Faith

The 15 Can Challenge: How You Can Make a Difference With One Can Each Week

A few days ago I got an invitation to an event from a Facebook friend. I’m notorious for seeing it on my phone, then overlooking an event or forgetting to respond, but the name of this one stood out. The 15 Can Challenge. I like challenges. I mean, just recently I posted about why the Ice Bucket Challenge was important to me, and I think challenges are a good way to push ourselves.

I clicked over, and saw a description that made it clear I needed to participate in this, but it also tugged at my heart to the point that I felt a need to share it with my readers, as well.

If you have heard of it (and there’s a chance you already have– at the time I’m writing this, over 32,000 people have pledged to be a part of it, and 445,500 more have been invited to join in), this will be a refresher. If you haven’t, here’s what it’s all about:

Each week, when you purchase your groceries, buy one extra non-perishable item. Maybe it’s a can of beans or a can of soup or a jar of peanut butter. Just make sure it’s non-perishable and will last well past Christmastime.

Get one item per week for the next fifteen weeks. If you’re doing the math, starting this week would put you at 1 week before Christmas. If you’re starting later, just grab an extra can to make up for it.

After your 15 weeks of collection is finished (you’ll have 15 items for 15 weeks), deliver your items to the food pantry or charity of your choice.

Finally, the last instruction is to invite all of your friends to participate in this cause.

Basically, the impact could be enormous– all you’re doing is setting aside that one extra item per week. This is great for those of us who want to do service, and give, but don’t know how to get started. And now, I’m about to make it even easier for you– I’m going to give you some ideas of how you can use your 15 can challenge to feed families and give more.

Spaghetti Night Spaghetti is a great, affordable option that is shelf-stable. You’ll want to spend 5 of your weeks buying Spaghetti Sauce, 5 weeks buying Spaghetti, and 5 weeks buying canned fruits and vegetables that can pair with spaghetti. If each family were given a jar of sauce, a package of spaghetti, and a can of fruit or vegetables, you would have provided 5 meals to those in need by adding just one item to your cart each week.

Chili Night Growing up, my mom always made the best chili, and it turns out, it’s really easy. My mom’s chili consisted of a 2-3 cans of beans, a packet of chili seasoning, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of corn. Obviously, your target items to buy here would be canned beans, diced tomatoes, and chili seasoning to provide families with the items for dinner. If you went this route and a family didn’t like chili, at least they’d have beans and tomatoes, which can be used in a multitude of other recipes.

Just for Kids In the past, when I’ve volunteered with food bank sort of programs, one big concern that always crops up is families who want to make sure their kids’ needs are met most of all. Who doesn’t want to keep their kids happy and healthy? One great way to handle this is to have your kids chip in on the planning of this one… some ideas of how to use your 15 weeks of gathering items? Pick up Juice Boxes (look for 100% juice!), granola bars, pudding and applesauce cups, mac and cheese, and graham crackers. These are items that have some nutrition (a lot of pudding now has more calcium than ever), but still make kids feel special.

The Most Important Meal of the Day A lot of times, kids will get their lunches provided at school, but many kids and adults go hungry when it comes to the most important meal of the day, Breakfast. Some options you can purchase here include just-add-water pancake mix, syrup, juice (again, 100% juice varieties are best), instant breakfast drinks, low-sugar cereals (like Chex or Cheerios), and oatmeal packets.

Protein Lovers It can be especially hard for food pantries to keep stock of protein items. While many people donate canned vegetables or fruits because it seems like a natural item to buy, products like beans, tuna, canned chicken, bean based soups, and canned nuts are often forgotten entirely. Almond butter and peanut butter are a good source of protein, also.

Tis the Season Many food pantries cannot accept perishable items, or they get those items from another source around the holidays (like cash donations or turkeys purchased by a corporate donor), but nearly all food pantries can accept donations of seasonal items like shelf-stable stuffing, canned cranberry sauce, and canned sweet potatoes. These seasonal items can help make the holidays a little brighter, even if your food pantry doesn’t accept other perishable donations.

Forget Ramen Sodium-laden foods like ramen are often over-supplied at food pantries, and for the same price you can get a box of ramen, you could get a box or bag of rice, which has less sodium and will provide more meals. Consider donating rice, beans, and pasta instead.

Top It! Often, food pantries will be able to provide actual food, but have no condiments to go along with it. Sometimes, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, honey, jelly, and salad dressing can make some ordinary cans and boxes into a much tastier meal. Consider using your 15 items to get condiments.

The Littlest Needs One of the most heartbreaking struggles is when a family with a young child worries about being able to meet their child’s needs. Food pantries are often short on formula, baby food, baby cereal, and special treats like teething biscuits. These are very important donations that can help provide both food and peace of mind for a worried mom.

