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The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen

The blog home of speaker and writer Mindy von Atzigen I am a lover of words, Jesus, and His church. I am also a wife, a mom, and a friend. I hope you'll consider me yours...

Weekly Adventures: Six of Our Best Family Nights

Recently, Treasure the Ordinary featured a post on Family Nights.  That article has sparked a great deal of feedback, with many readers retelling how they, too, have had to go back to "boot camp" as a family and pick up old, yet important habits they had inadvertently laid down.  I'm encouraged that it's never too late to start over, and that this week's family night could be your best yet!  

To that end, here is a list of some of the most enjoyable of our recent von Atzigen Family Night Adventures.  In the past, I've noticed that ideas I've found online for this kind of thing seem to be centered around families with young children.  So, while a lot of these ideas could be adjusted to accommodate little ones (especially if you partner them with older kids or parents), my list here is centered around families with older children and teens.  I hope they will spark your own idea for an evening in, or an evening out, as long as it's with the ones you love most.


  • "Chopped, Family Edition"- This was one of our most fun family nights ever!  A full scale replica of the TV show, complete with older brother filming the action in order to put together a highlight reel.  To play, I tasked the three youngest to compete in the dessert category.  They had 30 minutes to concoct their best creation using 3 out of 4 ingredients (pre-stocked in the family picnic basket!) and a maximum of 3 other ingredients out of the family pantry.  Parents did the judging, and overlooking a couple of nasty bites (think frozen hot tamale candies coming at your taste buds out of no where!), it was mostly delicious.  My teenagers all loved it, since it brought out all of their competitiveness, and it's even since sparked some interest in the kitchen that wasn't there before.
  • "Wiki Night" - Get out all the smart phones!  Before you play, someone needs to stock the draw pile with random topics (the Wright brothers, cheddar cheese, Argentina, etc.).  To play, someone draws a topic from the pile, and everyone opens their wiki app to that page.  Someone then draws the second topic out of the draw pile, and the race is on to see who can get to that page first.  You can't use the back arrow, and you can't exit wiki, but other than that, it doesn't matter how you get there.  First person to the designated page wins!  (Note:  You can have as many people play per round as you have smart phones, but if you only have access to one or two, you could play tournament style, timing each person for their "score.")
  • "Book Store Scavenger Hunt" - This one was great for a night when the parents were tired, but didn't want to miss out on family time.  The two of us sat in the bookstore cafe, reading a good book and drinking a coffee while the kids roamed the store taking photos of the items on their scavenger hunt list (a book with exactly 394 pages seemed to be the hardest one to find!) and sending them back to mom or dad's phone so we could monitor their progress.  We would occasionally send them all extra challenges that they could complete alongside their list for bonus points, my favorite of which was "take a picture of one of your siblings without them knowing."  The rule was you could not run and no one in the store could even be able to guess you were there on a scavenger hunt, so everyone had to play it cool and keep from being an annoyance to other customers.  The winner can even get to choose which new book you go home with!
  • "Blessing Night" - We did this one around Christmas time.  Instead of spending money on our own family night, we took a family trip to Wal-Mart and bought everything that would be needed for another family to have a great family night.  Every one of my kids picked out their favorite candy, we spent a great deal of time choosing just the right puzzle and just the right board game, and then we added a family movie, hot chocolate, popcorn, and even a blanket.  I was proud of my kids when we loaded it all in the car to be dropped off for a project at our church and went home to eat the snacks that were in our own pantry.  I know we could have gone out after we did our shopping, but I felt like it was important to have one night completely devoted to serving others, and I wasn't disappointed.  I liked the fruit I saw in my kids.
  • "Movie Night" - This time, it was to see "Hidden Figures," which I highlight because it was an excellent film and one that provoked deep discussion with our teenagers.
  • "Photo Shoot Night" - Find some zany props, get into some crazy costumes, and head to an interesting location.  For extra fun, you can hire a photographer, but if you need it to be free, just bring a tripod and a creative streak.  I don't have a single child that doesn't like to have pictures taken, so we may be abnormally fond of the camera, but every time we do this, we end up with crazy fun memories.  This year, our photo shoot night ended up being our Christmas card, Viking helmets and all! 
Whether it's planned or spontaneous,  may your family time be sweet this week, friends.  And may it make you long for more.



