Category Archives: Family Activities

Volunteers are Awesome!


By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Have you ever thought about how many volunteers are serving on any given Sunday in our church?  Much of church ministry is done by people who willingly give of their time, talents, heart, and love.  This equates to a lot of volunteers each week.  In Heroes Gate alone, we have over 95 people helping children to be safe, to be loved, and to learn and grow in their faith every Sunday.

Over the course of a year, these volunteers are serving a lot of hours.  They don’t do it for money, fame, attention, or any tangible gain.   Most are just excited to invest in the next generation.

I’d like to challenge you and your family to show your appreciation for the volunteers in your life this week.  They might be part of Heroes Gate, but you could also show appreciation for volunteers with your child’s school or sports team or elsewhere.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Make a card or draw a picture
  2. Create an encouraging poster
  3. Bring a yummy treat
  4. Say thank you in person with a big hug!
  5. Make a short 10 second video saying thanks
  6. Snap a photo or selfie with the volunteer and send them a copy of the photo or even make a thank you card out of it
  7. Share a story of how your child was impacted or encouraged by a volunteer
  8. Sing a song

I’m sure you could think of many more ideas, but these are a good start.  Another great way to appreciate volunteers is to keep them in prayer, asking for encouragement, protection, peace, wisdom, and joy for them and their families.

Take the volunteer appreciation challenge and bless those who serve you and your family!


The Power of Story


By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

The Power of Story

“Once upon a time” … or “in a galaxy far far away” may be familiar tag lines of popular stories, which are very entertaining, but they don’t compare to the power of another kind of story.

A few years back, my wife and I prayerfully decided we wanted more children.  At this point, we already had three young daughters.  I really wanted to have a son but felt confident the genetic jackpot would land on female this next round.   I wasn’t sure I could handle being outnumbered 5 to 1. God placed a desire on our hearts to adopt, and we went from there.  We discovered our desire to adopt an African-American boy was well received.  Several months of paperwork and waiting followed, and then suddenly we got a call.  We drove through the night and arrived in Nashville.  The baby and birth mom were still at the hospital.  As soon as we saw this little one, we fell in love.  After spending some time with his birth mom, a bond began to form.  The following day we headed home.

My son loves to hear this story, especially the part about us falling in love with him and later when his sisters went gaga over him.  It reminds him of who he is and that he is part of our family.  His story merged with our story that day.  My wife has done a wonderful job of creating scrapbooks with photos from each year of our family’s existence.  The kids love to go through and talk about those times.

The power of our story is rooted in reminding us of our value, our importance, and our identity.  My children love to hear their birth stories as a milestone of their being part of our family.  God’s story is powerful in the same way.  The fall of man, the birth of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection all highlight his amazing love, but also our immeasurable value to the Father.  Sharing the God’s whole story during Easter is a great way to help kids merge their stories with his.

Another powerful story is our testimony.  Sharing how we became Christ followers, how our trajectory was diverted and our story merged fully with God’s gives our children insight into our hearts and a glimpse of being a part of a much bigger family – God’s family.  In a way, our testimony is our adoption story.  God adopted us, and when we embraced him as our Father, we became his children.

I encourage you to share stories during this Easter weekend.

  • Tell the story of each child’s birth or adoption (be sure to share what you felt)
  • Tell God’s whole story – the need for a savior, for a price to be paid, and his victory as well as what it means to us.
  • Tell your faith story and let your children know why you decided to follow Christ.
  • Talk about your faith story as your birth story/adoption story and how you are a child of God’s now.

The power of these stories is their ability to remind us of our identity, our value, and connect us.  Let your stories be told, retold, and continuing to be told a milestone.

A Sad Friday and a Happy Sunday


By Teresa Sayles, Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

I grew up in the Catholic church and always loved Easter week.  Amongst the usual parts of mass and the liturgy, Holy Week was full of once-a-year events: foot washing, the reading of the passion drama complete with different people speaking the dialogue parts, and candles in each of our hands which were blown out in solemnity before we all filed out in silence.  And then, Easter morning, the music was more joyful and light than usual with everyone in their nice clothes and the scent of Easter lilies filling the church.