Clean Up Your Act There is often an overlap between people who are getting food assistance and people who need additional assistance from local community resources in emergencies. But here’s the deal: their food needs may be met, but many of them are struggling to meet basic needs that food stamps don’t cover, like toiletries. Toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and feminine hygiene products may be items that your local food pantry accepts (call in advance and ask), and, in a season of giving where many are buying canned goods, these items may be in shorter supply– donating them could make a huge difference to someone who doesn’t have them.

 

The bottom line is one product a week for 15 weeks, 15 non-perishable items total, can make a huge difference. But it makes an even bigger difference when thousands of us nationwide band together to donate and put our efforts together to get something big accomplished, like feeding a whole lot of people. Think outside of the basic canned veggies (not that these are not also important donations), but find the many exciting things that you can donate that will help someone have a better day, a better start.

Finally, please don’t forget that food pantries sometimes get a rush of help at Christmas, but then are left struggling to meet needs during other times of the year. I want to personally challenge my readers and myself to get into the habit of picking up canned goods and donating them year-round. My challenge to you is to do the 15 can challenge, buy one item a week for 15 weeks, donate it… and then do it again immediately after, go for 15 more weeks of buying one extra item, setting it aside, and donating it. Make it a habit that you do in your every day life, and I promise, you’ll be making more of a difference than you realize.

And also, if you absolutely can’t participate in the 15 can challenge because you don’t remember to pick up a canned good each week, consider your average grocery bill, and donate money to a local food pantry. Many food pantries can use cash donations to purchase perishable items for families, so cash donations are often equally necessary to operation.

 

 

Will you be participating in the 15 can challenge? What items do you think are important to donate? Let me know in the comment below, and RSVP to the Facebook event here.

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Why The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Matters to Me (And Why There’s No Excuse Not to Participate)

It started with a phone call to plan our vacation. My mom got off the phone, turned to me, and said “Something isn’t right with Faye.” Puzzled, I asked what was wrong, and she voiced concern that Faye was slurring her words. We both speculated, worrying Faye had experienced a stroke or some other issue.

When we actually went on vacation, it was more prominent. There was no doubting it, Faye was slurring, and her hands were a bit tense. I think we all had an idea of it, but none of us wanted to say the words, that acronym. After all, we’d already lost at least one family member to the horrible illness, and the thought of another going through the same horrible, trapped fate was terrifying.

A diagnosis confirmed it… Faye had ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It meant that, over the coming months, she’d lose her ability to speak, her ability to eat, her ability to move normally. She’d resort to writing what she needed to say, and eventually, she’d lose the ability to do that, as well. If someone baked cookies, she’d be unable to enjoy them. If she was craving a bagel, she couldn’t eat it. Her mind would function, but she couldn’t turn those thoughts into spoken words. She would literally become a prisoner in her own failing body before eventually succumbing to the disease.

Faye was at least the second person to be affected by ALS in our family. My great grandmother Lena also had ALS. Some types of ALS are more prevalent within a family, people predisposed to it based on genetics. Having more than one person in our family diagnosed was not a positive sign.

ALS is relatively unknown and rather underfunded. Unless you call it Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a lot of people don’t even know what you’re referring to. Essentially, people either have no idea what ALS is, or they know the horror of it because they’ve seen it or been affected by it. There’s very little in-between.

Or at least, there was until around July 29, when the ALS ice bucket challenge began. People around the country, and soon, the world, started dumping buckets of cold water on their heads to raise awareness for this terrifying condition. More and more people joined in. Celebrities started participating. Politicians did it. Kids did it.

Searches for ALS on Google increased greatly. Donations did, also, with people rushing to fund research for ALS. People finally were finding out what ALS was and why it needed to be funded. A lot of us who had seen ALS firsthand were relieved, excited, and ready to participate.

And then, like any viral sensation on the internet, the haters started in on the ALS ice bucket challenge.

“ALS kills fewer people than (insert cause here) so it isn’t worth donating to.” Great. Donate to another cause. Or donate to ALS and another cause. But just because it doesn’t kill as many people, or even affect as many people, it doesn’t make it less valid of a cause. While you may not be intending harm by saying this, to someone who has experienced it and seen it first hand, you’re basically saying “Other loss is more important than your loss because it affects more people.” To me, their loss is significant, and so is mine. Let me donate to the cause I support, and you can do what you please with your time and money.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge is a waste of water.” Only if you let it be a waste of water when you participate. If you’re concerned about wasting water, there are several options. 1) Donate, but don’t dump water. A lot of people have done it this way. 2) Do what the awesome Peterson Farm Brothers did in their Ice Bucket Challenge, and water your crops while you’re at it. 3) Do what Matt Damon did and use toilet water. 4) Do what one of my Facebook friends did and make your donation to ALS research, then instead of dumping water on your head, donate water bottles to a local homeless shelter. Her family made their ALS donations, then donated 30 cases of water to the homeless. It’s only a waste of water if you’re letting it be one, and you can participate while getting creative if you choose to.

