Feb 20

7 FREE Children’s Sermons for Lent (Year A)

In preparation for Lent, I have written seven free lessons for your use! My hope is that you will find this resource helpful for you as you interpret the “Change for Children” campaign to the young people of your church. While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these CFC-logoobject lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth group, or even as sermon illustrations.

   Click here for a direct link to the 7 Object Lessons for Change for Children- Lent 2017

2017 marks my fifth year at Intermountain and the twenty-first year I’ve been in children’s and youth ministry! Over these years, I have found that the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word. Many of the adults in the congregations I’ve served have told me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons.  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Lenten season (Year A), how the Easter story impacts our hearts and lives, and the ways in which your church can connect to the ministry of Intermountain. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families.

If you haven’t visited the resource page to see what is there, I encourage you to do so. And, if you or your congregation would like to make use of any of the videos we have produced, make sure you check out the video page as well!

     [click here to jump to one of Chris’ favorites… “What If?”]



Feb 13

2017 Valentine’s themed Tea with Lauren Scofield, Miss Montana

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of putting on another wonderful Girls’ Valentine’s Day Tea. We hosted the Tea in our Community Service Center building and were treated to a visit from Miss Montana, Lauren Scofield.

Lauren Scofield, Miss Montana 2016

Lauren Scofield, Miss Montana 2016

Lauren Scofield graduated in May of 2016 from Carroll College with a degree in Biochemistry-Molecular Biology and a minor in Gender Studies. Soon after her college graduation she entered the Miss Montana Scholarship Program Competition and was crowned Miss Montana America 2016. During her year of service, Lauren has been promoting her personal platform of STEM throughout the state. Her goals through this program are to create a pipeline of innovate leaders by encouraging the creative and critical thinking required by STEM.

Lauren shared a message with our girls about beauty being something that we can think of as being part of minds, bodies, and spirits! Each girl and woman in attendance was asked to compliment the person to their right and left on something OTHER than their appearance in order to draw attention to the ways we focus on outward beauty instead of the beauty that comes from within.

Tea sandwiches, scones, and other supplies for the tea were provided by the ladies of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church, both of Helena. Many staff members helped with preparation, set-up, service, and clean-up, but the greatest assistance came from our resident wonder-woman, Anne Wilmoth! I was especially grateful, too, for the help that our Jewish Educator, Janet Tatz, provided in chasing down great deals on chocolate dipped strawberries from Van’s. Occupational therapist, Lisa Drown-Sommers, made dozens of amazing cookies for the girls and guests in attendance. I was blessed to see our young ladies in residence truly feel special and honored by the fuss made over them. It warmed my heart to see how deeply the love of God has touched the children in our care and the difference it is making in their lives.

Chaplain Chris gets in on the "photo booth" fun

Chaplain Chris gets in on the “photo booth” fun

I had a special gift for each of the girls—a little stuffed animal cat holding a heart that reads, “God’s love is PURR-fect”—as a reminder of God’s love for them. And, of course, our girls all received a personalized Valentine and an autographed picture of Miss Montana after donning their own tiaras and goofy photo props for fun pictures with their staff and friends.

Intermountain is thankful for all the support shown to us by the community and churches across the state. Your gifts allow for the care of very special, but hurting children who need to know the love and care of a God that loves them no matter what. This year, I am especially thankful for the $250 “Action Team” grant I received from Thrivent in order to make the Tea extra special. Everyone had a wonderful time, and as one adult attendee said, “Each of these I come to seems like the best one yet!”

Feb 09

Chaplain Chris to speak at Trauma and Resilience Conference in Portland, Oregon

Trauma-Resilience Multnomah Conference

There is an exciting conference coming to the Pacific Northwest, and Chaplain Chris Haughee has been invited to present. The conference is called “Trauma and Resilience” and is hosted by the University where Chris is completing his Doctor of Ministry.

CLICK HERE for more information on the conference.

