Preach…like a woman?

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a women’s preaching workshop. It was an inaugural event for a women’s ministry group in my home state, and they were gracious enough to invite me back. The intriguing thing about this workshop is that it focused on delivery, not on content.

After I got home, a seminary friend contacted me to ask how it was. And to be honest, I was still thinking through the event. It was so good to see old friends and make some new connections. And my number one takeaway is that I simply don’t spend nearly enough time working on my sermon delivery. Content? Yes. But actual delivery? Not so much. That’s something I will definitely be working on – thinking through how I will deliver sermons and actually practicing them. No matter how spectacular the sermon, certain verbal and visual issues can detract from how well people hear the actual message. 

At the same time, I also wasn’t fully prepared for the critiques that were offered to this group of women. Now, I do have some habits that I need to kick and will work on. And there are some vocal things that are important – like not dropping the last words of your sentences. But some of the things I heard seemed to go against what I had been taught in the past. But who was right – the expert at this workshop or the experts I had learned from?

I talked about comments both from this workshop and from my seminary experience with my husband and realized that things I had/have been told are different from what he has been told when it comes to preaching. And it has caused me to ask – are the standards for women preaching different? Should they be?

Lower your voice so it sounds more like a man’s. No, don’t lower your voice – it’s your voice. Smile more to be more approachable. No, you have to be serious – you’re preaching the gospel. Wear dark colors and hide your curves, and don’t be too fashionable. No, be appropriate, but wear what fits your personality.

What’s a girl supposed to do with all of these conflicting messages?

I haven’t fully figured out what’s good advice and what’s based upon female stereotypes. It’s frustrating, because sometimes the unspoken undertone of those comments really bothers me.

You’re a woman, so you have to act this way so they won’t be put off by you.

You’re a woman in a man’s world, so you have to be more like a man so they’ll respect you.

I’m working hard not to automatically dismiss people’s opinions, but rather considering if there is some truth or something helpful in what they have to say, even if the undertone bothers me. But when it comes to these conflicting opinions, I’m still sorting it all out.

Regardless, all I know to do is to continue finding my voice and practicing and preaching the best I can.

The “b word”

…and it’s not the word you’re thinking ;)

A few months ago, I read an article online entitled “Busy Isn’t Respectable Anymore.” Rather than rehashing the entire thing, I strongly recommend you click the link and read it!

The basic premise is the fact that our [American, productivity-driven] culture glorifies being busy. And I confess that I’ve bought into it. I was that annoying girl in college who would use my AIM away message (ha! AIM! remember that?) as an opportunity to list out everything I had to do that day. Granted, in the pre-smartphone world it was my way of keeping a daily schedule. But still…sorry, friends!

There’s no denying that my life is busy. It comes with the territory of being a minister, with a schedule that doesn’t neatly fit into 9-5, 5 days a week. And some seasons (Advent, Holy Week) are much busier than others – and there’s not much that can be done about that. But to run at full throttle 52 weeks a year? Yeah, not healthy at all. How can I minister to others if I don’t even bother to take care of myself?

Creating a better work-life balance is something I’ve been trying to do. Sometimes, it’s one step forward, two steps back. But it’s important. And something I really want to work on is what was suggested in the article I mentioned above – removing the word “busy” from my vocabulary. As the writer’s friend noticed:

Busy, it would seem, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The more we said it – the more we felt it.  The more we felt – the more we acted like it.  The more we acted like it – (well, you know the rest).  Guess what?  When we quit saying it, we reversed SOME (not all) of the craziness.

So, I’ll be taking on this experiment myself, just to see what it does. By taking the time to actually think about what is going on in my life and what is on my plate, rather than brushing it all under the rug of “busy,” I hope to have a little more self-awareness about what the balance really looks like.

We’ll see what happens…

2014…a fresh start at blogging?

In the past few months, several people have casually asked, “so, are you still blogging?”

If you haven’t written a post since June, does that count as blogging?

I have no real reason for not blogging, though I think part of it has to do with how life has changed over the past year. I first started this blog during the time when I knew that I would be losing my job, but the people at my (now former) church didn’t. I had a need to write, to have my voice heard in some way. Even though I couldn’t say everything out loud, it was therapeutic to be heard on some level.

