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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrolling the waters

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The Coast Guard has a number of jobs that it does.  The one job we often think of first for them is maritime rescues.  They are the people who are called when something tragic happens on the water.  They are a resource that most will never encounter, but in that moment, when something has gone wrong, the sound of their presence brings great relief to the soul in trouble.

But they operate more often than we think.  One of their many, non-emergent jobs is to patrol the coastline on our big bodies of water.  Their steadfastness to ensure the safety of our waters brings comfort and assurance on even the brightest, calmest days.  The dependability of their routine adds a measure of security to all who visit the waters.

Five years ago, God nudged our hearts with whispers about hungry children taking home back packs of snacks and a few meals to make it over the weekend during the school year. These bags were being sent home in community after community that surrounded South Lyon, and so, we paused to assess whether that need was also in our midst.  We met with our local food pantry.  We spoke with the secretaries at the schools.  We prayed and thought, and suddenly, we realized that while food was important on the weekends…what about the summer when there was no school at all to help with meals?

Realizing that need must exist since there were children in our community on the federal lunch program during the school year, we prayed for guidance on how to help these families.  From there, we began our Summer Lunch Bag program.  Starting with one school, several families registered.  Over the years, we have modified how often we provide and expanded the program to include more schools.

Now our program is not for those looking to lessen their grocery bills.  It is not for those wanting to save up for something else.  We have tailored it specifically for those who are lacking food during each month of the summer.  With that as our threshold, we have been blessed to come alongside those who are struggling in significant ways.

Most of these households have a working parent.  One who is working as much as they can to bring in enough to keep their heads treading above water.  For those with two parents, oftentimes, one parent is battling an illness or has become disabled.  Many during our registration have spoke of how humbling it is to have to ask for help; that it is the last thing they have wanted to do.  More often than not, I tell them that our program was designed to help people just like them.  That the people who help provide the food are everyday people looking to bring aid to those in their community…they want to help when there is a need.

The first delivery can be a bit awkward for those new to the program.  Not in a bad way, but in just meeting, getting down the timing, and the waiting that occurs as we pass along bags to the families.  Not knowing anyone, yet knowing everyone there is struggling in some way.  After handing them the bags, we routinely ask if they have any prayers that can be said on their behalf until we meet again.  For those new and unsure about our program, they often decline.  And we are okay with that.  Asking for food is hard enough; sometimes being vulnerable about your other needs is too much.  But we always ask…patrolling, in way, the potentially deep waters of the hearts that lie before us.

In the midst of something gone wrong, a rescue swimmer is often dropped down into the water or onto the boat to assess the situation and find out what is needed.  Is it something mechanical that is in distress?  Can the vessel be saved?   Or is there a person on board in need of medical help?  Do those on the vessel need to be ferried off?  The rescue swimmer relays the information back to those on board the helicopter and the appropriate decisions of how to help best are made.

And sometimes, the swimmer has to save someone in the water.  Should that be the case, the person in the water must be compliant.  They cannot fight or panic as it can take both the rescuer and the one being rescued down.  An understanding all who want to serve should come to respect.  We try really hard not to obligate people to share their prayers. Sometimes, they can’t think of any.  Other times, the concern, fear or pain is too much to convey.  At the first sign of struggle, we politely step back and continue on…giving space at a safe distance that allows them to process the request without being pressured to do so.

Our second delivery this summer illustrated well this principle.  We had a family register late this spring.  One parent is working but the other has been very ill, battling a significant disease.  Financially the medical bills had taken its toll as well as shortened work weeks in order to accommodate doctors’ appointments and treatment.  When this parent arrived at the first delivery, he was cautious and had little for prayer.  I reassured him that it was totally okay, and gently shared we’d keep the other parent’s health in our prayers.

Now FBF’s primary goal is to build faith in God, but often, we are just blessed to watch as the Master Builder works.  One family has been in our summer food program since its inception.  She is a single mom with three kids and an amazing faith that God is with her and with us.  She knows our routine and gladly shares her prayers with us, and we share our prayer needs with her.  During that first delivery, the new parent, while waiting to pick up the food bags, watched as she gave us her concerns.