This conference aims to tackle some of the more perplexing issues surrounding the current discussion in multiple fields around trauma. It is often said that art is impossible to define, though “you know it when you see it.” Is this what trauma is like? To be sure, trauma seems difficult if not possible to define. Yet, insidiously, because of the innumerable forms and shapes it takes, many of us would not even recognize trauma when we see it. Perhaps provisionally, we can define trauma as anything that shatters one’s trust in the world. Or further: trauma occurs when the very tools we use to build trust in the world are those things by which we’ve been betrayed.

How does one cope, when the usual ways to cope are the very things that cause harm? During the Trauma and Resilience Conference, Chaplain Chris Haughee will have the honor of joining a host of other expert speakers that will present trauma in a variety of angles. Their hope is to help everyone not only recognize how trauma affects all corners of life–from relationships, to communities, to politics, to literature–but also how we can begin to help one another heal and move beyond brokenness into resilience.

Chaplain Chris will be pairing up again with his friend and colleague Kimberly Konkel, from HHS in D.C.. (see below). They last presented together at ChildWise’s Fall Conference in Helena, Montana. Those interested in the conference should visit the website for the latest information. Conference fees are very reasonable, starting at $15 for students and $30 for adults.

You can secure your spot at this groundbreaking, interdisciplinary conference HERE.

Here is the list of speakers schedule to appear:

The future will require us to raise-up leaders prepared to engage a constantly changing world—where access to information brings trauma front and center at a moment’s notice. Ben Sand, CEO of Portland Leadership Foundation, will discuss how we can collectively work with young people to raise them up through trauma into resilience.

A pastor at Imago Dei’s Eastside location and founder of Holla Mentors who “stand in the gap to change the story so commonly understood for black and brown children through mentorship,” Eric will be presenting a plenary session on “Trauma and Race.”

Dr. Kinzie specializes in Adult-Outpatient Psychiatry at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, and in particular specializes on the psychiatric treatment of refugees, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. He is our third plenary presenter, and will be sharing on the psychological effects of trauma.

The Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins, and Professor of Theology of Culture at Multnomah University and Biblical Seminary, Dr. Metzger will be giving introductory reflections on theology and culture, framing the themes of the conference into the broader vision of New Wine, New Wineskins.

Dr. Gardner has worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute for Linguistics for over fifty years, and is the author of Healthy, Resilient, & Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry. During that time she was a pioneer of introducing issues of trauma and resilience into training for missionary work, and will be presenting on how trauma comes to bear on the missionary field. In addition, Dr. Gardner will be one of several on our closing plenary panel session.

Robert Potter’s professional life has combined medical practice, teaching, and bioethics consultation. He practiced internal medicine and geriatrics for 30 years, and also holds a Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School. From 1994 until his retirement in 2004, he was the bioethics scholar, instructor, and consultant for the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, MO, and from 2004 to 2014 he was Senior Scholar for the Center for Ethics in Healthcare at OHSU. In addition to his workshop, Dr. Potter will be one of several members on our closing plenary panel session.

Steve Kolmes is the Director of the Environmental Studies Program, Professor of Biology, and the occupant of the Rev. John Molser, C.S.C. Chair in Science at the University of Portland. He has served on government scientific advisory panels such as NOAA-Fisheries Technical Recovery Team for the Willammette and Lower Columbia Rivers, and will be talking about how trauma shapes, and is shaped by, our current environmental issues.

Domani Pothen is Professor of English at Multnomah University, and received her Doctorate of Arts from Idaho State University. Trauma as a reality is peculiar in that by its very nature it often eludes our ability to process or represent it. Dr. Pothen will be presenting on how trauma appears in literature, how we attempt to represent it, and how great literature can open our eyes to profound ways to survive and perhaps eventually even move beyond, trauma.

The Reverend Chris Haughee is a licensed minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church and has served as chaplain of Intermountain’s residential services since 2012. Chris is currently in the final year of a Doctor of Ministry in Cross-Cultural Engagement program. Chris will be co-presenting on “Building Resilience Though Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Your Faith Community.”

