Kids’ Connections

Long ago I had the privilege to lead this sweet young lady in following Jesus. Truly, it was a joy to walk together and I’m sure I learned as much from her as she did from me. Now she has the privilege of leading others… I love how that works!

Guest Post: Sara Pantazes

The opportunity to run our church’s mid-week children’s program was a perfect fit for me–resume-worthy job experience I could easily fit into my already full life of grad school, homemaking, and kid-raising.

The directive, however, wasn’t as easy: “Like youth group, for kids.” As a Christian educator in training, I felt up to the challenge. By Wednesday night kids have been in school and shuttled between activities for three days. Our program was part of that hamster wheel. Kids didn’t need another classroom lesson. But I didn’t want to spend that precious hour only on games. How could I balance the kids’ need to move and play with my desire to use that time for faith formation?

Providentially, inspiration came in a book I read over Christmas break. One chapter told the story of a children’s minister who focused her Wednesday night children’s program on contemplative practices. Quotes like these lit my imagination:

Rather than mirroring the media-driven culture, might churches instead provide space for children to step out of the fast-paced world and enter into meaningful community?

…these children will be called to something that means they will have to know how to find stillness and quiet in the midst of chaos and confusion.  If we do not provide them with this, we will have failed this generation.

Reading about this program helped me narrow in on a concrete goal that felt right for my program–connection with God. That children hunger for the ability to be still caught my attention, and teaching children how to quiet themselves in order to hear and connect with God sounded like challenge worth exploring. So I created my own format loosely based on the structure described in the book. It looked like this:

Welcoming: 15-20 minutes of games, usually Legos and tag

Sharing: The kids help me lay out a blanket for us to sit around and we turn on lamps and turn off overhead lights. We share what has been good and bad about our days, giving us a chance to calm ourselves and relax together.

Worshiping: We sing a simple song, the same one each week, with words and/or signs, to remind us that we are stepping out of our everyday lives and into a special time with God.

Listening: I narrate a Bible story using Godly Play materials (simple wooden carvings of the characters and setting of a story) and the narratives from Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman’s Young Children and Worship. Once the story has been told, we discuss “I wonder…” questions to help us think about the story, what the characters might have felt or thought, and where we might find ourselves in the story.

“She describes the approach as respectful of children and trusts that God will speak to and through the children as they enter the story together. She does not feel compelled to control the process but trusts that God is at work, drawing the children into relationship with him…”

Reflecting: We end with individual reflection. I give them a question to consider on their own through writing or drawing. After a few weeks I also let some children stay on the blanket to retell the story as they move the figures around themselves.

One child’s reflection on the Last Supper

Our program year is done now and, while I appreciate summer break, I’m already excited for next year. Our time wasn’t always perfectly reverent–kids will be kids after all. But it was truly amazing to witness how quickly they settled into the rhythm, how much they wanted to help with set-up, how attentive they were to the stories, and the insights they shared.

I’m hopeful that seeds have been planted, that–in one hour in the midst of their busy week–they were able to rest in God’s presence, and that it left them hungry for more.

We can connect to lots of things in our lives to fill us, sustain us, or maybe even help us thrive. Asking children to connect with God might sound like a tall order, but I had faith it could be done. It takes some work, but the results are truly beautiful.


Sara is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. A recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Sara is beginning to transition from full-time stay at home mom to part-time Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church of West Chester, a transition which will fully challenge (and hopefully enrich) her own ability to stay connected with and rooted in God.

Creative Play

Oh, friends, it has been awhile and we are long overdue for recess… Do you remember watching the clock during your own elementary school days, waiting for playtime? Some days the minute hand seemed to be ticking backwards and I couldn’t help but fidget in my seat. Life has felt a little like that recently, so I’m grateful for my friend Sara urging us back out to play, to enjoy the time to stretch and run free and just go for it. Our simple creative efforts come from the heart, after all. Let’s spread some love and joy!

re:create recess #6: Sara Pantazes

I never thought of myself as a creative person. I was the kid who always colored within the lines rather than one who relished the completely empty pages of a sketchbook. As an adult, I continue to struggle to be creative when my kids want to “play” (a problem my children never seem to have!). But when I read the prompt for this blog series, I realized there are two activities I periodically make time for which challenge me to be creative, and that these activities have become my grown-up play times.

The first creative activity I got into as an adult was scrapbooking. I fell into this hobby somewhat begrudgingly: it is a project that is never completed and is super hard to do with young kids around. But it is those young ones who make this creative activity so worthwhile, because my sons love looking at our family scrapbooks.

My creative process involves ordering tons of pictures, laying them out along with the cards or ticket stubs or whatever else I saved that go along with the pictures’ events, and deciding how much can fit on each 12X12 page. Then I pick out the background paper and embellishments and decide what words to write on the page.

The scrapbooks have become the stories of our family, which my kids “read” and enjoy. They “remember” things their brains were not developed enough to have formed memories of, but they have looked at the pictures and heard the stories retold often enough that they know their family history. My creative play has resulted in tangible objects that help my children know themselves, those who love them, and the seasons of their lives.

The second creative activity I discovered in more recent years is making cards. I freely admit that I struggle with how homemade my cards look and that they lack the eloquent sentiments of Hallmark cards. Yet I enjoy the process of creating them enough to continue doing so. I enjoy looking through Pinterest for ideas and then interpreting those designs to make them work within the boundaries of my own supplies.

