Celebratory beans

…these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer…” Isaiah 56:7

She was rather quiet. She had come with her older sister, mother and father.  Her sister had visited us multiple times before with her Girl Scout troop.  I quickly greeted them and encouraged the eldest to go ahead and teach her family how to build a basket. I knew she had built them well in the past, and was confident she would do a great job in instructing them.

IMG_8013The rule goes that before candy is placed in a basket, I take a quick look to make sure nothing more is needed.  That way, the candy does not fall to the bottom when, and if, adjustments are made.  And that is when I met her.  She promptly, and rather quickly, appeared with a basket ready to be checked.  Quiet and hesitant she waited for my approval.  I checked a few things and off she went to get the candy.

IMG_8007Hardly saying a word, another basket appeared. Then another. She had gotten the hang of it and was eagerly building at a pace that was quick and steady. Each time I snapped a photo of her finished basket, she would quietly take it back into her hands and smile a little smile. Because she was so quiet, I wasn’t 100% sure how she felt about building. Most kids love to tell me all their thinking that went into the basket’s creation, but this young lady did not. And that was more than okay as each personality is its own.

IMG_7993It was later in the session when I saw the mom and two daughters with their baskets lined up by each other’s.  They were putting their candy in them and admiring each other’s work. All of sudden I saw it. The magic and delight that normally bubbles out of a soul building a basket.

You see, we have the great wall of candy in our basement. It is an awe inspiring thing to see in person, not that the pictures aren’t cool! And though, it is this immense amount of chocolate, sweet and savory bits of delight, it is not for the builders tIMG_7799o eat. In fact, we have a sign made up telling them why it is not okay to eat the candy that is donated. And most don’t. But we know how hard it is to work alongside a bunch of candy and never eat any so we place little bowls of jelly beans on our tables that the builders can munch on.

It was there that I saw a spoon rise in the air in a grand, waving-like gesture and heard her words right out happily, “A celebratory bean for finishing!” She gracefully offered one to her mom and sister with a slight giggle and a bright-eyed smile on her face. They each partook of her offer with more laughter and smiles.

I, too, had to chuckle. Utter delight and brilliant satisfaction at a job well done. Excitement and a beautiful desire to share with those we love all wrapped up in the pleasure of a simple jelly bean. The topping to a wonderful evening that had clearly filled her heart with overflowing joy!

Celebratory beans, indeed!

…for My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7

 

 

 

Dream big

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”  Joel 2:28

It just so happened that I had a quick moment to check his basket. When our builders arrive, I give those who are new a tour and then teach them how to build a basket. The builders who have built before get to skip the instructional and begin building as soon as they arrive. This young man had done just that. He was waiting patiently for me, as I finished, to check his basket to see if he could get candy for it.

As I moved a few things around and told him how much I loved the items he had picked out for the boy, age 11-12, he started talking. With a great amount of excitement and pleasure, he said, “Do you want to know what my theme is for this basket? Well, I am going to tell you about the theme that helped me build this basket.”  He was so proud of what he had come up with: “Dream big! I just think if we are going to dream, we should dream big, and I want him to know that!”  He then explained almost every detail to the basket.  Why he had picked the toys and how they represented his theme.  Then he moved onto the books, how he had read them and had enjoyed them so much.  Each element he joyfully pointed to with a quick explanation as to its relevance; all of them supporting the idea to dream wonderfully big dreams.

It was a tad bit ironic that this young man was speaking to me about dreaming big because I had just read an interesting devotional. In it, it spoke of how God had promised to give the Israelites whatever land their feet walked upon, back in the days before entering the promised land. The devotional pointed out that God’s intention was to give them the breadth and scope of where they were willing to walk, but the promise was dependent on their willingness to actually take the necessary steps. Consequently, they were limited to where their feet were willing to go. It turns out that they never took the full breadth and scope of what was available to them. Where they failed to step, they did not receive. I remember being intrigued by the idea that we may–often limited by fears–take less than God actually intends for us to receive.

As fate would have it, without even looking for it, I came across that Scripture just a few days later.  It was in the book of Joshua.

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”  Joshua 1:3

You see, it was already given to them ahead of time, it was just that they had to take possession of it. They were not even in the land that was promised to them when God gave this assurance to Joshua. Instead, God was encouraging them before hand–about a place that was only a dream in their hearts at that moment–with the divine support that every place you will tread, I have already planned to give to you. Imagine that! God wants us to dream big and trust bigger. Getting to a land of their own was a dream come true. Being free from bondage and oppression was almost too much to believe in. But there is a simple truth locked up in those words God gave to Joshua: for dreams to become a reality, a step (or leap) of faith is required. Most dreams stay dreams because the person never makes an advancement or movement towards bringing them into fruition.

And that, my friends, has pretty much been how this outreach has evolved. On Monday night, a pair of moms were placing candy in their well-designed baskets when one spoke up and said, “I think I need to up my game with my own baskets.  My baskets get a few pieces of candy tossed in there haphazardly.”  We all laughed, and I reassured her that I have heard that several times before from other parents. I believe that it is good for others to be inspired to make something they can give even more delightful. Most people see the detail, the fullness, and the beauty of these baskets. By them, they can see the goodness of God and are inspired by our initial dream of providing help to another parent and child that might not have anything on Easter morning. A dream that seemed impossible because we had very little concrete funds and no real way to generate them. But all along, God has said, “Don’t worry about numbers. Don’t worry about giving less or having enough. Dream big and take the necessary steps forward. I will meet you there. Do as I ask and I will provide in ways that you cannot imagine.”