Kimberly Konkel serves as the Associated Director for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where she leads the work to combat the four co-occuring epidemics of suicide, violence, untreated mental illness, and addiction. Along with Chris Haughee (above) Kim will be co-presenting a workshop on “Building Resilience through Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences.” In addition Kim will be on the closing Plenary panel.

Dr. Karen Fancher specializes in understanding the impact of war-related trauma in the country of Sudan and elsewhere, and is currently a Professor at Multnomah University in the MAGDJ (Master of Arts in Global Development of Justice). She will be presenting a workshop on how war and its resulting trauma impacts individual and communal psyches, and how it is so necessary to understand these situations to move forward to bring hope and healing to the world.

Michael Gurney is professor of philosophy and theology at Multnomah University. He served in the United States Navy (’81-’87) in the Naval Nuclear Power program on the USS Truxtun before attending Multnomah Bible College. He holds a Master’s in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Talbot and a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen’s Highland Theological College. Dr. Gurney will be sharing about the realities of Post-Traumatic stress among military veterans, and some ways the church can aid in their healing processes.

The current Chair of Biblical Languages at Multnomah University, Dr. Kutz also specializes in the Book of Job (in particular how the Greek translation, known as the Septuagint, reflects biblical interpretation during the Intertestamental period). Perhaps no other book of the Bible reflects on what we would call the theme of trauma more than Job. But what does this often ambiguous story tell us? Dr. Kutz will guide us through several key themes during his workshop, helping us understand what the story can tell us today.

Multnomah University
8435 NE Glisan St
Portland, OR 97220

Jan 30

Teaching the Lord’s Prayer in chapel, an opportunity to practice trauma-informed ministry

Last fall, I decided that it would be a good idea to work with the children to know and understand some of the prayers that they had likely heard or would hear in the context of their church attendance in the future. It is always interesting to prepare a lesson for children with emotional disturbance that deals with challenging themes from scripture. It is helpful to interpret those familiar words and phrases within Christian expression that I know that they will encounter when outside the very supportive and nurturing atmosphere of Intermountain and the chaplain’s program. Entering the series on the Lord’s Prayer, I knew it wouldn’t be enough for me to simply edit out or rephrase words I knew might be difficult for them to understand. Instead, we would take the time to carefully digest the words of this well-know passage and make sense of the Lord’s Prayer for a child that had experienced significant trauma and loss.

It was an excellent exercise in “trauma-informed ministry,” which I have written about previously. Trauma-informed ministry can sometimes be misunderstood as an effort to remove the “hard things” a faith tradition teaches because they might trigger someone and are best avoided (think about the backlash among some segments of society to the concept of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and micro-aggressions!). My view is that true trauma-informed ministry delves into the hard spaces and difficult teachings of various faith traditions because… guess what? Those that have experienced trauma are already in a hard space and are already experiencing difficulty! These are those situations that Jesus spoke into and Jesus sought to bring hope and healing to the hurting. Jesus Bible-cross-Lords-Prayertaught his prayer to a traumatized, oppressed, and desperate people! The Lord’s Prayer was never meant to be viewed as something akin to a Hallmark card greeting or something destined to be a lovely cross-stitch that hung on the wall or sat on the mantle.

With that in mind, let us reread the words of scripture (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV):

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

LOTS of potential “triggers” there that might bring up difficult feelings and strong reactions… which is why I took the better part of two months to go through, line-by-line, the meaning of this prayer for our children. I’ll highlight just three issues we bumped up against below:

“OUR FATHER.” How do you communicate the loving care of God as a parent to those struggling with their relationships with earthly parents, birthparents, adoptive parents, or foster parents? In most cases, the parents of our children are doing an incredible job with very overwhelming children! It’s not a matter of parenting deficits that need to be mitigated for, but the perception of a child that is so trapped in shame and self-loathing that they cannot properly receive or interpret the actions of a loving parent! And that’s for a parent they can see, feel, talk to and interact with… not a all-knowing, all-powerful heavenly parent. How do you address a relationship like that? Most adults have a hard time thinking of God as a loving parent, a kind Father.