I’m now employed full-time at a church. I love my job. It’s tough at times (part of ministry), but a good job. I have great colleagues, a good congregation, and an awesome group of families that I work with. I have the opportunity to explore a variety of opportunities within my job, to have a voice in things that happen. So, in many ways, that initial need that led me to start this blog has been met.

So, do I still blog?

I’ve been tossing that idea back and forth in my head. But, particularly over the past few weeks, I have felt the need to write once again. It’s different this time. This time, it’s the need to be creative, to process life on paper (so to speak), to connect with others in a different way.

Connect.

Last year, I tried the OneWord365 challenge – rather than creating a list of resolutions, I would pick a word to focus on. Last year, I chose growth. It was a good word, but a bit broad. There’s no denying I grew in many ways, but because it was so broad I wasn’t able to be as intentional with it as I would have liked.

This year, I keep coming back to the word connect. I think it fits where I am in life and in ministry right now. As an introvert, I sometimes have a hard time connecting with people, simply because being social can be exhausting! (Side note: contrary to popular belief, introverts don’t dislike people. I love people. It can just take a lot of mental/emotional energy sometimes to be around people.) But, I need to have good relationships in my life to have a better life/work balance. I need to be better about connecting with people – in the community, in my work, in my denomination. I need to be better about connecting with myself – taking time alone, reading/writing, pursuing hobbies.

And for those reading this who may think that I’m being a bit too broad – I do have specific thoughts/goals in mind. I hope to share some of them as the year goes on. But, one of those things will be writing in this blog a bit more.

So, 2014. Connect. Let’s do this.

A parable of sorts

In the process of planning for/building a fence in our backyard, we came to the realization that the trees back there had been taken over by wisteria.

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Seriously, this is a picture of some of our trees from this past spring!

 

Wisteria is pretty, and smells nice, but it had been growing in this space for so long that the life of the trees was at risk. They were growing at weird angles, and some barely had any of their own leaves at the top. In fact, some of the parent wisteria vines rivaled the size of some tree trunks.

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Left: wisteria vine
Right: tree trunk

As part of putting up the fence, we did our best to cut down and pull up as much as we could. Turns out, that’s only a temporary fix.

The daggone stuff started popping up in our yard! (sorry, no pictures)

We realized that there was an extensive root system underneath the yard, and apparently our initial pruning caused it to go into overdrive, popping up all over the place. It’s like the plant version of a hydra – cut off one branch, and two more grow in its place.

With some Roundup, a pair of gloves, and a paint brush, we’ve managed to at least get it under control. Everything in the trees on our property is dead, but we realize that there’s other trees in the neighbor’s yard with some, as well as that root system running through our property. We’ve had to accept the fact that it will be a constant battle, and it will never fully go away.

While working on this battle for the second time, the kingdom parables kept popping in my head. (Clearly I’m on a parable kick lately!)  The beauty of the parables is that they don’t try to stretch the metaphor too far, but simply draw a correlation between the Kingdom of God and one aspect of an item or a situation. And I couldn’t help but wonder if this would have been a parable Jesus had told, if he had been teaching his disciples in the South ;)

The Kingdom of God is like a wisteria plant which, when it grows, spreads its roots far and wide and deep. The gardener may come and prune it and cut it, but it will continue to sprout and grow new branches and flowers, popping up in the most inconvenient places and in the most inconvenient times. Try as she might, it cannot be removed, and it cannot be controlled.

So it is with the Kingdom of God.

 

The Great Banquet

When I was in seminary, I took a class on the parables, and it blew my mind. The stories that I’d heard for years were cast in a new light as we explored their context and possible meaning. It reinforced for me that parables are not simple stories that can be boiled down to a moral, like Aesop’s fables.

One of the things we repeatedly talked about in class is how the parables are less about precisely defining exactly who God is and more about offering us a glimpse of God’s character or a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. So, we worked to seek out those glimpses in each story. Each of us adopted a parable for the semester and researched it, gave a presentation on it, and finally wrote a paper on it. Mine was the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke’s gospel.