Now, as an adult, I still love Easter week but for different reasons.  Rather than being a welcome change from the usual, I now anticipate Easter with both sadness and joy because of its story.  The Easter narrative is full of both gut-wrenching grief and utmost joy.  And while many of the details of the story are perhaps not quite child-friendly, the message of it all very much is.

As we prepare for Easter this next week, I encourage you and your family to intentionally set aside time to walk through the story together.  As you do, ask questions about what Jesus and his friends might have been feeling at various points, and allow space for your kids to ask questions, as well.

One great way to walk through the story is to use The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  With beautiful illustrations by Jago, the story really comes to life in a meaningful and yet child-appropriate manner.  Even older children will love this version of the Bible!  You might consider this reading plan for your week:

  • Sunday: The beginning: a perfect home” (page 18)
  • Monday: The terrible lie (page 28)
  • Tuesday: He’s here! (page 176)
  • Wednesday: Washed with tears (page 280)
  • Thursday: The servant king (page 286)
  • Friday: A dark night in the garden (page 294)
  • Saturday: The sun stops shining (page 302)
  • Sunday: God’s wonderful surprise (page 310)

For added fun and focus, you can work together to create a mural or comic book of the events as you read them.

However you and your family choose to prepare for Easter, be sure to include time for kids to ask questions and talk through the aspects of the story that might be a little confusing or scary.

May you and your family have a blessed Easter week as we prepare and celebrate the greatest event in history!

The Big Yes

We are delighted to feature another post written by Erica Morrow!  We hope her humble and insightful words will help you to answer God’s call for your family with a resounding, “Yes!” as well.

I find great joy in being a mother, I adore my three children, and I cherish the responsibility of crafting experiences along the way for them that will shape their view of the world. But in many, many moments, I have to self-talk away the shame of the “not enoughs” that come with being a mom. My children (while I love them dearly) cause me on the regular to send SOS texts imploring friends to pray for their safety and mine when I am losing my patience or sensing my head about to explode. And that experience crafting business? Well let’s just say that errands to Target and distracted multitasking tend to win again and again over intentionality.

My heart wants it. Everything in my soul is longing to take this life work of parenthood and to bring good, true things into it. To sing the song that only I can sing over my children as they grow, to nurture their spirits and stubbornly hold fast to the important things God has for them to learn along the way. And in this last season, God is slowly unclenching my fists and teaching me what it means to deepen my roots as a follower of Jesus, with eyes and ears attuned to His priorities for my family, not mine.

Three kids and a decade into parenting, I can safely say that the method of hoping I’m on the right track with this and wishing my way into the kind of home we want to create is a myth. Pinteresting quotable phrases and reading the right parenting books won’t actually get us there. David and I talking over coffee in the mornings about how we need to change our schedules to make room for more simplicity and intentionality won’t get us there. Yes, those are things that point us down the road, but at some point I need to take a breath, stop trying to do a hundred things in the space for one thing, listen to the Holy Spirit, and then take a physical step in the direction of God’s wooing and compelling voice. He is beckoning me and my family to a place where our hearts long for the things His heart longs for. Where our priorities are the things He prioritizes. Where my deepest joy in motherhood becomes the work of finding wonder in the world all around me and simply aligning my life so that we encounter it more and more.

And something really amazing has happened as I have allowed God to reshape my intentions. I have found a place of serious grace and unrelenting mercy for my shortcomings in motherhood – where I would previously just default to the “not enough” zone, God is speaking new words over me. Words that sound a little like this: “You are equipped through me to do what I have called you to do.” “Let me refresh you, my child.” “Let’s walk this road together.” And this, if you can even believe it: “You ARE enough.” And a funny thing happens when I start to listen to the voice of truth instead of all the others. I am freed up to start thinking creatively about who I am and who our family is. We are His and securely rooted in His love, so heck yes to that crazy thing that will be hard but so good. And yes, yes, and yes to opportunities to adventure with my children into places that aren’t necessarily convenient or rational, but are completely and abundantly spirit led.

