“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 filling 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 surprised 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.
“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.
And 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 leads 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