Synopsis: A man invites a bunch of people to a party, but when the time comes they all have lame excuses as to why they can’t come. Angry, the man instructs his servants to gather together the poor, lame, blind, etc., to come to his party instead. And they do.

Now, there are all sorts of opinions out there about how to interpret this story. Some focus on what the reasons could mean, or the anger of the man, or a variety of other details. But my ultimate conclusion is that the key part of this story, the glimpse of the kingdom, is never actually described – the party itself. (I got an A on the paper, so my professor felt it was a good interpretation…or I at least argued it well.)

It’s a scandalous idea, really, particularly for the audience that was gathered to hear the story as Jesus first told it. A grand party full of the lame, the blind, the outcast? They would never be invited into such an arena! Yet, it’s what happens, and it reflects a God who looks past status and image and welcomes all into the kingdom. I like to think it looked something like this (acknowledging that it’s not historically accurate)…

A long table, set up for a banquet with candles and fine china and lots of rich, decadent food. One by one, the unlikely guests are escorted in. A bit uneasy at first – they’ve never been invited into such a place before. And even the servants are unsure as to how this will happen. Finally, one of the guests reaches for a drumstick and tentatively passes the platter to the next person. It seems to break the tension, as the entire room breathes a sigh of relief.

Plates are filled to overflowing, and the guests dig in. Conversation picks up as they begin to eat. Some accidentally spit a bit of their food onto others as they talk. One man talks a bit too loudly at one end of the table, while another reaches past him to find a plate to replace the one he accidentally shattered on the ground. A middle-aged woman slips a piece of cake into her pocket, unsure of when she will have the opportunity to eat again. A young boy knocks over his glass and spills his juice over the table. Someone calls out, “pass the bread,” and soon dinner rolls are flying through the air. A blind man is served by his seat mate, who describes the mashed potato casserole to him before piling it high on his plate.

And yet, the house is not full enough. So more unlikely guests are brought in. A lame woman is helped in by a man who hasn’t bathed in a while. A child who is a bit overwhelmed by it all begins to cry, as his single mother tries to calm him with a bite of her ice cream. An elderly woman begins to sing and dance to music only she can hear. For some, sleeves and hands replace napkins and utensils as they eat with gusto. The seats fill up, and soon card tables and folding chairs appear in the corners, side tables turn into dinner tables, and seats are found on the floor. Even the normally stoic servants are caught up in the celebration as the guests insist that they sit down with them.

And I like to think that some of those guests who didn’t accept at first snuck in a little late…and while they were taken aback at first by the scene they found, they were so joyfully and warmly welcomed that they couldn’t resist joining in. Because if we’re going to talk about all being welcome to the kingdom, we have to mean it. Even the people who don’t look or think like us. Even the people we don’t like.

A house full to overflowing, with joy and celebration and more than enough food and drink to go around, welcoming to all of God’s children. What better picture of the kingdom is there?

Lenten Recap

Time for another recap of what’s been happening in the children’s ministry! We hosted the annual gathering for our state denomination, so a lot of my time in Lent was devoted to preparing for that, as well as leading a Bible study with the older kids. And we got a puppy. So it was a bit of a blur. But here are a few things I had the kids make to use for their own Lenten/Holy Week journeys at home…

We have a Shrove Tuesday event with pancakes, games, and a time for the kids to learn about Lent. I was inspired by the concept of lapbooks that I found on this website and slightly adapted it to this…

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(click to make the pictures bigger)

All you do is fold a file folder into a new shape, glue the pages inside, and voila! I really liked the “path” graphic, which invites kids to color one square each day until they get to Easter. (I’ve heard from one parent that her 4 year old has been very meticulous about coloring in her daily square!) They also have a prayer journal (write down something you pray for each day), and the older kids got another piece to glue where they commit to fast from something during Lent.

On Palm Sunday afternoon, we had the annual Easter Egg hunt! The weather was cold and rainy, so we hid the eggs inside. (FYI – egg hunts in the sanctuary take a LOT more time, because they have to methodically go pew by pew!) As part of the activity stations, the kids were able to put together a devotional book for Holy Week.