Soul Food

I did it.  I did the thing I've been planning to do for months.  I took a day off and spent it alone, at home. 

I did what I wanted.  I didn't do what I didn't want to do.  I drank two cups of coffee instead of one and didn't even get dressed until after lunch, which I ate alone with only the sound of the dishwasher for company.  I played the piano.  I read a little.  I walked the dog.  I took a nap.  I wrote a poem. 

And I didn't want it to end.

It's that profound desire to hold on, to savor, that makes me wonder why I wait months and months to take a day that brings me so much joy and so much renewal. 

For some people, today would not have been a blessing.  They would rather have spent it in a crowd of friends, hiking, or maybe touring a vineyard.  And that's the thing, isn't it?  Our ability to discern what it is that both brings us peace and invigorates us at the same time is the point at which we have learned to pastor our own souls.  For too long, I stayed away from the seminary of my own heart, distracted by the need to perform and believing if I took time away to feed myself, I was selfishly robbing the people in my life of what they needed. 


But, time spent in regularly pastoring my soul keeps me from feeding others with empty hands and allows me to break off a piece of my wholeness and offer it freely, without fear that it is all I will have for tomorrow.

And so, I will not wait so long for the next time. 



Ode To A Day Home Alone
Creative stirrings make
lukewarm coffee as the bathrobe
spins out like a ballerina's chiffon,
the riverdance flowing around the living room rug,
and the dog sleeping on, unaware
of the freedom that comes with
solitude.



Simple Prayers

"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, 'They have no more wine.'"  (John 2:1-3)


As a mother of three sons, Mary's relationship with Jesus intrigues me.  There are not a lot of details of his growing up years.  There's his birth, his dedication, his foray into the temple.  And then there's this simple, yet worldchanging story of attending a village wedding with his mom.


I love to imagine him there.  Eating the wedding feast.  Singing the songs of blessing over the couple.  Dancing to the music of celebration.  Toasting the new family's prosperity.


And then, this interruption.  The moment his mother comes to him and quietly whispers her prayer.


Because that's what it was.  A request for him to move, to act, to intervene in the natural unfolding of events with the force of the supernatural.  And I love that what moved Mary's heart to seek out Jesus wasn't to save the life of someone choking on a lamb bone, but rather to save a neighbor family from embarrassment.  She knew that running out of wine would mark the family with shame in front of the entire village, and being sensitive to those who live in shame, she simply caught Jesus' attention and said five words.



That's it.  One simple phrase.  "They have no more wine." 

There wasn't a long drawn out explanation or a detailed description of what she wanted him to do.  Just a sentence that defined the need and communicated the complete trust she had in him to make any decision that needed to be made.

And I 've come to believe that is the exact way my own prayers work best.  My prayers seem to be the most effective when I refrain from telling Jesus exactly how He should meet my needs or giving Him all the reasons why I have the need in the first place.  They seem to produce the most fruit when I simply catch his attention and whisper the equivalent to, "I have no more wine."  My simplest statements  are the ones that speak of complete dependence on who He is and my complete trust that His decisions are enough.  It's when I feel the need to explain, to beg, to tally up the words like points on a scoreboard that I find my faith in both His goodness and sovereignty is wavering. 

So, again Mary becomes a role model.  An example of presenting the need and trusting that He hears.  But, she also does one more thing.


"'Woman, why do you involve me?' Jesus replied. 'My hour has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'" (John 2:4-5)



She not only brought the need to His attention.  She readied the environment around Him for obedience.  She prepared the way for Him to move by aligning herself and those she had influence over in agreement with whatever command He might give after her one sentence prayer.

She prayed and she obeyed.  And it made all the difference.

"Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water'; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, 'Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.'  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.'"  (John 2:6-10)




What To Do When Someone Hurts Your Child

Ever since I was a little girl, I've read the Christmas story from Mary's perspective.  What would it have been like to birth the Savior of the world?  After a pregnancy where everyone thought the worst of you?  And what was it like to experience that birth far from home, away from your own mother, with only your young, terrified husband to hold your hand?  The birth of Jesus was a miracle in many ways, and one of them was that a young teenage girl said yes to the whole thing, trusting God to sort out the details of her very real life.

But, I'm certain the birth wasn't the hardest part for Mary.  For, just days later, she would hear the words no mother ever wants to hear at her baby's dedication service, spoken by a prophet who whispered them while looking deep into her eyes, "And a sword will pierce your own heart, also."  (Luke 2: 35)


What could she have thought upon hearing those words?  She had no frame of reference for what was coming.  She hadn't yet read the back of the book. 


She found out in real time that not everyone would believe He was who she always knew He was.  That people close to her would turn on him, betraying Him into hands that sought to kill the life she brought in to the world.  That He would die on a cross being mocked and spat upon by the very ones she knew He loved more than Himself.  And it's that part of Mary's story that both breaks my heart and captures my respect.

Because just recently, I watched a child born of my body experience hurt at the hands of someone else.  It was small in the great scheme of life, the kind of thing that most everyone experiences in junior high.  But, it brought tears and pain and confusion to one I love more than my next breath.  And in that moment, I didn't want to sit on the sidelines and pray.  I didn't want to counsel forgiveness.  I wanted to crawl out of my mama bear cave, stand on my hind legs, and roar until I could force retribution.  I wanted to fix it.  And fix it with vengeance.



But, I didn't get to.  Because that's not the way of the God I serve.  Instead, I held my child close to my heart, waited for the tears to stop, and we prayed.  We released the one who had done the wounding and we asked the Lord to bless them.  I admit that a little later, I also had to quietly ask the Lord to forgive the angry thoughts I had entertained that may have involved super glue and a flagpole, but the point is, in that mama bear moment, my child needed me to model a life value.  Because my babies won't always have me around to run to.  But, they will always have the God we can go to together.  And He is there for both of us, just like He was there for Mary.


He was there when she birthed her vagabond son in a stable.  He was still there in her panic when she realized she had left her pre-teen in Jerusalem and was a three day journey away from him.  And He was there again when she watched the man she knew to be completely innocent of sin murdered on a cross for her own sin.


He was there.  He was there for her and He was there for her son.  He was there because that boy was also His son.


And that's what brings peace in the moments when we watch our children walk through pain.  The truth that, even more than being bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, these children belong to Him.  He loves them more than we can fathom.  He has a plan for their lives, one for hope and a future.  And He will never leave them.  They are His.



Fashion Forward

I most often write about the things God is doing and speaking in the quietest places of my heart.  But, today, there's just something I need to confess.  And it seems loud and not very spiritual at all.  But, it has to come out.


I am a fashion mess right now.  I'm not really sure how this happened.  For most of my life, I've been able to look around the room, take stock of the styles and trends represented, and think, "Yep.  Smack in the middle.  Not too far ahead, like a Paris runway model, but not far enough behind to be reppin the Amish runway style."  And I was good with that.  "Just enough to keep up" was kind of my motto, but not so vested that I had to buy a complete new wardrobe next season when whatever current trend that was all the thing became the thing that wasn't the thing anymore.


But, something has happened.  It's not that I'm the Amish runway model, exactly.  I'm just confused.  It's like I went to sleep, woke up, and can't make sense of my closet.  Do my jeans work anymore?  Am I supposed to always roll them?  I did that already, in the eighties, but my old tight-roll method doesn't seem to apply here.  And the boots.  I had just gotten used to the tall boot thing, but now they're short.  Some with the wedges, some with the fringe, but none, apparently, with socks.  So now there's a little gap of skin between my boot and my jeans, which is, by the way, the same crisis I experienced when Jennifer Garner rolled out low rise jeans to American culture on "Alias" and suddenly I looked decidedly much more Amish because I was terrified to follow suit.  First of all, there was the fact that while she rolled it out, she didn't roll out, if you know what I mean.  I, on the other hand, was pretty sure there would be a good deal of rolling if I attempted it.  But, second, there was the other fear that people would see my skin.  And if they thought my face was fair complected, seeing the paleness that is my stomach was going to cause some serious blinding which I might in turn be sued for.  Which is exactly my new problem with that bare skin between my jeans and my boots.  It's white, people.  Really, really white.  Which means if I wear the popular black pants and equally popular black booties, my leg resembles a double stuffed Oreo.


