Toilet Paper Rolls, Distracted Daughters, and Giving Thanks for What Really Matters: A brief account of my attempt to begin Thanksgiving traditions with my kids

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30)

As a college professor, I enjoy the flexibility of working at least once a week from home. It’s fantastic. However, as anyone in the American school system will attest to, regardless of enjoying grading papers in my pajamas in my cozy home office, fall semester is very busy, and with no holidays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, brutally long. This fall semester at the two schools I teach at has proven particularly time consuming as I have taken some extra responsibilities in the university that have required many additional hours of work per week. All of this put together has meant my time with family over the past 3 months has been very limited.

You might imagine how eager I was to enjoy a full week of break at Thanksgiving.

While I was counting down the days before my long-awaited break would finally begin, I began reflecting on how my life is so blessed with the family God gave me. I wanted to be intentional about spending more time with my two young daughters over my break. In brainstorming different things I could do to entertain a two- and five-year-old for more than 3 and a half consecutive minutes, I decided to try to find a way to create a tradition to make Thanksgiving more than just another holiday, but a way to remind myself and teach my daughters consciously keep gratitude front and center during the holidays.

Working full time, I usually don’t have time to actually plan full-blown activities with the girls (that’s usually my wife’s forte), but I knew I wanted to have an opportunity to do a special activity with just the girls and me. Being a bit of a novice in the field of handicrafts, I browsed Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, and websites, searching for ideas. I wanted something intentional that didn’t require a lot of material or anything overly complicated (I’ve seen “Nailed It,” so I know how that goes). It was also important to me to find something that would teach my kids about sustainability and use recycled or reused materials as part of the activity.

After much research, I finally found something that I thought would be good (and easy for the kids). Drum roll please…

Toilet Paper Roll Turkeys.

“What?”

I know, that’s what my wife said too when I told her. But it’s actually adorable.

You actually use toilet paper rolls as the body of the turkey and then write something you are grateful for on each of the construction paper feathers that you glue to the back.

I was confident this would go well.

The day we decided to tackle the craft, we all gathered in our house office with the supplies. I helped them to cut the long feathers from the construction paper that we already had at home. At the top of each feather Ava and Mila “wrote” one thing they felt grateful for. It was really fun for me to have the chance to teach my kids about gratitude in my native language. Ava is already pretty fluent so it was easier to explain that to her. She confidently began to list off the things was grateful for. (It was a bit more challenging to try to explain that to her two-year-old sister, who confidently repeated everything her sister said).

The interesting and most rewarding part of this whole thing was that Ava specifically mentioned that she was grateful for people in her life (dad, mom, sister, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, etc), but never mentioned material things, except for her school. It made me realize that kids genuinely value personal relationships and all they want is to spend time with their loved ones. After lots of distraction and shenanigans, the results are below:

 

 

 

I’m not gonna lie, it did not go super smoothly. The two-year-old started crying and her “thankful for” feathers fell off her turkey. There was glue EVERYWHERE.

But Pinterest perfection was never the goal. The most important was not only the end result of the activity, but initiating a discussion with my kids about the importance of being thankful in our lives!

 

I hope you can have a chance to think about your relationships and be thankful for them in your life.

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

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The Grinch’s “Two-Sizes-Too-Small” Heart and the Christmas Story

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Source: https://www.amazon.com/Illumination-Presents-Seuss-Grinch-Blu-ray/dp/B07JYQTK85

 

I love Christmas season and I also love the Grinch story by Dr. Seuss. I started loving it even more after having my kiddos. (My wife also tells me I can be a Grinch when the house gets a little dirtier than I like, but that’s another story.)

 

We all know the story: the Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling hermit living with a heart “two-sizes-too-small” and his only companion being his unloved, but loyal dog, Max. He resides on Mount Crumpit, a steep, high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the ever-merry and warm-hearted Whos.  From his cave, the Grinch begrudgingly listens to the “noise, noise, noise” of the Christmas festivities that take place every year in Whoville. Continuously annoyed at their eternal happiness and Christmas cheer, he devises and executes a wicked scheme to steal their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast.

 

The Grinch is a lawbreaker.

