Category Archives: Thanksgiving

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!


Giving Back


By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Giving back is important all year long, but the holiday season seems to bring out that spirit more than other times of the year. It is wonderful to model to our children that giving to others is important. To help you out, we have come up with a few ideas and links. Have fun with it!

Operation Joy– grab an ornament off the tree in the Heroes Gate area and help a family in need celebrate Christmas by providing a gift and/or a meal. Gifts are due back to HG no later than December 11th.

Operation Christmas Child- shoe boxes for kids in need. You can find more information at

Create a Christmas bucket list- here are some fun ideas!

Christmas Service Advent idea- this one is good if you are feeling creative!

Sign up to ring the bell

Other ideas:

Caroling in your neighborhood or in a nursing home

Serving at a shelter

Play “secret Santa” for a neighbor in need

Serve at Feed My Starving Children

Drop a donation off at the Ronald McDonald house

Shovel snow for a neighbor

There are so many fun ways to give back. Some cost very little but require your time. Some cost a bit but will be a huge blessing. Giving back is living out the Kingdom and modeling God’s love to those around you. Be blessed and be a blessing this Christmas season!

Family Devotional – Worship

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Ministry Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

The thousands of athletes competing in the Olympics this summer have had to do a lot of work to get there. And they each have a lot to be thankful for. Many of them would say a big reason they are even at the games is because of the support and encouragement of friends and family as well as coaches and fellow athletes. Although they may win a gold medal seemingly all on their own, that medal really belongs to many who helped that athlete get to the podium.

If an athlete has a lot to be thankful for, then we who know the love of God have a whole lot more we can be thankful about! We know that God’s love for us is never-ending and never-changing – He loves us no matter what! We know that God is always with us and never leaves us, even when things are sad or scary. And we know that Jesus died and rose from the dead so that our broken relationship with God could be fixed and we could be with Him forever! And, on top of all that, God continues to bless us with family and friends and countless other things each day. We really do have A LOT to be thankful for!

Explain to your kids that God doesn’t want us to worship Him because it’s “what we’re supposed to do.” He wants us to worship Him because we love Him so much and realize how He has blessed us and helped us each day! Read Mark 12:28-34 together and point out that in verse 33, the man Jesus is speaking with says that loving God and others is better than giving offerings and sacrifices, the way they were used to worshipping God in those days, and that Jesus agrees with the man, saying that he is wise to say so. The man and Jesus were both saying that God doesn’t care how we worship – What he cares about is why we worship! He wants us to worship because we love Him SO MUCH!

As a family, spend some time worshipping God in unique and fun ways this week. Perhaps you put on some worship music or find some worship videos online and sing and dance together. Maybe you go for a walk on a nice day and praise God for all the cool and beautiful things in nature that you can see. You could create a mural or different works of art showing things that each member of the family is thankful for, or you could choose to show your worship through serving others in your neighborhood or community together as a family.

You can also download this coloring page for your kids to decorate as they think of ways they can worship God this week.

A Colorful Village


By Ruth Richmond, Associate Worship Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

God cares for us through the willing hands of people around us. It’s his design to accomplish his purposes in partnership with humans.  One stunningly beautiful result of this design is that the gifts, talents, faith and even the interests of the people that surround us swirl their colors into our lives. God uses others to help us discover talents and have experiences that reveal our own capacities for things like faith, love and strength.

I have a very colorful testimony not because I took a dramatic turn away from evil, but because all of my life willing Christians dipped, speckled, swirled, and buffed me. They enabled me to catch the light and reflect it in my own way so that I could bring prismatic light to dark places. I was shown my strength and was deeply, honestly connected to the love of God through the Christ followers around me.

My general trajectory was set by the age of six or eight because of the early influencers around me at church.  I wonder what I would be doing today if I’d had different people around me at church as a child?  Don’t you love looking back at your life and realizing a new thread of the narrative that God was weaving in all along the way? It’s a proof of His love that He works so much together for our good regardless of whether we will ever notice or thank Him.

Speaking of that, thank you God, for the rag-tag group of farmers and small town folk at the First Presbyterian Church in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. (Amen!)

Wow, God – thanks for Toots, who taught me about Jesus’ birthday and sang with us in pre-school. Thanks for Bessie, the quiet gray widow who took on the challenge of teaching rambunctious young grade schoolers!  (Amen!)

Thanks for the Pastor and his wife who began to lead the church when I was six. And that she started a choir for the children. Thanks that she was willing to stick with it even though we were squirrely. And thanks that she noticed I could always start a song in just about the right key, because then I noticed that about me, too, and started thinking of myself as musical. (Amen!)

Thank you for the local band teacher John, and his wife, Kay: Deeply passionate educators who joined our church and shared their interest in music contagiously. Thank you for the clarity of their love and for their obedience to leave us when you called them to minister at a school in the Philippines. (Amen!)

She (Kay) was my first and, therefore, my favorite piano teacher. My lessons were right after school. She prayed with me and had me memorize scripture verses. She taught me to play hymns and insisted that I sing them simultaneously. She taught me to write down musical thoughts on paper. I was eight when we started and thirteen when she left. By then, the path was level before me. At seventeen, I wrote my first five songs for piano, all in one sitting. At nineteen, I started working toward a music degree at Bethel College.

Now, I feel closest to God when I am writing musical thoughts on paper. I have worked for fifteen years singing, playing piano, and bringing music to this church. I have little kids of my own to share music with.  And, I’ve just been tasked with supporting and developing the worship area in Heroes Gate, so I have truly come full circle!”