So, Mexico. I’m taking the two elementary-aged kiddos from our family to Puebla in April with a group of 17 parents and kids from Woodland Hills. When God speaks words of confidence into my life and my parenting, it frees me up to be brave and say yes to adventures – the very adventure I was speaking of earlier that can help shape the way my children see the world. The crazy thing is that when I believe that true voice which reminds me that He is my sustainer in motherhood (and all the things), the opportunities to respond to that seem like they flash in front of me on bright and shiny billboards. Maybe those opportunities are always all around us, but with truth as my guide, my eyes can be wide open enough to see them.  And sometimes for me, the big yeses strengthen my heart for the often more difficult small ones. I have a feeling that if we want to learn about what God loves and find out what he is passionate about, this is a good place to begin. We know that His love for the kids at Esperanza Viva is passionate and extravagant, and together as parents and children we will be students of that love as we play, sing, craft, dance, and do life together for the week.

My prayer is that as my family and I seek out and respond to opportunities to love what God loves, we will be slowly transformed more into His likeness. That our experiences and interactions in Mexico and all of the other opportunities to come will not only impact us in those moments, but that they will carry over to the breakfast table. I think of Mexico as another step towards that voice that woos us, and my dream is that my children (and I!) would learn that life offers no better adventure than the one that is following the heart of our Father.

Love Makes Cents 2017

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church


For a number of years, we have used the month of February in Heroes Gate to give kids the opportunity to show Christ-like love to kids around the world through giving.  Children kindergarten-6th grade each receives a cardboard bank box he/she can use for collecting donations, and preschoolers are encouraged to visit the LMC table in the hallway between preschool and elementary to pick up a box if they want to help.

Over the years, we’ve partnered with several ministries that are doing amazing work in the lives of kids in Haiti, Rwanda, Costa Rica, and Mexico.  This year, we’re returning to our partnership with Living Hope International’s Esperanza Viva Youth Homes in Mexico.  These ministries, located in the cities of Puebla and Matamoros, provide 24/7 care and love to children and youth whose families can no longer care for them.  Many of the children at Esperanza Viva have had to endure life on the streets, abuse and rejection by family members, and neglect and malnutrition.  Arriving at Esperanza Viva, they are enveloped by people who show them the love of Christ, provide them with an education, and care for their needs.  Many of the more than 500 children who have called Esperanza Viva home over the years have gone on to post-secondary school and/or gone into ministry work.

In 2015, we partnered with Esperanza Viva through Love Makes Cents to purchase new bedding, blankets, and pillows for the kids there.  The kids raised an amazing $1,622.48 that year over the course of the four weeks of February!  Here are some pictures we received afterwards of the kids enjoying their new bedding.


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This year, we’re excited to help Esperanza Viva purchase some new mattresses as well as 15 bicycles for the kids to use as they get exercise and enjoy time outdoors.  We’re encouraging the kids of Heroes Gate to help us raise money to buy the “beds and bikes” in a variety of ways including sacrificing from their own piggy banks, doing extra chores around the home or for family members, or even selling some of their old toys.  An additional way we are encouraging kids to consider giving is through a matching partnership with you!  We would love it if you would prayerfully consider matching whatever donations your child is able to raise this month.  It would be an excellent way to not only encourage your child to give, but it would be an example to them of sacrificial giving on your part, as well.

If you have questions about Love Makes Cents or our partnership with Esperanza Viva, you can contact Patrick Showers at

Parent Night Out

By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

As a parent, we hear a lot of internal and external noise reminding us how crucial it is for us to invest time, energy, and love into our kids.  The experts warn us about the danger of not spending enough quality time, not reading enough, or not being diligent enough.  We also have voices in our mind pointing out our mistakes, our lack of effort, or any other of a thousand ways to make us feel guilty.

Yet, I’m confident that most of us are putting the needs of our kids before our own much of the time.  We sacrifice sleep, we burn through free time helping kids with homework, we chauffer kids all over the county, we volunteer to help with sports teams, and we work to ensure that kids have all the equipment needed for all their activities.

One thing experts have said that often gets lost in all the noise about what parents should be doing is the importance of a parent taking care of him or herself.  A crucial element to being a good parent is being rested, energized, and healthy.  Caring for our heart, our mind, our body, and our soul.  We only have so much to give of ourselves, and when our tank is empty, then our kids are in an emotional drought.

If you are like me, it is difficult to put importance on doing things to ensure that I’m well cared for rather than doing stuff for my kids or others.  Somewhere in our psyche, we’ve got a misguided sense of selflessness that can be unhealthy.  I think this parent guilt is emphasized in our culture and reinforced in our daily comparisons to other parents.

