Joy in my world

blogDSCN8357“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat”….okay, I’ll admit I’m starting to look like the Christmas goose because lately there have been just too many goodies surrounding me to nosh on.

But seriously, “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

Every time hubby and I drop some spare change in those red Salvation Army buckets, I pray that someone truly needy will experience a little bit of love and joy this Christmas.

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.  Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.  Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.  If you have no penny, a ha’penny will do, if you have no ha’penny, a farthing will do.  If you have no farthing, then God bless you!”

I’m praying today in my book of Opportunity, Chapter 12, Page 22, that God will bless those who virtually have nothing.  Many of our brothers and sisters in the world will experience Christmas Day with not even a simple present while some of us gobble up gifts like gluttons.

During a discussion with my co-workers yesterday, I was reminded of something I believe is worth sharing.  My boss’ sister recently returned from a mission trip to India and that initiated a conversation about those who live in third world countries.   Shortly after Christmas, two of my young friends will journey for the second year in a row to Haiti on a short-term trip giving aid where it’s sorely needed.

blogpix1As I  sat comfortably in our office with my co-workers, well-fed, well-clothed, and…well, just well and conversed about our loved ones’ trips, we agreed that the sights seen in those countries must stay with the traveler forever.  The poor, the sick, the abused, the needy, the mistreated, the hungry – how could you forget them?

During mission trips, my own children have witnessed firsthand those who are so very less fortunate in far-off lands like Mozambique, Honduras, Belize, and even our southern neighbor, Mexico.

blogpix2Yet amid all the misery and incredible poverty, I believe every one of these traveling missionaries would tell you the same thing – when they journey abroad to minister to these poorest of God’s children, they are amazed that the least of these, who lack material wealth, have the most incredible joy when they worship God.

I distinctly remember when our son returned from such a trip.  He seemed almost too overwhelmed to talk about what he’d seen, but he shared one aspect impacting him the most about those to whom he ministered.

“They literally have nothing, but they are so happy!” our son said with amazement.

blogpix3Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord worshiped Him with a zeal that my son had not witnessed before.  When these brothers and sisters in foreign lands, even though they have so very little, worship the King, they worship with gladness and exquisite exultation.  Their hearts are bursting with happiness even if their stomachs ache from hunger, and they are so grateful for the smallest of gifts.

Compare that to those of us who live with such comfort and extravagance here in the USA.  We, who have more than enough, grumble and grouch, whine and complain, and overspend on Christmas gifts, decorations, clothing, and food we don’t really need.

Who among us really understands the true meaning of Christmas?

Those of us who must have the finest decorations bedecking our halls, the larder bursting over in abundance with more food than we could ever possibly need, our shining Christmas trees surrounded by scads of gaily wrapped presents?

Those shoppers who scurry and hurry to find the ‘perfect’ gift no matter what it costs?

Or those fellow believers who live in humble shacks, with one set of clothes on their backs, maybe enough food for one meal, and no presents, no decorations, no gadgetry, no fine dining?

There is one sure thing they possess – the understanding of the most amazing gift ever given at Christmas to mankind.  The gift of salvation.  And I wonder if that’s the one gift we overlook this time of year?  I know I am guilty of that.

Christmas is coming.  There will be an abundance of delicious food, shiny decorations, gifts wrapped in pretty paper, and much merry making at our house as all our children will be home here in Mama’s Empty Nest for celebration.

But you know what I really want to fill my house?  JOY.  True unspeakable, undeniable, unimaginable, unadulterated JOY! The kind of exultation that the shepherds must have felt when the angels appeared in the night sky.

“While shepherds watched their flocks by night,

Glad tidings brought an angel bright:

How great their joy, great their joy,

Joy, joy joy!

Joy, joy joy!

Glory to God in heav’n on high.

Glory to God in heav’n on high.”

And that delight, that kind of elation, that kind of true joy only comes from receiving the gift of salvation, knowing Jesus on a personal level, and hearing His voice as we quiet our hearts and our celebrations to listen for Him and Him alone.

May you be blessed with that kind of joy this Christmas.

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Changing the world

blogDSCN7929Working for a non-profit organization can be one of the most rewarding of jobs as well as discouraging at times.  I know because I’m employed by one.

Rewards flow abundantly when I witness first-hand how we make a difference in the lives of others.  But days of discouragement can also reign when I wonder if we’re truly gaining any ground.

I imagine that most of us who labor in the non-profit world do so not because of any personal gain but because we want to make the world a better place.  I know my fellow co-workers diligently strive to make such a change, to follow our passion for righting a wrong, to serve others, and introduce them to a more positive path for life.