This time, her family was again one of the first waiting for us, and so when this other parent arrived shortly thereafter, we were still transferring bags and all the goodies that were brought.  As I handed her a package of toilet paper, she became animated with joy. Her apartment had just flooded.  The neighbor’s, above her, air conditioning unit had sprung a leak that pooled into her home and soaked everything.  Now, this gal is a planner but sometimes the best laid plans don’t anticipate such unforeseen trouble.  Sometimes a sunny sky does not share that a dangerous storm is building off to the west…

All of their paper products were destroyed and she was desperate for toilet paper.  Already struggling, this cost was unanticipated with no way to meet the need that had arisen before the end of the month. As we transferred the laundry detergent, she began to praise God out-loud for His knowing exactly what she needed to wash all that had been soaked. The next set of things, feminine products, brought added amazement as those too had been destroyed.  She openly exclaimed her awe of His provision, and we stood there in just as much awe of how God had moved hearts to help such a direct and specific unknown need.

As I turned to take care of the other parent, his eyes sparkled from hearing the testimony of someone who wasn’t trying to testify…someone who was sincerely praising God in that moment where her fear of how had turned into praise for His love and care.  Handing him several of the items and explaining quickly where they had come from and how, I noticed he seemed less reserved.  As we continued to unpack the load for his family, he began to eagerly tell how helpful the stuff had been the prior month and would be this month.  The abundance of items was exciting and overwhelming for all the families, and he was clearly moved.

While I handed him the last remaining items, another family pulled up. Understanding better the routine of our visits, I gently asked if there were any prayers until next time?  He nodded, much to my surprise. Upon finishing our brief conversation, he leaned in to give a big hug.  A common occurrence when people share what is on their hearts.  Those requests are so important…to them, to us and to God.  They know that we do not have the answers for why or even how, but the kindness that comes from being willing to intercede on their behalf can mean a lot. Common among many of them is that life was going well in their stretch of the sea before they became overwhelmed by something…a storm, a wave, a malfunction, an unexpected flood…

You see, prayer and hugs often feel like a life preserver of sorts that helps them tread the waters beneath them with more assurance that there is truly One who is able to command those waters…to rescue, if needed.

Such moments, my friends, are exactly why FBF patrols the waters that lie before us…

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“The ships of Tarshish were carriers of your merchandise.  You were filled and very glorious in the midst of the seas.  Your oarsmen brought you into many waters, but the east wind broke you in the midst of the seas.”  Ezekiel 27:25-26

 

 

 

 

Changing Seasons

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“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:29

Many times, standing in the assemblies during FBF’s Easter outreach, I have heard people ask excitedly, “What’s next!?!”  In kindness, I smile and share with them what we have coming up over the summer months.  Quite frequently, I see their shoulders drop a little and a confused look pass over their eyes.  They are so overwhelmed by what they are seeing–what God is doing through making Easter baskets–that they long to see more.   To build off of the momentum, if you will…

But many years ago, I found that by the end of this marathon of an outreach if we didn’t step back, rest and withdraw, it became more work than it needed to be.  And not just physically,  but emotionally.  At some point, another Easter basket makes us want to cringe!  More grass, more plastic eggs, toys, stuffed animals…are no longer a welcome sight as they have no where to go, especially with limited space to store and almost another 12 months before beginning to build again.  Thankfully, early on, God taught us to rely solely on Him and to turn away from collecting year round.  That was (and is, as we are still learning) one of the many lessons over the years.

Another crucial one was finding moments of down time, having the ability to walk away and trust God that what needs to be done can be done in a specific time slot.  It is a part of a greater message of trusting Him.  It is not magic nor wishful thinking.  Hard work is absolutely necessary, but it is coupled with a strong belief–faith, if you will–that God wants us to live lives to the fullest containing both seasons of work and rest.  Sometimes, it is just short rest in between lots of work, and sometimes it is more rest with work sprinkled in between.

And so, I found out years ago that it was okay to walk away from the basement after Easter. To respect that my body and my mind, my family and their grace, our volunteers and their lives, all needed to rest after giving such loving dedication and time to building baskets.  The lights go off after our last delivery and we often don’t return to the basement until early June to sift through what is left.