 

Similar to the Grinch, the book of Matthew also tells of lawbreakers. But these actually appear in a peculiar place – the genealogy of Jesus. Interestingly, several (though not all by any means) of these non-law-abiding characters are women and it’s important to highlight that Middle Eastern genealogies are supposed to be lists of men only[1].

 

Let’s start with Jacob. He disguised as Esau in order to receive his father’s blessing (Genesis 25). Tamar. She broke the law by arranging a way to have child with her father- in-law, Judah (Genesis 38-1:30). Judah. He broke the law by not keeping the promise he said to Tamar. Rahab was a Gentile, prostitute, liar, and lawbreaker (Joshua 2). Ruth was a Gentile and a social and religious rule-breaker (Ruth 3). David. He stole Uriah’s wife and killed him. Bathsheba was unfaithful to her husband, and possibly a Gentile (2 Samuel 11).

 

The genealogy of the very Son of God, the Savior of the world, was one of what the world would disregard and label as law-breakers.

 

As we continue to look at Jesus’ lineage (and yet another parallel to the Grinch), we also see that many of those characters are not people of wealth. The genealogy of Jesus ends with Mary, a lowly teenage peasant girl. Her husband, Joseph, a carpenter, was persecuted by his friends and family members for accepting a woman they would call a law-breaker and what they believed to be her “bastard” child. Joseph and Mary were simple, poor migrants seeking a refuge anywhere they could find; a safe place to rest and live escaping from a dictator who ordered all children to be killed.[2] Joseph and Mary were also fleeing corruption, violations of their civil rights, and other issues that threatened their ability to live and raise their child in peace. It reminds me of the migrants of poorer nations that seek better living conditions in first-world countries at present.

 

But God, in His goodness, invades the scene – one laden with law-breakers, the marginalized, the bitter, and the poor. Solitary, angry, often vengeful creatures, like the Grinch, carrying the brokenness of an orphan desperate for the love of a Father.

 

K.E. Bailey (2008)1 points out that God chooses to be around women and men, both saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles…that those are the kinds of people that the Messiah came to save. In short, Jesus came to save the many “Grinches” in the world. The main Messiah came for us ALL!

 

This is the story of Christmas demonstrates the solidarity of God. He knew our condition, our sufferings, our cries under the weight of our wrongdoings. So in His great compassion, he voluntarily chose to be one of us, a human being who offered Himself to us and for us.

 

Christmas reminds us that God is not indifferent to our condition. He cares! The solidarity of a loving Father demonstrated by the birth of Jesus that came to bring everyone His grace and love, inspire us to promote actions of solidarity that change lives in a broken world to rediscover and experience His love.

 

Like the Grinch, after spending all night stealing from the houses of Whoville, the Grinch travels back to the top of Mount Crumpit, with the single-minded intent of dumping all of the Christmas decorations, gifts (and of course, Roast Beast) into the abyss. As dawn arrives, the Grinch expects the people in Whoville to emit bitter and sorrowful cries, but he is perplexed to hear them singing a joyous Christmas song instead. He is puzzled until it dawns on him that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes.

 

This is what Jesus does in our hearts – He transforms it, grows our love and compassion so we can be different people. People who cares about other people. People who have the courage to change the status quo like Jacob, Tamar, Judah, Rahab, Ruth, David, Bathsheba, and Mary and ended up in Jesus’ Genealogy: an unusual situation for that time in that culture.

 

As I reflect on all of this, I see a Jesus who came to save all because all humans are equal before God. God is no respecter of persons – nobody is exempt from the privilege of salvation and the transformative power of his love and acceptance that ensues. Jesus didn’t see some human beings better than others. Jesus came for all and saw and sees all humans as equally loved children who He longs to have a deep relationship with: the Republican and the Democrat, the citizen and the undocumented immigrant, the black, the native American, the Latino, the Asian and the white, the elderly and the child, the married, and the single.

 

As we approach Christmas, I hope we all reflect on how Jesus came for all equally and hope we can change our hearts and show this Jesus for all in the same manner.

 

Merry Christmas!

[1] Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: Cultural studies in the gospels. InterVarsity Press.