When it comes to personality types, some of us non-profit employees are Doers, some of us are Relaters, and some of us are Influencers.  We may go about our work in diverse ways, but we have one thing in common.  We endeavor to actually accomplish our goals, we don’t just spout rhetoric.

“The world is blessed the most by men who do things, and not by those who merely talk about them.” ~ James Oliver

At times, our efforts seem overwhelming, even futile, and we need re-charged and refreshed to continue our tasks.  That’s exactly what occurred a short while ago at my place of employment.

Our Executive Director announced at weekly staff meeting one day that we should arrive at work on a particular Monday attired in comfortable clothes for a Staff Retreat Day.  She refused to give us details just reassured us that we would be treated to a surprise.  Our organization has undergone several major changes in the last two years, and as change sometimes can prove stressful and challenging, she and our Board of Directors wanted to thank us all for “hanging in there.”

On a crisp, sunny morning we gathered at the office and were whisked off to a lovely country house owned by a friend of our organization.  We settled down in her welcoming home and were served our choice of hot tea, special coffees, hot chocolate, or hot apple cider with several types of mini-muffins to munch on and of course, lots of chocolate candy.  While we sipped and unwound, a Board of Directors member encouraged us with an inspirational message and prayer.  A time of sharing insights about our co-workers’ strengths followed.

Our hostess, who definitely has the gift of hospitality, called us to her dining room where a beautifully decorated table greeted us and we enjoyed a delicious lunch.   But our retreat day wasn’t over yet!  Another friend of our organization, a professional massage therapist, joined us for our afternoon surprise.   Each staff member received a warm soak in a foot spa machine followed by a foot massage, then a back and neck massage, and finally a paraffin wax treatment for our hands.

And as the info-mercials say, “But wait, that’s not all!”  Savoring a delectable chocolate dessert and another hot beverage completed our day of pampering.  Our hostess with the ‘mostess’ presented us with a parting gift – a beautiful red apple sitting atop a small carton of caramel dip all dressed up in a pretty package.  As she randomly passed the treats out to us, she asked us to read a message tied to each one.   Somehow, each message, though different, fit each recipient.

I found my message, “You can change the world!”  interesting and apt, because that is what I attempt to do with the young people I’m privileged to see in schools….change their perspective, change their behavior, change their futures, change their lives in a positive way, one person at a time.

It’s the 29th page in Chapter 9 in my book of Opportunity today.  This book (the year 2011) only has a few more chapters to go, then it will be finished and a new book will begin.   So today, I’ve been seriously contemplating that message I received on our day of pampered blessing and how it meshes with my year of opportunity.

I don’t want to be one of those people who just sits around talking about and waiting for the world to change.  God planted a desire in me to actively help transform people’s lives, which is exactly what I’ve done the last 10 years at my non-profit job.  But lately, I’ve wondered if it was time for me to move on to something else.  Now though, I’m sensing that the Lord doesn’t want me to stop just yet.

And I believe God doesn’t want me to stop sharing my faith journey with my readers.   Daniel 2:20-22 says: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His.  He changes times and seasons; He deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things;  He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.”

Only He can make a real change in me and you.   All we have to do is ask Him.   And then He equips us to go out and really change the world.

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

What would I give?

blogDSCN7912“He who gives what he would as readily throw away, gives without generosity;  for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice.”  ~Henry Taylor

One day last week,  middle daughter and I watched the movie Evan Almighty.    We’ve viewed it before, but both of us just wanted to veg out and watch something light-hearted.

I remembered the basic story line of the movie  – God tells Evan to build an ark – but one of the things I’d forgotten was near the end when Morgan Freeman (as God) converses with Steve Carrell (as Evan) and draws the letters ARK in the dirt.  Turns out what God wanted Evan to do was an Act of Random Kindness (ARK).

That thought reminded me of an action we witnessed during our recent trip south to move oldest daughter back to our home state.  We were settling into our seats for the first leg of our flight.  I turned around to see where middle daughter was located since her assigned seat wasn’t in our row.   My husband nudged me and said, “Look, do you see that?”

A well-dressed gentleman already seated in the airplane’s full first class section must have noticed a man in uniform – a military man  – board the plane.   The gentleman came back to the coach section, spoke quietly to the soldier, and without making a production out of it, offered his seat in first class to the serviceman.

“What a wonderful thing to do!” I thought.  It blessed my heart to see someone honor and respect one of our military,  especially since it was the 10th anniversary weekend of 9-11.  That definitely was one of those acts of random kindness and I doubt if very many people sitting on that plane even noticed what took place.

