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2018: A Pay It Forward Christmas

1ab1d1e0550be0eb56556f6449aba62bAs the Christmas holiday season approaches, I am contemplating ways to make it a minimalist holiday season. Those on my buying list have no genuine needs. They might have wants, but that’s not the same as needs.

My grandkids are in their teens or soon to be in that age group. They lack nothing and have  a closet filled with clothes, comforts of a good home, food on the table and electronic devices up the wazoo. What they believe to be lacking in their life are expensive items like owning their own vehicle free and clear (you know, that new Jeep parked at the local dealership), prepaid car insurance until they finish college & university degrees (paid for, of course, by someone other than themselves).

It’s the wave of the current generation; the one we helped to create by giving them (our kids and grandkids) everything they desire with little regard to words like: earn, work, deserve, merit or most importantly, saying no.

This year, I have determined that the gifts on my shopping list will be genuinely gifted from the heart.

What does that mean?

I like to think of it as ‘pay it forward’ gifts. It’s not about what you receive, but what you gift to someone else. It could be buying a cup of hot cocoa for the volunteer person who rings the bell for Salvation Army donations. Maybe it’s baking cookies or a Bundt cake for local firefighters or police officers, or dropping quarters in the a laundromat washing machine to pay for someone’s next load.

The agenda

I have posted my agenda, should you want to consider a minimalist Christmas this year. Yes, I am starting early, but the initial planning takes some pre-planning because the thought process involves thinking of others before us.

My grandkids won’t receive any Christmas gifts from Neenee & Poppy unless they fulfill the (15) required ‘Pay It Forward’ items on the list below. Some items can be done jointly; others must be done solo. The agenda will start November 24 and must be completed by December 22.

  1. Deliver indoor plant to someone in a nursing home (jointly)
  2. Buy a cup of hot cocoa for the Salvation Army person ringing the bell (solo)
  3. Bake something for firefighters or police officers (jointly)
  4. Put a quarter in a gumball machine and walk away (solo)
  5. Put enough quarters in a laundromat washing machine for someone to do a load (solo)
  6. Print up some inspiring signs and post around town (jointly)
  7. Leave a card on someone’s door step that tells them you prayed for them today (anonymously). Pray over the card before leaving on doorstep. (solo)
  8. Post a sheet of random ‘Pay It Forward’ tear-off compliment’s at neighboring stores/businesses
  9. Drop off a meal to a widow. (jointly)
  10. Leave a box of goodies in your mailbox for your mail carrier. (jointly)
  11. Spend some time with the elderly. There are many people in retirement homes that have no one who visits them. Ask the local facility staff if there’s someone whose day you could brighten. (either jointly or solo)
  12. Send a handwritten card to someone you know, unexpectedly. (solo)
  13. Put post-it notes with positive sayings on random lockers at school. (solo)
  14. Write a 200 word letter to your parents about why you love them. (solo)
  15. Donate a much loved toy or item of clothing to someone in need within the community. (solo)

I look forward to sharing photos and comments of our Pay It Forward Christmas season.

 

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Unexpected Grace

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With all the current mudslinging going on in the political arena, it’s refreshing to post some inspiring news about people who touch our life and often go unmentioned.

One such person is my longtime friend, Charlie, a retired engineer and owner of every foodie appliance on the market not to mention being an expert gardening by Google guru. He enjoys sharing his infinite knowledge, (at least what I believe to be infinite), about making home-brewed beers, sauerkraut varietals, roasted coffee beans and a plethora of ways to smoke meats and cheeses…and so much more.

Charlie grew up in Louisville and relocated to Michigan after college. In that transition our friendship blossomed and he became what I describe as a friend in all seasons. I can consistently count on him to be there whenever there is a need. It’s an unearned, cherished friendship not taken for granted.

Recently Charlie attended an autumn dinner celebration at my home and brought a bountiful variety of sauerkraut for us to taste.  True to form, he shared his usual myriad of information about everything imaginable but it was what happened after dinner that captured my attention.

Olivia, my middle school granddaughter, needed help with math homework.  From the get-go I was useless. Poppy and her mamma threw up their hands even though both were math minor graduates. And then, there was Charlie. The engineer I knew to be a whiz at math, even by today’s new math standards.

My heart swelled with appreciation as I listened to Charlie patiently coach and instruct Olivia in how to solve each math problem. I was reminded why I chose him to be a lifelong friend. It was a moment that substantiated the benevolence of mankind if we take a moment to part the waters of our bigotry, hatred and animosity of our political differences.