“FORGIVE… AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN.” Oh my. Books have been written about the issue of forgiveness within the context of deep loss and hurt, so what could I meaningfully relate in a just a few sentences? We had to talk about defenses we have and the protective behaviors we have learned through our traumas that make forgiveness and relationships hard. [click here for another story from chapel along this theme] We focused on how, when we get in the practice of forgiving others, it becomes easier to accept the forgiveness of God and others in our lives. I truly think Jesus meant this prayer to remind us that we are to be conduits of his grace and forgiveness so we can truly experience the forgiveness we already have! My debt has already been forgiven, and nothing I do can change that. What does hang in the balance is my experience of that forgiveness, and if I withhold forgiveness from another I clog up the works, so to speak, and God’s grace and forgiveness doesn’t flow as easily through me. Like I said… way too much here to deal with in one paragraph, but we had an excellent and open conversation in chapel about how hard this prayer can be to pray at times.

“TEMPTATION… DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE.” Yes. We went there in chapel. We talked about the goodness of God and the paradox of a good, loving God allowing evil into our lives. It was like walking on holy ground to be surrounded by beautiful children who have suffered as a result of the evils in this world. The amazing thing is, our children don’t need to be convinced of humankind’s capacity for evil or their own participation in the depravity of the world. It was very freeing from them to understand that Jesus taught this as a prayer for EVERYONE, meaning even a hypothetical ‘spiritual dream team’ (the 12, the Pope and Mother Teresa, pastors, staff, the chaplain, whoever they might have thought of as “having it all together”) was instructed to be on guard against temptation and their own ability to participate in bad things. This isn’t a prayer for those that the church is waiting patiently for in order to get with the program! No, this prayer, in light of the call to forgiveness above, is a reminder of our need to look to God for our protection and provision in the midst of the difficulties this world presents.

In a future post, I’ll reveal the “rewrite”/interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer that our children came up with as well as an insight or two that they shared. Maybe this new version might even make it’s way into your prayer time or prompt some soul-searching in regards to this very popular prayer and what it means for Jesus’ followers to pray these words. But… that’s for next time! Until then, may God’s peace and blessing be with you all. Thank you for your love, support and prayers for the children of Intermountain and for all those children traumatized and working through toxic stress and adversity.

Jan 17

Updated pictures from Van Orsdel Commons build!

While it’s cold outside, Golden Eagle Construction is making the most of the bad weather by working inside. The old Bridger cottage is beginning to take on a new shape as you can see from the pictures below. Thank you for your support and prayers throughout the fundraising process, and we hope you share in our joy as the project is coming together and moving forward!


Chaplain Chris Haughee

some day soon... the Chaplain's office!

some day soon… the Chaplain’s office!

view looking north, Van Orsdel Commons interior

view looking north, Van Orsdel Commons interior

James Spradlin, managing the project for Intermountain, shares a moment of levity with Chris Hohn, maintenance custodian

James Spradlin, managing the project for Intermountain, shares a moment of levity with Chris Hohn, maintenance custodian

Jan 07

Need a New Year’s resolution? Consider becoming an advocate!

2017 is here, and it’s the season when most of us consider New Year’s resolutions and even the most cynical among us dares to think that with a little will power we might do any number of things: lose weight, eat healthier, watch less TV, get that promotion, or repair damaged relationships. This year, I’d ask you to consider a resolution that will make the world a better place and will give you a sense of purpose in 2017: be an advocate.

An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone or something that they feel strongly about. It’s a willingness to put some “skin in the game,” affecting change in a system, situation, or society through personal effort. It involves speaking out, speaking for, and being there for someone or something outside yourself. It is, ideally, a purely selfless act. It’s also a recognition that, while we can’t do everything, we can do something. And, that something just might make the world brighter, more beautiful, and more full of hope.
So, what should you advocate for? How should you go about becoming an advocate?

