Saturday, December 16, 2017

Salvation Army Bell Ringers

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 350: Today, I am grateful for the Salvation Army Bell ringers.
I can almost hear the chime of the bell. Salvation Army Bell Ringers are on my "once a year" list. I rewrite it just a bit each year. It is too important to leave it out when December rolls around.
These bell ringers bring so much heart to the season, with the simple act of ringing a bell. They reminds us over the noise of the season, that some have very little and the most simple needs.
Giving to the Bell Ringers falls under the "Randy rules" in our house. My guy has such a good heart. When we first married...I learned to always have coins and smaller bills at the Christmas season because "You HAVE to put something in the red pot EVERYtime you go into a store with a Salvation Army Bell ringer." "EVERY TIME?, I asked. "Yes, every time!" He's bossy, but he's cute.
To clarify Randy's rules for the season...you only have to give once per store...coming in or going out...but as long as we have enough ...we need to share. We must give.
I try to have a little cash on me for emergencies, but sometimes - I have to ask for cash back on my debit card to make sure I have something to give. I have tried to walk by - but he has trained me well, I just can't do it and have any peace.
Once, I went in and out of the store without giving, because I had no cash. I sat in the car... convicted... and then cleaned out the car of any change I could find. Randy wouldn't know, but God does... and he put Randy in my life to teach me a true generosity of spirit.
This year, I find my heart wants to give dollars instead of loose change. Not that we have much more this year, but I think that the more true gratitude increases, the more we can give with genuine joy.
Our "enough" and "more than enough"...however limited it may seem at times...is wealth beyond measure to some in our community. If we have the internet service to read this post...we have plenty or more than plenty to give to a bell ringer.
Now...I visit Kroger a BUNCH during this season and they have some of the most faithful ringers. Lola Marie Toedebusch - my SIL- has joined the ranks of ringers in Inverness, FL in recent years. You are officially a "Ding-a-ling" ...or is that a "Ring-a-ling"? ... and a generous heart, too. I have to wonder if that was a Jake Smith rule, too. Kind of sounds like him.
Thanks to those who ring here...like our friends, Kent-Brenda Geiger have started a tradition of ringing with their family.
The Salvation Army continues to fulfill the calling to help those with great need. They offer food, shelter and clothing... and so much more as they try to minister to the souls they serve, as Christ calls each of to do. A drop in the bucket is a gift to the Lord.
It reflects instruction in Matthew 25:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ "-Matthew 25:35-40
When Joseph and Mary arrived that night in Bethlehem, the little family needed food and a warm place to stay. They needed a safe place for the birth of the Baby Jesus. They needed something to wrap the sweet, new baby in to keep him warm. His sweet family was not that different from many today falling on hard times. For them, it was the circumstance of the government census. Today, it may be illness or job loss. They would have been more comfortable at home with family to help, but they were far from home. 
Today, the bell ringers will ring. They have become a symbol for Christmas. Many give because in another season, they received. Some will give out of guilt... I started my journey at that very place. But, the act of giving softened my heart.
Loose change to change a life. Break a $10 or a $20 bill and see how long it takes to pass that many ringers. Such a small price, but when we join in community... lives are impacted. Put the children in charge of the mission.
Today, I am grateful for the Salvation Army Bell ringers.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cheerful Givers

Year 5-Day 349: Today...I am grateful we can be cheerful givers. 

Isn't it fun to give to one who delights in the gift? Some like surprises... other appreciate a wish list fulfilled. Either way, there is a giver. 

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give,not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. -2 Corinthians 9:7

This passage is talking about tithing, but it really applies to all giving. Let me tell you... there are crankypants out there this season. 

Just last night, I almost texted my boys to say "thank you" for always being grateful children, after witnessing a young man...driving age... pitch a ridiculous fit in Kohls. The older teen was feeling that his little brother was getting more than him. His mother not so quietly reminded he had a car to drive and a phone in his pocket, his brother had neither. He walked away from her in a childlike pout. It was not eavesdropping. I was a good distance away, and they were not quiet. Everyone nearby heard the drama. 

I felt sad for the him... and for her. It sucked the joy right out of the season. It made other shoppers uncomfortable. It was ugly. 

Christmas should never be a comparison of gifts.  The best gifts come from the heart. It is not the amount spent, but the heart of the giver. It is why we love the song, "The Little Drummer Boy". He has nothing material to give the wee King, so he offers a song from his heart. Something beautiful and good. 

We can choose joy in giving. It isn't about "winning at giving". Some of the best gifts are the ones that meet simple needs. Genuine. Not fancy. Heartfelt. 

