Every Sunday, during Advent, one family gets up at the beginning of the church service to read the devotional, text, and prayer. This Sunday’s candle was Love, and it was our turn. So I carefully dressed Evelynn in her older sister’s hand-me-down Christmas dress, but the older two couldn’t be bothered: fashionista Anne wanted to wear harem pants and a lotus dress, pragmatic Joseph preferred his red hockey t-shirt.

Initially, I handed Brian the full reading and text we were given without thought. Probably I would stand, beatifically, madonna-like, no doubt, surrounded by my children, behind him, supportive.

This up-front-stuff is the part of worship that The Daddy does, I defaulted, without thinking, slipping into my old pastor-wife groove. It was my husband who said, “No, this is Advent, and it’s church, and we’re a family: we’re all in this. Together.” (Usually, he’s the one reminding me that those old ways don’t fit a Jesus-shaped life, not anymore.)

.Of course, Anne was thrilled. There is no timidity or fear in her, she dances through church. One day, a friend of mine came over to me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I know it might be odd but I need to tell that I think I heard a word from God about Anne. I was watching her dance, and somehow, in my heart, I heard Jesus say, “I love to watch her dance for me. It makes me so happy.”

Isn’t Jesus happy when children are happy in his Presence?

Now, all on her own, Anne often goes into a quiet room, turns on praise music, and spins and dances, just her and (I imagine, I wouldn’t be surprised) an Audience of One, dancing with her even. (I cried when my friend told me that Jesus was happy about Anne’s dancing. I tucked another moment into my own heart, Mary-like, we know what it is to ponder and remember for the rest of a life.)

Joseph is my singer, my worshipper. He memorizes the words to songs, and is always singing under his breath. I didn’t realize how easily songs came to him until I heard him singing to himself all the time, just working on puzzles, singing all the songs I sing. He loves to sit in the very front of church, but I’m a back-row soul so we usually clash about where to sit in church. Every once in a while, we end up in the very front, and he watches and learns, and he wants me to hold him close during worship, so I sing the words right into his ears (and Brian chases Evelynn back and forth across the gym because, have mercy, that child never sits still). He told me, in his Cookie-Monster boy-voice, that he wants to sing songs always, and someday, that will be him making up songs and playing the guitar. His favourite song, his top-of-the-lungs-gracious-that-is-loud-bellowing-song,  is Matt Redman’s Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul. And he means every word of it.

So Anne ran on stage, and I followed in her confident wake, sedate, the matriarch of this little tribe. Brian handed the microphone to Anne, and my girl, she read it strong: “This morning we light the second candle and we remember Love.”

The sound of her girlish voice through the speakers, rang out, in bell-ringing-clear proclaiming.

Brian sat down on the stage beside her and Joe, and he read, in his midwest man voice, “In a manger on that incredible night Love was born. Mary held Love in her arms. The shepherds from the fields came to worship Love. Years later, Wisemen would come to bring gifts to the King Love. Here was Love born to us. Love grew and touched those who could not be touched. Love forgave those who would not be forgiven. Love listened to those who had no one to listen to them. Love prayed for those who did not love him. Love gave life to those who were caught in the grasp of death. Love willingly died so that our sins were removed, forgiven, and so we could be face to face with God.”

Anne took the microphone again, and prayed, “May we be teachable to love like Jesus himself.”

Then I took the microphone and began to read the Scriptures. I had Evelynn balanced on my cocked hip, and I wasn’t nervous. For once in my life, holding a microphone, I wasn’t nervous. My daughters, my husband, my son, were all here with me, there was no need to fear because this, this was communal worship: not a performance.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love,” I read from 1 John.

Then Evelynn grabbed the mic out of my hand and hollered “LOVE!” into it, bursting out laughing at the sound of her own loud voice. I laughed, too, relieved, and joked that we were raising a preacher in this one. (Seriously, this girl.)

“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

I handed the microphone to Brian, thinking we were done, but Joseph took his Dad’s arm, pulled it down to his wide mouth, and solemnly said, “A-men” in benediction. I lit the candles with a fireplace clicker thing, we walked back to our seats to sit amongst our friends.

I think the Kingdom of God looks like children, men, and women in worship together. We wait in the darkness together, so we worship together. Aren’t we all a picture of the restored life in the full light of day, how this new life means all are welcome?

So that the Kingdom of God is yeast and seed, and also a slender little girl, dancing for Jesus alone, and one little boy, singing songs, and one little family leading worship for the community, and one more candle burning, on a lampstand, lighting the whole room. It’s Angels on a hillside with common shepherds, and Kings in stables, and virgins having babies. It’s the uneducated Galileans as ambassadors for God, and murderous Pharisees as great apostles, it’s Mary Magdalene charged with announcing the resurrection, and little children as our examples.

So my children lead worship right alongside of the grown-ups, and their mama reads Scripture right alongside of the men, and their dad is the one who willingly gave up his own time in the lead, for the joy of giving his most-loved-ones a chance to worship out loud, too.

Isn’t it beautiful, all together? Isn’t it beautiful when young and old, male and female, rich and poor, broken and beautiful, all gather for Emmanuel, God with us?

Come, Lord Jesus, among us, and until you do, I have a little girl who wants to dance, and a boy who wants to sing, and a baby who wants to preach, a husband with a leader’s mind and a servant’s posture and a heart after God, and me, I am learning to be not afraid but to speak truth in love.

