a rest stop and not a destination.” You can watch it here.

For Those Who Receive Hard News This Week

Dear friend,

I don’t have to tell you, it’s the holiday season. We have reminders surrounding us. I don’t care where you live, social media and the internet won’t let you forget.

You might want to. The holidays are supposed to be happy, but you’ve gotten news this week that has t-boned you and now you’re not sure which direction you’re going.

It was the day before Thanksgiving last year for our family. With one doctor’s report pieces both fell into place and scattered all over the floor.

So that might explain what’s going on. 

Oh my word, this … just … might … I do not want to say it because then it will make it true … be his last Thanksgiving. 

Hard news near a holiday

Your news might be medical too. Or involving relationships or finances or your job or be about your kids or a pregnancy or a dashed dream.

So many ways bad news can enter a life.

I am so sorry for the hit you have taken. The air that has been knocked out of your soul. The way you may have lost your bearings this week. And though you know you’ll (probably) recover from this, right now you’re a bit stunned. And you know deep in your gut might be a game changer. You will bear the mark of this week for the rest of your days.

What you might not know right now is the size of the scar.

The news you received may end up fading over time. Or it may not. Our shock is over, but we still dance around the holes in our lives figuring out what they mean.

For you, what to do this week? When the message being projectile vomited at you from all directions is be thankful (OR ELSE).

That’s not the gospel. That’s not why Jesus came. Your pain is real. But your pain is not supreme. So, again, what do you do?

Embrace the messy middle. You may need to make adjustments this holiday. Change locations, scale back, maybe make a road trip. I don’t know what you will need to do.  Honor the holiday in some way while also honoring your pain. I am grateful for the memories I have of last year. They include Dad’s last turkey dinner at a dear friend’s house and texting with my sister afterwards saying how for both of us there had been tears. We were in shock.

The messy middle creates space for the good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow. The pain and the pleasure. You may want to deny what’s happened or deny the holidays. If possible, lean into the tension and find ways that real holidays involving real life are richer than the shallow versions offered by advertisers. A better cell plan isn’t the answer to a rich and fulfilling life, finding ways to make gestures towards each other is.

A few years ago part of our family was with Dad who was in rehab for a broken hip, and just as the rest of us sat down for the meal my phone rang. After I had spent most of the day on a situation involving a suicidal American in China, I was now going to miss the meal with my family because her mom had gotten my phone message. I had to break the news that would forever be associated with this holiday and yet she needed to know and be a part of the plan for her daughter’s safety.

Let me say it again — I am so sorry for the news you received this week. Some years are harder and you’re having one of those.

It comforts me that Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation was written in the midst of Civil War. Clearly all was not right with the country. And yet.

And yet he knew in the midst of bad news it is worthwhile to pause and remember the story is bigger than this news, this week. God gave us two hands, one to hold the troubles and one to hold the hope. Use them both. Offer them both.

I will be thinking of you this week. And if you want me to pray for you or just want to share your story leave a comment or email me at messymiddle@gmail.com. We can’t make it go away, but we can let you know you’re not alone.

With blessing,

Amy

Eleven Gift Ideas for Boys ages 10-14 (Operation Christmas Child)

Last December I spent an afternoon helping to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child and learned three things:

1. Operation Christmas Child is ah-may-zing.

2. Working a packing line is nothing like a Lucy and Ethel comedy. Not saying it wasn’t fun, but no chocolates where shoved in my mouth.

3. Boys ages 10-14 are painfully underrepresented.

OCC

In case you’re not familiar with OCC, they gather thousands and thousands of packed boxes of Christmas gifts. People over around North America have prepared boxes filled with gifts for either a boy or a girl in the age categories of 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. Can you guess which kids got the most boxes? Of course you can, because you’re no dummy. Girls ages 2-4 and 5-9. And I get it. I really do. All that cute girl stuff!! Who wouldn’t love to get one of those boxes?!

A boy age 10-14, that’s who. OCC is driven by the generosity of thousands and do their best to distribute what they have. But if you only have girl boxes for 2-4 or 5-9 year-olds, what can you do?

I have a friend who works at a home in India where kids get these boxes and she says it’s heart breaking to see a boy ask for a boy box and … then be given a girl box. It’s a small thing. Or is it?

If girls were being ignored, we’d go all Title IX about it and yell “Girl power!” But it’s not girls, it’s boys.

The truth is, I think you’re like me and want to pack a box for a boy, but don’t know what to get. I’ve been thinking about this all year and have done informal polling on Facebook — wow, the ideas that poured in. Thank you.

Good news, this is a solvable problem! Here are 11 gift ideas for boys ages 10-14 with a few reminders from my friend:

  • Aim for the lower end of the age range, in this case age 10.
  • These kids are raised without IPADs or computer games — don’t think North American boy. These are the poorest of the poor.
  • Boys in that age range like coloring books too.
  • Dollar stores have good stuff for boys!

Gift ideas

1. Card games — it doesn’t matter that they can’t read the rules, they’ll make up their own! Ideas include: Old maid, crazy eights, or Go fish

2. Items with Super heros, sports, or cars (maybe not American football and you know it pains me to say :)). Boys are boys are boys. Oh and not stuff with war toys or weapons. But there’s a lot out there with super heroes, sports or cars!