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The school age devotional book was copied out of Sharing the Easter Faith with Children by Carolyn C. Brown. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book – so much great stuff in there! The kids gathered the items to go with each day of the devotional book, and there are instructions about what to tape to each page as they go through the week. The items were pretty simple to gather, with the exception of the matzo. I couldn’t find any in town, so they got a piece of cracker instead. Close enough, right?

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The preschool devotional book was adapted from something I found on this website. I wasn’t able to download the original pages, so I created my own – which was good, because I wanted to change a few things anyway! I liked how simple it was – a few sentences about the story, instruction to draw something, and then a focus on how people were feeling at that point. (And yes, I am aware that the foot washing happened on Maundy Thursday – the concept of the devotional books was not a literal walk through Holy Week, but highlighting the important stories throughout the week.)

Now that Easter is almost here, it’s time to start thinking VBS. Oh boy. Stay tuned!

 

Eshet chayil!

It’s no secret that I adore Rachel Held Evans. She’s an incredibly gifted writer and an important voice for women in the evangelical world. So when her most recent book came out and I discovered she would be speaking at a college only an hour away, it was a no-brainer – road trip!

ImageHer book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, is a must-read. I know that as a fan, my opinion is biased, but it’s good stuff. Funny, insightful, and deep all at the same time. I think my favorite part of the book is where she takes on Proverbs 31. If you’re not familiar with the passage, it’s the last chapter of Proverbs, which talks about a virtuous woman who, among other things, wakes up early (v. 15), plants a vineyard (v. 16), makes her own clothing (v. 22) as well as clothing to sell (v. 24), cares for the poor (v. 20), and is never idle (v. 27). Women in Protestant circles constantly have this set of verses shoved upon them, creating an impossible standard for them to live up to. The result is one of two things – women idolize it and strive for it (see: countless books and conferences about it), or they turn it into a joke. All I have to do is read the verses about sewing and I already know that I’m a lost cause.

Rachel’s Jewish resource for the book shares with her that within her culture, that passage is not seen as a standard or a to-do list, but as a blessing that husbands sing over their wives, celebrating them not because they’ve fulfilled every single task on the list, but because they want to honor them. In addition, the phrase “eshet chayil,” or “woman of valor,” is used within her faith community to honor all women, celebrating things both big and small that they do.

In the book and on her blog, Rachel talks about how she wants to bring that tradition into her understanding of the phrase, and begins using it to celebrate other women and what they do. And she does, celebrating women from all walks of life who are doing their best to be faithful to God’s call in their lives, whatever that may be.

Back to the “the day I met Rachel” story. After hearing her speak, I had the opportunity to meet Rachel and have her sign my book. I was geeking out just a little bit, and managed to stammer out that I was a woman in ministry and appreciated her words affirming women. Before I could finish the sentence, she yelled out, “woman of valor!” and gave me a high five.

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I’d read the blogs about it. I knew where that phrase came from. But to have it said to me, celebrating simply that I was a woman in ministry, not based upon any listed accomplishments or anything…it was so affirming and liberating to hear those simple words.

As a woman in a still mostly male profession, I feel the pressure to make sure I work twice as hard and preach twice as good just to make sure I stay on the radar. Not exactly fair, but it’s the truth. So the emotions I felt when Rachel called me a woman of valor were indescribable. It was months ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Fast-forward to today. I’m in a group conversation about A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and the only woman in the room. It was overall a positive conversation with good insights and questions. I shared that story of having Rachel call me a woman of valor and how it made me feel. A few moments later, another member of the group was talking about something related to “what about men of valor?” and said (paraphrased), “if you (general) need someone to say woman of valor and give you a high five, I guess you’re still working on some issues.”

(Side note: I have the tendency to zero in on and over-analyze throwaway phrases like that, especially when they tie in very specifically to something I’ve said. And assume they’re about me. They could mean nothing, and often aren’t about me. I’m working on that as part of this whole “growth” emphasis.)