God's best gift to us... Immanuel... Jesus... "God with us". His presence was the present. His purpose our rescue and adoption into the family. A baby... and a Savior... all in one tiny package wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

God delighted in the giving so much that he hung a star in the sky and sent an angel choir as announce the Messiah's birth. He was joyful in the giving... yet our gift meant heaven's loss for a season. With us meant away from the Father. There was sacrifice in the giving, but love covered it in joy. Such a wondrous miracle. God modeled cheerful giving. 

Today...I am grateful we can be cheerful givers. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Every Moment Holy

Year 5-Day 348: Today...I am grateful we can make every moment holy. 

I did  not create this image... another Valerie gets the credit... it was found on Pinterest. The image caught my eye before I saw the artist name. This week... I received the best gift. It is a book called "Every Moment Holy". My friend of 40 years (oh, Sally... 40!) gifted it to me, as she knows how I adore words. It is full of meditations on our God, Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit's companionship. It is ... well... awesome. 

You will rarely see me use the word awesome. My friend Julie and I reserve that for things that have God's handwriting on them. Years ago... she told me she liked to save that word for God things... and I loved the idea and have tried to join her in that. It is a self imposed rule, but I find it feels good to save that often used word just for Him. 

When I look at this image... the names of Jesus in the shape of a Christmas tree... it makes me smile. This season is His. He is a Lord with many names. Sally sent me the book when one of the meditations echoed a recent gratitude post. The author places it under Praise to the King of Creation. 


"The Sun King, 
The Hurricane King,
The King of Autumn,
The King of Spring....


You are Lord of the Harvest, 
The Grain King, 
The Wine King, 
The God of Plenty,
The God of Hearth and Home...


The Polar King, 
The Rainbow King,
King of the Southern Cross, 

and then King of the Northern Lights..."

I will stop there, but check out "Every Moment Holy" at therabbitroom.com  

YES!  This author bathes these meditations in the light of a Holy God who is in everything we see around us. He is Lord of Creation. All of it!

Know what the means? The Lord of the Mistletoe and the King of the Evergreens is the reason for this season... let our hearts sing.  

Yesterday, we contemplated cookie baking with traditional family recipes. Did I consider holiday baking a holy moment? I do now. 

What holy moments can we find today that reflect the many names or our Lord and King?


Today...I am grateful we can make every moment holy. 


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Cookies

Year 5-Day 347: Today...I am grateful for Christmas cookies. 

I know that the season is full of sweets, but Christmas cookies are so much more than a sweet treat. The image is from Pinterest. It seems to capture the fun, the family and the festivity of Christmas cookies.

There are cookie recipes that are handed down from generation to generation. I never seem to have much time for baking, but when I do... it is Grandma Guttendorf's Pride of Iowa recipe that begins the baking. 


Other favorites include Sweedish/Russian Teacakes (A shortbread cookie rolled in powdered sugar), Peanut Butter Cookies with a Hershey's Kiss (the Bisquick recipe), Molasses Cookies (for my Randy) and No-Bake Cookies. These say family, feasting and fellowship. 

There are so many delicious recipes available with the internet and my collection of cookbooks, but what makes Christmas cookies special is more than a good recipe. What memories accompany the making, baking and tasting? Was it grandma's kitchen... or a college friend's home? Did broken cookies require taste testing or were there stringent rules about not eating the inventory?

The smell of a home with baked goods inside is a Christmas delight. The scent of the vanilla. That unique smell that accompanies a favorite cookie. The warmth in the kitchen, no matter how fiercely the winds may blow. 

The best thing about Christmas cookies is the sharing. We are always blessed with some goodies over the season. Since baking always seems to take a back seat to other things... they are a sweet treat. 

Imagine a Bethlehem in 2000 years ago. No room in the inn. An expectant mother and nervous father who knew that she needed a place to rest... a place to deliver the child that was coming soon. Willing to take any safe place to lay their heads. Talk about modest accommodations. 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. -Luke 2:7

I wonder if the innkeeper had a wife. I wonder if she sent food out to the stable. I wonder if the scent of the inn's food fare drifted to the stable. I wonder if there was a sweet treat sent out to the new little family after the birth of the child. 

Joseph and Mary were rejected by other innkeepers with full rooms. The innkeeper who made room is the one who received the gift of the Christ-child being born at his place. The innkeeper offered a place when others failed to respond to their troubles. Women cannot resist a newborn, so if the innkeeper had wife... they had a little food shared. There were no "Grandma Guttendorf Pride of Iowa Cookies" but I bet they were offered the best of her Bethlehem pantry. 