[2] Matthew 2:13-15

Thanksgiving in Retrospect

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1 NIV)

 

jan-kahanek-184675-unsplashPhoto by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

 

I came to the US eleven years ago. I didn’t have much of a habit of journaling before coming, but one of the first things that I did when I came was to buy a notebook to journal my experiences in a land that was going to eventually become my home.

When I came I didn’t have many friends or family around so journaling became a way to process everything that I was going through at that time in my life. Journaling became not only a way to release my emotions, but also a way to record the good, the bad, and the ugly that happened in my life.

After having been journaling for a while, I began the practice of looking at it at the end of each December, reading and reflecting on everything that had happened to me during that year. “Yearly review” had never been my original intention in journaling, however, as I began to make this an annual ritual, I began to see God revealing something very important and very often forgotten- the blessings in my life!

If I am honest, I am not the type of person who tends to find joy naturally in the midst of trials…I tend to get frustrated, discouraged and disillusioned with my circumstances. However, by intentionally looking back at what God has done over the previous year, I have been able to focus on God’s activity in my life instead of being unhappy and unfulfilled because the grass is greener elsewhere.

And as I began doing this regularly, I began to see the details of my life in retrospect and observe God’s hand clearly guiding, teaching, and providing for me. It cleaned my vision to come into a complete awareness of the things that I couldn’t see in the moment- awareness of what I love in life, simple things that make me joyful, and maybe, the most important thing, the people God has put in my life. I can confidently say that the act of journaling made me be more grateful and expanded my ability to enjoy life more fully.

Perhaps “thankfulness in the moment” is something that you struggle with like I do. Maybe you find yourself thinking that your life would be more fulfilling with a new relationship, a different job, a better house, or a nicer car.

I get it. I’ve been there, and I often still find myself in that space.

In Phil. 4:11, Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I have come to believe that having this individual time to journal helped me see life in the eyes of what Paul was saying in this passage of the Bible.

Doing this is not easy; it is still very much a journey for me. I don’t do a good job thanking God for all he does all the time – this is a daily exercise that I’m still learning. But by simply keeping records of the blessings (and even blessings in disguise) in my life, I am learning to point to God and change my mindset when I need; a mindset of cultivating “an attitude of gratitude.”

Looking back and reading entries from weeks, months, or even years can bring back fresh memories of special events, people, and moments that have touched our lives in a positive way. And being in communion with God as you write about your blessings, offers Him a grateful heart.

I decided to take a look at my journal on this special day and realized that I have a lot to thank Him for!

 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

 

 

10 years

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They say if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans. I am a living testament to this statement.

 

Yesterday, August 10, 2017, marks exactly 10 years that I arrived in the United States. I came with a clear plan and objectives: go to graduate school at Colorado State University, where I was accepted to study environmental economics, graduate, and go back to my home country, Brazil to get married and have a family.

 

That was the plan.

 

Just some key information before I continue this story. When I was accepted to CSU in March 2007, I did not know a soul in Colorado. Being from a Latin country where friendship and social life form the integral fabric of our culture and society, I knew this wasn’t going to fly. So in addition to my search housing in Fort Collins, I also started thinking about how I could make friends even before I arrived in the United States…again, a country in another hemisphere where I didn’t know a soul.

 

I had one idea – I was part of an international Christian environmental organization called A Rocha that had offices and members in over 20 countries around the world, including the United States. I thought “maybe if I could meet a member or 2 of A Rocha USA at least we’d have some common ground, it’s something, right?” It was a long shot, but I had nothing to lose. I had met a few of the American members when while attending an International A Rocha conference few years before, so I at least had a contact. The headquarters for the American chapter was located in Washington D.C. so I knew the chances of there being members in Colorado was fairly slim, but it was worth a shot…

 

So, about a month before I embarked for the land of the free and home of the brave, I wrote my colleagues in D.C. and asked if they knew of anyone from the organization around Fort Collins area. They got back to me saying that they indeed had a few members located in Colorado; they had reached out with my contact information and informed me that if these members were interested in getting in touch I would hear from them directly.

 

A few weeks past and I got an email. A man named Don wrote me saying he had gotten my information from A Rocha. He lived in Colorado and he very generously offered to not only pick me up from the airport in Denver but invited me to stay at his house for my first weekend in the US and drive me up to my new housing in Fort Collins. Just to meet SOMEONE in my new state was a blessing I would have been crazy to pass up, so I quickly agreed.