And then there are the off the shoulder tops (we did that back in the "Fame" days of the 80s, too), the geometrical everything, and the necklaces that look strangely like my mom's twisty beads from back in the day.  I just have no idea what to do with all that.  I go shopping and try to buy an outfit that has the "look," and I end up going home with a tea towel and a mall pretzel.


Which is why I'm doing something I would never have done before.  I now subscribe to a service that ships clothes to my house.  It means I have a stylist.  Her name is Erin.  And she looks at my measurements and sends me things that fit.  And what's more, I try them on in my own closet, following her instructions with how to pair things, and strangely like every single thing she sends. 


And the crazy thing is when I look over her choices for me, I usually can't find a one that I would have picked up in the store.  Not a one.  And yet, Erin sends them to me, and they look fabulous.  She is somehow able to discern the look I want (not necessarily trendy, but classically stylish) and piece together the puzzle of my wardrobe with just a couple of new things that really work.  It's like she's able to see where I'm going and get me there without the hindrances of my own self-critiquing brain.  She's gifted, I tell you, gifted.  And lest you think other stylists would be equally as gifted, I'll let you know that the company once tried to change my stylist and the entire shipment was such a disaster that I wrote the equivalent of War and Peace, Fashion Edition in one epic email until they called me and told me Erin would be my stylist again, and forever be my stylist.  I'm serious.  I'm pretty sure they have now doubled Erin's pay and given her a corner styling office just so she'll never leave them for fear of receiving Moby Dick, Fashion Edition in their inbox.


I'm not going to tell you which styling service I use because I'm afraid you'll think I'm getting paid to write a promo for them, but I will share this with you, my one deep and slightly spiritual thought for this shallow rambling.  How many successful options have I passed by over the years because I was confident they weren't for me and would never work?  How many times have I missed the fabulous in favor of the safe and tried and true?  I think the answer to that may be more than I'm comfortable admitting.


I am in fact quite uncomfortable when I think about the times I've refused to try something a lot more important than new jeans for fear that I would look foolish or find out that I'm not good at it.  The times that I've censored myself from success because I was just downright afraid.  The times I've refused to follow the bold longings because I wasn't sure where they would lead.


I wish Erin had a service for that.  But, since she doesn't, I'm going to have to listen to another stylist.  One who knows me better than I know myself.  One who doesn't care what I look like when I'm trying something new.  And One who is confident He can get me where I'm going, if I'll trust Him.







Family Night

"Sometimes you have to go back to boot camp."  My friends words were spoken with a laugh, but the truth of them rang in my ears. 

She was speaking about her children.  About their tendency to drift from the family's boundaries and push the envelope.  About the need to come back to basics and remind children what we do, what we don't do, and why.  We love each other.  We speak kindly to each other.  We use our manners.  We don't eat things that come from our nose.  The real basics. 

That's boot camp.  And we just had one of those seasons in our house.

I felt it coming on for a while.  With a move to a new city this summer, there was just so much that was new and different that it was easy to lose sight of those basics.  Except my kids are old enough not to need the nose talk.  It was basics of a different sort, and it was probably more for the parents than the kids.

Because if you're not diligent, not careful to guard the state of your flock, you can look up and realize that all the things you put in place when your kids were young to help them grow spiritually and emotionally have slipped into the busyness of the details of life.  And the protective boundaries you had set to guard your family from the parasites that eat away at the health of your relationships have given way to too much technology, too much noise, and just too much.

So, it was time to go back to boot camp.  And for us, that meant reinstating family night.  A sacred weekly tradition we had held for many years, but had slowly let fade to monthly and then occasionally and then we can't remember when.