We did and He has. A small group of moms and families who reached out, in the beginning, to other moms, families and individuals, who were so glad to spread the word. We searched out our closets, basements and homes for things that we could easily give to bring another joy while not necessarily costing us anything out of pocket. God taught and instilled in us a desire to bless another with the blessings He had already given us that we were no longer using. We prayed asking God to fill in where we could not, and He has faithfully done so in support of this dream. And yes, in ways we could not have even imagined in those first steps forward…

Funny thing is, it is not just our dream.  There are parents laying awake at night–this very night–wondering how they can possibly bring together some semblance of a basket for their child who is dreaming of Easter in the other room. There are lonely hearts of adults and teens dreaming that they might somehow, someway be special to another. There are children, who have met us before, hoping in their dreams to see us again this season. A land of dreams God is so willing to reach out and fulfill if only we are willing to step out and do what we can to build these baskets…

As the young man continued to espouse why he believed it was so important to dream big, I smiled and said, from the depth of my soul, I truly understood the message he hoped to convey…

“Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”  Joshua 1:2

Stories to share

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“Praise the Lord, all nations!  Extol Him, all peoples!  For great is His steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 117

Throughout the Easter building season, we are frequently assessing and adjusting how the system works.  We pray asking God to inspire our minds, open our eyes and show us where things can get better.  We also ask God to help us see and hear the stories that show His grace, His mercy, His movement, His instruction and His way during this outreach that He has called us to do. May you, too, be blessed by what we see and hear.

A new way to store.

“You have loosed my bonds.”  Psalm 116:16

Most of our toys come with parts and pieces. Over the years, we have employed the use of Ziplocs to contain a toy and its pieces together. Placed inside the appropriate sized Ziploc, the zipper is sealed shut and the toy goes into its respective toy bin so that it may be selected by a builder for a basket. The general rule is that the toys come out of those well-used and quite ugly little bags before the toy goes into the Easter basket. The bag is then deposited on a table to be moved later into a storage container that allows it to be reused. While practical, there are times when it would be nice to store some of the parts in something that looks nicer and can be left in the baskets. Sometimes we are blessed with over-sized plastic eggs, but often times, the awkward shape prevents us from using them.

Over the summer, my neighbor, who helps build baskets frequently during the building season, mentioned to me an idea that was brewing in her mind.  One that she was sure I could relate to. You see, her sons had outgrown their Legos. She, in turn, had tons of them. In her mind, she could see young boys being thrilled to receive Legos, but wasn’t so sure how to package them as the packaging had long been discarded. I nodded my head. My son, too, had outgrown his beloved Legos and I had a room full of them that I no longer knew what to do with. I acknowledged that it would be a great idea for the baskets if we could just find some way to contain them nicely. Her words were, “Let me think about it!”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, during one of our builds, my neighbor came in carrying a large container.  As she opened it, there sat all these beautiful packages of Legos. They looked like they had come from the Lego store.  Nicely packaged in clear cellophane that was sealed shut.  There were close to 100 of these little bags.  I took one in my hand and stood there in awe as she explained that she had found the bags on Amazon and had spent her evenings with a cup in hand IMG_7798filling each bag as she watched her television shows.  She would add a Lego guy and fold over the self-seal on the bag, and there you go, an awesome way to contain Legos.

Within an instant, I could see how many other things could fit in those little bags. Before the day was done, I had ordered some. Now some of the loose puzzles (that have all their pieces) no longer have to be stored in torn boxes or bags. A young man found a toy with extra balls that belonged with it, and out came a clear, self-sealing bag to hold them together in the basket. All of a sudden, the gently-used toys were looking excitingly refreshed. And all from the inspiration of a mom trying to find a way to bless others with what they are no longer using!

A way to honor.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15

Because life involves change, it is not uncommon for us to meet new people who are in the midst of a major, life-shifting transition.  Grief, from the passing of a loved one, is something we see frequently. Mostly in subtle references and a tenderness that alerts us to the presence of a loss.

Helping another is often balm for an aching soul.  I believe it is, in part, what draws others to what we do. An ointment of good will, kindness and purpose gently soothes the ache of a broken heart.  Even if only for a few moments, the distraction of aiding another can refresh the eyes and ears and mind to the idea that life can involve good even in the midst of great pain.

So it was when I met this volunteer earlier this season. She came alongside us to help in any way she could. In fact, that is what I heard her say the most, “Any way that I can help.” She has helped sort. She has grassed baskets. She has done an assortment of things that we have needed.

And one evening she came to build baskets for teens and adults with her daughter.  As they were leaving, she held a box of Girl Scout cookies in her hands while we chatted. Her daughter explained that her mom had intended to use them to build a basket for her husband. He had passed away unexpectedly just a few months before. The cookies were his favorite. As they shared, smiles returned to their faces as they reminisced about his favorite things including the things he could no longer have because of his health concerns.

As the mom left, she waved the box and said she’d be back to make him a basket. Two nights later, she returned. It turned out, as God would have it, that it was just her and her daughter building in that area. While I was working in the basement, the daughter joined our build down there and I asked about her mom. She said that she was finishing up her dad’s basket.

It was later that night after everyone left that I looked for his basket. I knew it would have a box of Girl Scout cookies in it, thus, making it easy to spot. Sure enough it did, but I was also surpriseIMG_7476d to see so much more. There were quite a few goodies tucked into this basket; my guess all of them being his favorites or what she felt represented his presence in her life. Goodies that we didn’t have and she must have gone out shopping to get.