As we bake, share, receive goodies and remember baking with our grandmothers and mothers, don't lose sight of the gift. Hospitality is an act of service and a gift. Embrace it. Delight in it. Make some new memories this year. 

Time to dig out the "Pride of Iowa" recipe. Anyone who has received an FMC church cookbook has it in their collection. It is a little different from all the other oatmeal cookie recipes... and is always a hit. I will remember Grandma Opal Maxine and my own mother making and baking them. Mama Ina Mae always let us "help", no matter the extra work we created with our assistance. 

Today...I am grateful for Christmas cookies.. the smell, the taste and the memories.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Giving Tuesday in Dressember

Year 5-Day 346: Today...I am grateful for a Giving Tuesday in Dressember. 

As promised... I won't mention it every day... but have joined a Dressember team again this year. It is an awareness campaign and donations go to A21 and the International Justice Mission. I love these organizations because they seek to free all human slaves, including and with a special emphasis on human trafficking as the numbers of  humans enslaved in the sex trade grows. 


Perhaps because I work surrounded by 12,13 and 14 year old girls every day, it breaks my heart to think of how many here and around the world are pulled into some form of slavery one way or the other. Pimps, politics and pushers are often intertwined. There is real evil in the world. 


My Dressember team, Shalom for All, is mostly young women with children. They are a special group. There is a passionate young teacher at MJHS who is on a different Dressember team... but we get to support each other daily in the inconvenience of choosing a dress every day. Our inconvenience is raising awareness for the many who have no voice and no choice in how they dress or who they undress to please as pawns in the powerful game of pleasure seeking. 


https://dressember.funraise.org/fundraiser/valerie-smith is the link if you feel moved to make this your "Giving Tuesday" cause. You receive a charitable giving receipt for taxes when the campaign is over. It is as easy as an Amazon purchase. 

Living in the midwest, people are surprised that it happens here. It does. With us being 2-3 hours from major cities, it is a very real threat to our children. Every day, the agencies Dressember funds are out there acting with love, justice, help, healing and hope. From the rescue, through the recovery and reaching out to help victims rebuild their lives is their mission. The power of a dress helps fund the cause. 

Remember Rahab? Her story is recorded in Joshua 2. A prostitute who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and aided the Israelites in capturing the city. But, her story does not end there. She is the mother of Boaz, who marries Ruth. She is the Great-Grandmother to Jesse, the father of King David and is listed boldly in the genealogy of Jesus. 

Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David. 
(Omitting a list of several generations)
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

Matthew 1:5-6, 16

Yes, Rahab the prostitute is a many greats grandmother of Jesus. Her sin or her situation were not the end of her story. Neither, should it be for the many women, children and men caught in some kind of slavery. Our stories do NOT end with our biggest struggles.  Oh, no, my friend. 

In fact, that moment of feeling completely broken... when we submit to the love of a sovereign God... it is where the "rest of the story" (as Paul Harvey would say) really begins. We can by shaped by our experiences, but Jesus came to set us free.  

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  Galatians 4:4-5

Had Joseph chosen to "quietly divorce Mary", she could have ended up like Rahab before she was redeemed by her husband and God. An unwed mother had few choices in that time and culture. Perhaps... his family often told and retold the story of Rahab, Boaz & Ruth, Obed, Jesse, King David and the others in the family tree. The choice of Joseph was not accidental. Our God is an awesome God. 

Today, I am thankful Rahab's rescue turned into her own redemption story and changed her life forever. I still delight in remembering Boaz gaining her hand in marriage through the reminder that her mother-in-law was a package deal. Our God never abandons us. In fact, he surprises us over and over again with his power to rescue and redeem. 

Dressember is a part of the mission to reach the enslaved and the exploited. We can help the fight for justice, freedom and restoration. These are not just people... they are souls. 

Today...I am grateful for a Giving Tuesday in Dressember. 



Monday, December 11, 2017

The Crippled Lamb

Year 5-Day 345: Today...I am grateful for the story of "The Crippled Lamb".

I was sharing this book with a young mom on Saturday. It is my all-time favorite Christmas Story. It is about a little lamb who has a crippled leg. His entire life he has felt left out, behind and less than perfect. He never seems to catch up and sometimes... he doesn't even get to go. 

One starry night, the shepherds are going to treat the animals to a night out in the field. Little crippled Joshua can't go. He is left behind... again. 


There is a older, mothering cow that senses Joshua's sorrow and comforts him as much as she can... but she can only do so much. Her heart hurts for him, as we hurt for our own children when they face struggles. 