“ALS organizations use their money for embryonic stem cell research, and I’m not okay with that.” Great. Neither am I. You can donate to another ALS research charity that doesn’t use their funds for embryonic stem cell use. One good option is the MSCTC, which only uses adult stem cells, with another being at the Mayo Clinic, also using adult stem cells. Christian bioethicist David Prentice recommends both of these charities as good options. Additionally, 501(c)3 guidelines say that you can specify your donation anywhere not be used to fund embryonic stem cell research. The organization has to comply and use your funds in other ways, or they’ll risk losing their tax-exempt status. Sidenote: I do not recommend donating to JPII Medical Institute, where funds are not going to research ALS, but instead, being used to build a clean room and lease laboratory space. There is no confirmation of intention to use these funds for ALS-specific research. Finally, you’ll want to know that Carrie Munk from ALSA says that they primarily also fund Adult Stem Cell research, and that, while the ALSA has one program using embryonic stem cells, it’s funded by one donor who very specifically is dedicated to that line of research.

“ALSA tests on animals.” Yes, The ALSA does test on animals. Significant advances have been made because of this fact. However, unlike many believe (possibly thanks to Pamela Anderson), the ALSA doesn’t do primate studies, and if you’d like your funds not to go towards animal testing, you can specify that when you make your donation, and they will honor it.

“I cannot do it because I work for the government.” There are some government agencies that are saying that participants cannot do it by identifying themselves as part of that organization (specifically military). That said, most military members are able to participate as long as they’re not doing so while in uniform or identifying themselves by their military status. Additionally, there are some government officials who are strictly barred from participating in the ice bucket challenge. That said, none of those people are barred from donating their money where they’d like, including to ALS research. So, just because you can’t dump water on your head if you work in certain fields, well, you can still put your money where your mouth is and give a little bit.

“I don’t have money to donate.” If you absolutely cannot donate money to ALS research, and if you don’t have the money for ice, that’s okay. Participate in the challenge. Film yourself dumping water on your head. And then, explain what ALS is and why research for ALS is important. Beyond the donations, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a great way to help more people learn about ALS. While obviously, donations are very beneficial and I love that people are choosing to donate, I also recognize that some people can’t. Awareness is also important, and I think that people can participate even without donating.

To be honest, with all of the hate that the Ice Bucket Challenge is getting, I simply have yet to find a single valid reason why someone could not find some way to participate at all. Perhaps it’s because the cause is very personal to me, but I see that a lot of the reasons not to participate really don’t make sense when you take the time to see what options are out there.

Obviously, I can’t force anyone’s hand in doing the ice bucket challenge, and I wouldn’t want to. I want people to participate because they want to participate. But I also don’t want some of the louder voices that are shouting why participation isn’t a good idea to shout louder than the truth behind those statements– that to every side that says don’t do it, there are still ways you can do it and reasons you should do it.

If nothing else, do a little bit of reading on what ALS is like, what it feels like, how it affects people. Think about the experience of being absolutely trapped in your own body. And then decide whether or not you feel like it’s worth putting a few dollars towards or dumping water on your head. To me, the ALS ice bucket challenge is an opportunity. And if you don’t plan on participating, please don’t tell me how bored you are of it. I sit silently during Movember, even though the cause isn’t as relevant in my life. I watch other charities, diseases, and causes get their time in the spotlight. For once, ALS is in the spotlight. It’s got the attention of the world, and more people than ever now know what ALS is and what it’s effects are.

I implore you… let ALS have this spotlight, just for this little bit. It won’t last forever, and you’ll be back to browsing videos of kids taking selfies and news about the atrocities going on in the world. But for now, let ALS have it, even if you don’t plan on joining in on the fun.

And trust me… participating can be pretty darn fun.

With that, I’d like to issue one final challenge. Readers, I challenge each and every one of you to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether you participate by donating, but dumping water on your head, or in any other capacity, I’m nominating you.

Have you done the ice bucket challenge? Link up your video in the comments below! Not participating? I’d love to hear why!

What You Don’t See

I was really hesitant to weigh in on everything with Robin Williams, but this is a post that has been on my mind since Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and I’m not sure I can hold back from writing it any longer.

I’ve been particularly shaken by some of the recent celebrity deaths. People like Philip Seymour Hoffman, like Robin Williams, I feel like I know them. I remember growing up on Mrs. Doubtfire, remember the first time I saw Dead Poet’s Society in a psychology class in college. I remember when I went through an indie films phase and got my first taste of Hoffman in The Savages.