To try very hard NOT to be offended by those words, I’ve been chewing on this question: do we need to celebrate women of valor? I’ve had my own struggles with an emphasis on women in ministry, longing for the day when gender is no longer part of that equation. (I’m all about celebrating men of valor, too, and this post is a great addition to the conversation!) But the more, I think about it, the more I have to emphatically say, YES, we need to celebrate women of valor.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still girls who feel the beginnings of a call to ministry and will be told they can’t because of their gender.

We need to celebrate women of valor because we still spend too much time watching reality shows like the Bachelor and judging the “hot messes” that are on the screen.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still girls who think they are fat because of the airbrushed standard set by magazines.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still too many invisible lines and glass ceilings within a variety of professions that make it difficult for women to pursue their passions.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still single mothers doing everything they can to help their children who receive dirty looks when they pull out a food stamp card or have a manicure.

We need to celebrate women of valor because women who are raped are still being asked, “well, what were you wearing?”

We need to celebrate women of valor because single women in the church are still being treated as second class citizens.

We need to celebrate women of valor because the “mommy wars” between career mothers and stay-at-home mothers is still vicious.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still women who are made to feel inferior because, for whatever reason, they aren’t mothers.

We need to celebrate women of valor because there are still women who are earnestly trying to live up to the Proverbs 31 “standard” and feeling like failures when they fall short.

We need to celebrate women of valor because we still don’t believe that a woman pursuing God’s call in her life can look like any number of things, and we turn to judgment and criticism and meanness rather than listening and loving.

We need to celebrate women of valor because they are here. And there. And everywhere. And our culture would rather draw boxes and battle lines and incite conflict than celebrate the beautiful diversity and creativity and the very image of God that already exists within this half of the population.

I am a woman of valor. I have claimed that phrase, not because of what I have accomplished or what’s on my resume, but because I am a child of God, and I am trying to be faithful to God’s call on my life as best I know how. And I celebrate my sisters who are doing the same, whether that means professional ministry or another occupation or being a housewife or motherhood or singleness or whatever their calls may be.

And that’s cause for me to shout, “eshet chayil!” and offer a high five.

From dust you came…

I forgot how powerful an Ash Wednesday service can be. Last year at this time my life was hectic (running between two jobs, multiple job interviews, regular church stuff, and stuff for a ministry group I was part of) and I got sick in the middle of it all. So, it’s been a few years since I’ve experienced that time of worship.

It’s been an insane week at work, with meetings and events and painting and preparing for a major funeral and sickness and computer stuff and…well, you get the picture. So to say that I had trouble focusing today is an understatement.

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But tonight, life paused for a bit as the congregation came together for our Ash Wednesday service. We sang, read scripture, confessed our sins to God in prayer. And then we had the imposition of ashes. I had forgotten how meaningful it is to put ashes on someone’s forehead and whisper the words, “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes remind us that we are all mortal, and we are all sinners.

For the first time ever, I had the opportunity to put ashes on the foreheads of children who came through my line. I had prepped them earlier in the service, explaining what the ashes represented, they’re not still hot, etc. And I was proud of them for coming forward to receive the ashes, even though it was new for some of them and would make them look weird. But there’s something in getting down on one knee to be eye-level with a child and putting the ashes on his forehead that brings together so many different emotions that all you can think is, “this is a holy moment.”

After people received the ashes, they stood along the perimeter of the room to create a circle. And then we held hands and sang “Blest Be the Tie.” Standing in a circle allowed us to see everyone, marked by the same ashes, singing together. Another holy moment. One of those moments that a camera can’t fully capture, but a memory that I know will stay with me.

It’s hard to fully describe the impact this service had on me. I felt the need to write about it, but still can’t fully find the words. Still, I can say this: I am so unbelievably honored to have the opportunity to lead in this way, to be part of these holy moments, to stand in unity with my brothers and sisters, to kneel and put ashes on a child’s forehead. Ministry life ain’t easy, but it’s good.

One Word 365

(Note: this is the longer version of a newsletter article I wrote this week.)