That night, something happens that leave Joshua forever changed. That night, a young human mother delivers a very special child. The Christ-child... a king... and Joshua is there to see it. Not only that... when the baby is cold... Joshua's soft fur keeps the new King warm. If Joshua had been whole and unbroken by the standards of the herd, he would have been out in the valley and missed being there for Jesus birth. He would have been just like all the other sheep.  That night, what he had to offer was perfect. 

Never be discouraged to be "not like the others." Broken is a state of mind and heart. We have a God who is bigger than any physical brokenness. In fact, there are times he can used the broken to his glory in a mightier way than one who has never felt the struggle. 

What can you bring to the manger this Christmas? 

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. - Romans 12:1 (NLT)

All he really wants is our hearts... along with our mind, soul and our strength? It is a package deal. When we leave him our weaknesses and brokenness - he can turn it to his glory. Hands to service. Hearts to love. Souls to praise. Songs to sing. 

Today...I am grateful for the story of "The Crippled Lamb".

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Transforming Power

Year 5-Day 344: Today...I am grateful for transforming power. 

When the boys were little, Transformers were a hot item. Toys that change from bugs or cars into robots. Oh yes, they were a favorite. From something ordinary to extraordinary in a few twists and turns. Actually, it was more than a few and it amazed me how fast they could choose what they wanted it to be and make the transformation. On my own, those toys left me dazed and confused. In the right hands, they were not frustrating but fun. 

I wonder if all the fuss that goes into holiday decorating leaves some feeling like I felt with the boys toys? 
Although Christmas lights are one of my favorite decorations, they are not alone in making the transformation from dreary winter landscape and decor to festive, fun and fabulous. I like to tuck a little holiday into ordinary places. 

The transforming power of garland, Christmas florals, sequined ribbons, snow globes and thousands of tiny lights fills the season with a magic that never loses its wonder. From the most humble homes to the extravagant... using homespun popcorn and cranberry garland or exquisite floral designs... a little holiday makeover delights the soul. It makes us mindful that it is a special season. 

This season, I want to be mindful of the transforming power of Christmas. Not just in the decorating, but in seeking out the reason for the season. In the same way we transform our homes for the holidays, Christ longs to change our hearts for all of our days. 

Faith Hill sings "A Baby Changes Everything". It is a song that still gives me chills every time I pause to truly take in the truth it reveals. 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Fv7iPy8HcY 

The lyrics are so powerful.

Teenage girl, much too young
Unprepared for what's to come
A baby changes everything
Not a ring on her hand
All her dreams and all her plans
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything
The man she loves she's never touched
How will she keep his trust?
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything
And she cries!
And she cries!
Oh, she cries
Mary... young and innocent... asked by the God she loved and served to mother this miracle child. Joseph, a man of faith who had waited for the right girl. One who would and could be a true mate for him in faith, love and building a home. Finally, his dreams were coming true and then... it all came crashing down. A baby would change everything from ordinary to extraordinary
There would be whispers behind their backs, disbelief and shunning. Still, they said "yes" to the request to God's plan. Scholars say he was older than her. That was not unusual for the time and the culture. He needed time to mature and be ready for his role. He needed to be her strength and encourager. She offered him her trust and youthful wonder as they both played their roles in this miracle season. 
God became flesh and bone, and Joseph and Mary would be the ones to welcome and cradle the baby Jesus. Joseph as he aided in delivery and Mary as she took him to her chest and felt his heartbeat. The word "awesome" does not even truly magnify the moment... but it is the best word I find. Awe inspiring and glorious. 
Another piece of the lyrics that captures the moment. 
And she cries! ( in fear of the unknown )
And she cries! (in the pain of childbirth)
Oh, she cries (at the miracle baby in her arms)
A baby always changes how we see the world, when one is placed in our arms to love and nurture. And, it is normal to cry. From pain to happy tears in what seems like an eternity and a breath all at the same time. A baby changes everything. 
This season, the miracle of that night in Bethlehem is remembered. Our Lord and King longs for each of us to embrace the gift of the Christ-child. Born like us to live like us, but without sin, so that he could take away the sins of all who would choose to receive Him. That life changing grace is still available to all of us today. 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. -Romans 12:2

A baby transformed a humble manger into a King's bed. That baby grew up in the ordinary way, with birthdays and siblings,learning his earthly father's carpentry trade. Then he transformed a cross of shame and death into a symbol of forgiveness and hope for all who repent, ask forgiveness and offer their lives as a gift. 

It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.-Galatians 6:15 

Today...I am grateful for transforming power.