I find it interesting the diversity by which God uses this outreach to touch hearts. Some are moved because of the magnitude of what they see and the little bit by which they can explain it. Others are touched because they, too, were once in need and know just how much help can mean to another soul down on their luck. Some just want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves; something that impacts their community. Still others come, torn by despair and hurt, because they realize that hope is one of the most powerful tools of encouragement this world holds. And then there are those whose grief guides them towards trying to stop the pain in another even though they cannot stop the pain within themselves. Each of them tended to by our Shepherd’s loving hand, brought for a different purpose, but no less important than the next.

It was over that basket that I smiled and prayed a little wish…that it touch the soul of the one receiving as much as it has already touched the soul of her husband in heaven.

Longing.

“Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.'” Psalm 118:3

I hear this comment quite frequently though it comes in different forms. No matter the form of how it is stated, it represents the same thing: a simple longing.

On one Wednesday evening, not too long ago, we had an assembly that was a little less than half full of builders.  While a fully loaded assembly yields lots of baskets, a smaller one gives me a little more one-on-one contact with the builders. A time to hear a little more of their stories.

In this session, there was a mom who brought three older boys. All of them were at an age where they could build independent of her guidance, and each embarked on building their own baskets.  I checked in frequently with her youngest son as the others built.  Before any basket gets candy in it, I take a peek at it to make sure–as best as I can–that it has all that it needs from our system. That gateway measure before the candy goes in applies to all those building, not just the young. Adults too, as most of us have imperfect memories.

IMG_7490And so, the mom offered me her first basket to check.  A beautiful pink one with some very cute stuffed animals. She was giddy over it. The second one, too, had a lot of pink and sweet items for a little girl.  By the third one, she exclaimed, “I can’t help myself.  I have to make girl baskets because I have all boys!!  It is my way of living vicariously through these baskets in having a girl!” I know she thought I had marked her as crazy, but I understood.  Being in a house with all boys; the ache that sometimes occurs for a little girl. Not that I don’t love my boys, I do. Nor would I trade a single one of them for a girl, I wouldn’t. But sometimes, in those dreams we conjure up in our heads, there are visions of a pink little world of sweetness…which leads me to my last story.

A shelf and a half high.

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.” Psalm 116:5

Not too long before my son was born, we were blessed with nieces. Actually it was the great delight of my first niece that inspired my husband and I to have a child. It was the amazing love we felt for her that coaxed us into the idea of having one of our own, and it is a choice we are so glad that we made.

On my side of the family, most of the children are in close proximity of age. A few years ago, as the children all began to span into the teens, my brother had his son. A new baby in the family where the baby stage had long passed. We all cooed and cuddled him as best as we could. And then much to everyone’s one shock, a few years later, my sister and her husband found out that they were expecting.

Not too long ago, a sweet little girl came into our lives. One whose eyes sparkle with delight, one whose mind is constantly thinking, and one who I knew would not sit still when she could finally move those hands and feet! She has been a bundle of love and sweetness since the moment of her birth, and the same delight–that has rushed over us with all the others–has returned again.

And so on Friday night of this last week, my sister and her family came down to help wrap baskets during our assemblies. Her little one is now fully mobile. She’s about a shelf and a half high. As this young age so often does, she tends to forget that the basement door, on the main level of our house, is the gateway to all the fun. So I have been slowly teaching her that the door IMG_7799leads to a place of wonder. Once on the ground in the basement, she literally runs from one end to the other. She stops at the candy shelves enthralled, not so much by the candy, but by all of the colors and shapes.  She loves the Easter eggs, though we gently remind her that you cannot throw them. How could she not think those semi-ball shaped, multi-colored, just-in-her reach, eggs were not meant to be tossed for someone to fetch? And how cool is it that they spring open upon hitting the ground to release a bunch of smaller little balls (jelly beans) that are hurriedly being picked up by all the adults??

From there, she runs past all of the stuffed animals that are right at eye level for her, occasionally picking out one to hold. Often, she will find Mark or I and throw her arms up in the air to be lifted high and hugged. Then down she goes as she is off to see more of this great adventure land. And when the time comes to rest for a few moments, we take a toy out of the toy bin for her to sit and play with. She can make just about anyone smile and laugh with her adorable cuteness.

As the evening moved along, she began to rub her tired eyes. Still hurrying around, and venturing between upstairs and down, she was soaking in the all excitement of an assembly. When her mom told her that it was time to go, I asked for a hug from the bottom of the stairs. She leaned over her mom’s shoulder as far as she could, and I took her into my arms and carried her up the rest of the way.

When we got to the top of the stairs, her mom brought her coat to wrap her in and my niece turned away.  It just so happened that, at the same time with her in my arms, I was shutting the door to the basement when she clearly stated, “No!” and reached for the door handle to open it back up. From there, she began to cry in utter dismay at the idea of leaving. While my heart felt for my sister having to endure a melt down, I must admit I found great encouragement in the sheer joy she was having, such that she hated to leave.