In short, I feel like I knew these people. Not just on the surface, but because I had seen so many facets of their personality on screen, I felt like I truly, deeply knew these people. When Robin Williams passed away, I felt like I was losing some sort of childhood figure the same way I would have felt had I heard a childhood friend’s parent had died. Hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death took me back to hearing about losses of acquaintances in school. It felt personal enough that it made me take a step back and think about life differently, at least for a little bit.

And then something hit me. I’m not alone in these deaths feeling personal. If my news feed on Facebook yesterday was any indication, it hits everyone hard when someone beloved, someone we grew up on, dies. Cries of “Oh captain, my captain!” and “Nanu Nanu” rang out on Facebook and I realized that Robin William’s death is personal for everyone.

But here’s the deal… we saw Robin Williams. We watched him in films. We saw him play Teddy Roosevelt and Mrs Doubtfire and all of these roles and everything seemed fine. He was funny, he was happy, things were great on the surface. It takes me back to a few years ago when a local channel’s weather anchor committed suicide. He was funny. He joked and laughed, but he was harboring this dark, desperate feeling inside, and eventually, he couldn’t hold on any longer.

Clearly, a local celebrity hits home closer. That’s someone I could have ran into at the grocery store, someone who I might have known in passing. And that’s what’s so scary to me… that all of us, no matter what town we live in, what part of the world we’re in, no matter our walk of life, income level, family status– we all know someone. Each and every one of us knows someone who might be going through the same struggles that Robin Williams went through with depression, that Philip Seymour Hoffman went through with his drug addiction.

Maybe it’s the teen sacking your groceries at the store, the mail carrier delivering your packages to your doorstep, the person who goes for a run each morning around your block. Any one of them could be struggling with depression, or drug addiction, or any host of problems.

And I can guarantee it will hit you the same way. If one of them were overcome by addiction, or their depression consumed them and they did what we all feel as unthinkable, you’d think “How could that happen? I knew them. They were funny/cheery/happy/whatever.” You might say “Yeah, you know, maybe there was just something I missed there.”

Most likely, you’d feel sad. You’d wonder if something could have been done. And then, after days, weeks, maybe months, you’d move on. You’d remember from time to time, but not the way you would if it was someone closer to you.

And that’s what scares me. You see, Robin William’s death hit me hard because I felt like I knew him. And it made me wonder who else I think I know that I don’t really know, that I haven’t taken the time to listen to. If someone had listened to Robin, checked in with him, or if someone had asked Phillip how he was doing, seen if he had fallen off of the wagon, tried to get him the help he needed, maybe they’d still be with us. And maybe, just maybe, if I took more than a passing second to ask “How are you?” to the cashier before interrupting to hand over my coupons and get out the door, or if I stopped to say hello to my mail carrier, maybe my actions would help someone hold on just a little bit longer.

The death of these celebrities that I thought I knew simply because I had seen them so often in life made me wonder if there are people that I think I know in real life, that maybe I’m missing who they are.

Maybe it’s for the good– maybe there’s someone who seems annoying or overbearing that I feel like I know on the surface, and maybe they’re pure gold underneath. How often am I wrapped up in my day-to-day, my silly toddler, my writing, my photography, that I don’t notice what those around me are experiencing?

If nothing else, the deaths of these celebrities encouraged me to stop, pay a little bit more attention to the people who are around me. I don’t think my stopping to listen will necessarily save a life, but at the same time, who is to say it wouldn’t? I feel like it’s worth thinking about, taking the time to get to know more of those people I think I know. After all, I can’t change what a celebrity like Robin Williams does, but I can do a better job of making an impact in those people I know-but-don’t in my own town.

It’s worth a shot.

21 Verses to Keep You Calm When You Want to Pull Your Hair Out

Fear. Anxiety. Stress. Exhaustion. It seems like sometimes everyday life, but especially mom life, can bring these things. “Am I being a good enough mom?” “What if something happens to my child? Or to me? Who would care for him?” “Ugh! Why won’t he listen to me?” “I just want to go to bed… I’ve been up for days it seems like…” “What if I can’t afford to pay the bills?” “What if I lose my job?” “What if I fail that test?” “Will I EVER find the One?” “I’m just so frustrated!”

Questions… fears… frustrations… they reach the best of us and shake us to our cores at times, and it’s so hard to fix your eyes on God when you’re plagued with thoughts that are overwhelming at best, spirit-crushing at worst.

Thankfully, God wants to calm us. There are literally hundreds of verses in the Bible intended to help us feel His loving hand on us in rough times where we are sometimes rattled to a point that we don’t know how we’re going to get through the day without throwing a temper tantrum, or at the very least, gorging on chocolate from the next available source.