With homework finished, a very tired Olivia headed home with a heart full of gratitude for someone who took time to touch her life in an unexpected way. It was just homework to us, but to my granddaughter, it was much more than that.  It was the unearned, cherished help from someone in a time of need. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of the unmerited grace that Christ shows us every day of our life. It may not be help with a math equation, but it is most definitely help with a life equation.

Today’s Prayer:

Thank you, God, for using Charlie to illustrate the true meaning of your grace in the most unexpected place and time. I pray that each of us takes time from our busy life to showcase those individuals that touch the lives of others and go unmentioned.

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God Doesn’t Need Us

21bb469bd758a78d363986998129d056Contrary to what you might think, believe or been taught, the truth is God doesn’t need us. He is already all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent. He isn’t a God who needs anything, and that includes us. He doesn’t need our faith, our prayers, our love, and He doesn’t need our praise.

Some have suggested God created man because He needed someone to love Him or He needed someone to love. False truth!

He is the creator of all and He is above all, as the Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:24-25,

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands; And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

We Are Arrogant

God has plans that are better than we have for ourselves but we think we know better. We dismiss him until finding ourselves in need or in a hopeless situation. We can’t remember the last time we read our Bible or actually pursued Him with all our heart, soul and mind. (Matthew 22:37). But the minute we find ourselves in dire straits we look to God for an easy bailout. We treat Him like He’s a Genie in the bottle ready to grant us our three (selfish) wishes.

But God Never Listens

God is always listening, but we aren’t.  To truly find answers and help from the Lord, we must search our spiritual heart. Is there anything we aren’t doing that He told us to do? When we repeatedly hardened our heart to His call we stop listening and become obedient to our desires, not His.

We Need God

As depraved, in-corrupt people we have nothing to give to God, but yet He wants us. Left on our own, we would have never gone to Him. He came to us for our need, not the other way around. We can understand and appreciate Him more for who He truly is, and for all He has done for us when we fully digest that God loves us.

Consider this:

God sent His only Son to die a horrific, painful death on the Cross even though He didn’t need us. He did it because He knew we needed Him. That’s love, that’s grace, that’s mercy and that is mind boggling. God doesn’t need me, but He WANTS me. He wants me to see my need for Him. He wants me to desire His ways, He wants me to seek after Him and He wants to spend eternity with me.

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Ebenezer Stone

…the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

I recently attended a prayer project study group hosted through my local church. During the time of sharing a biblical term was mentioned that I had long forgotten: Ebenezer Stone

As the group leader enlightened us to the meaning, the freshness of God’s mercies were aroused within me. I was reminded that God never fails to show up in our time of need. His arrival time is always divinely appointed.

What is Ebenezer?

Ebenezer means, “stone of help.” Under King Samuel’s leadership (1 Samuel 7), Israel experienced a renewal of their faith. Led by Samuel the Israelites gathered at the location of Mizpah to present sacrifices to the Lord as atonement for their sins. The nation repented of their sins, destroyed their idols and earnestly committed to obey God’s Laws.

When Israel’s enemy, the Philistines, heard that the people had gathered in Mizaph they planned a sneak attack to catch the Israelites off-guard. But God supernaturally intervened with loud thunder. It threw the Philistines into mass confusion and the Israelite Army overwhelming defeated them.

To commemorate the victory, Samuel erected a monolith (a large, tooth-shaped piece of rock or stone) near the city Mizpah as a reminder to the Israelites of what the Lord had done for them that day.

Raise your Ebenezer?

Samuel was a wise and Godly man with a good idea. He recognized something that’s true about human nature—we’re forgetful. At Ebenezer, Israel could stand next to that big old rock and remind themselves, “Yes, we serve a living and faithful God, whose mercies are everlasting.”

It is important to remember. In doing so, we raise our own Ebenezer and place value and recognition on God’s divine help, mercy and restoration in our life. It’s a testimony of thanks and praise of his faithfulness.

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SISTERS

3139_1074232579462_6883989_nI have only one sibling; a sister named Sharon, but I call her Sharrie or sissy. We are one year and two days apart in age, but our chosen life paths are about as far apart as you can get.

She is a pastor’s wife and that in itself speaks volumes about her. Not everyone is cut out to be a soul mate to someone dedicated to the ministry; certainly not me. My mom was one of those women, but God saved us all when I chose a different path.

My sister has a beautiful singing voice, plays the piano and effortlessly leads worship service every Sunday at church. She loves to hike trails, camp, bake, play practical jokes and hang out at their northern cottage which I have never visited (hint). Sharrie’s laugh is infectious; you have only to sit next to her while watching a comedy movie to witness her ability to unabashedly laugh out loud. She is our daddy’s daughter in that respect.