Later the next day, my sister texted that she stopped crying once in the car. Much to both of our surprise, she didn’t fall asleep on the hour long car ride home. She chatted excitedly the whole way. From what I have heard from so many of our volunteers whose children can’t stop talking about building baskets, I imagine she was telling them–in her own little language–just how much fun she had that night while we built baskets.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 118:1

What counts at this time of year…

“And they answered Joshua, ‘All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.'”  Joshua 1:16

img_3549As this season moves on, seeing the sea of billowing baskets growing can be an overwhelming experience. Shiny cellophane encapsulating beautiful pieces of love built by human hands. Piles steadily rising in every space possible. It is often astonishing to the heart and the mind. In amazement, it literally causes many to gasp or exclaim excitedly their awe.

It was after the first season of building, when we had decided to make collecting items and assembling baskets a yearly outreach, that some people became insistent that we should be counting the number of baskets being built. Their logic seemed reasonable, and so that season I put out a pad of paper, near what was then our wrapping area, for people to jot down how many baskets they had wrapped.

It failed miserably. We would get busy building and wrapping, and the next thing we would know, none of us could remember whether we had counted baskets, where it had left off, or who had left a check mark. I tried moving the pad around to other spots, but it just didn’t work. Plus something didn’t feel right.

Yet the chorus grew: “You have to know!  You should want to know!!  It is crucial in knowing; it will help you to go further.” But I started to ask, “Is it really that important? Would it really aid us, and if so, how?” What was the purpose of having to know, especially since a final goal has never really been a part of what we do anyways? God has always led us to hearts in need as this outreach has expanded. Our goal has simply been to make them as well as possible, and when that possibility stops, we stop.

So, I took away the note pad. I found the courage to say, “It just doesn’t work to count.  We don’t.” And I left it at that. Following the nudge in my heart, I became okay with defending the idea, though I couldn’t explain it, that we don’t count baskets as we make them.

Then one day, as I was pondering the never-ending cry to count baskets that I was hearing, I opened my Bible to a story that I had heard of but hadn’t thought of in quite some time. It was King David. Before him had been a time of many victories, and yet, David decided to count his army. His top adviser had warned him of the sin in doing so, but David did not listen. His pride had gotten the best of him. He wanted to know just how great his army was (his “pile” of soldiers) and insisted it be done. But understand, he didn’t need to know…for his victories were never dependent on his numbers but rather God being with him.

God’s initial instructions to the Israelites were that they rely upon Him. Not their numbers, not their chariots, not their horses. It wasn’t the size of the army they had, for Gideon was able to defeat their enemies with just 300 men–after dismissing thousands who were unwilling to take a stand. David knew this, and so, when he found himself enticed with the desire to know just how great his army was, he was no longer following God to His glory, but focusing on his own.

img_4251It was at that moment that I found myself deeply humbled and thanking God for thwarting our ability to count and giving me the courage to turn away from what everyone else was demanding.  I understood more clearly that if we focused on counting the number of baskets we built, numbers would become the almighty goal. We would grow prideful in our strength and less acknowledging of God’s. Rather, by not counting, we were driven to trust Him and build with love instead of in pride.

That is what I tell those that come.  Those who see those massive piles of shimmering baskets that excite the eyes. While it looks like a lot, and is, there is no pressure to build as many as possible. If they take the whole ninety minutes to build just one, that is okay because we trust there is a reason that basket (and soul receiving) needs so much time, attention and love. Hence, we encourage the basket builders to take their time and build with as much love and detail as they can. And that is where we often see a light bulb go off and shoulders relax.  The pressure is off to individually add another foot to the Easter basket pile.

And so it was with a mom and friend who came to build one afternoon. Being of an organized and efficient background, she was ready to get on task and build as many as possible. You know, really be “helpful” to our outreach!  As I gave them a tour and gently explained the story of why we don’t count, she listened but said little.  When we began to build, she became enthralled with doing so. Her baskets turned out over-the-top beautiful!

When the time drew to a close, she shared that hearing the message that she didn’t need to worry about the numbers she could build had released her from feeling the img_7185pressure to produce. Without the pressure, she was able to truly focus on searching for what might be inspiring to another. Before she knew it, she was loving the whole experience.

In great joy, she exclaimed, “I hope they love these baskets as much as I have loved putting them together!” I smiled and shared that I had no doubt they would. It was in that moment, some nine years later, that I saw the seed of that message really hit home in releasing the pressure of doing the most and replacing it with just the simple and wonderful delight of being able to build. That serving God shouldn’t be about numbers and self-glory, but rather driven by love, kindness, excitement, prudence, diligence and doing the best that you can with what He brings. Allowing happiness and contentment to reign over the desire to compete and do more. Focusing with humble amazement on the beauty of what is before you, rather than running after what may, or may not, lie ahead.

As I sat there, many years ago, looking at David’s story, I decided to look up the word “count” just to see if there was something more than what I understood on its face. Much to my surprise and relief, I learned that the antonym to count is “estimate”. It was what we have been doing since I have taken away the note pad…estimating. I remember feeling a sigh of relief and a newfound dose of courage. Estimating allows us to have an idea of what we have so that we can reach out to others as a season develops. Yet, it keeps us from becoming focused on what our hands, what our “numbers”, can accomplish. It leads us back, time and again, to relying on God rather than ourselves. It quietly holds the numbers in the background and directs the goal to being about what is inside those baskets rather than how tall the shiny pile of cellophane becomes.

