Monday, May 26, 2014

Blessing Others on Her Birthday: 14 Random Acts of Kindness

Last week we celebrated Emily's birthday. In lieu of a party with friends we decided to do something different in honor of our daughter's 14th year. I had read about people doing random acts of kindness on their birthdays. One act of kindness for every year old they are. After proposing this idea, Emily thought about it for a day or two and then came back to me saying she wanted to do it. She had a few acts of kindness in mind already. The thing that blessed my heart most were the words, "My birthday doesn't need to be all about me."

So a week in advance we made a list of the "Random Acts" we felt led to do and began to gather the necessary supplies. We pulled out gift bags and tissue, New Testaments and tracts.  We purchased bubbles, stickers and sidewalk chalk; chicken salad, candy and cookie mix. In all we prepared 14 kinds of gifts.

Giddy with excitement we set out bright and early on the morning of her birthday to bless others, showing God's love in practical ways.

1. Emily delivered gift bags to our neighbors that contained homemade cookies and a New Testament. We affectionately call these kinds of gifts "food for the stomach, food for the soul". (My kids and I have used this concept for years to share a little snack and God's love with the homeless, giving snack cracker packs and a tract.)

2. She left a gift of bubbles, sidewalk chalk and candy for our neighbor's little girl to come home to as and after school treat.

3. Before leaving the neighborhood, Emily placed a bag of cookies and a tract in the mailbox and to bless the mailman.

4. Having made Emily an appointment for a much needed haircut, we took that opportunity to bless our friend and favorite hairdresser. We baked her some special muffins and picked up a glass of her favorite tea.

5. Wanting to include some very special kid missionary friends in our day, we packaged stickers in an envelope and took them to the post office for an international stamp and mailed them to the U.K. When the mail lady asked if we wanted a passport application to go with our order so we could go visit them, we were able to say we'd already been there and share that they're there to plant a church in Glasgow.

6. Emily lit up at the idea of blessing a sweet widow we've befriended. We took her a little package of cookies as well. Unfortunately we missed seeing her and had to leave them on the doorstep.

7. Next we met up with a young lady whom we love that will be relocating to Haiti next month to devote her life to missions. Emily cleaned out her closet and came up with a bag of gently used donations for the girls she will serve in an orphanage there.

8. We lovingly prepared a picnic style lunch basket with chicken salad, croissants, apples, kettle corn and sweet orange tea. It was delivered to a very special first time mommy with a one week old bundle of joy!

9. Our next stop was the All Children's Park where Emily had fun handing out ice cream cone shaped bottles of bubbles to parents for their little ones. Those we encountered were pleasantly surprised by this gesture and wished her a happy birthday.

10. We drove to the pediatricians office where Emily donated a bag full of new and gently used books and magazines for the waiting room. The office manager that received them kept saying how much she "loved" her idea and hoped it would spur their staff on to pay it forward.

11. At a laundromat down the street we asked to hang bags on the washers to bless incoming customers. Each bag contained a R.A.O.K. Card, detergent pods and a copy of the instructions from the bag.

In the early afternoon we took a drive to have lunch with our son Cory, so Emily would get to see her brother on her birthday.  Then he patiently hung out with us at the mall while she did some birthday shopping.

12. Along the way, Emily handed out little boxes of candy she had prepared to bless the clerks and wait staff we would encounter throughout the day. She stretched them out so last one would be given to our waitress that evening.

13. As we headed back to town we made a b-line for Target. Having a tender heart for our human trafficking ministry, she wanted to look at the registry available for a nearby safe home opening soon and buy an item on the list with her birthday money. The registry items are helping to accessorize the home so girls rescued from child sex trafficking will have a beautiful place to live while they heal.

14. Finally, before meeting family for dinner we took little bags with quarters in them to the kiddie ride area at the mall. We taped some to the empty rides for future customers to find, and gave one in person to a mom and her little one so he could ride the race car he had his eye on.

These 14 Random Acts of Kindness made for an amazing day. When asked, Emily couldn't begin to say which one was her favorite because she had too many special moments. As we drove between stops she said she wished we'd started doing this on our birthdays a long time ago. She declared it should definitely be a tradition going forward.

Showing God's love in practical ways is a wonderful way to spend a birthday. Happy Birthday to our girl who's beautiful inside and out! Now to make my list of 40-something acts of kindness so I'll be ready when my turn rolls around...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Resurrecting Hope

"Then I thought, 'To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.' I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider Your mighty deeds." Psalm 77:10-12

We find here a theme that is all too familiar in the book of Psalms. Asaph the psalmist is crying out to God in despair. He feels forgotten. Overlooked. Faint in spirit. Rejected. Disregarded. Anxious and unable to sleep. His hopes dashed. 

Considering the psalmist's stressed state of mind, we see his despair rooted in wrong thinking. In verses 1-9 his mind is fixed on the discouraging circumstances that surround him. Such stressors might come from delayed or unanswered prayer, marital or financial struggles, wayward children, strained relationships, health concerns, shattered dreams, death of a loved one, or countless other trials. His mind was focused on the things he could account for: the facts and the things he saw or felt. But Asaph's view is limited. And feelings are not trustworthy. His finite view was never meant to be his source of hope. In limiting his faith only to what he could discern in the situation, he limited his view of God. A small view of God made his circumstances feel overwhelming.

But in verse 10, after wallowing in his despair, he has a thought. A thought no doubt placed by the Holy Spirit. He decides to shift his focus and console himself by remembering the goodness of God. 

The miracles.
His power and might.
His leadership.
God's faithfulness.

He focuses on the power and authority represented by "the right hand of the Most High". In so doing, he becomes intentional about fixing his mind on the truth of God's character vs. the lies and doubt he had so easily succumb to. 

Some circumstances in life are meant for the testing of our faith. Others are "our cross to bear" so to speak, meant to bring God glory and accomplish His divine purposes. Either way, when we fix our mind on the problem, our view of God becomes small. We are easily overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed or angry. But when we shift our focus to "the right hand of the Most High," putting God in His proper place in our lives, our circumstances pale in comparison. We remember His ability to redeem them. Or to do something in us through them. Consoling one's heart and mind (or inner self) with remembrances of God's faithfulness, meditating on His goodness, and reflecting on His abilities is good therapy. It's preaching the gospel to yourself. For the discouraged and despairing it causes a shift in mindset. 

It lightens the heavy load. 
It lifts our downtrodden spirit.
It resurrects hope. 

Lord Jesus, You are Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and You sit at the right hand of the Father. Whatever our circumstance,You want our eyes fixed on You because You are Able. Able to bring peace. Able to bring joy. Able to bring hope. Able to make us content. Able to make a way. For Your ways are higher than ours. You see the big picture. You have a grand, master plan. Help us not to get wrapped up in our finite view that leads to despair. Rather, help us to fix our eyes on You and Your abilities, and rest in the fact that You have our best interest at heart. Father God, You always know best. May our hope and peace be in You alone. In Jesus' name, amen.