I have a few suggestions for you, based on my own experience. I trust that if you follow these guidelines, you’ll find yourself connected to a cause and to a group of people that will help make 2017 an amazing year of fulfillment, hope and promise.

First, examine what you do for most of your waking hours. If it is employment outside the home, what is your line of work? What causes might be connected to your place of employment? If you work in the home, maybe you’ll connect best to a cause that resonates for your passion for raising healthy children or supporting other families? I currently residential-vertical-green-blackwork at Intermountain, an agency dedicated to “caring solutions, strong families, and healthy communities” in Montana since 1909. I am passionate about what I do, so it is easy to advocate for the children and families we serve. If you can find someone or something to advocate for that connects to your vocation, you’ll go a long way towards making that job a calling!

Secondly, consider what issues or personal hardships have you endured. If you are here to celebrate the New Year, you are a survivor! Who helped you along the way? Answering this question can help you find people and organizations that will help you “pay it forward.” For instance, my older brother had Muscular Dystrophy and was helped by both the MDA (Jerry’s Kids) and benefitted from having a wish granted by Make-A-Wish many years ago. So, my act of “paying it forward” is to support MDA and volunteer as a Wish Granter with Montana Make-A-Wish! Bymaw-logo mining your personal history, you are bound to find something you can advocate for, even redeeming something from your past that was difficult or troubling. The great thing is, when you take your past pain and put it into service in the present, you are able to connect with those you are helping in a much more profound and compassionate way. As you have been comforted by God, family and friends, you can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4).

Lastly, ask around at the groups you participate in to discover new avenues for advocacy. Maybe your Rotary or Lions group is passionate about clean water or education? Maybe that booster club you joined is more than you assumed it was and is doing some great work to help students on and off the field? Communities of faith are great places for advocacy… have you considered getting involved in a cause your church or fellowship is invested in? My home church is Headwaters Covenant Church. We’re a community of believers that is passionate about making a difference in our community, state and world. In January we are observing Human Trafficking Awareness month, culminating on the 26th with an evening of dialogue with Attorney General Tim Fox where we’ll discuss what the church can do to prevent modern day slavery! I’m sure your church or community group is involved in something that you would be excited to advocate for.

So, whether it springs forth from your occupation or vocation, connects to a piece of your personal history, or allows you to connect in a deeper way with your church or community, be an advocate in 2017. You can help our world become a better place and that is a resolution worth making. Happy New Year!


[Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Helena Independent Record, print edition, Dec 31, 2016]

Dec 30

Happy Hanukkah!

What a blessing it is to partner with Janet Tatz and Jim Nallick, our very knowledgeable and faithful Jewish mentors at Intermountain. Janet had served alongside previous chaplain, Dana Holzer, for a number of years as a volunteer mentor, and then in the last few years as part-time staff. Jim is new to Intermountain’s staff, hiring on as an intermittent staff this year, and he has been an excellent addition to our Chaplain’s Department. Whenever there is a Jewish child on campus that needs instruction and mentoring in their faith, Janet and Jim are there to make sure that the spiritual and cultural needs of that child are met.

Jim, Janet and I also get to work together on joint activities, like the observance of Hanukkah in chapel, an exciting opportunity for all the children. On December 20th, the children were able to learn about the holiday, eat some traditional desserts shared at Hanukkah, sing songs [see “Hanukkah Song Sheet” on resources page], and play dreidel!

Lighting the Hanukkah Candles

Lighting the Hanukkah Candles

Some time ago I had the opportunity to interview Janet, asking her to share a bit about herself and the holiday, so you can have a little snapshot of our experience here in chapel:

Q: Janet, what is the most rewarding part of working with the Jewish children on campus at Intermountain?