Less pressure to build the “most”, we have learned, brings the greatest joy to the soul serving as well as the one receiving…

“Be strong and courageous, for you will cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them.”  Joshua 1: 6img_4898

Sweet Happenings

img_5863“For it is You who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”  Psalm 18:28

It occurred to me recently that I am really fortunate to see the beautiful light that is in our world. Now, being in Michigan, it is especially nice to see the sun during the winter months as it is a bit of a gamble.  We usually have a lot of cloudiness.  Maybe that is why FBF’s Easter Basket Collection comes with such anticipation. Bright and warm light that radiates not from the orange glow in the sky that creates day and reflects on the moon at night; rather the light that comes from kindness, generosity, steadfastness, faithfulness, diligence, creativity, courage, and hope. Those things, my friends, we see often during this outreach.

So I thought, maybe this year, I would try harder to share those stories with you.  The ones I have been given the opportunity to see and hear. May you, in turn, be inspired and strengthened by the radiance of those who have brightened our winter days…

Candy Help

After Valentine’s, we–thanks be to God for bringing the funds–go out and buy discounted Valentine’s candy that goes on clearance at various stores.  We are usually looking for deals at or better than 70% off. By doing this, we save a bunch of money and do not have to store it long term as it generally goes right into the system and out into the baskets.No automatic alt text available.

Quite a few years back, a gal came.  She loves to organize and is very efficient at it. One year, she was able to set up a collection of candy at her sons’ school.  Because she was picking it up there, she offered to sort any of our incoming candy. Now my sister works at a bakery and had access to food-safe buckets that she cleaned and brought to us as it was a shame they were being tossed out.  The buckets ended up working well for holding our extra candy until we need it.

This year, as I came across a great deal and a great deal of candy, I posted the photos of the find on our Facebook page.  Within short order, there was a comment from our “candy organizer” asking if she could come help sort it.  The ironic part was  she had crossed my mind in a passing thought as I finished unloading the candy into the garage.  I had to laugh when I saw her comment less than fifteen minutes later.  Clearly, God had brought the need for it to be processed to both of minds at almost the same time!

So less than 24 hours later, as the stars shown bright above, we stood together looking into my garage.  Inside were all these nicely sorted candy buckets gleaming in the bright light coming down from the ceiling, and she said, with Image may contain: dessert and foodan emphasis on commitment, “That’s my job!  I wanted to make sure I got to do this.”  I chuckled as I had received other offers to help, but I suspected she wouldn’t need any assistance. Her methods and joy for doing this volunteer job radiates brightly.  Before we knew it, all of the packaged candy was sorted and ready to go! That, indeed, lightens our load and makes the system move more efficiently when we refill the candy bins.

Longing to come

It is a theme I have heard for quite some time.  “Theme” as I hear it, from young and old alike, over and over again.  I am not only hearing what they say but also how they say. A deep, heart felt conveyance of how much joy they find in being a part of FBF’s Easter outreach.

Thrilled to return.  A young lady who started coming in her teens was able to participate a few Fridays ago. She now lives in a different town as she is in college.  Having just moved recently, she shared how excited she was that it worked out for her to come back.  In her voice and on her face, I could trace the sincerity of her statements back to her heartfelt excitement to be here.  The light of her love for this outreach exuded from her inner being, and encouraged my heart to remember that God is doing so much more than just having us build baskets!

Growing up but not away.  We around surrounded by neighbors, most of whom have children.  Over the years, as they have grown, this outreach has become a fun event that many of them participate in.  Sometimes they build; lots of times they carry down donations and up baskets.  A couple of them have taken part so much that I actually have them help me in supervising or training new builders.  And sometimes, they just like to come and talk…to in the midst of the action and excitement.

As this season began to build steam, one of our neighbor boys came in. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, but as I was taking pictures of basket, I caught a glimpse of someone waiting for me.  I turned, and there he stood with a big smile on his face.  I told him how glad I was to see him, and he said, ever so sweetly, “I am so happy it has started!  It is so good to be here.”  Now, my friends, that is coming out of a teen’s mouth and it was music to my ears.  I gave him a quick hug and said, “I know. Me too.”

Walking the dog.  With this nice weather, my husband and I ventured out for a walk.  As we strolled along the sidewalk, a family was approaching. One of their children was quite ahead of them on the walk way.  He was on his bicycle when I saw him stop and wait.  I thought he was just being polite and waiting for us to pass, but as we got closer, he called out, “I am coming to your house on Friday night!!”  A big smile on his face.

I said, “You are?!  How great!  We can’t wait to see you.”  My husband and I both smiled as we stopped to chat with him.  His mom and him have been coming to help with Christmas and Easter for the last couple of seasons.  It was funny to see just how delighted he was to tell us he was coming back to help!  I could tell he could hardly wait.  A little confirmation of the warm light that stays in hearts long after they leave…

Staying true to commitment in the face of adversity

A family was set to come one Saturday morning.  The mom had signed up to bring cookies for the volunteers.  On Thursday night before that day, an email arrived from that mom. Her family had come down sick with the flu, their dog was in the emergency room, and she just couldn’t find time to bake cookies.  She had taken them off of the Saturday signup so as to not pass on what some of them were getting.

But…she didn’t want to let us down.  So she drove to a local grocery store and bought cookies so that we would still have some, but not run the risk of infection.  Her note finished by letting me know they were hanging on our front door.  I emailed her back thanking her for being so kind when she had all the reasons to back out of baking.

It is amazing to me to think on all the different things light can do.  It can help us see.  It can brighten our days and hearts. It helps us take in nutrients we absolutely need. It can refresh what seems to be darkened.  t can make life easier in general as being able to see makes life move with greater ease. It can act like in a way that zeros in on something, much like a spot light, that may need to be corrected or adjusted or identified. But it can also be warm and endearing, and that was what her faithfulness was–so very heart warming.