But, it's back, and it's back so good.  It's not fancy.  It's not complicated.  It's not overly spiritual.  It's just time together that is absolutely set in stone and doesn't get moved by anything on mom's schedule, dad's schedule, or the school's schedule.  Everyone in the house has been informed that this is going to happen, and anything that needs to be planned for in advance or changed or moved or deleted in order for it to happen, that better happen, too.

There may have been some expectation on the parents' end that this proclamation would be met with some resistance, but it wasn't.  We are three months in to family night boot camp and haven't missed a single week.  Every one of our teenagers have made the shift, and now Fridays may be my favorite day, but Tuesday is my favorite night.

Tuesday night is tacos around the table.  It's a new board game.  It's a walk to our favorite custard shop.  It's jammies and s'mores on the back patio.  It's watching a food network show while we eat frozen pizza.  It's a round of charades or hide and seek in the dark.  It's a bike ride. 

It's just time.  Whatever it takes to have time to look each other in the eye and laugh and remember why we are each other's best friends.

Three months in, and this is by far the best boot camp this family has ever had.  Especially since we haven't had a single nose discussion.





What To Do When You Disagree With A Fellow Believer

"MOM!!!!" 

I always knew that particular sound.  The one that said someone was angry.  It might be that someone stepped on his feelings, it might just be that someone stepped on his cookie, but he wasn't happy.  It was an angry brother.

And when my boys were young and prone to disagreements, I was hearing that angry cry far too often and became a little desperate in looking for a way to help them move past their differences and celebrate the sheer fact that they were brothers.  I often tried lecturing, but I knew they really didn't need to hear a lot of preaching.  They knew everything I was trying to tell them already, they just didn't want to do it in the heat of being wronged.  I needed something else.

And that's how it was born.  A simple tactic, really, but it seemed like it was magic in how effective it was.  First, I would make them stop. 

"Just stop what you're doing and look at each other."  This was usually followed by unhappy stares, but also silence, so that was a win.

"Now, put your arms around each other."  This would be followed by grumpy grunts, with chubby arms stretching to circle around someone's midsection.

"Okay, repeat after me."  Silence.

"I like you."  Sometimes a pause, but eventually two voices in unison, "I like you."

"I love you."  Another pause, followed by, "I love you."

"I highly respect you."  Getting faster now.  "I highly respect you."

"I greatly esteem you."  I'm not sure they even knew what this word meant when we started, but they figured out by context it wasn't the slam they were wanting to give.  "I greatly esteem you."

"And I think you smell good."  And that's where it worked.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Because when you're a pre-school boy, you just instinctively know that not only does your brother decidedly not smell good, you don't either.  So somehow, saying those words produced giggles and guffaws and sheepish faces.  And after the shared laughter, there was some kind of bond, some grubby little olive branch that helped them move past the offense.

Granted, we still sat down and hashed things out when they needed to be, but this simple act put it all in perspective.  We are family.  We don't just love each other because we have to, we like each other and we respect each other.  We speak to each other with honor.

And in this tense political season, with harsh words flying all around our culture's airwaves, I find myself wanting to have a family meeting with other followers of Jesus Christ.  Because we are family.  And even when we disagree, we shouldn't be grudging with our affection.  Jesus calls us to a much higher level of accountability than that.

In fact, his words were "love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12)  And I am so grateful that my Jesus didn't love me begrudgingly, holding out his affection and respect for me until I towed the line in every aspect.  If He had waited until my thoughts were in perfect alignment with His before He allowed Himself to esteem me, or even like me, I would still be lonely and afraid apart from Him.

But, instead, He took me as I was.  And He loved me in the most honoring way any person could love another.  He gave His life for me.

And so, if I could call that huge family meeting for Christ's brothers and sisters, I'd make them put their arms around each other and look each other in the eye.  I'd remind them that no one group has it all figured out.  There's always places where we don't yet smell so great.  But, it doesn't mean we won't.  And it doesn't mean we should be treated without honor while we search for the bubble bath.

"I like you.  I love you.  I highly respect you.  I greatly esteem you.  And I think you smell good---it must be the fragrance of Christ."  (2 Corinthians 2:15)