I tend to create simple designs but I am okay with that because simple is an expression of me. I hope that the family and friends who receive my cards see them as the expression of love that I intend them to be. I also appreciate all the blank space inside the cards. It challenges me to write words that matter to the recipient and gives my children space to make their own 6- and 4-year-old marks on whatever occasion we are recognizing.

Scrapbooking and card making play a back seat to nearly everything else in my life; I don’t get to “play” with them often. When I do have time, I still find that being artistic and creative does not come easily to me. Yet I have learned to appreciate the challenge these creative play activities present and how it refreshes my brain to engage in something so different from my norm, something so creative. The blank pages still unnerve me, but I no longer avoid them. Bring on the card stock, stamps and inkpads, fancy scissors and washi tape—I have some playing to do!

Sara is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. When she is not having all kinds of mom fun, Sara is working to earn a Master of Arts in Christian Education.


Meatless Monday – Greek Veggie Burgers

Due to computer issues and the resulting several computer-less weeks, I have a back-log of Create Challenge posts to share. So what a joy that one friend wrote about creating food and was willing to share a Meatless Monday–and gluten-free to boot–recipe with us today! I didn’t know how passionately Sara feels about food, and so I’m chagrined to remember that for her going away party many, many moons ago, I attempted (and completely botched) her favorite dessert: Key Lime Pie. Thankfully, she forgave me and our friendship survived one inedible dessert.

Create Challenge #37: Sara Pantazes

I am a stay-at-home mom with 3- and 5-year-old boys. I have a loving husband who works hard at his job everyday so that I can stay home, which is where I want to be, and raise our boys. So what do I create? Every single day? I create menus, I create meals…I create food.

I come from a long line of wonderful people who love to cook. My grandmother self-published a cookbook of her and close family friend’s recipes to preserve and share our family love of cooking. I will admit that I did not fully grow into this heritage until I was married and found myself with my very own kitchen for the first time that was full of brand-new kitchen supplies. Those first couple years of marriage were a culinary joy for me. I tried new recipes a couple times a week, and spent Saturday mornings relaxing in front of Food Network shows for new ideas. At that point I did not cook because we needed to eat and could not afford to eat out all the time. I cooked because I wanted to and I loved it.

Life moved along pretty smoothly until our first son was given a ‘failure to thrive’ diagnosis at his two-year-old check-up. He was not gaining weight the way he was supposed to and for a couple very scary months we did not know why. Then he was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and I was so relieved, because I knew that this was something I could handle. Like every mom, I wanted to fix what was going wrong and this was something I could fix! I felt confident in my ability to master the gluten-free diet.

But from this point forward things just got more bumpy. Out of necessity, I created a gluten-free dinner for my son every night but did not always create gluten-free dinners for my husband and myself. Then baby number two came along, which eventually led to dinners for him that could be mushed in his toothless or teething mouth. For a period of time I was making three dinners every night for four people. The creative thing that I loved had become a burden and a chore.

The latest bump in my creative culinary journey is that I was diagnosed with an egg allergy about eighteen months ago. Gluten-free I can do. Egg-free I am learning to do. Gluten-free and egg-free together is a bit of a nightmare (at least so far). Breakfast in particular is a challenge. If I want to make any kind of baked good, I either make two versions or make one and deny my son or myself the enjoyment of consuming it. Cooking has become complicated, time-consuming, and more expensive.

I am hopeful I will get to a better place with food again. Because, despite all the challenges, I still love to cook and I cannot stop myself from striving to provide great meals for myself and my family. Really good food makes me excited. It can turn my bad day around if I cook something that I really love for dinner. If you ask me to describe the best thing I have ever eaten, I will get an unstoppable, goofy grin on my face and use my whole body in an attempt to convey the depths of how much I loved that dish. For better or for worse, food is a God-given passion in my life. Finding healthy, affordable, and delicious ways to feed and satisfy my family is not an easy task. But I am going to keep trying. I will keep searching for the joy amid this messy and challenging creative process of cooking.

Big Fat Greek Veggie Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
(Recipe originally from Peas and Thank You by Sarah Matheny)

  • One 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3 c feta or non-dairy cheese (i.e. Daiya mozzarella shreds)
  • 1 organic egg or flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax + 3 Tbsp water, whisked)
  • 1/2 c gluten-free oat flour (or make your own by finely grinding gluten-free oats)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 split gluten-free burger buns or lettuce leaves for serving

Greek sauce:

  • 1/2 c. organic or non-dairy mayonnaise (i.e., Vegenaise)
  • 1/4 c. organic or non-dairy plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c. feta or non-dairy cheese (i.e., Daiya mozzarella shreds)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Suggested toppings: thinly sliced cucumbers, thinly sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions, lettuce leaves, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini rings

Using a potato masher or a fork, mash beans until slightly smooth, but still chunky. Add spinach, olives, cheese and egg of your choice, oat flour, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Using your hands, combine thoroughly.

Chill dough for 30 minutes.

Form dough into four separate patties. Place a skillet spritzed with oil or cooking spray over medium to medium high heat. Cook patties for 10-12 minutes, gently flipping once during cooking, until browned on both sides.

For Greek sauce, combine mayo, yogurt and cheese of your choice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve Greek burgers on top of buns or lettuce leaves, slathered with Greek sauce and trimmed with the toppings of your choice.


Sara Pantazes is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. When she is not busy cooking or having all other kinds of mom fun, Sara is working to earn a Master of Arts in Christian Education. If she had chosen another topic for this blog series, it would almost certainly have been on the creative process of teaching children about God, another God-given passion in her life.