Giving what she could

A grandmother and granddaughter started coming last Easter to help make baskets.  If I remember correctly, it was towards the end of the outreach.  Their eyes were so huge when they stepped into the basement, and their faces twinkled with joy during building.  They came back again at Christmas and helped build our Christmas baskets.  Then again, when we began prepping for Easter.

This time, when the granddaughter came in the front door, she held several Easter buckets in her hands.img_2116  Inside of them were coloring books and a puzzle.  She tentatively waited for me to stop greeting them when her grandmother encouraged her to tell me what she did. Her face lit up as she told me how she used her own money and went to the Dollar store to buy some of the things we needed.  I smiled and thanked her for her willingness and kindness for others.

As we went downstairs, I asked her if she would like to help put them into the system. She eagerly nodded her and then took the baskets over to be grassed.  She added in the coloring books to their shelves.  I was able to speak with her a bit, before others arrived, about how when we all do what we can, it is amazing what can happen!  If you could see how incredibly kind most kids are when given the chance, you would be so very encouraged.  How eager they are to help, even at the youngest ages.

It is in these stories that I find nourishment, strength and hope for our world.  It is, in fact, where you can see the light that brightens our world the best…

“Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in Him!  Let all the upright in heart exult!”  Psalm 64:10

 

Through the eyes of a child

It was one of our last times to assemble Christmas bags for our Just 4 One Christmas outreach. We normally would have an abundance of volunteers wanting to help in the Christmas workshop, but that evening, it was just a mom and her young son.

img_1859As I welcomed them into the house and encouraged them to leave their winter gear upstairs, the young lad had difficulty taking off his coat.  His mother tried to help him get both arms out of the sleeves when the impediment became clear.  In his hands were a bunch of pages.  He held onto them tightly and didn’t want to let go.

Now we see children bring all sorts of things so I didn’t think too much of it.  She quietly helped him work his arms out of his sleeves while he moved the papers back and forth between his hands. As they worked together, I smiled and told them that I remembered them from the last Easter season.  She returned the smile and nodded.

After chatting for a brief moment, we ventured down to the workshop.  I showed them the Christmas system and talked with them about what they would be helping us with.  I spoke of how there are many souls in this world, sometimes within our own families and friends even our neighbors, who could use some extra encouragement. Not all are struggling with financial difficulties as sometimes hard times can come from loss, sickness, loneliness, depression and other emotional reasons that make the holidays a bit more dim for the soul wrestling with the more serious side of life.

The yoimg_1850ung lad stood there listening intently, gripping the sheets of paper.  He moved them in his hands, and I began to wonder what he had.  He couldn’t have been more than in first or second grade, probably between seven and eight years of age.  I thought maybe it was homework or an assignment that he had to finish.  As I asked them if they were ready to begin, his mom encouraged him to show me what he had brought.

While he seemed a little nervous to let go of his treasure, he was so very eager to show me. I could tell from the seriousness on his face that it was important to him.  As he reached out with his pages, he told me that he had written a story about making Easter baskets.  I began to smile.

You see, many years ago, as parents and grandparents began to hear about what we do, families started coming together–parent and children; grandparent and grandchild; sometimes three generations–to build baskets.  And we realized something quite incredible was happening in the hearts of both the young and old:  belief growing in their hearts that they could make a difference in the life of another in a very tangible and real way.

I believe it was six or seven years ago when my husband and I talked about a suggestion from someone that we move the outreach to somewhere else so it could grow “bigger”.  To my delight, my husband was also seeing what I was seeing–hearts being touched that regular people in a regular home in a regular town were helping other regular people. There was no corporate feel; no lights going off in industrial building so we could go home. We were already there.  It was then that we began to understand God was doing as much in the hearts of those coming to help as He was in those being helped.  He was teaching hearts willing to see that serving Him, and others, can co-exist in the regular hours that are lived everyday.  That our ordinary lives hold extraordinary potential if we just trust Him with it.

img_6224I told the young lad that I would read his story over very carefully. His mom spoke of how he had not been able to stop talking about making the baskets since they had left that Easter. He loved to tell others about what he experienced. When the school assignment came, he knew for sure what he wanted to write about…making Easter baskets.  She smilingly told me, “We are still working on spelling so we might have to help you translate some of the words.”  But I assured them I would be able to figure the words out and I did…with no problem.

Not only did he have to write a story, but he also had to draw pictures of how he saw what he was writing about.  Each page had a box where he colored a scene from his adventure. From driving over in the car with his mom to learning about how to make baskets to building one to returning home.  In joy, he detailed all the instructions I had given them (him and his mom) when I taught them how to build a basket together.  He remembered all the “ingredients” of what needed to go into each basket, and he nicely drew those components in his illustrations.

img_6225As they started to work on building their Christmas bag, I told him how touched I was by his story–how special it was to me.  I asked his mom if I could take pictures of it to share with you all as Easter started; to tell the story of how this young boy was so deeply touched by helping another. She eagerly agreed and he looked thrilled.  I had looked at the pictures of his story often in the end of our December as a reminder for all the moments when I can’t see how much another heart has been impacted. I wish I had the pictures to share but a computer issue has left me with his pages only etched in my mind.