But this year was different.  You see, I suffered a head injury back in November.  It has been a slow, slow recovery of symptoms that are hard for anyone to see, and even harder for me to respect–until they knock me down.  Both Christmas and Easter, in regards to FBF’s outreaches, left me feeling quite vulnerable by those hedges the concussion has surrounded me with.  And so, I vowed to myself that the basement was going to be cleaned up as soon as Easter was done.  I wouldn’t be caught unprepared for tomorrow!  Order would prevail and then I could truly rest!!

Best laid plans, right?  I can chuckle now at how my fear had won the moment in that grand plan.  I even fashioned “Clean Up Days” in our signups.  I scheduled for spring break as frequently tweens, teens and their families come to help on those off days.  Friends shared how they wanted to come wash shelves, vacuum up those ever spreading pieces of Easter grass, and help me “deep clean”.   “Ah,” said my mind.  Then I could truly rest…with all that accomplished.

Yet, God’s word is steadfast and true.  We are told in Psalm 119:152: “Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old that You have founded them forever.”  Nothing had changed in what God had been teaching me about needed rest.  In fact, I had opened to multiple Scriptures in the end of March where Jesus had gone off on His own to pray and rest…illustrated by an early morning escape to a hillside or boat at the water’s edge.  It was as if He was gently preparing me for what was needed most.

And so, the days of cleaning came and went.  No volunteers.  Moreover, I had no energy.  I was so relieved that no one had signed up!  We had finished up the deliveries and the week after Easter, I spent writing…a taxing endeavor with my concussion.  By the end of that week, all my pizzazz for being prepared was gone.  I joked with people that coming off of FBF’s Easter outreach was much like jet lag after a very long flight.  A dead weight that really kind of takes over.  It took me about a week of trying to fight through it to realize it wasn’t meant to be.  Through His word, and most of the devotionals I looked at, the message was consistently rest.

So I am thinking now, it will be June before the basement has recovered from Easter :o)

And that’s okay.  In fact, He’s right…always is.  Rest is fundamental.  It changes everything–your physical ability, your mindset, your attitudes, your ability to see, and your ability to share.  If we ran head long into the next event, if we just continued on, there would be no time to savor all that He has done, which is also a part of rest.  It is called reflection…

My friends, I humbly share that by His grace and provision–His inspiration, movement, and mercy through so many–FBF was able to build and provide over 3,000 children baskets to families in need.  Several hundred more were created and shared with teens and adults.  Numbers I have yet to be able to wrap my head around.  Another lesson to be learned, in season where I felt less than capable, He had more than provided…exceedingly greater than anything I could have imagined.  He accomplished so much more than I had hoped or planned. So, must I really worry so much about for tomorrow when He is with me today?

This time of rest will pass as we return to the shore and begin to reach out again.  Lots of stories to share, and the beginnings of other smaller outreaches that will quietly dot our summer (but not overtake).  Small, necessary preparations while trusting Him that He will be with us in our tomorrows more than we can see today.

Steady prayers, my friends, for us and you until then.

“Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness.”  Psalm 119:159

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Touching lives

Have you ever thought much about the wind?

It really is quite an amazing thing.  In its most endearing state, this invisible force wraps around your shoulders and gently caresses your face before it is gone.  Sometimes it tussles your hair or brushes against your legs.  It can literally swirl around you as if engaging and inviting you to dance…

At other times, the wind can be fierce, blowing hard against you and knocking you off your path.  It can most assuredly usher you inside as you seek shelter away from it.  It can rattle your house and make you long for it to stop.  On a mildly cold day, a sharp wind can cut right through you and quite literally take your breath away.  An invisible force that barrels down the road whipping up little tornadoes of leaves or snow or dirt.  What it moves, is often its only record…

It was many years ago when I was looking at Genesis that I felt this little nudge to look deeper into the words that described God in the garden.  It is goes something like this:

“When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze…”  Genesis 3:8 (The Message)

Notice that it doesn’t say that Adam and Eve saw God.  Instead, it says that they heard Him strolling in the evening breeze.  It seems as if His Presence in the wind alerted them to His coming near.  The Hebrew word, “ruwach”, is most associated with wind.  The definition describes it almost as an exhalation.  In the King James, it is often cited as “air, anger, blast, breath, cool, courage, mind, quarter, side, spirit(ual), tempest, vain, whirl wind.”