On our next flight, which again had full first class and coach compartments, I noticed a member of the military sat in the row in front of me.   No one on that plane offered him a first class seat.  And that made me start to ponder this question – what compels a person to give up something of value for another person?  And more importantly, am I willing to sacrifice for someone else, even a complete stranger?

The gentleman on our first flight willingly gave up his expensive seat and, by all appearances, he did so without wanting to claim any glory, thanks, or attention for himself.  That’s a truly giving person – one who expects nothing in return.

Witnessing those two separate events made me contemplate some questions on the rest of the flight.  And today, I can’t stop thinking this over and confronting myself.  What am I willing to give up?  Would I give up a better, more expensive seat on an airplane to a soldier?  Would I even think to do such a thing, would it cross my mind, or would I be so preoccupied with myself that I wouldn’t even notice that soldier?  Do I even pause to realize the sacrifices our military personnel make for me?

I’d like to think that I do.  After all, I am a former military wife.  I know the sacrifices our countrymen and women in the armed forces make each day just so I can live in freedom.  I believe I understand what any person who serves others gives up, be they firefighters, police, or medical personnel just to protect and rescue people like me.

Likewise, I think I’m someone who notices others, especially when they need help.  But the truth of the matter is, I can be just as selfish as anyone.   Am I selfless only when it doesn’t impact me that much?  When I don’t have to really sacrifice anything?  Am I only willing to give up things that don’t matter to me or aren’t that important?  I may feel satisfied when I give unwanted or unworn items to Goodwill, but would I be willing to give a favorite item to someone who needed it?

Maybe giving up a first class seat to another wasn’t a big deal for that gentleman.  But the impact it made on me is a big deal.  When I consider what God has done for me, what He has given up so I may live, I am dumbstruck.  God, the Father, sacrificed his only Son on the cross to pay for my transgressions. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” ~ 1 John 4:10

Jesus, the Son, gave up everything for me.  He gave up His home in glory for a time to come to earth and live among us as one of us.  Then He made the ultimate sacrifice, experienced the pain and agony of the cross, and gave up His very life for me, for all of us.     1 John 2:2  says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Any sacrifice I may offer can never compare.  So what must I do?  I believe the answer is live for Him.  God’s Word tells me, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  ~Ephesians 5:1-2

Hebrews 13:16 also reminds me, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  But to give just for the sake of sacrifice means nothing, so I must endeavor to do everything I can, give up whatever I need to, in love so others may come to know Him by my acts.  “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” ~ Mark 12:33

Image source unknown

Yes, I may perform an ARK, an act of random kindness, but the important aspect is will others see Jesus in me? Do I accomplish my ARKs for His glory, not my own?

As I contemplate these thoughts in today’s book of Opportunity, Chapter 9, Page 19, I marvel at the way God speaks to me even while witnessing one small act of random kindness on a crowded airplane.

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Lest we forget the need

Image via science.howstuffworks.com

As I enjoyed a restful, relaxing Mother’s Day yesterday,  thousands of my fellow Americans exhausted themselves cleaning up from the aftermath of tornadoes in the deep South.

While I lathered myself up with soap in a hot shower, many of them have nowhere to wash their hands.

As I plugged in my hair dryer, hundreds and hundreds of Southerners are living without electricity.

While I turned on my faucet to fill my tea kettle with good, clean water for my morning cup of tea, scads of my fellow countrymen have no running water.

As I consumed a hot breakfast cooked over my own stove,  hundreds of tornado victims have neither stove nor hot food.

While I casually perused my closet to choose clothing for the day, their clothes have been destroyed or blown away.

As I rode in my own vehicle to attend church, many have been left without transportation and many have lost even their place of worship.

While I gaily chatted on the phone with each of my three grown children and felt blessed by their Mother’s Day wishes, hundreds of people still mourn the loss of their loved ones who were killed by the killer twister.

As I sat on my overstuffed, comfy chair with my feet propped up, my fellow human beings have no furniture to rest upon.

While I communicated on my blog, through email and Facebook with friends and strangers via my laptop, those who’ve lost everything feel cut off from the entire world.

As I lay in my warm, comfortable bed with a soft pillow for my head, plenty to eat and drink and a roof over my head,  countless of God’s beloved children have no place to rest and no place to call home.

There, but for the grace of God go I….and you….what are we going to do about it?

While I contemplate my blessings in my Opportunity book today on page 9 in Chapter 5, may I suggest you do the same?  Those of us who are blessed with much dare not forget about those who have lost everything in tornadoes and other disasters.

I urge you to consider donating monetary aid to the organizations helping our brothers and sisters in need.  Here are a few trustworthy organizations that can use your donations to directly help victims:

www.samaritanspurse.org

www.salvationarmyusa.org

www.redcross.org/

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com