A: It is very rewarding to see the Jewish students at Intermountain grow in their understanding of and appreciation for the Jewish traditions, prayers, teachings, holiday celebrations and customs.  Our Jewish faith serves as a medium or bond between the children and their parents and helps reconnect the family in a very positive way.

Q: What can you tell us—those of us who may not know much about the holiday—about Hanukkah and the traditions we shared with the children at Intermountain?

A: Chanukah is an eight day holiday that begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Jewish calendar, each year.  We celebrate the victory of a small group of Jews, including the Maccabee family, who fought off the Assyrian-Greeks in a battle that lasted three years ( 168-165 B.C.E.), in order to retain their Jewish identity and practices.  This was the first time, in recorded history, that a people stood up for their rights, and it is a cause to celebrate, even today.

When the Jews returned to their Temple, in Jerusalem, that had been trashed and defiled by the Assyrians, they could only find one small crucible of oil to light the menorah that was lit each day in the Temple.  One of the miracles of the Chanukah story is that this little bit of oil lasted eight days ~ the exact time needed to prepare, purify and bless a new batch of oil.  Accordingly, Chanukah is celebrated by lighting a nine-branched chanukiyah ( candelabra).  Each night, an additional candle is lit, adding more light to the darkening days.

During our Fellowship session, the children heard Chanukah stories, learned a couple of Chanukah songs, played the dreidel ( a spinning top that tells the story of Chanukah) game and enjoyed sufganiyot ( jelly doughnuts) which is also part of the traditional celebration of Chanukah.

Also known as The Festival of Lights, Chanukah is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  It is a joyous holiday.

Q: Do you have a favorite Hanukkah memory you would like to share?

A: I like everything about Chanukah!  The smell of latkes (potato pancakes) cooking on the stove; watching the candles glow in the menorah; singing Chanukah songs; spending time with family and friends.  Chanukah reminds us of the power of hope and faith and is a message that still rings true, after more than 2100 years.  I especially like recognizing that as I light my menorah and say the blessings over the candles here in Helena Montana, Jews around the world are all doing the same thing.

Q: What hopes do you have for the Jewish mentoring and chaplain’s program as we move towards having a permanent chapel space on campus?

A: The Chaplain’s program and, in particular, the Jewish mentoring program, has met in a variety of venues on campus over the years.  After one of the older cottages is “repurposed” we will be able to have a “home of our own” as part of the newly developed multipurpose building that will house the Chaplain’s department. I am excited for the new Van Orsdel Commons and what it will mean for Jewish education on campus!

Dec 22

Do you hear what I hear? The sounds of demolition!

This month Intermountain Residential in Helena begins the demolition phase of old Bridger Cottage into the new Van Orsdel Commons. With guidance by SMA Architects and the expertise of Golden Eagle Construction, the transformation of one of our older residential cottages on the Helena campus has begun in earnest. Van Orsdel Commons will house chapel services, offices for the chaplain and Jewish Educator, and provide unique meeting places designed for children’s spiritual and cultural education.

“The vision for this space is to make it as comfortable and accessible as possible for all the children, staff, and families we serve– regardless of their religious, ethnic or cultural background,” relates Chaplain Chris Haughee. “True to our founding and heritage within the Methodist Deaconess movement, our mission of healing through healthy relationships celebrates the power of restoration available through a relationship with God, while maintaining a posture of humble service and hospitality towards all.” Chaplain Chris Haughee added, “I am excited to be a small part of envisioning a place on campus that will help all our children, staff, and families feel the love, care, and compassion of God.”

Looking over the preliminary plans for the Van Orsdel Commons

Looking over the preliminary plans for the Van Orsdel Commons

Intermountain CEO Jim Fitzgerald is passionately committed to the project, and will jointly manage the project with lead maintenance supervisor, James Spradlin.

