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Living generously only happens when we stop trying to be perfect (i.e., seeking the accolades of others) and focus on the perfection of life with Jesus Christ as our center. See my blog at http://www.minnesotamornings.wordpress.com for an Advent message on perfection.

Last Thursday I served a meal at our church for people in our community who use the local foodshelf.

One woman came in slowly, and took me aside with a whispered apology.

“It’s my birthday today and my son is making it really special; he bought tickets to the Science Museum exhibit.  He told me there isn’t time or money to get dinner first, so I should make myself a sandwich.  Do you think I could take a plate to go?”

I helped her pack up a plate for herself and one for her son, and then added:  “I wish I had a piece of cake to give you to make your birthday really special.  Everyone is special on their birthday and they should feel special.”

She let out a small cry and gave me a hard hug and then stepped away quickly with a bit of a bow and an apology for being so forward.  I told her I didn’t mind the hug at all and hoped that she felt blessed on her birthday even without the cake.

“Oh, I really do now!  Thank you for the blessing,” she said and shook my hand.  I pulled her close and gave her another hug before she bounced out the door, her face glowing with delight.  “God bless you all!”

The gift of gratitude.  She brought it.  I received it.  Thank you God!

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

Today’s blog is going to be long, and on a different topic than I often write about.  But, it needs to be written and (I hope) read.

A friend of mine has a child who allegedly committed a criminal act that was published in a local paper.  While as a juvenile he was not identified, the situation is recognizable to those who know their family.  He has disabilities that contributed to his behavior. (While I won’t share details, this was not  against another person.)

My friend called me in tears. She was worried that others would talk about them behind her back and that they would no longer have friends, and she wanted people to understand their situation without having to know all the details. She asked me to tell people that there was more to the story than the few sentences in a local paper.

I expressed my sorrow that she is worried about this. I said while most of our kids don’t commit a crime (or at least don’t get caught), all children make poor decisions at some point in their lives and they all sin. I told her I believe people recognize there are extra struggles for families of children with disabilities and that our friends would show them some grace.

But my friend’s fears are coming true. People are talking behind her back. There are whispers, innuendo, and outright judgements that have left me shaking my head and sometimes shaking with anger. One person who talked to me yesterday went so far as to say she did not want a juvenile delinquent in our neighborhood.  With teen children at her side, she said they weren’t going to be friendly any more.

Our conversation left me at a loss for response and in tears. And facing a harsh reality:  You can’t force another person to show grace, but can only do your part and pray that others soften their thinking.

Social isolation is something that families who have a child with disabilities know all too well.  It is a heartbreak that we who raise kids with disabilities cannot change. Our children, who often act in “socially unacceptable” ways, are social outcasts, judged by society, and bullied by children who follow the example of parents who see nothing wrong with excluding people who are different.

As I thought about this blog, I remembered an incident some 20 years ago that is burned in my heart.  We were leaving church after Confirmation class and our daughter’s stiff gait was mocked by a group of teen girls while their mothers looked on, one even laughing at their antics.  I could not contain my anger, and I approached these mothers, who included the wife of the president of the church council and someone I had known since high school.

“Are none of you going to say something to your daughters?”

The woman who had laughed said, “That girl didn’t see them so there’s no harm in it.  They are just being silly.”

I told her “that girl” was my daughter and that even if my daughter did not see them, I did.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Vicki,” the women I had known for years said with a dismissive wave to me, in front of her daughter and her friends. “These are teen girls. They’re going to act like that and you’ve got to know when to pick your battles.  [Your daughter] didn’t see them, so this one isn’t worth mentioning. There was no damage done.”

So in other words, speaking (or acting) out behind someone’s back is acceptable.

While my experience is as the parent of a kid with a disability, I am guessing it is not unlike those of the poor, minorities, immigrants. I myself have committed the sin of judgement toward people in these populations. I have talked “behind their backs,” made comments, uncomfortably laughed at jokes.   It does not excuse my sin, but I will say that we live in a world that not only tolerates, but sometimes even encourages, social unacceptance of those unlike us.

Where has grace gone?  The grace that reaches out to friends who are wounded and in pain.  Where has grace gone?  The grace that is extended to “the least of these.”  Where has grace gone?  The grace that welcomes and accepts.  Where has grace gone?  The grace that teaches our children how to live a Christ-like existence.

When we speak or act toward another (even behind their backs) without offering encouragement and acceptance, we minimize the life and death of Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate, generous act of grace. Acknowledging God’s unwavering gift to us, how can we turn our backs on others?

I used to use say “I’m a glass half full kinda girl” with great pride. 

However,  these days my cup overflows.

Fact is that my life has always been filled to the brim; it’s just that I didn’t always appreciate all the things that fill it.  

As is our human nature, we separate what we see as good from what we see as bad, and count the “good” and discount the “bad.”   God, however, has amazing plans for every thing, every person, every situation, that comes into our lives.     

When we see our glasses, or lives, as half full, it is often because we lack confidence in God to take bad and make it good; we never see beyond sour grapes, while God has planned a fine wine. 

Remember: Content (as in things that are held or included) and content (as in satisfaction) are the same word!  It’s all in where you put the accent! 

As my friend Jane said after we chatted via Email today, may you learn to be con-tent’ with your con’-tent!

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. — 1 Timothy 6:6-8

The Gift of 24 Hours

How often do we say we wish we had more time?  But, as we are so often reminded, time never changes.  There are always 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 365 days a year.  Hey, wait a minute…

It is Leap Year!  And that means you have the gift of 24 extra hours coming.  (Thank God for small miracles, huh?)

Don’t let Leap Day go by as just another day on the calendar.  Instead, use the gift to bless others.  Whether you look at it as an extra day to serve others, or as a “windfall” of an extra day’s pay, committing it to God will make it a special.

