Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pardon me while I brag on my kids...

I've always known I have the best kids ever, but as they get older & more mature, I see more and more sweetness oozing from their pores. I'm so proud of them, so I have to take a minute to brag. And more than bragging on them, I need to point (upward) & brag on Him! I totally know that every ounce of sympathy & compassion in these kiddos' hearts is put there by God. I can't take credit for any of it! I am astounded over & over by their pure hearts.

Onto the bragging.... Every year, we try our best to make sure that our entire month of December is focused on GIVING not GETTING. Sure, the kids (& Larry and I too!) love getting presents. Who doesn't? But we make it our sole purpose of the month to GIVE GIVE GIVE GIVE and make sure the kids get to be a part of that. We want them to grow up to teach their own children the same. And really, it should go far beyond the Christmas season --- after all, people need help year-round. Just because it is December 26th doesn't mean that everyone's tummy is full & they all have roofs over their heads. We try to make a point to continue in this manner year-round, but we definitely make a point of it in December.
In October, our church's youth group went to the Salvation Army to serve a meal. While this wasn't really during the "Christmas season", I'll explain why this is connected in a minute. As it turns out, when we got there we found out that no one under 18 was allowed behind the serving line. I was bummed that my kids would have to "just mingle" in the the crowd of residents. (There were other adults with them....I wouldn't have felt safe letting them do that without an adult!) THAT ended up being a totally God-ordained event. I never would've thought to let them mingle with the people without being by their sides, but they ended up being so humbled & honored to help serve the people there. I saw them sitting & talking, playing with babies, going to fetch napkins or refill drinks. It did my heart good to see them serving and enjoying it. And they made a few friends that they came home telling me about. One in particular was a young girl (maybe 18 or 19) and her almost 2 year old daughter. They came home asking questions about how she got there, what happened to her family, etc, etc. We don't know her story, so we just prayed for her. It's all we could do. Her name has come up often since then.
In early December, we got the chance to ring the bell for the Salvation Army. We ended up getting the chance to do it twice this month. All three kids were there each time. While the bell ringing gets monotonous (ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding ding ding ding ding....) and they get bored before it's over, they really do "get" it. They see people empty their pockets & dig handfuls of change out of their purses. They see the people who fold up a $20 bill & put it in. And afterward, those people come up in conversation a lot. "Mom, remember that lady who wrote a check & put it in the box?" or "Mom, remember that man that looked so mean, but he smiled when he put a dollar in the box?". They never let Larry & I pass a red bucket without putting in some change --- they start begging for a quarter the minute we open the car doors & they hear the bell ringing, so they notice the people who walk by without giving. And while it frustrates them that those people don't give, it breaks their hearts more. They want to see everyone help. We have to talk afterward about the fact that not everyone CAN give. Maybe they need help, too?
Around Thanksgiving, our annual Azleway mission report 'magazine' came in the mail. (Click on Azleway to learn about them.) Included in the magazine was a Christmas wish list for all the kids who live in Azleway facilities. Looking at the lists is a little overwhelming. There are hundreds of kids listed with 2-3 items a piece. It is easy to flip right past those pages of the magazine because it would take forever to sift through the long lists & find someone you could afford to help. But my sweet Savannah did just that. She went through first & highlighted the individual items she could afford to buy by herself and then went back through the list to make her selection. She ended up finding a 2 year old little girl who wanted a teddy bear. She made the phone call to Azleway herself to let them know to check that item off the little girl's list. She bought the teddy bear & packaged it up with a sweet note. Talk about melting a mama's heart!
Sometime in mid November, we went to our local grocery store & found a familiar face checking out groceries. Remember the girl the kids met at the homeless shelter when we served a meal? It took many visits through her check out line to find out she was walking the 10+ miles from the shelter to this store to work. Wow. Talk about dedication. How many teen mothers do you know who are that dedicated to doing what it takes to care for their child? She recently got an apartment here in town so her walk to work is now MUCH shorter (like about 8-9 miles shorter!). We decided to "adopt" this young lady for the next few months so we've spent the last few weeks collecting gift cards & items for her. I have been totally humbled to see that every time we're in a store & walk past a rack of gift cards that my kids will stop & say "Mom! We need to get one of these for ___." They see her needs & they want to help.
In early December, our church offered boxes for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, run by Franklin Graham (Billy Graham's son), to reach poor children all around the world. You fill a shoebox full of little gifts & $7 to pay for shipping & return it to a collection site & they do the rest. It was a lot of fun to shop with the kids to fill the box and then to return it knowing that their hearts went into the box with those little gifts.
Samuel & I were in CVS a few days ago. There was a rocking horse near the front of the store. It had a price tag on it. Every little child who walked by wanted to ride the horse & take it home. This one little boy in particular, probably about 2 years old, stopped to admire the horse & pet it. Samuel was watching him while I anxiously patted my foot & waited in line. I didn't know he was watching him. The mom smiled & enjoyed watching her son's pleasure with the horse, but when she looked at the pricetag, Samuel said she looked discouraged & sad. He said they were kind of dirty looking. When they walked away, the little boy cried quietly about the horse. That's when Samuel tapped me on the shoulder & said "Can we buy him the horse?". It was all I could do to keep from running over & grabbing the horse to buy it. The compassion in Samuel's voice & the look on his face made me so happy. I was touched by his desire to give this child a gift.
Last week, Larry & I went to our small group meeting with friends from church. As we sat around the dinner table, one of the men suggested a game where we'd go around the table & name our very best Christmas present ever and our very worst. Every person at the table thought & thought, having a hard time coming up with anything. It struck me as I sat there watching everyone struggling to name anything how screwed up our focus is at Christmas time. I mean, if 10 adults can't even think of a specific awesome gift they've received in their 35-45 years of life, then why do we worry so much about buying "the perfect gift"? No one will remember them!! Sure, there were lots of funny stories about the worst gifts, but most of the "best gifts" were not about a gift at all...they were about something someone did for them, time spent with a friend or family member....nothing that could be unwrapped. THOSE are the things we remember from year to year.

After that night with the small group, I started trying to work that question into conversations with our kids. And you know what? Pretty much the same thing held true with them. They had brief comments about one gift or another, but most of what they told me had to do with things we DO every year, not about things they've opened from a bag or a box. And I love that.

It makes this mama's heart grow til it feels like it will explode when I hear them talk about having a birthday party for Jesus every year, fighting over who gets to read the Bible story on Christmas morning, the time when we rang the bell at the mall's entrance, the traditional Christmas day trip to the movie theater to see something as a family. All those special memories and the fact that they love to GIVE & HELP remind me that God is working in their little lives. He is shaping them & growing them.
Oh Father, thank you. Thank you for letting me be a vessel of your Spirit, for allowing me to borrow these sweet children from you & guide them through these years. Lord, thank you for working in them & molding their hearts to serve, to give, to care. Please help me to raise them right, to always reset their focus on YOU. I am so beyond grateful for my kids. Thank you, Lord, for giving them to me.


Cris Russell said...

o my! Mascara alert! Girl, you have me in tears (good ones) reading this. You and your family are AMAZING!! I am blessed to know you! May God continue to send down blessings your way!

Kristi said...

Thanks for bragging! I love how God is using your family to change this world...for his good.