3. Small toys — like yo-yo’s, balls on a string, I found a small board game for basketball involving a dice and two pegs (dollar store type of place), marbles

4. Legos — turns out this is really popular! They can get expensive. The cheapest (and good for small boxes) are creator lego sets and they go for $4.95 at Barnes and Noble. or Target.

5. Round things — small balls, nerf balls, and I’ll say it again, marbles.

6. Logic games and puzzles — guess what, Rubik Cubes are big in the junior high scene in America this year. So, you can find them fairly easily. Or variations for Rubik Cubes (remember those snakes? and circles?). Puzzles — I found small puzzles with cars, trucks, or cartoon characters playing basketball. Dominos are good too!

7. Toothbrush and comb — You can also put a bar of soap in the box (but no liquids like toothpaste). Hey, they might prefer a box of all toys, but their teeth will thank them later.

8. Coloring books and crayons — just not princesses or too girly. Sports, super heroes, animals. You might think this is below them, it’s not. Other school supplies too — colored pencils, markers, small notebooks.

9. Flash-lights and batteries — Can’t you picture a group of boys playing with flashlights?!

10. Solar calculator — How else will they learn the magic of 43046721? (Take the square root, take the square root, take the square root, take the square root and what do you have? Other than a whole lot of fun?!) These are things we’ve been conditioned to think are not fun. Well, we’re wrong :).

11. Something silly — like fake teeth or plastic bugs. I can just hear the laughter now! And Jesus smiling. He was a boy after all.

I hope that helps you with ideas and gets you excited to SHOP FOR BOYS — my new mini-campaign (#shopforboys). Care to join me? You can find more about Operation Christmas Child and how to pack a box here.

There are small and simple ways to make a difference in the life of a boy, who will grow up to be a man. The news often makes me feel more helpless than I really am. We are not helpless! We can #shopforboys. Would you consider helping to get this message out? Girl boxes may outnumber boy boxes, but let’s dent that ratio!

Are you with me?

Why I have changed my tune on Halloween and become a BIG fan

Having recently spent time in my beloved Beijing (and thanks, by the way dear BJ for having horrible air most of the time I was there, but then deciding to clean up your act about the moment my plane took off. But I digress.). Where was I? Oh yes, having recentely spent time in Beijing, I am struck afresh by how much of life happens on the streets.

The Heart of Halloween

Breakfast stands pop up.

Fruit and veggies to be sold.

Poop (some might say a little too much life).

Dancing, badminton, car washes.

Life, life, life!

Without garages to pull into and the high value of private space, there is a level of engagement that is different than life in the West.

People, we have an opportunity this Friday night to get out there and mingle with our neighbors. One of my very first blog posts encourage people to “Take back the streets.” In part I said:

I have mixed feeling about the “Fall Festivals” that have become the norm at many churches and other places of gathering. Part of me applauds the church looking for ways to be a haven and being willing to open their doors instead of close them. But another part is kind of turned off by the withdrawal and segregation. It’s the ONE night a year in America where we are socially sanctioned to wander around our neighborhoods, knock on each other’s doors and greet one another. The ONE night. And what have we done, we have said safety is more important than engagement (I told you, you might not agree).

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The main push back I have gotten is over the origin of Halloween. I really never intended to take a massive stand on Halloween. The truth is I care about relationships and finding connecting points. I don’t know much about the origins of Halloween and, frankly, it doesn’t really interest me because I believe nothing, absolutely nothing is beyond the hope of redemption.

Do bad things happen on Halloween? Sure. Do bad things happen other night of the year and in the name of evil. Absolutely (and tragically so). Do I ABHOR the evil perpetrated against children or cats? Big fat yes.

But as one who bears the Image of God, I also bear the image of fun and creativity and playfulness. Of connection and joy and giggles. Of memory building and traditions. Do I delight that God made us in His image? Bigger, Fatter Y-E-S.

Now, can you just tun off your lights and not engage on Friday night and still be an Image Bearer? Of course. And that’s fine!

However, if you’re looking for some creative ideas for Friday, here are a few I’ve heard:

1. A group of teachers in China live in a building shared with graduate students. They hung up a sign explaining about Trick-or-Treating and asked students who would be willing for foreign children to Trick-or-Treat to hang up one of the provided pumpkins.

2. A family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hands out hot dogs to those passing by their house. This year they wrote to a record label and and pitched the idea of Christmas Music CD’s being handed out with hot dogs. The record label LOVED the idea and sent 100 of David Crowder’s CD. My friends are not all that taken with Halloween, but they are taken with their neighbors and with Christmas. I only wish I lived closer because who doesn’t love a hot dog on a cold night?!

3. A church in Denver held their Fall Festival on Sunday night to free up their congregation on Halloween.

4. My sister and her family have started leaving a bowl of candy on their front porch so no one has to stay home. We get to wander their neighborhood as a family connecting with neighbors and fellow Trick-or-Treaters. (And this year for the first time ever Del, Elizabeth and I have a themed costume we’ll do together! Can’t wait!)

Engagement can come in many forms, be creative. Find one that works for you, your stage of life, your family and your personality.

I’d love to hear more ideas of ways you have found to engage and connect with folks. Anyone else planning a costume for this year?

P.S. My time in Beijing was profound on multiple levels. I’m sifting through and will share more.