More times than not we see their stories, just not written down in print. They come. They walk in the door and look around at a foyer probably not all to different from the one they have at home or enter to get to home. They look into the lit room adjacent to our foyer and see two normal couches and a chair.  They peer through the foyer to a kitchen table and realize there’s a normal kitchen somewhere not too far from where they are. And as they head downstairs, they descend down on old basement steps just as so many basements hold…maybe with just a few extra pictures of kids with baskets hanging on the walls.

img_2119And then they turn the corner.  Their eyes grow more wide open, and they see that while they are somewhere that feels similar to what they know, it now looks very different.  It’s a basement, but not like one they have seen before.  The same type of space, and yet excitingly new. We see the look. So many of them have been told they are too young, too inexperienced, too immature, too unable, too uncreative, too much of a lay person, worse yet, not welcome…to help another who has a need.  But they stand there about to embark on a journey of learning that they are more than able…

We see their eyes begin to twinkle with a fire. We see their ears tune in to just what they need to do in order to make their basket convey excitement, love and caring.  We see their attention to detail rise and their creativity blossom.  We perceive their tentativeness and uncertainty as they begin, and then, as hope nurtures, we see their capability grow and bloom with gentle, instructive feedback and carefully laid out guidelines.  We watch them shed the expectation that the world so often demands–that they accomplish as much as they can in the shortest time possible by focusing on the end result and not worrying about the process.  We encourage them to embrace our golden rule that we don’t count baskets and we don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.  We just ask that they build each basket with as much love as they can.  That how they go about building, the process, is what makes the end result so incredible.

We watch encouragement and support be extended frequently since competition really has no place here.  Everyone is trying to do their very best, and does not have to be concerned with what another is building.  img_2891We see their focus honed as they devise themes and details in a way that creates something crazy beautiful. We listen intently as they eagerly tell us how and what they were thinking with every little item they put into their basket.  And then we see their hearts and their faces reflect a genuine joy and satisfaction that they, often alongside their parent, have created something that will make another child feel loved and happy.

We see them. Their stories. The making of their memory photos. Their yearly trek back to help build more baskets.They tell us how they couldn’t wait for the season to come again. We watch them arrive with their beloved stuffed animals, books and toys knowing they have found a loving home for what they are now ready to let go of. We see how much it means, and yet we don’t…until several pages are laid out in front of us illustrating the depth of impact this outreach has on even the youngest of souls.

And it is there, in the development of their stories, that our greatest hope and wishes are encouraged to persevere and wait. These children who are coming to help, who are making memories that will last them into adulthood, hold the greatest seed of potential for our world, our communities and our futures. They are learning young that they can make a difference in a life of another right where they are. They are discovering that they have the capability even if others don’t recognize it. They are gaining confidence that they don’t have to have a million dollars or all the answers; they just need a little faith to follow God when their hearts are nudged. It is their character that will one day lead and define our world and theirs. And it is in the making of their stories now where they will find the courage to do right for another then.

There’s a reason Jesus said, “Let the little ones come to Me.”

May their light grow and shine ever so brightly into the lives of those who surround them, and may they believe–even into old age–that their stories are worth gold to this world. That their ability to help never ceases so long as their hearts and hands are willing and able.  Let hope abound not only for this 2017 Easter season, but well beyond!

“Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine…”  Ezekiel 18:4

Reaching back

IMG_5724

This picture.

A trunk full of food and help.

I remember when she registered her family in the summer of 2015. When registering, we ask them one tough question:  Are you experiencing or anticipate experiencing food shortages this summer?  A question I hate to ask, but have to.

You see, it has taken me 10 plus years to grow comfortable (and I still feel hesitant at times) to share that FBF relies solely on prayers and God answering them.  The concept often results in a look of befuddlement on the face of the person listening as if it is entirely crazy!   Imagine the looks on the faces of business leaders and financial planners!!

By nature, I am a planner and an organizer.  In law school, my favorite class was Taxation!  I loved the structure and the challenge of working through its maze.  Those tendencies towards structure and assurance still reside deeply in me.  So, it was difficult, at first, to not have “funding” mapped out in advance for our outreaches.

But almost from the beginning, God has led us to being different from what is out there. Different in structure; different in goals.  If we were to be about growing faith, then we had to work on facing what was inhibiting our own growth.  Could we really see God’s amazing movement if our hands and plans were so busy trying to make the world move the way we wanted?  God’s nudge and direction was to rely on Him for providing what we need, what they need.  Each outreach, to this day, stretches our faith to trust God with what our hands can’t necessarily provide…

I hate asking the question because it feels intrusive.  Yet, over the years and with experience, the question is absolute necessary.  And for two very good reasons.  First, our goal isn’t to just hand out food, but to hand it out where there is a desperate need.  We have to screen because there are often different levels of need.

Second, we want to protect, as best as we can, what goes out by making sure that the need is as real as we can verify.  Part of this stems from the fact that we know that God moves the hearts of every day people, both struggling and not struggling, to come alongside us and help others.  There is no Wal-mart or Target pulling up to our doors with pallets of food.  There are no letters being mailed out asking for donations.  No grant applications being filled out with hopes that taxpayers dollars will come from the State or Federal government to bring our outreaches to life.  Instead, we trust, pray and wait.

Over the years, we’ve watched God build an incredible network, a body of Christ, with many parts working together with what they have and what they are able to give. Sometimes it is a couple of cans; other times, it is a couple of bags of food.  No matter to us, as we have learned to wait and watch as God builds the piles.  Every contribution is one of value whatever the size.