Of course, the process of demolition and construction will be done in a manner that maintains Intermountain’s high standards of care, ensuring the protection of the children in our Residential Program. This posture of care will necessitate that we secure the site during construction, but also limit those hours in which work will be done in order to not disturb the educational and therapeutic environment on campus. The entire building and design team is committed to putting the children and their needs first and recognizing the unique setting in which this building project is in.

So… do you hear what I hear? No, not the sound of Christmas bells. It’s the joyous sound of demolition and the cheers of many children, staff and Intermountain supporters! Join us in celebrating the culmination of a decades-long dream of a permanent home for the chaplain’s program within our residential program in Helena, Montana.

Dec 12

It helps to have all the information! – an object lesson for the 4th week of Advent

Riddle-BookObjects needed:

a book of riddles, possibly an ‘object’ that ties into the riddle you choose to read for the children

Theme/Main Idea:

Riddles are fun—or “work”—because they use assumptions we make about things and turn them on their heads. Maybe it’s a word or phrase that has a double-meaning, but once we know the answer to the riddle it all makes sense. Before then, without all the information, it might confound us. Joseph was ready to “dismiss Mary quietly” when he heard she was pregnant… then he got all the information and the riddle was solved!


“Good morning boys and girls. I have something fun for us today, and maybe a little different. Would you like to see what my object lesson is today?

[kids respond, “Yes!” and then maybe are disappointed when they see it’s a book…]

Some of you don’t look too impressed. But this book can be a lot of fun, because it has riddles in it. Do you know what riddles are?

[children respond… some may even have a riddle to teach you!]

Yes, they are fun and puzzling questions that are hard to answer at first because the answer is unexpected. Here’s one of my favorites… [if you don’t have a book of riddles or a favorite one you’d like to use, I’d suggest you use the following riddle!]

Ready? Okay, what’s black and white and red all over? No, adults… it’s not a newspaper! And, I’m guessing most of our kids are not that familiar with newspapers and why people read them!

So… What’s black and white and red all over? Any guesses?

[children guess, hopefully without success]

Okay, nice guesses… I’ll tell you the answer. It’s black and white and red all over, and it’s… wait for it… a PENGUIN WITH A SUNBURN! Isn’t that funny?!

That’s a pretty silly riddle, but sometimes riddles are more serious. Sometimes riddles are questions that don’t present any easy answers. Joseph had a riddle on his hands when he found out that his bride to be, Mary, was pregnant and going to have a baby!

He knew enough to know where babies came from and how they came to be… I’m not going to get into that this morning… but Joseph knew that Mary was a good person, but that the child couldn’t possibly be his! “How could Mary have done this to me?” Joseph surely thought! He couldn’t find an easy answer, so he was going to break off the engagement and not get married to Mary.

But, that’s when he heard the answer to the riddle he had been given. In Matthew 1:20-21 we read:
‘An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

Wow! Totally unexpected, maybe like the answer to my riddle earlier? But, once Joseph knew the answer to the riddle it all made sense… Mary was a good person, and she didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, she was such a good person, God chose her to carry the baby Jesus and give birth to the Savior of the world! Now, Joseph was asked to be like a foster dad or adoptive parent to Jesus… Jesus wouldn’t be blood-related to him, but he would very much be Jesus’ dad on earth. What a wonderful riddle and an amazing gift to be given… God trusted Joseph to figure out that riddle and love Jesus as his son and raise him well.

Maybe you’ve had some tough riddles in life. Maybe you can’t figure out how God could possibly bring some good out of a parent’s divorce or a friend moving away. Maybe your riddles are more serious, like they are for the kids at Intermountain, where you wonder if you can trust anyone but yourself, or perhaps you wonder if loving someone is worth the hurt that you open yourself up to?

Let’s close our time this morning by asking God to help show us where he is in the midst of our riddles in life, especially the ones that don’t have any answers that we can figure out. Maybe we won’t get an answer like Joseph did, but hopefully we can trust that God will help us and love us through our questions no matter what.