Whatever the reason, I think it is about time you recharged your internal love bank, and your kids will benefit from it.

We’ve got a great solution that not only helps you but also ensures that your kids are safe, welcome, and having a great time!


Tuesday, February 14th

From 6 – 9 pm

Check in begins at 5:45 pm

For kids birth – 5th grade

Fun activities, a light snack, games, crafts, a bouncy house and more!

All you’ve got to do is register before February 8th (after that it is $10 per child) to keep it free.

Click Here register

I encourage you as parents to build time to recharge your batteries as a part of your normal routine.  It benefits you and your family.  It is a win-win and worth the effort to arrange your schedule and say no to all the possibilities as well as that internal voice trying to guilt you into being an emotionally drained martyr.

New Year – New Opportunities


By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

2017 is here! Going into this new year, many people make resolutions or lists of what they want to do/accomplish/quit/try in the next 365 days. Whatever your feelings about individual New Year’s resolutions, one thing is certain: It’s a new year full of new opportunities for you and your family to grow and learn together. Below are some ideas for how your family can create new memories while also building character and faith this year.

  • Have a Family Fun Day each month – Schedule a day or a weekend each month for your whole family to spend time together doing something fun and engaging (i.e. ice skating, berry picking, nature walk, day at the zoo, movie marathon at home, waterpark, eating out at a new restaurant, etc.). If you have older children, you could even divvy up the dates and allow them to choose what your family gets to do those days. Make the most of these special outings together and take lots of pictures!
  • Family Service Opportunities – Look for ways you and your family can serve your neighborhood/community/world this year. You might want to pick a day each month to serve together, or you could join a mailing list for a favorite volunteer organization and pick out opportunities as they pop up. Serving together as a family does two things: It helps kids put their faith into action and it gives them the chance to see faith and love modeled for them through your example.   Plus, it creates a fun family memory! Some local organizations to get you started could be Feed My Starving Children, the Merrick Community Food Shelf at Woodland Hills, and your local Humane Society.
  • Learn Something New Together – When heading to the library, have your kids (or a designated child if you want to take turns) head to the non-fiction side of the kids’ section and choose a book about a subject they are either interested in learning about or something/someone they’ve never heard of before. Then, as a family, sit down and read the book together. If it proves an interesting topic, encourage your kids to do more research, either at the library or online. (We recommend you do online research with your children as it’s pretty easy to “google” something and get material you wouldn’t want your kids to access.)
  • Try New Foods – When my cousin’s kids were young, she wanted to expand their pallets while avoiding the dreaded dinnertime tantrums. So occasionally, when they went to the grocery story, she would take them to the produce section and encourage them to find a fruit or vegetable they had never eaten before (it was even better if it looked weird). They would buy one, take it home, look up how to prepare it, and then try it in a grand “experiment.” If they liked it (which they often did), they would buy more for a meal. If they didn’t, they all laughed and called it a failed experiment. Her kids got all kinds of exposure to new fruits and veggies and found new favorites they never would have otherwise tried. If you wanted to really get creative, head to an international market or grocery store and find some truly unique foods (and meet new friends from around the world)!
  • Create Sabbath Space for Your Family – We live in a busy world, and families are often some of the busiest people around. But it’s important to take time together to reconnect with each other and God. You might try doing this by creating a specific, regular “Sabbath” time (anywhere from an hour to a whole day) where you intentionally spend time together worshipping, praying, reading the Bible, or enjoying God’s creation. (This could be done as a weekly or monthly event.) Sound boring? Not if you get creative. Your worship time can be full of fun music and dance and even homemade instruments. Prayer time can be artistic with prayer requests being drawn or written into a journal. Reading the Bible gets a whole new life when you encourage your kids to act out the stories. And a family walk takes on new meaning when your kids are excitedly searching for the “coolest/prettiest/weirdest thing God made” in your neighborhood or at the park.

Whatever you do this new year, be sure you make the most of the opportunities you have to love on your kids, build character and wisdom into their lives, and help them to grow in their faith. Time flies, and 2017 will be no exception. So here’s to a great year full of fun, laughter, memories, and togetherness!