Gratitude Day 195 – Giving to Somebody

Tues., Jan. 15, 2019

Matthew 10:11 – Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who is worthy and stay there until you go on your way.

I’ve just finished reading one of Eugene Peterson’s book. Peterson was a pastor who also wrote many, many books, including the Bible translation called, “The Message.” In the book I recently read, this was one of his profound statements:

Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.

–  Eugene Peterson

Wow. In this world where we spend most of our time and energy trying to fulfill our person wants, needs and desires, Peterson reminds us to look beyond and outside of ourselves. When everyone else is screaming, “Me! Look at me!” Peterson wants us to look everywhere but me.

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Why?

Research has proven this. Personal experience reinforces this. Jesus taught us: we discover what it means to be a servant leader. We often find more joy in giving than receiving. When we do something for someone else, we feel a lot better about ourselves.

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We can all be too busy. We can all be tired and stressed out. We can all be tapped out.

This is exactly the moments when we must find 5 minutes to help someone else. Give a little of ourselves. Discover the joy of giving beyond ourselves.

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And in the process, I’m confident you’ll find just a little gratitude.

For relearning the lesson to encourage others, I am grateful.

Holy God – Thank you for the most excellent lesson from Jesus of how to encourage and give to others. May there be one person who comes across my path today in which I spend an extra five minutes with them, encouraging them. Thanks for being my great encourager. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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Gratitude Day 168 – Unwrapping Christmas

Sat., Dec. 1, 2018

Matthew 2:11 – The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

As you read the following quote, please note the year it was written:

“Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and most of all, there was less loading up with trash.”

–  Meredith Deland in Harper’s Bazaar, 1904

Can you imagine what Meredith Deland might say today if she observed some of our Christmas traditions? Might she be even more appalled?

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In the last years, I have tried to unwrap Christmas and refocus on the true meaning of what I feel Christmas is: the birth of a baby that became the Savior of the world. Yes, it’s hard to give up those traditions which we have embodied for years. (True confession: I ordered Christmas cards again this year. A lot of them, even though I keep thinking I’m going to edit this whole deal. So, I send them out again because LOVE hearing from people that I often do not see.) I will bake our favorite cookies. But there are areas where I try to pull back the glitzy wrapping paper and get to the true heart of Christmas.

One way I do this is how I approach gift-giving. I’m not trying to convince anyone to stop giving gifts to people they love. I encourage us to be more thoughtful in how we go about gift-giving.

To help spur us into why reconsidering gift-giving, look at these statistics:

53.1% of people report receiving unwanted gifts during Christmas. This amounts to $16 billion of unwanted gifts every year. (What COULD be done with this money?!) Reports indicate 18% of gifts are never used and 4% of gifts are immediately thrown into the trash.

This speaks nothing of overspent Christmas budgets. Or how one-quarter of Americans are still paying off last year’s gifts.

What are we to do? How can we reframe Christmas gift-giving into something more meaningful? Can we stop buying for those who really don’t need or want a gift? Can find joy in other ways?

Here are a few suggestions to help us unwrap Christmas:

  • Stop purchasing gifts for those who don’t need or want a gift. Choose alternative ways to celebrate. For many of us, if we “need” something, we find a way to get it. “Waiting” until Christmas for a special gift happens less often. From the beginning of our marriage, Hubby Rick and I agreed NOT to purchase each other Christmas gifts. Rather, we make contributions towards families who have a need. Last week, Rick announced that he had completed his Christmas shopping. A young driver that Rick works with will soon begin his second round of cancer treatment. The co-drivers collected money and gave it to him at Thanksgiving. I’m confident my “Christmas” present is important to this family that has young children. Each year, Rick and I pick families and given them a little extra cash at the holidays. The cards and letters back from these families have made us cry. In subsequent years, often these same families have paid forward our gift to another family in need. Rick and I love giving these gifts as our presents.

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  • Wrap up special and funny family items and turn it into a gift exchange. This is my FAVORITE way we have unwrapped Christmas. My nieces and nephews would agree. For the last several years, I have put together the Deaton family gift exchange. I wrap up items from our family. Some are special and meaningful, i.e. – my Dad’s dog tags. Others are quite silly – the 4-H songbook when my siblings and I used to go Christmas caroling to shut-ins. I include little stories with the items. At our Deaton Christmas, we open these gifts in an orchestrated way. The process has become so special I’ve had to create “rules.” To learn more about how we do this, read my post about the Winnebago camper, the highly coveted gift in last year’s exchange. Family members repeated tell me: DON’T STOP doing the Deaton family gift exchange. This event special because it has also become a way we pass family history and stories from generation to generation.
  • Make a gift. Last year, I made a crayon wall hanging for our granddaughter, Ellie. After she opened it, I realized her brothers felt disappointed they didn’t receive something like this. This year, I am making presents for our three youngest grandkids. Being crafty is not a requirement. I still have the shelf my Dad made for each of his kids one Christmas. My sister-in-law Linda gives us canned goods from her garden each year.
  • Make a donation to charity. While Charitable Tuesday is past, I am confident charities will still accept donations. It can be a monetary gift or an in-kind gift. Take your children or grandchildren shopping and let them pick out items to donate. Our local food pantry is encouraging people to donate toiletries this Advent. Blankets, pj’s, coats (new or gently used) – there’s always a need.