Let’s pray:

God, we know that you trust us just like you trusted Joseph. We get riddles in life, and often we try to figure them out all on our own. Help us to trust you in return, that if and when we need an answer to any riddle in life, you can give us the answer. And, if the answer isn’t coming to us, maybe you are just asking us to trust you and have faith that it will be okay. We pray for the kids that Intermountain serves, and for the huge questions they have, about you and about other relationships. Show us and show them your love this day and always. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Key Text: Matthew 1:18-25 (NIrV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.
20 But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, 23 “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”
24 Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Dec 05

What happens when the holidays don’t meet our expectations?

While far from ideal, my childhood provided me with great memories of the holidays. I recall special days of decorating cookies with my Aunt Shirley, sharing a bowl of homemade Chex mix with my Grandpa Haughee while watching football, candlelight services at church, and special meals where family came together. We were a firmly entrenched middle-class American family, and one of the few times of excess and celebration centered around the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seemed a time when it was “all about the kids,” and being a kid, therefore, was pretty great.

Through my adolescence and young adult years, music and movies took a significant role in shaping my images of the holidays. I still love to crank up Bing Crosby’s Christmas album, and watch the Christmas classics when they come on TV. One of the best parts of moving from the Pacific Northwest to Montana a decade ago was that I could sing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” with an expectation that my “dream” will actually come true! I love the lights and the decorations, and can honestly say that the holidays are my favorite time of year. This is despite the fact that they are also the hardest time of the year for me. Try as I might, my holidays don’t look like they do in the movies.

Only as an adult can we appreciate the stress that the holidays must have brought our own parents. It is as if, through our own experience as parents and adults, we can look back on those memories of childhood with a clarity we didn’t have then. Behind the bows and lights, and hidden in the dark corners where the candlelight didn’t reach, there were all the stresses and hurt I feel now as an adult. I am sure my parents were missing their loved ones that had passed, just as I miss my dad who passed last year. The running around from school program to church service to the mall for Christmas shopping undoubtedly tempered their enthusiasm for our celebrations. There were substance abuse issues, strained marriages heading to divorce, and dire health diagnoses that existed throughout my childhood that were as ever-present as our family gathered to share meals and make memories.

By Produnis - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45731820

By Produnis – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45731820

That’s why my expectations of the holidays, shaped by the movies to conclude with a happy ending despite any difficulty, leave me confused and always a little melancholy as an adult. Intellectually, I recognize how silly it is to mourn the loss of an ideal holiday that never truly existed, but my heart longs for that happy ending and saccharine sweet Hollywood storyline. So, what should we do when we are stressed out, disappointed, or depressed at the prospect of the holidays with no sign of immediate relief? I have a few suggestions that have proven helpful for me.

  • First, name false expectations out loud. Sometimes just speaking the words, “I can’t have a great Christmas unless [fill in the blank]!” helps you see how silly it is. Our joy shouldn’t hang on the outcome of the weather, our family’s gratitude, or getting that item on our Christmas list. Joy comes from within, not without. Take a deep breath. It will be okay, and okay is good enough.
  • Secondly, manage moments and take time for people, not tasks. Some of the greatest moments during the holidays can be found in chance encounters. If you rush around getting tasks done, you’ll miss these moments of joy. Plan for connection with people, realizing that being together is what’s important—whether it’s over a store-bought cookie or one you spent six hours baking in your kitchen. It’s about being fully present at your child’s concert or performance, not capturing it for Instagram or other social media.
  • Third, get outside yourself by serving. When our holidays are about our experience and how we feel about them, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. But, if we look for opportunities to serve someone else and brighten their day, lightening their load, we shift our gaze from our expectations to another’s need. It just may tap us into a deeper reality behind the holidays, especially as we celebrate the birth of the one who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Lastly, if you take good care of yourself as a parent or caregiver this holiday season, you’ll be better equipped to provide that wonderful holiday you want for yourself and your family. Your children will thank you for it, and they will appreciate the tradition you build around a more balanced and relationally-focused holiday more than any present you could buy them.


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