 

I arrived in Denver on a beautiful morning of August 10th 2007. I saw Don and his wife, Angela, waiting for me at baggage claim (we exchanged pictures before). I was later told that I looked like a “drowned rat” getting off the plane…great first impression, right?

 

I was very grateful for this warm welcome to the country where I knew I would spend at least the next 3 years, but I was also exhausted. I took a shower and went to bed in their home in Denver.

 

The next day, this friendly couple told me that had invited their daughter to come for lunch. Around noon, a pretty, blonde young woman arrived and shook my hand. She was a senior at CSU, studying Spanish and had just returned from a semester abroad in Mexico.

 

We ate lunch outside, feeling the warm sun and fresh breeze on our faces. Little did I know that my lunchtime “chance” encounter was the beginning of a friendship journey that continued in daily meetings at the CSU campus, dates downtown, and a year and a half later, a walk down the aisle with the love of my life.

 

My wife completely foiled my plans. And I am so, so grateful.

 

Life never happens the way we plan, does it? And thank God. I had no idea that less than 24 hours after stepping onto American soil I would have met the woman I now call my wife.

 

It’s been ten years since we met, eight years since we got married; we have now two beautiful daughters and an incredible journey of friendship, love, and seeing the glory and faithfulness of God as the result of this amazing journey.

 

All I can say is that I am very grateful that my plans are not God’s plans and I allowed God to pave the way. Letting the Lord take the reins is often scary, but I can guarantee you that it is worth it.

 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”                                            Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

Turning 40

Two thousand seventeen saw me wave goodbye to my thirties and tentatively step on to the descending side of ‘the hill’.

Sometimes I don’t realize that I just turned 40 a couple of days ago. As I started reflecting on the previous decades of life, my thoughts turned first to my accomplishments – what I have done over the past 4 decades. But I soon began to reflect on the fact that, although I am proud of what I have achieved and where God has brought me, the most important element of this season of my life is thankfulness for all that I’ve experienced and all God has done.

 

Hence, I would like to share my thoughts on 40 reasons I am extremely thankful:

 

  1. God’s love for me
  2. Wonderful parents who taught me about God and Jesus
  3. My country, Brazil, and all the good things it has (despite all the bad ones)
  4. A childhood that I could enjoy a good urban-rural life
  5. Growing up near the beach
  6. My only sister (we used to fight a lot but we’re great friends now)
  7. Wonderful in-laws
  8. My only nephew Pedro
  9. The beautiful state of Colorado where I live now
  10. The beautiful mountains that I look at every day
  11. My wonderful wife
  12. The gift of fatherhood
  13. The gift of being able to take care of my daughter Ava twice a week and experience the joy and challenges of parenting her + teaching her my native language
  14. The gift of having one more daughter on the way (due March 3)
  15. Wonderful extended family (both Brazilian and American family members)
  16. Still having contact with childhood friends
  17. Being part of a men’s vocal group in my 20’s (don’t ask me how that was possible).
  18. The opportunity my parents gave me to have a good education
  19. Studying abroad twice.
  20. Learning different languages and one of them the language of my family background, Italian
  21. Being granted an American citizenship
  22. Working with sustainable agriculture with family farmers in my home country
  23. Visiting different countries and cultures
  24. Visiting where my paternal grandfather was born in rural Portugal
  25. Founding an environmental conservation non-profit organization in my home country
  26. Writing and co-organizing two published award-winning books
  27. Running three 5K races
  28. Serving in various community organizations in Brazil and US
  29. Leading a community garden in my church that also produces its own composting
  30. My home church in Brazil
  31. The church family I belong to in the US
  32. Great mentors in my life
  33. The opportunity to be a mentor for several people in my path
  34. Being part of the School of Kingdom Ministry team
  35. My house
  36. My academic and teaching career
  37. Great co-workers
  38. Working with diversity and inclusiveness at work
  39. Being nominated for the Master Teacher Award for the 2015/16 academic year
  40. The hope and faith I have that my future ahead is full of good surprises

 

 

“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1