New Year’s resolutions have never really been my thing. At one point when I was a teenager, a Sunday School teacher asked the class if we had any New Year’s resolutions. I bluntly said, “No,” and proceeded to explain that if I want to make a change or do something differently, I can start that whenever I want and not have January 1 as a start date. Though I have developed a little more tact through the years ;) I still haven’t really done a lot with New Year’s resolutions.

There’s a different movement in the online world now called One Word 365 in which people are moving away from resolutions and choosing one word that they want to use to inspire and challenge them throughout the year. These people think on the word they’ve chosen for their year and use it to inspire choices and changes in their lives – personally, professionally, and spiritually. Inevitably, their understanding of that word and its application in their lives deepens considerably. This year, one of my seminary friends has chosen “generous” and wants to figure out how to be more generous with who he is and what he has. Another ministry friend has chosen “sanctuary” and will be seeking to figure out how she can find moments of sanctuary and deepen her relationship with God in the midst of a busy life.

The beauty of One Word is that it leaves you open to applying and considering your word in a variety of ways. I think my struggle with resolutions is that they tend to be static, and life changes quickly! One Word is dynamic and can evolve with the different circumstances life throws your way. This year, I’ve decided on the word “growth.” It’s not a very specific word, but it makes sense for me and where I am now. The past few years felt like I was in the midst of a holding pattern as I searched for a full-time job. And when you know that you are in a temporary place, it’s hard to find ways to challenge yourself and grow. I tried as much as I could, but the opportunities were tough to find. But now that I’m in a place where I can put down some roots, I want to grow – as a minister, as a wife, as a friend, as a human being. I want to challenge myself professionally, intellectually, and personally. And, I want to make sure that I celebrate the growth that does happen, not just in myself but in others.

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(Disclaimer: the word growth will not be applied to the size of our family. Let’s not start that rumor.)

I’m excited to see where this word will take me. I know it will not always be an easy word to claim, but it will be an adventure for sure.

Would you like to join the journey and choose one word for 2013? I love to hear the words others choose – please share your word!

Linked up with the One Word 365 community.

Crafty stuff

So…November and December were a complete whirlwind. And I kinda forgot that I had a blog. Oops.

But, I figured I’d get back on the blogging wagon with a crafty wrap-up post! Christmas/New Year’s brought the opportunity for me to engage my creative side at work, and here’s what that looked like…

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At our 1st-6th grade Christmas party, we made these fun Christmas tree cones! Like gingerbread houses, but easier. All it needed was sugar cones, green icing, and assorted candy to decorate. The kids got REALLY into this.

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This was for our “Baby’s 1st Christmas” party. Previously, the parents would use the child’s fingerprint to make a green wreath, which was cute! But, I wanted a way to incorporate the parents into it as well. The idea is for each parent to use fingerprints to make Mary and/or Joseph, then the child’s fingerprints make baby Jesus. One family actually decided to use the child’s fingerprints for everything, which also worked well. Use a sharpie to draw the manger and the stable and you’re done!

I had fun one afternoon at work playing with paint and figuring out how to do this in an easy and effective way. I was pretty pumped about the result!

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(Sorry about the bad picture – lighting in this part of the hallway isn’t the best.)

Confession: I really really really don’t like doing bulletin boards. It seems like as soon as you get one put up, it’s time to change it…and who has time for that?! So, I made one that would be relevant for a long, long time – the church calendar! It took a bit of work to put it all together, but I was very pleased with the result. And, I love the clothespin arrow that says “We are here.” Educational and fun all at once!

And finally…

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I can’t take credit for the idea – I saw a version of it on Pinterest. But, I wanted to create an interactive bulletin board for the kids to enjoy…and the Twitter board was born. As I explained to a friend, this twist on Twitter allows each child to express him/herself in a short sentence, based upon the current question/prompt. It’s healthier for kids than actual Twitter, because it’s all out in the open, no covert bullying or meanness allowed.

To make it, I just laminated strips of card stock and stapled them up, added some dry erase markers and rules, wrote a prompt in the speech bubble, and BAM! It was done!

And what’s really nice is that the two bulletin boards I am responsible for won’t need to be redone for a long, long time :)