It was there that I realized God and His Presence, in how He moves in our lives, is often like the wind and how it works.  It is almost impossible to capture, and without some sort of debris or something caught up in it–the very movement of an object–we are unable to see it coming or going.  Most of the time, we can only hear or feel its effects as it touches us directly.  And as the Hebrew word describes so well, there is nothing quite like the gentle breeze on a warm day to cool your skin.  With just the right touch, a breeze can delight and relieve the soul alleviating it from the heat that may be pressing upon it…or it can cut right through and challenge the very life of the flesh and the soul.

When I started Families Building Faith, it was with a distinct vision.  It is nice to congregate together and friendships are important to develop, but what I felt was crucial was time together in His word for those who longed for it.  Not in judgment or in competitiveness and comparison or in a rigid outline that leaves little room to explore, but in pondering, thinking on, and mulling over. Time together spent challenging each other to go deeper and see how the word might be speaking to our very lives…yes, often, in the need for change, repentance, courage, and truth.

And I was well aware of how easy it is to look at His truth, as James says, giving it a quick glance in the mirror and then forgetting it.  How easy it is to apply it to everyone else and not ourselves.  So God laid it on my heart that as wonderful and life-changing as being in His word is, His word has to be put into practice in our lives.  Truly, Bible study serves ourselves.  His word is a gift to the health of the soul.  Fellowship gatherings serve to knit us together and grow community…again, something we all need.  Both things are useful and important, but serving others, that is where we get to be a part of God’s gentle movement in the lives outside of our own.  Time and time again, over the last ten years, I have had my breath taken away as I have caught a blessed glimpse of God moving in the life of another…

It is there as He does a little dance with the soul of another–often bringing them hope to the moment that they feel so desperately without.  It is there that I see His Presence in a way that mesmerizes and builds my faith.  But not just my faith alone.

It is in the little boy or girl who builds a basket and is utterly overwhelmed by the beauty they created with all of the different items God has brought.  It is in the eyes of the adults as they stand in awe of what they are seeing, hearing me say: “This really is not us.  We play a small role, and if you don’t believe me, trust me that I cannot move the hearts, hands and feet of the people who repeatedly come.  You know how comfortable the couch is, and it is not me making them get up.”

It is in the souls that we have come to know that have been told they are too young or too old or too sickly or too unable where we have seen God gently breathe new life into them, showing them that what they have to offer is important in what He is doing…

It is in the faces of those who go with us to deliver and see the burned out houses, the rundown areas, and then understand more deeply why the wind is so very much needed there.  It is in the twinkling smiles of the children and the tender downcast faces of the adults that brighten as we watch God’s Spirit refresh in only ways that He can.

It is in the words: “It was as if you knew everything about me when you built this basket!”,  “This is my favorite color!”, or “I have been wanting one of these so badly!”   Those statements that humble our souls and make us drop to our knees understanding that He is moving in ways that we cannot control, anticipate or even know…much like the wind.

I stood in the basement the other day encouraging a small group to continue to do outreach together, explaining to them that while I wholeheartedly love the discussion of His word with others…it is in selfless serving that I see faith grow the most. And isn’t that what we should be striving for?  To grow our faith and the faith of others…

You see, there is truly nothing quite like watching God move in your life and in the life of another, briefly intertwining the two, often to the benefit of each other.  That is what outreach should be all about…the breath of God moving through lives for the world to see.  That we may perceive and know that God is connecting all of these dots in amazing ways that you couldn’t fully see beforehand, and then, in His timing, you begin to understand the coolness that has just touched another’s cheek. You feel the breeze and, for a moment, you see it…the smile, the relief, the tears, the awe, the truth that somehow a need or desire has been met in a way that only God can do.

And it as if you are standing in His garden watching faith grow…

Where you feel, hear and catch a glimpse of His power and majesty strolling through the life of another in the gentle, refreshing Presence of an evening breeze…

“The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8

Working together…

Josh and I's basket 2014 005It’s been many years since this Easter Basket Collection outreach started.  And much time has past since God gave me the vision to start Families Building Faith.  At that time, my son was four years old going on five.