I, on the other hand, prefer hotels to camping; opt for motorized vehicles over bicycles and never hike more than up and down the stairs of my home. Church members would drop off the rosters if I led a worship service and all my baked goods are purchased at the local grocery store.

No one can keep a secret better than my sister or save money in a pillowcase like she is known to do. When I needed money to buy cigarettes in high school, her pillowcase was the bank that provided the needed cash.

She was the athlete and compliant child; I was the president of art club and a rebel. I married at 18, she married at 27. All ‘no’ answers from my parents were an open invitation to ‘do it anyway’. Anger was my middle name and I could bring conflict to a situation quicker than the blink of an eye. The Bible scripture blessed are the peacemakers did not apply to me.

With all our many differences you might wonder if my sister and I were birthed from the same parents. The God who created the opposing contrasts of night and day also created the opposing contrasts of Denise and Sharon and has allowed our different life experiences to work in unison. Our approach is uniquely different, but our lifelong goal has always been the same; to grow in the grace of Jesus.

My sister complements my shortcomings and remains my biggest cheerleader in helping me reach my goals. She prays, intercedes, listens and forgoes judgment when I make bad choices. When I reach out to her, she greets me with arms wide open; she is a friend in all seasons of life. There are no words I can pen to paper to express how much I love her.

And so, on my sister’s 58th birthday I give thanks for our forever friendship, the differences that join us as one and the many times she has been the beacon of hope in my darkest nights. She always believes in me; applauds my accomplishments and looks up to me, though I’m not sure why. Thank you for being my polar opposite. God knew I needed that in a sister.

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COLORFUL PRAYERS

IMG_3640There is so much going on in the world and with all the fast and furious news coverage, it can all be draining to the spirit. When the demonic savagery of this Godless world seeks to destroy my hope, I create something and I tend to hum quite obsessively in the process.

My soul is soothed as my hands and mind work in unison to create and re-purpose objects abandoned and deemed unworthy by others. As I work and hum, the light of my Savior’s hope and promises overpower the shadows of darkness this world casts upon me.

Today, as I paint and refurbish a piece of outcast furniture into a beautiful princess chair for my granddaughter, I will replace my obsessive humming with colorful prayers. The princess chair has six different colors and I will lift a prayer before the Throne of God for every color used.

Colorful Pryaers

  • Bright Pink:
    The Haiti Mission trip sponsored by The Rock Church in Fenton
  • White:
    There are plenty of white areas which allow ample prayer time for friends, family and community.
  • Turquoise:
    Our President, congress and senate
  • Apple Green:
    Our US troops and law enforcement officers
  • Light Pink:
    Friends and family of friends battling cancer
  • Silver:
    Praise and thanks for the mercies of God and the salvation gifted to the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If you think you don’t have time to pray, think again. There are so many idle moments that fill our day; opportunities to speak our heart before God even if it’s just an inaudible or whispered prayer. Heartfelt colorful prayers are God’s specialty.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

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THE HOUSE THAT’S NEVER CLEAN

IMG_9214As I survey my house this Mother’s Day morning, it is in total chaos. The grandkids have been here all weekend, and with friends, I might add. Every counter and table is cluttered with things I am working on for Olivia’s birthday party next Saturday, there is the lemonade stand and all the paraphernalia that entails…like cups, coins, candy and, of course, lemonade.

The hardwood floors in the kitchen have crumbs of every sort scattered beneath the counter stools and my back deck is covered with Xploderz pellets the kids shot from their Xploder gun. The laundry room overflows with dirty clothes, breakfast dishes fill the sink and clean clothes are strewn across my bed waiting for someone to fold them.

My daughter and son-in-law will be arriving shortly to spend a few hours with me and I’m not sure where there will sit. Let’s see, between the lemonade stand, art stand, forts that are inside, there are the Xploderz guns, bucket of pellets, new deck shades that need to be installed and flats of flowers that occupy the outdoor space. And we can’t use the front deck because it was just stained and still not dry.

Yet, even with all the chaos that surrounds me, I am happy and content as I watch the grandkids help Poppy wash cars and splash their feet in puddles of soapy water. The squeal of children as they ride bikes, skateboard and jump on pogo sticks is music to the heart.

My house and yard may be in total disarray, but my heart is merry. I regret that I couldn’t embrace this truth when my daughter was the age of my grandkids. She didn’t care if the floors were clean or the dishes were washed. A trip to the park was way more memorable than my obsession with organization and a clean house.

Take time to seize the moment. If your kids or grandkids want you to play, ride bikes or take a trip to the park, do it! When the house is a mess and there is laundry piled to the ceiling that’s the time to hop on a pogo stick, jump on a bike or head to the park with your kids. Life is too short to be obsessed with things that don’t make memories.

Happy Mother’s Day!