He never, ever wants us to feel afraid or alone. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, afraid, or just generally want to pull your hair out, meditate on one of these verses.

When applicable, I’ve paired a verse that speaks on anxiety with a song that reminds me of the verse and gets me through those rough moments in life. You can find the songs linked on Youtube, or you could also follow my Spotify playlist that has some extra tracks here. Some are pretty spot-on speaking to the verse, and others are a little more loosely paired, but either way, I hope you find hope in them.

The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you… and I will give you rest– everything will be fine for you.” –Exodus 33:14, speaking to Moses.

Let It Fade- Jeremy Camp.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

Overcomer- Mandisa

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. –2 Timothy 1:7

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

But in my distress, I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary, my cry to him reached his ears. –Psalms 18:6

Need You Now (How Many Times)- Plumb

This is my command– be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

Courageous- Casting Crowns

I am leaving you with a gift– peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give, so don’t be troubled or afraid. –John 14:27

Worn- Tenth Avenue North

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. –Psalm 107:29

You Never Let Go– AJ Michalka ft. James Denton

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it’s own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. –Matthew 6:34

We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. –Psalms 33:20-21

10,000 Reasons- Matt Redman

The Lord is my light and salvation– so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident. –Psalms 27:1-3

Whom Shall I Fear? (God of Angel Armies)- Chris Tomlin

See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. –Isaiah 12:2

Stand in the Rain- Superchic[k]

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. –John 14:1

I look up to the mountains– does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! –Psalms 121:1-2

Praise You In This Storm- Casting Crowns

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. –Psalms 55:22

When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. –Psalms 94:19

Oh God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! –Psalms 61:1-4

Strong Tower- Kutless

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper– it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land. –Psalms 37:7-9

Beauty from Pain- Superchic[k]

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. –Psalms 56:3

Though I am surrounded by troubles, you will protect me from the anger of my enemies. You reach out your hand, and the power of your right hand saves me. –Psalms 138:7

Our God Is Greater- Chris Tomlin

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. –Isaiah 43:1b-3a

 

(All verses are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise specified).

 

Do you have a verse that helps you get through those stressful moments? Share it in the comments below, or let me know what song you rock out to when you’re feeling like pulling your hair out!

5 Ways to Pray for Your Community

With today being the National Day of Prayer, there’s a lot of interest in focusing our prayers on the National level. It is so common for us to get into our bubble and pray for our family, ourselves, the leaders in our own church, or close friends and family who have a need. What I love about the National Day of Prayer is that it’s reminding us to pray for our government, for our leaders, and for the things that affect us as a whole, nationally.

However, I also think that it is incredibly important for people to spend time praying for their local communities, not just on one specific day, but in the same way as they’d pray for family, friends, themselves, their job, their stress, and the other things on the prayer list. Not as a duty, but as something that comes naturally, like breathing.

But when it comes time to pray for your own community, it can be hard to think of what prayer the community really needs. Where is there a prayer need? I decided to take a walk and think about how I could best pray for my community.

As I walked, I realized a natural way to do this was to pray for neighbors. I encourage you to try this, as well, walking past your neighbors’ homes on a prayer walk and praying for those who live near you. Maybe you live in an apartment, where you have lots of neighbors all in your building, or maybe you’re in the country or on a farm where your closest neighbors could be even miles away. Either way, pray for those who are around you. If you know of a specific need your neighbor has, pray for that. If not, pray that God will be present in whatever needs they may have, or whatever they may be facing. If you don’t know what prayer needs they have, it’s a good opportunity to get to know your neighbors and see if there is a tangible way you can serve them.

From there, you can pray for the leadership in your local community. Ask God to help your town’s leadership and put his hand on the leaders in your town, in all of the various roles, from the Mayor and the City Council, to the School Board, Superintendent, and Principals, to the local community boards. Our town, for example, has a Fall Festival Committee, and that’s a specific leadership group that needs prayer right there alongside those who are working on the day-to-day needs of the town. It’s important to pray that God put his hand on those who are making decisions for the town, and praying that they will make decisions that honor Him.

As you pray for the leadership, pray for the local schools, as well. Pray that the teachers will raise up strong children who become future leaders themselves. Pray for the bullies, that their hearts will soften, and for the bullied, that they can stand strong in the face of adversity. Pray for the principals as they make decisions running their schools, for the nurses to have a healing touch, for school law enforcement and school resource officers to keep kids safe, and for the students that their minds and hearts will be open to education, and to the Lord. Pray for the safety as kids are at school, and pray for the students’ home lives, as well.