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  • Make a birthday box for Jesus. I will share this calendar during kid’s time at church on Sunday and encourage their families to make a birthday box for Jesus. They can give the box to a family in need or bring it to Christmas Eve worship, where it can be donated to the local food pantry.
  • Memorable “silly” presents. We do this with our grandkids and Rick’s kids. I wrap items from the Dollar Store or other silly items in little gifts bags. We take turns opening these bags and seeing what silly thing is inside. There is always exchanging after we’re done, because who wants pink bifocals other than Grandpa? The kids talk about the oranges, apples, flarp, and goofy mustaches they got at our Christmas celebrations.
  • Plan a special outing. Pick something you can do together: sledding or ice skating, a movie, bake cookies and deliver to neighbors or something else that you come up with. We’ve stayed overnight at a hotel with a waterpark with our grandkids and nephews in lieu of more presents. Create a tradition which focuses on something other giving gifts and expresses how special our loved ones are.

Yes, I am buying a few Christmas presents. It’s hard to completely get away from this, especially when kids or grandkids are involved. I’ve watched our grandkids count how many packages each received and compared with each other. When this happens, this as an opportunity to unwrap why we give gifts at Christmas.

The wise men didn’t show up empty-handed at the stable. While their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seemed unpractical for a baby, their symbolism was powerful; then and now. Giving gifts can be very powerful and positive. Maybe we just need to unwrap how and why we give them this Christmas season.

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For the chance to unwrap Christmas and focus on heart-felt gift giving, I am grateful.

Holy God – unfortunately, we’ve taken the concept of giving gifts, represented by the wise men, and often turned it into something driven by consumerism and unrealistic expectations. May we be inspired to unwrap Christmas in a new way this year. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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Gratitude Day 123 – Finances

Wed., Sept. 18, 2018

Mark 12:41-43 – Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury.

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Recently, a few people have asked about our financial situation. Why is this? Are they being noisy? Or is there another reason?

Since stepping back from serving two churches, my income has changed. While I have a part-time job, our disposable income has declined. Inquiries about our finances refer to whether we have made significant financial changes since we no longer have this income.

The short answer? No, we haven’t.

How is this possible? Because we developed an attitude about finances long before I stepped back from serving the churches.

I am not a financial planner. Nor is Hubby Rick. We are comfortable, but I would not classify us as rich. There are a lot of people with more resources than we have. I also know a lot of people who do not have the financial security we do. Was there a time after I stepped away from the churches when I questioned if this was a sound financial choice? Yes. When I turned back to our basic view about finances, my soul quieted.

Rick and I look at finances from a rather simplistic view. At earlier times in our lives, we both did not felt the financial security that we do now. Implementing a few guidelines have helped us move to the position we are today. Let me share these simple guidelines.

  1. Everything we have has been “loaned” to us by God. While we may say it is “our” house or car or retirement account, we believe all of our possessions are really God’s. God has entrusted us to be caretakers of them. This allows us to hold a little less tightly onto the things in our care. We want to be excellent caretakers. We are thoughtful and often consult with God before making a decision. We want to leverage things in our care for the glory and honor of God’s kingdom. If someone has a need and I have the ability to provide for this need, I share. Have there been times we have been burned? Honestly, yes. But the joy we receive from assisting someone outweighs the negative feelings when a situation doesn’t turn out well. Remembering that God has entrusted us with many resources makes us appreciate our ability to bless others with them as well.
  2. We follow a statement coined by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement: “Earn all you can, save all you can and give away all you can.” Rick and I work hard and dutifully earn our income. We manage our resources for today and the future. We have funds available for current expenses and choices. We also save for the future. One of the best financial decisions I personally made was starting to plan for retirement in my mid-20’s. Sharing with others is not an afterthought. It is expected.
  3. We give to God first. Before I was married, I discovered the joy of tithing. Yes, the joy. I began giving a percentage of my income to God first, before other expenses. My focus shifted from giving what I had “leftover” to blessing God first. Once I began tithing, the rest of my resources did not disappear as quickly. Rick and I have continued tithing. The principle of tithing encourages people to give 10% of their income back to God. For some people, 10% is impossible. For others, 10% is not enough of a challenge. I encourage people to pick a percentage and stick with it. There maybe a time when you should decrease this temporarily or increase permanently. Determine this in a discussion with God.
  1. Know the difference between a “want” and a “need.” We need a roof over our heads, vehicles to drive, food to eat and clothes to wear. Almost everything else is icing on the cake. Do Rick and I have more than our basic needs? Certainly. Is our house larger and improved beyond what we need? Without a doubt. Every time we venture into “want” choices, we try to be thoughtful. Will this “want” to be a way to leverage the resources entrusted to us for God? Do we do this perfectly all the time? Absolutely not. Yet, we try to be thoughtful.
  2. Develop financial guidelines and habits, especially if resources are tight. Often, people say they will get their finances in order when they are in a more stable situation. I felt it was imperative to be diligent when I had less, so I could maximize the few resources I had. It becomes easy to think, “When we have just a little bit more, then …” Yet, it is never quite enough. So many people spend more than 100% of their income rather than a number less than 100%. Make choices now. Let your guidelines become habits that you simply live every day.
  1. Monitor your resources. We don’t follow a budget. We follow our guidelines. Once a month, I do a quick evaluation of our finances. This provides a snapshot of our finances today, which become part of a larger historical trend we follow. I handle our finances. This means Rick is not as familiar with the day-to-day situation. I make sure Rick is aware of our financial trends over time, which drives our choices and decisions.