What can you do with your Leap Day gift?  Here are some ideas that will have you leaping into action:

1.  Give a full day’s pay to a worthy cause.  Your church, the local hospital, foodshelf,  your child’s school, the Heart Association, Cancer Society.  The list is endless!

2.  Take the day off work and spend it doing something at home to bless your family.  Prepare a “thanks giving” meal.  Having “thanks giving” on a day when it is unexpected is not just a fun surprise, but will serve as a great reminder to your family that we are blessed year ’round.  And, at the end of the day, they will thank God for you!

3.  Clean out your closets and make a clothing contribution to the Christian Closet, Goodwill, the Salvation Army or other clothing recyclers.

4.  Bake thank you or get well cookies with your kids (there are frog-shaped cookie cutters available to make them true “leap” cookies) and deliver them to people you wish to thank, or to people in our (your) congregation on the prayer list.

5.   Pick up a few small bouquets of flowers and deliver them to the chaplain at the local hospital with notes that say, “Jesus loves you.”  Ask that they be delivered to people who are on a long hospital stay and could use a pick-me-up.

6.  Visit KIVA (www.kiva.com) to learn about microloans for small businesses in 3rd world countries.  A $25 loan is all it takes to join a team of supporters of people who want to change their own lives through hard work.

7.  Make and deliver a meal for a family in your neighborhood that has been hit by unemployment.  Or invite them to break bread at your table.

8.  Bring an “anonymous” gift of money to your church and give it to the pastor, asking that it be given to a family in need.  You would be surprised how many families in your congregation are struggling to make ends meet.

9.  February is I Love to Read month.  Volunteer to read to children at your child’s (or grandchild’s) school, at a local preschool, or invite a few neighborhood kids to your house for a reading party. 

10.  While February 29 is booked at Feed My Starving Children, “bank” a few hours and sign up www.fmsc.org for another shift.  Or, pack sandwiches for 363 Days (www.363days.org).  Contact me via Email and I will make sure they are delivered. 

Don’t like any of my ideas?  I am sure you have many of your own.  If you don’t, you have an extra 24 hours to think about it!

Blessings on your Leap Day.  Now, get hopping, and get serving!

 
Each of us has the opportunity every day to make a decision — Who will I love more, myself or my neighbor?  We are called to sacrificial giving, to love our fellow man as much as we love self.  How often do we make the wrong decision out of selfishness, fear of the future or skepticism of another’s need?

As we are ready to open the door on a new year, it is the perfect time to realign some of our life’s priorities.  It doesn’t take much to make a big difference to someone else.

Tomorrow, choose one small thing that you can do to save some of the resources God has given you to be used on another.   And then, on Monday, repeat.  And so on and so on.  A little drop a day will make a big splash over time!

What can you do?  Here are some ideas:  

  • Eat one less lunch out each week.  With that savings, you can support a child through Compassion International this year. 
  • Get your haircut every 8 weeks instead of 6.   Each skipped salon cut (for women) will support a microloan to someone in a third world country through Kiva (www.kiva.com).  A skipped barber appointment (for men) will buy a week’s worth of meals at the Dorothy Day Center through Loaves and Fishes (www.loavesandfishes.org).
  • Skip a half hour of TV watching and make 50 bologna sandwiches with your family for 363 Days (www.363days.org).
  • Put off that shopping trip for a new car a couple more months and use the interest you saved to support a program at your kids’ school.
  • Instead of an expensive theater night, make your own drama with friends’ Game Night Pictionary.  Ask everyone to donate the money that would have been spent on the theater or concert and support a missionary for a month!

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day.  Time to cast off the old, put on the new.  What are you going to do with your new beginning?

A Little Kindness

I had an “unkind” morning.  I won’t go into details, but let me just say I felt like a whipped puppy by 9:30 a.m.  It all melted away over lunch with a dear, sweet friend who is the model of kindness.

We have had a tough few years at our house.  Bruce’s cancer followed by gall bladder surgery and pancreatitis.  A two-month hiatus before my own cancer.  And now, we’re facing surgery for our daughter.  I will spend a couple of weeks in the hospital with her followed by several weeks at home. 

Through it all we have been blessed by the kindness of friends, family, and sometimes people who are nearly strangers to us.  Flowers on the kitchen table, a freshly mowed lawn, a basket of clean laundry, a pan of bars, dishes of lasagna, a spotless kitchen, cards, letters, phone calls and visits, lots of hugs, kind words, sometimes delivered with sympathetic tears.  And prayer.  While the world has been unkind to us, these little acts of kindness have made up for that, and  then some.

I told my friend I feel a little guilty accepting all that kindness when there are so many people experiencing “unkind” days.  You see, our struggles are very open, very public.  And people have gone out of their way to make life a little easier.  And life is a little easier when the world is kind.

But, what about your neighbor whose child is doing poorly at school and who spends hours at the kitchen table over homework, at school with teachers, in therapy offices?  Or your sister, who is a single mom struggling to make ends meet while jugging two jobs and two kids?  Your co-worker whose marriage is on the rocks and who goes home at night not knowing if his wife will still be there?   When your life is teetering on the edge, an unkind morning can send your spirits crashing.  I know.  I was there this morning.

It’s a good day to show a little kindness to someone in need.  You can be assured there is someone in your neighborhood, your family or your workplace who could greatly use a little kindness.  It might take a little intuition, or a little “nosiness,” or God’s urging,  to figure out who that would be.  Or, go ahead and step out and bless someone just “because.”  It doesn’t have to be anything big.  We’re talking about a little kindness, not necessarily a four-course meal! 

Chances are whoever you touch has had at least a moment of unkindness very recently. And a little kindness will go a long way to remind them that within this crazy, unkind world is a God who loves them.

“To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” — Mark 12:23

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