One area that sometimes gets overlooked is praying for churches in your community. Often, we all feel this tendency to pray for our own church or our own pastor, or our own youth or leadership teams, but we forget that there are many churches that work together in a community to spread the Gospel. Pray for other churches in your community, and your own church, that these churches reach out, practice active outreach, serve others, and welcome the community with open arms. Pray that the Youth in each church are being shaped and led into active, spirited followers of Christ, that the leadership in the church is sound, and that each church in your community is an active and loving representation of the Body of Christ. Pray for each church that their needs are met and that they are able to serve the Lord well.

Finally, pray for the service programs in your community that they are reaching those in need. If your town has a local food pantry or clothing closet, pray that the people who need those services are getting them. If your town has a multiservice center that helps with various needs, pray they’re meeting the needs of the community. Pray that even groups like library storytime are meeting the families who need it, that if even one mom needs that connection with someone, or if even one child needs a meal, or if even one person needs a warm coat, that the service programs in the community are touching those who need each program the most. If you feel a tug on your heart, consider contacting these programs and finding out where you can personally serve beyond prayer, but start praying that each of these programs is helping exactly who they need to help, and that each has the resources, donations, and volunteers to sustain their program and continue serving in the community.

When a community has individuals praying for it, or even a group of people praying for it, that community can become stronger. When those prayers are put into action and service, it helps even one step further to strengthen the community and make it a better place to live, not just for those praying, but for everyone in the community. And I think we can all agree that a community that has people praying for it and serving it is a community that will be blessed again and again.

 

Can you think of a way to pray for your local community that I might have missed? Please share it in the comment section below!

A New Creation

Something new. See, a lot of people think about newness around the beginning of the New Year, when we’re setting resolutions and considering the new year and all of the possibilities that it holds. But really, you know when I think of something new? I think of it in Spring, when I start to see all of the growth around me, the new life and fresh creations springing up.

We have this nest on our Sunroom. Every year for as long as we’ve had it, these birds have nested there, and every spring, we get two or three families using the nest. There is even a possibility that some babies born in that nest have come back to nest in that very same nest. Every season, birds come, and repair the damage that winter has caused, and then create new life, eggs that hatch. That, to me, is when things are new, when I see the newness of God’s creation.

We constantly seem to want “new” things in life. I know I’m not alone in seeing the newest version of the smartphone I use being released and wanting desperately to upgrade for a few new features. When I was feeling stuck in a rut, I went and got a new haircut, thinking that the newness would help me feel transformed and shake things up.

So many times, we want a new purse for the new season, or a new swimsuit for spring break, or new new new. But we so often fail to realize that, no matter how many external things we change, we really can’t change some things.

I mean, think about it. You can change your clothing, but you’re still you under that clothing. You can get a new haircut or a new phone, but it’s still you in there. You still have all of those same things you struggle with, your same fears, insecurities, worries about the past or the future, concerns about life in general. No matter how many things you change, from your gadgets to your clothing, are really going to transform the you that is inside of you.

To be honest, all of those external changes really just don’t do a lot. However, there is one great way to get new life, to become a NEW you, to have that new creation feeling.

The Bible makes it clear how we can get that new life. It happens in Jesus Christ. When we go to Him (or return to Him, depending on where you’re at in your journey), you can have that internal change. It isn’t a change on the outside, and it may seem less subtle than new clothes or a new haircut. You’ll still look like you, but you’ll have this new internal buzz.

See, when you find, or even re-find, Christ, you become someone new. It’s in Christ that we can fully experience love, joy, hope… peace. True peace. That inspiration comes fully from Christ, that TRUE God-love, that God-joy, and God-hope, and God-peace. The kind that you just can’t get without Him.

While of course, if you want that new smartphone or that new haircut, you should get it if you have the ability, it will not change how you feel inside. That executive with the 6 figure income, snappy suit, and great hair? He may be rotting inside, miserable, hopeless, stuck in a cycle of sin he can’t break out of. But the hobo on the corner that the executive tosses a nickel to? He may be happy, despite his disheveled clothing and scraggly beard. Outward appearance isn’t an indicator of an inward spiritual gain.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in things… how we look. That new bikini we want to fit into. That new purse we have to have. I do it, too. And those things are okay. Don’t get me wrong. But we’re so hung up on this world, and how we look and what we have, that we’re missing the point of what new life, new creation, newness is really all about.

You have to consider what new, amazing life you can have when you have Jesus. Think about what he said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” Wow. I mean, that, beyond just having life, God wants us to have ABUNDANT life. That’s powerful. That’s a very full life.

I think a big example of the full extent of this new life comes in John 2:19. Think about an old house. You see it there, maybe on your evening walk. There are shingles missing, entire door frames falling apart, rotting wood. You know there’s probably some internal damage, that the house just isn’t what it used to be. Rather than taking and renovating that house, Jesus describes a complete rebuilding. An entirely new creation, something new that wasn’t there, a rebuilt life rather than a renovated one. We can sit and make little changes, but until we are rebuilt, a NEW creation, we will always find something missing in our lives.