While I could add to the list, these are the most important financial guidelines we follow. Following them have provided us with a sense of financial security and knowledge that God is part of our financial team.

What are the most important financial guidelines that you follow? How have they influenced your choices over time?

For knowing that God provides guidance to our family financial resources, I am thankful.

It was the woman who gave everything financially she had who Jesus acknowledged and applauded. Lord God, teach our hearts to see what we have as a loan from you. May we discover ways to leverage the resources we care for, so they bring glory and honor to your kingdom. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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What Can You Do with $2.63?

Tues., Dec. 12, 2017

Psalm 138:2– I face your Temple as I worship, giving thanks to you for all your loving-kindness and your faithfulness, for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.

The elementary-school-aged boy proudly dropped some money into the bucket. He looked up and said, “The $10, that’s from my Mom. I’m putting in $2.63!”

$2.63. Right down to the penny.

I am part of a program called Blessings in a Backpack. Each week, our volunteer group puts together bags of food for kids within the school district who might not have enough food to eat over the weekend. Each week, our group packs 52-54 bags of food and takes them to the school. School staff discreetly put the food bags into kid’s backpacks and/or lockers. Parents have granted permission for their child to receive the food bags. It is our hope these little bags of food provide security and confidence the recipients will have some food to eat over the weekend.

The average cost of a food bag per student each week: $2.63.

The program is sustained by donations, grants and generous people. Our Blessings group is a non-profit organization that appreciates every penny we receive; including the $2.63 this boy dropped into the money bucket one night.

The school parent organization had organized a student craft night. Students could sell crafts or baked goods they made. Our Blessings program was invited to participate. Would I be willing to share with the students and parents about the program? Could I encourage the kids to give back some of the money they earned from their sales to the Blessings program? Why, of course, I would.

Before the shopping began, I asked the students what they could buy with $2.63. After a few answers, I showed a typical food bag that students receive, pulling out two breakfasts, two meals and four snacks. If they wanted to help fellow students, maybe they could donate to the Blessings program from the proceeds of their sales.

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I was so impressed with the unique ideas the students had. A cupcake decorating station. Lots of candy, cookies and baked items, including gluten-free options! Bookmarks, crafts made from Mason jars and burlap bags: it was all there. The price lists and business cards brought smiles to shoppers faces.

It was a super-fun night. I enjoyed a little shopping myself and seeing the creative options. As people were packing up left-over items, most of the kids stopped by the Blessings table and dropped some money into our bucket. One mom shared that her daughter donated 50% of her profits, a pre-arranged requirement. And there was the boy who donated exactly enough money for one Blessings bag that would be packed the following morning for one of his fellow schoolmates. Right down to the penny.

Once home, I counted the money. Total donations from the craft night: $254.83. It costs about $100/child for a school year. Blessings received donations to pay for 2.5 school kids for the current school year.

So many lessons abounded in this single event. Kids discovered how to make something. They were given the opportunity to sell their product and maybe even learned a lesson or two about marketing. They learned about stewardship: the value of giving back and paying their proceeds forward.

I give thanks for every student who dropped any amount into the Blessings bucket that night, as well as their parents and grandparents. I give thanks for their loving-kindness and their faithfulness. I give thanks for the $2.63 that will provide a student with a bag of food this weekend.

What can you do with $2.63 today?

Lord God – Thank you for helping us see that giving comes in all shapes and sizes. May we be reminded that the size of the gift is not nearly as important as the giving heart behind the gift. We thank you for your never-failing loving-kindness and faithfulness to us. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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