My experience proves that when it comes to kids, it “takes a village”. A village full of willing, loving adults. Not because kids are difficult, but because they’re curious and clear: Ready to have the color and love of their village swirled into them.

I’m going to use this blog to give a little pitch! I am currently looking for accomplished musicians who can support the kids’ worship time in Heroes Gate. The village is forming now. If Woodland Hills is your church, please seek God about joining me and then contact me at

Thank You, Volunteers!


By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Our school year has almost wrapped up, and summer is nearly upon us. The regular volunteers that you see week after week will soon be on summer hiatus. We as a Heroes Gate staff would like to thank our regular volunteers for all they have done over the past year and send them off with blessings and prayers as they take a break for the summer.

We know there are many wonderful stories about how our volunteers have blessed your family throughout this year. Whether it was going above and beyond to make sure your child felt loved, a volunteer’s big, welcoming smile, or a hug or a personal note, I am sure you have experienced care from our volunteers in some way this year. Our volunteers are awesome and give so much to the kids of Heroes Gate! A few stories we have heard and seen this past year include volunteers setting up snack like a tea party for the little girls, playing hide and go seek in the room, bringing ice cream treats, helping out with Club 56 fun nights, and providing plants for Mother’s Day.

Our volunteers partner with you each week to provide a safe and loving environment for your kids to learn about Jesus. They pray for your kids and strategize with us to make Sunday a great day for your kids so they learn to love Jesus.

This Sunday, we’re excited to provide cards for you or your child to write his or her leader a note. Would you take some time this week or on Sunday at the card station to thank the volunteers who have poured love and care into your child this year? Would you pray with us that we are able to staff the rooms for summer so that no child is turned away? And would you consider giving 4 Sundays this summer so other children can hear about Jesus? We’d love to have you join us for a fun and exciting summer in Heroes Gate!  Sign up is easy and online!  Or you can chat with any HG staff on a Sunday morning, and we’d be happy to talk about what summer opportunities might fit you best.

We have such wonderful volunteers! Thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you have done for the kids in Heroes Gate!

**Parents and Volunteers: Tell us how you or your child have been blessed this year in the comment section below!

The Gift of Thanksgiving

bye-bye-sun-1314506-1279x852By Teresa Sayles, Children Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

A couple of years ago, a woman named Ann Voskamp wrote a book, One Thousand Gifts. Reading it had an amazing effect on my heart and mind. At one point, she writes about wanting to visit a friend in Paris, but flying on an airplane was a terrifying thought for her (something with which I sympathize). Yet, because she had been practicing for months the daily art of eucharisteo or thanksgiving, she was able to not only step onto the plane and endure the flight, but she actually enjoyed it. She was able to feel God’s love in a new and exciting way as she thanked Him for the world she saw tens of thousands of feet below. She writes that it’s impossible to be fearful when you are being thankful, and it’s true. If you’re thankful, you are recognizing the gifts of the moment and growing in your trust of the One who has given them. With such thankfulness, fear dissipates and can even vanish. You have seen what He has done in the past, something of what He is doing now, and know what He can and will do in the future.

We live in an uncertain, broken, and often frightening world. The events of the past week have proven that. Fear overtakes our hearts and produces anxiety, mistrust, and even anger and hatred. But to allow fear to rule one’s heart is not living in a state of thanksgiving. Rather, God calls us to move beyond fear to trust, trust in His love, and that trust should lead us toward gratitude and thanksgiving. But it’s not easy, as the Israelites discovered long ago.

Moses had led them out of Egypt. A fiery cloud literally showed the people God was with them as He led them over the unknown desert terrain. And yet, as they stood on the brink of the land God had promised to give them, they were terrified. 10 out of the 12 spies sent into Canaan had returned with reports of warrior giants that could never be defeated. Only Moses, Caleb, and Joshua stood in a place of trusting God. Only they could see the pillar of cloud before them and, remembering all He had already done for them, say that even warrior giants were no match for the Creator of the Universe. The rest of the Israelites cowered in fear and refused to move a step further. Some even wanted to return to Egypt. Return to slavery. Return to misery and death. It seemed better than trusting the “unknown” and “certain doom” that lay before them. But had they taken a moment to remember what God had done for them, had they trusted His promise and His faithfulness, they would have realized the God who parted the Red Sea and freed them from the clutches of Pharaoh himself could and would care for them in this new land. On the other hand, Caleb and Joshua had seen what the other spies had seen, and yet, they trusted God above whatever fear they might have felt. They chose to take Him at His word and believe it with all their hearts. They remembered His faithfulness and set their lives in His hands without hesitation.

The mistrust of the Israelites ultimately led to their wandering in the desert for 40 long, trying years. Caleb and Joshua, faithful in their trust and obedience, were the only ones allowed to enter this new land from the previous generation. They alone had shown themselves to be the kind of trusting followers God asks us all to be.

No doubt as we sit around the table with friends and family this Thanksgiving, our thoughts and conversations will turn in some way to the tragic events of the past week. We cannot deny our world has a lot of darkness in it. But the Light of Christ is more powerful than any darkness, and that, alone, is something for which we can be eternally grateful. That Light overpowering the darkness is made up of the incredible love of God, and it’s a love that drives out fear. So I encourage you to take time to truly recognize what you have to be thankful for this year. Talk about it with your kids. Help them to see how building on a mindset of thanksgiving and trust in God’s love can help them live a less fearful life and a more full life. How trusting in God’s love can help us trust others in a world that tells us to stay closed off and trust no one. Choose as a family to live each day like it’s Thanksgiving and continually remind each other what you have to be grateful for, especially in times of worry or fear. Fear is a powerful thing, but a truly grateful heart will beat it every time.