It’s time for something new. Spring is the perfect time for that newness. See, I’m sure by now, a lot of you have your New Years Resolutions going one of two ways: either you’ve abandoned them entirely, or you’ve been working on them enough that they’ve become a new habit in your life, rather than a short-term goal you made. Because of that, it’s time to set some new goals, and replenish that newness.

Not in the short term, not something like weight loss, or quitting smoking, though things like that are admirable. But to be honest, as Christians, we have a lifetime goal. This is a resolution that you keep your entire life.

When you’re a new creation, new in Christ, a completely rebuilt structure, it’s time to share with the world your new life. We want to live life with purpose. Our God given purpose is to see everything in the light of that NEW life, NEW creation we are. That doesn’t mean you have to be preachy all the time, and go shunning friends who don’t agree with you or going all Westboro Baptist Church on anyone. It means that you have to be concerned with the welfare of the soul of those around you, and even those not around you.

An ambassador for Christ, which all of us should be, as a new creation in him, knows the heart of Christ, and stays in constant communication with Christ through prayer and action. An ambassador for Christ will keep his heart set on Christ’s interests, and represent Christ. That ambassador is ready to be with Christ at a moment’s notice. If we are only living for the here, the now, this earth, then we’re betraying God’s trust with our behavior and actions. As a new creation, we have to consider C.S. Lewis’s words: “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” It’s true, those eternal things are what matter the most.

Anyone in Christ will be experiencing the newness of life every day. By putting your trust in Christ, by relying on him, you have that newness. Because we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, by knowing we’d never be good enough by our own efforts, we HAVE to have a change of heart to fully become new.

We have to make that heart change, not a surface change, to be a new creation in Christ. Without that, we’ll never make it.

So yeah, buy your new Spring break swimsuit. Find a cute new haircut that you love. But this spring, when you’re looking around at all of the newness of life, seeing the new birds and new flowers and new life, it’s time to renew our hearts, too. It’s time to not just renovate, but rebuild. It’s time for us to focus on being a new creation in Christ, and sharing that newness with others, from the inside out, making an internal change, not just for this season, but for good.

I’ve designed this printable of a verse that really rings true to me, in 8×10, and in 4 colors. You can print it, hang it somewhere visible, or just keep it somewhere safe to remind you of this new life. Remember that, in a season of all things new, this is a forever thing, to be New in Christ.

You can download the printables here, choose your favorite, and print.

Being the Hands and Feet: Seven Ways Kids Can Serve Others

It’s made very clear in the Bible how important it is to serve others, and to make sure you’re taking care of the “least of these,” helping out the entire church body, and serving anyone who needs it. The Bible is all about reaching out there and taking care of others.

But no matter what your stance is, or if you are even a Christian, serving others is a huge part of life. When you reach out and make that tangible connection with someone else, everyone is made better in the process.

Studies show that the things you’re taught before the age of seven are the things that you will live for the rest of your life. While there are obviously some exceptions to this, it’s largely true. That’s why teaching kids how to serve in their formative years is SO important on how they’ll serve others for the rest of their lives.

But it isn’t always easy to find tasks that are age appropriate for kids, ways for them to serve others when they’re 4, 5, 6 years old. I’ve compiled a list of tasks that children of various ages, from preschool through the teen years, can do. Obviously, some will require more help and parental supervision than others, and some are better suited to older age groups, but all of these are tasks that your kids can get involved in to serve others.

Homeless care bags are a great way to serve others. You can easily make a bunch, then store them in your car for whenever they’re needed. Start with a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, then tuck in toiletries, like deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, washcloth, even some body spray. Continue with some small food items, like a water bottle, soft granola bars, a pop-tab can of ravioli or another similar food that doesn’t require heating and can be opened without a can opener. If you’re able to, you could even tuck in a small gift card for a fast food restaurant, allowing them to go inside, warm up (or cool down, depending on the season) and have a meal on your dime. If you include non-perishables, you can keep a box of care bags in your car and hand them out whenever you see someone in need. In the winter, consider adding in a pair of warm gloves or socks.

Kids can easily help with these homeless care bags by shopping for the items with you, by assembling the bags with you, and by delivering them to those in need. You’ll find that, once you have the bags made, kids will start noticing people in need more often, and helping to serve more. By being more aware of the need, it’ll open doors for conversations about why it’s important to help others.