I remember her words as she responded to my question.  “I wish I didn’t have to register.  I am already struggling the last week of the month.” Her voice trailed off as if she was in the grocery store.  “I couldn’t buy milk and bread at the end of last month…and I know people stand there in line and think why I am buying that large jug of juice instead of something healthier.  But when you have only a few dollars left, you have to figure out what goes further to feed everyone…it is not about healthy versus unhealthy.  It is about what will last longer to feed my kids.”

She went on to explain that her husband was disabled and that she was working, trying her best to make ends meet.  I could hear the frustration in her voice as she spoke of wanting things to be different but not finding a way out of where they were.  I reassured her that her family was exactly who we were looking to help.

The summer went well except one delivery her husband didn’t show.  We drove the bags over and dropped them off on the front porch, and she called to thank us.

This summer, last week, the same thing happened.   I remember standing at the place where we deliver and being worried.  I asked the volunteer who was riding with me to remind me to text her when I got to the next delivery, but when we arrived several of the families were already there.  We got swept away in passing out bags, discussions, prayer requests, and hurrying to the next spot.

Once back home, there were additional meetings and an event that evening.  I sat down much later and thought it was probably too late to contact her.  I said a quick prayer asking God to nudge her heart if she needed the groceries.  Early the next morning, a text appeared on my phone.  It was her…

Hi Michelle  it’s ____________.  I’m sure the answer is no…”

The message went on to share that her husband had had a really bad day and she was wondering if the lunch stuff was still available.  I could sense her frustration with the situation in her text.  My heart broke for her.  It is so hard to humble oneself, especially when someone else puts you in the position to have to ask another for help.

I texted back telling her that I did have the bags.  I had had to get rid of the perishables (we passed them along to the other families), but offered to meet with the remaining bags.  She was so happy.  We set up a time and a place, and that I would be meeting her husband.

From her came these words:

Ok thank you so much!  You have no idea how much this helps us, we’ve been very strapped for money and I was so upset we missed yesterday.”

They have one car, and he takes her back and forth to work.  A mom trying her hardest to make her world a better place.  A dad who is struggling with his own health issues.  All sorts of things wrapped up in this situation.

So I texted:

I had a feeling and thought I should text you but became very busy at the deliveries and other meetings throughout the day.  I am glad you texted.  I’ll add in another set of bags from someone else who missed again.  Hopefully, the bags will be a blessing! Thanks for reaching out!”

She promptly texted me back:

Dear God yes they will be and so are you!  And thank you for reaching back I can’t even express my appreciation!”

Her words “reaching back” stuck out in my mind.  We often have to be tough because there is a fine line in some situations between enabling and helping.  Sometimes it is really hard to tell if there is even such a concern.  Other times, it is more clear. Usually when someone misses, we leave it on them to reach out to us.  And, yes, if they miss twice without contacting us, we do the tough thing and remove them from the program.  Our goal is to provide food when it is lacking and, if it is truly lacking, they are usually there on the distribution day or call quickly to reschedule.

But this situation felt slightly different.  This mom has communicated clearly that they were desperate for food, but she works on our distribution days.  Her ability to pick up is reliant on her husband, who has struggled with being there at times.  I could clearly hear her voice in her text, and I wanted her to know it was okay to reach out again.  To reach forward even though we hadn’t reached back.

So I took a picture after loading the car.  The one above…

I thought it might provide her some relief to actually see what was coming home for her family.  I wanted her to have an idea as to what we were bringing, instead of spending the day at work wondering.

I hit send…

And headed to the car.

Ding.

You’re the best!  I’m in tears, this helps so much!  Thank you so much again!!”

Arriving in the parking lot, I saw his car.  What a tough spot to be in.  Clearly unsure of what I thought, he got out with his shoulders downward as he looked at the pavement.  I opened the trunk and began handing him the items with a smile.  I asked how he was doing–that I had heard he had had a bad day.  A bit surprised, he began to share a little about his back injury.

As I handed him more, explaining that we had been blessed with lots of goodies, I mentioned that I had hoped the bags helped.  That I was glad his wife had contacted us. Not to my surprise, he shared that his wife had been so upset and was sure that there was no use calling.  She had been beside herself all evening.

I told her to just call.  That they seem like really nice people.  What can it hurt to ask?  Maybe they can still help.”

I looked at him and reassured him that he had given the right advice.  As we finished, I told him that we would be praying for his back and that things–somehow and someway–get better.  I shared that those answers are often not as quick as we would like but we would hold them in prayer until something changed.

A broken soul, a difficult situation.  And as he opened his door, he said,

God bless you guys.  God bless what you are doing.  It really helps.”

At 4:12pm, a text arrived on my phone from her:

I just wanted to tell you the kids were so excited they had to show me all the stuff when I got home!”

A big smiley face punctuated the end.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to ponder whether God used that father’s bad day to bring them what they truly needed?  We would have given them their normal set of bags had he made it.  Because their delivery happened after all of the rest, we had extra.  And it was very clear they needed help.  Remember the kids were absolutely thrilled such that they made their mom look at everything as soon as she got home…a very real need, indeed.

Thanks be to God for a gentle reminder for how much what He designs is needed, and thank You God for growing my faith yet again in allowing us to see and be apart of Your work in this world.   While structure is absolutely necessary, so is kindness, flexibility, grace and trust in Him and His ability to provide!

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’  Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  As each one has received a gift, minister to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  1 Peter 4:8-10