The vision that He had given me had sprung in part from my own situation.  Longing to know Him better and desiring to walk daily (in the sense of more than just on Sundays) with others who had the same heart for Him, He laid before me the idea of a network of believers who would come together to strengthen faith.  In the breadth of that view was also those we live life with…it was never meant to be solely about our individual experiences.  That somehow by growing, stretching and building our own faith, God’s light and love would spill over into their hearts and lives.  Kind of like a pebble being dropped into a pond, the ripples keep expanding as the waves move outward from the entry point of the rock impacting the water.  As we walk closer with God, was it possible that light, faith and hope would be the ripple effects touching those around us?

So my four year old went in tow with me on this journey to build and grow faith.  He rode in the car as we delivered food, blankets, baskets, clothes, toys and so many other things.  He played at Bible studies and as he grew older, he entertained himself when I needed to work on something.  He listened to me talk with others and listened to them share their stories with me.  He helped carry items up and down stairs, loaded cars, and gracefully and kindly spoke to those who passed through our lives.  As he grew and became more of a young man, there were the inevitable moments of deep sighs, “Do I have to?”s, and frustration-filled comments when he tired of what God has asked our family to do.  Yet, more times than not, he is there faithfully alongside my husband and I.

Josh and I's basket 2014 001It is funny how each session of serving often brings me something new to learn.  Honestly, there are many lessons each season.  For years, I have been emphasizing to parents that their children truly love to serve with them.  Their eyes, their hands and the enthusiasm in their voices share how much they want their parents to see and believe in what they are doing for another.  Rarely does an Easter assembly happen that the child isn’t bouncing off of the walls to show their parents what they have created.  They don’t want to be just dropped off and picked up.  Nor does being present in the same room but talking with another adult for the majority of the time necessarily convey to them that the parent really cares.  Nor does being hovered over or continually questioned as they build their baskets.  Instead, what we see is this strong desire to build and work with their parent or caretaker…for their parent to actively engage and share in their excitement through thoughtful and sincere encouragement, kind instruction, and lots of joyful affirmations.  I find myself deeply committed to the idea that this outreach truly offers families of all ages a chance to not only serve together, but to grow together…

And there the lesson stood toe-to-toe with me last night looking me right in the eye.  I was working in the basement sorting through donations that had come in.  My son, now many years older, was upstairs relaxing.  A bit later, down the stairs, I heard his steps.  Within short order, he was at my side chattering about his latest adventure, what he hopes to learn to improve his game, and his latest set of goals.  He spoke for quite awhile as I listened and sorted.  A couple of times, he mentioned that he took a break specifically because he wanted to come downstairs and help, and then his conversation would turn back to what it was before.  Now and then, I would hand him something to help with.  As my tasks came to an end, he stated he would like to build a basket.

Now,  he builds lots of amazing baskets.  We don’t force him to build each session as we don’t want him to hate Easter nor this outreach.  We also don’t force him to always carry items up nor necessarily engage in all that we do as teens battle enough things in life that offer opportunities for resentment and bitterness; we surely don’t want to add to that.  But many times, he will come downstairs during an assembly and make a couple before heading back upstairs again.  A long time ago, he graduated to making them all on his own.  He is truly very good at it.  As he brought up making a basket again, I told him, “Sure, go ahead.  I’ve got just a few more things to do.”

No mom, I don’t want to build one by myself.  I want to build one with you.  You and me together.”

Josh and I's basket 2014 004There it was.  What I had grown aware of in other children, I now saw in my own son.  That longing to work together on a project that benefits someone else.  To be engaged together as a single team that produces something by both of our hands working towards the same goal:  making someone feel extra special.  While we can often do things alone, there’s something to be said for why God calls us together, to function together as His body…

I smiled, not lost to the lesson at hand.  As we began to assemble a boy basket, I wondered how many times he, too, longed to have my instruction, my affirmation and my time in this outreach as I have seen so many other children long for their parents’ attention and help?  He has always had my encouragement and approval to build, but my time…it is often spent with others…helping them learn, grow and build.  So as we worked through the system, I gave him the same that I give and hope for with any other child…my passion, my excitement, my instruction, my patience and my time.  And what I saw was what I see so many parents seemingly miss…the opportunity to truly understand just how thoughtful, caring and creative that young person is who God has graced us with in our lives.  As we got done, I was deeply impressed by his heart, his hands and his mind, and so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work together.

Thank You God for the reminders that this outreach has much to teach, offers so much to love, and reaches so much farther into the hearts of more than just those who are in physical and financial need…

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12:4-5

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