Volunteer at your local food pantry. Most communities have a food pantry, which collects food, sorts it, and distributes it. Some food pantries may also have extra goals, like creating lunches for students who get free lunches through school to ensure they have meals during the summer, when many kids go hungry without that school lunch. However, food pantries need a LOT of work to keep them running smoothly! They need donations, and often can give you a list of specific items they’re running low on if you give them a call. They also may need people to help sort, organize, unpack, or repack items for distribution. Of course, you’ll want to call your local food bank first to see what their biggest needs are, and also to confirm that your child can help you serve. Most kids are able to sort items at a fairly young age, but even if you can’t help by serving at the food pantry, you can make a special grocery trip and allow the children to help you locate the most-needed items!

Donate Outgrown Clothing. This one is a great one for opening the door of conversation to show how blessed we truly are. As kids outgrow clothing, they can help go through the closet, find items they no longer wear or have outgrown, and can box them up. Then, you can help them sort the clothing and donate it to a local clothing closet or clothing drive. By doing this, you’re helping kids see that they have items that some kids simply don’t have. A lot of kids don’t have clothing that they need, let alone cute clothing they like, and by donating outgrown clothing, kids can serve other kids and learn how not everyone has access to some of the resources you might have. I’ve found that, even when money was limited and I had very little, this was one area where I could still afford to donate and serve others.

Adopt a Neighbor. You know that neighbor who lives near you, the one who is elderly and doesn’t have family nearby? What about the single mom with several kids who works full time? Maybe the family who just had a major medical event happen and it’s causing them to fall behind a little bit? How about adopting that family or neighbor, taking them under your wing, and finding ways to serve them? Perhaps one week it is getting the whole family together to shovel their snowy driveway. Maybe it means dropping by with a meal, or asking if there are any groceries you can pick up for them when you do your shopping. Your children could deliver a card telling them to get well soon or let them know that you’re thinking of them and praying for them. With permission from the neighbor, an older child could mow their lawn for free. Sometimes, adopting a neighbor can be a short-term thing– helping a family out through a rough patch in life. Sometimes, it can be a long-term commitment to help out a neighbor who needs an extra hand with a little help around the house. Consider an elderly neighbor who lives alone, and think about asking if they need any little tasks done, like changing lightbulbs or testing smoke detectors. Let older kids offer to clean out gutters, or wash windows. By chipping in and doing these little tasks, you’re helping out someone who might not be able to do it themselves, and also forming a lasting bond with someone you live near.

Serve at a nursing home. A nursing home can be a great place to serve, especially as a family! Often, residents have no family or limited family, and could use some interaction from kids. Ask your local nursing home if you can stop by and play games or cards, adopt a resident to spend regular time with, or have your children read to them. It’s a great opportunity to form a lasting connection, again, and also helps you bring some light and joy to someone’s life. Make sure you get permission before bringing items, like flowers or baked goods, to ensure there are no health risks associated with it, but if you get permission, a bouquet of flowers could brighten up someone’s windowsill, and a hand-drawn picture makes all the difference!

Send Cards to Children’s Hospital Patients. Most children’s hospitals have patients who are there for long-term care. It’s a sad reality that there are some kids who are spending weeks, months, or even years within the walls of a hospital, and that can get very monotonous! To help make kids feel a little less sad about missing out on holidays spent at home with family or friends, a lot of children’s hospitals have organizations that are set up to collect cards for the patients. Most will request a card that has a holiday theme and will ask you NOT to send Get Well Soon cards. Around Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays, or even just for no occasion at all, these organizations deliver handmade greetings to children in the hospital. It’s great to have your child make a greeting that will be delivered to another child!

Make a Spaghetti Dinner for the homeless. Especially when it’s cold, people who don’t have a place to call home find hot meals to be few and far between. A great way to remedy that is to deliver a hot meal of your own that your family worked together to prepare. Spaghetti is great for a couple of reasons. First, most homeless don’t have access to dental care, so some will have trouble with foods that aren’t on the softer side. Second, Spaghetti is something that every age can help prepare. Start by taking a trip to the store and buying 2-3 large packages of spaghetti, 2-3 cans or jars of sauce, some bags of parmesan cheese, and some garlic bread. Also pick up 20-30 takeout boxes and forks while you’re at the store. Don’t forget to buy bottled water, as well. Spend time as a family preparing the spaghetti, then boxing it up in the takeout boxes. Put those in bags, and load up the car with bottled water, parmesan cheese, and the spaghetti and bread. Drive around an area with a larger homeless population and deliver fresh, warm spaghetti, then ask them if they’d like some fresh cheese. After delivering, make sure to sit down and talk to someone one-on-one and ask them their story, or just talk to them about life in general.

Kids of all ages can learn to serve, but when they not only watch you serve, but help you serve, with intention, they’ll learn a lasting history of serving others and begin to really understand what the Bible means when it says to be the hands and feet of Jesus.