It’s just a small incarnational moment, hardly worth noticing for most of the world, but for me, this was a metaphor moment of life in the Kingdom, life in the glorious truth of worship in spirit and truth, Jesus-shaped leadership as servanthood, and so our family’s lighting of another candle within community, with their affirmation and prayers and participation, pushed back just a bit more of the darkness, and then we scattered back out again.



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  • My children’s sermon yesterday, after the children lit the candle (for us, ours was “peace” and it was called “the Children’s Candle) was on how children are not the future of the church–they are the church NOW. All of us are the church now. What you did yesterday is practice for the heavenly kingdom, for all of us are part of it now. Thank you!

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    Oh, how I love this. It reminds me of church back in the day before it became such a production. Families all sat together and we had special readings during Advent, too, where family traditions were shared after scripture was read. Now, there’s a Hollywood film version each week. It’s fabulous and reaches so many…but I still find myself longing for the simplicity of my childhood…

    • I felt that same longing in the megachurch world (and when I was in Anglican churches, I was yearning for a good old happy-clappy Jesus song, go figure!).

  • amen. amen.

  • what a beautiful picture of the Kingdom Sarah! thank you for letting us peak into your life and your perspective. your description of faith in Jesus is both glorious and contagious.

  • So beautiful. Amen and amen.

  • love this: “Come, Lord Jesus, among us, and until you do, I have a little girl who wants to dance, and a boy who wants to sing, and a baby who wants to preach, a husband with a leader’s mind and a servant’s posture and a heart after God, and me, I am learning to be not afraid but to speak truth in love”. GLORAY! =)

    • Your comments always make me smile so big, Grace – you are someone I want to meet in real life someday, for sure. 🙂

      • Sarah, that would be FAB! Are you going to be coming back to the U.S. of A. anytime soon? I’m hoping, praying, to be able to attend the Story Conference &/or Allume. Are you conference junkie? Will I see you? =)

  • Tiffany Norris

    I love this! I think my initial reaction would have been the same as yours (to hand it off to the husband), but, if we’re ever given a similar opportunity, this will definitely make me think it through differently.

  • BrennaDA

    I love this. How can I not?

  • beautiful and true

  • lindsholifield

    Your tinies bring such joy to me, even through a computer screen 🙂 So much life, so much beauty, so much Jesus.

    • lindsholifield

      P.S. Not that you need me to tell you this, but you were meant to be a writer. You weave words together and they come to life. You are a magical storyteller.

  • Lily

    As I read this, I had Gungor’s “Church Bells” play in my head. How appropriate 🙂

  • Loveliness. Thank you.

  • Ellen

    Just so lovely.

  • hopejem

    You have no idea how much I needed this today.

  • Helen

    Beautiful Sarah… Loved every thought, every word. Love you xoxo

    • Love you, too, Helen. So much. (And miss you!)

  • pastordt

    Gorgeous. True. Lovely. Necessary. and brilliant fun, too. Such satisfaction, yes??

  • Jobi

    In my early 20’s, at the moment I’m a bit terrified of having children one day. But a story like that makes me want to, so I can be as proud of them as you are. You made me cry! Which doesn’t happen often… but such a beautiful story. I am still rediscovering the little dancing and singing girl in myself and I love the image of your tinies’ wholehearted worship.

  • Debby Hudson

    Wonderful! My husband and I serve in a community of men in recovery. To watch them present the Advent Reading, using their Bic lighter for the candles when they can’t get the fancy one to work for them, clapping their support, mispronouncing a word here and there – this is worship and this is community and it is at the very heart of God. They are shaping my spiritual formation and teaching me grace. God uses who he will use. Sometimes our own wee ones.

  • Amy Gaines

    Sarah, this is beautiful. Just what my heart needed.

  • Oh, I love this so much.

  • What a beautiful picture you’ve painted. It reminds me of growing up in a very family-oriented Catholic church and how Advent services were built around us children…I can’t wait to have those moments with my kids, too!

  • I just recently discovered your blog, and may I say that you are SUCH a blessing. I’m a campus minister in Arkansas, and I keep sharing your words with my students. Thank you for sharing your stories so beautifully.

  • Ronna

    Thank you. Thank you for what you write, for the art you paint and the songs you sing with your words. Thank you for sharing your heart, (some of) your intimate thoughts and life moments. I started reading your blog about a month ago when a friend recommended it to me. I fell in love with so much that you had to say, to talk about: books. Haiti (especially Hait, I just went to Haiti last Summer and I am in the process of trying to go again. And, I love it. That’s really too simple a way to express how I feel about Haiti). Well, anyways, I just wanted to say that I am a college student. This is finals week, and let me tell you, I am struggling. Along with many others, I know. When I only get two hours of sleep a night, I struggle finding a place for my God (as if God needed me to create a space for him to work in my life), and I miss Him and his word. I was taking a short study/paper writing break by reading blogs and opened yours. I don’t usually comment on things, but I wanted to let you know that your words are refreshing and encouraging and I find God in them. Not that it replaces reading his word or talking to him, but that He uses your words that you type somewhere up in Canada to speak to and rejuvenate a college junior in Oklahoma who doesn’t know you . . . who doesn’t even have a blog. So, Thank you for your willingness and your words.

  • Beautiful.

  • What a beautiful glimpse into your life, Sarah. So touching and sweet… What a precious little family you have! May your Christmas be filled with much love, boundless joy, and the endless laughter of tinies…

  • anastasia @ eco-babyz

    It’s as if you’re describing my daughter, she is a lot like Anne! She’ll be 4 next month and she absolutely LOVES to dance and mostly does to classical and praise music. I think they would have a blast together 🙂