Today I Saw God
If you haven't been able to tell by the hyperactivity of your children, the longer and warmer days or the "senioritis" that seems to be hitting people of all ages, the end of another school year is quickly approaching. For many, December is often a time of year for reflection and introspection. But those with children or workingin the education field often save this transition time for the close of yet another school year.
As we move into the summer and begin making plans for next fall, I often find myself pausing. I pause to celebrate a wonderful year with wonderful children at Floris UMC. The children have learned so much this past year: how to read the Bible, why tithing is important and how to be better followers of Jesus.
When we began our school year in the fall, about 53 percent of students in grades 3-5 brought their Bibles on Sunday mornings, and only 22 percent tithed on Sunday mornings. But as we wind down the school year, over 76 percent of those students now bring their Bibles, and 56 percent tithe regularly. These students are learning habits and skills that will hopefully be with them throughout their lives.
I also pause to celebrate our incredible volunteers. Here in Children's Ministries, we have approximately 150 volunteers who serve as teachers, SIMs (Students in Ministry), Buddies (who working with special needs children) and check-in volunteers. And that's only on Sunday mornings! With each volunteer working an average of three hours each month, they've given atotal of more than 3,600 hours this school year alone!
And last, but certainly not least, I pause tocelebrate the parents and families who support all that we do here. We know how busy people's schedules are these days. Between school, work, sports, music lessons, scouts and family, it's hard to do it all. But in the month of April, 54 percent of our students came 2/5th of the time and 78 percent came 3/5th of the time!
Now at the end of this school year, as we enter into a period of (hopefully) rest and relaxation, the idea of spending more time reflecting on the past year may seem a bit strange and uncomfortable to some. But this is a wonderful time of year to look at how far we have come. Let's look at what we did, where we went, who we met, what we learned and how we made the lives of others just a little bit better.
As you may have noticed, Christmas is right around the corner. For those who have children or grandchildren, the holidays can be a great season of frenetic activity, parties, lights, decorations, shopping and more. But sometimes you want to spend quality time together that doesn't involve leaving the house and won't break the bank. What's a parent to do?
Below are seven activities you can do with your children when you have an afternoon free or when you've cleaned up from dinner and want to do something different to celebrate this joyous season. Some take more time than others, and some take a few more materials than others, but they are all fairly easy to do with children of all ages. Enjoy!
- Use a large sheet of green paper to make a Christmas tree shape. This can be a simple triangle, or it can be as elaborate as you'd like. Don't have a large sheet of green paper? Tape several sheets of green construction paper or scrapbook paper to give yourself one large shape. Let your kids decorate homemade ornaments from construction paper, string, crayons, glitter (if you're brave!) or any other found materials. Hang the paper tree on a wall of your house at kid level and let your kids decorate the tree. Christmas stickers or even round mailing seals make great ornaments as well.
- Make cinnamon Christmas ornaments! Mix cup applesauce and about four ounces ground cinnamon in a small bowl until a smooth ball of dough is formed. Roll dough to 1/3-inch thickness. Cut dough into shapes with small cookie cutters. Make a hole at the top of each ornament with a drinking straw or skewer. Bake 2 hours in a preheated 200 F oven or let ornaments air dry for 1-2 days on a wire rack. Insert ribbon in the holes and hang the ornaments around your house.
- Make orange and clove ornaments (for older children). Insert whole cloves (purchased in the spice aisle of your grocery store) into the skin of an orange. Place them randomly or create a pattern with the cloves. Wrap a ribbon around the orange and hang it in an open part of your house or place them in a bowl on a table. The orange and cloves will give your house a wonderful scent!
- Attach a long rope, twine or heavy string to a wall in your house. The rope can be hung horizontally or vertically. Attach clothespins (paint them if you'd like) to the rope and hang Christmas cards as they arrive in the mail. Don't receive Christmas cards in the mail? Display small miniature "masterpieces" your kids have drawn!
- Have a personalized pancake dinner. Make pancakes as usual, but instead of putting butter and syrup on them, let everyone experiment with different toppings. Some suggestions to try include chocolate syrup, any flavor of jelly, honey, agave, chocolate chips, coconut, fruit, brown sugar or whipped creamthe choices are endless! If you're feeling especially creative, use the toppings to create Christmas ornaments using the round pancakes as the ornament base. See who can create the most unusual ornament.
- Have a snowball fight! Crumple up recyclable white paper sheets into tight balls. You'll need about 20 snowballs or more depending on how many people are in your family. Have fun snowball "fights" or play this game with them. Divide your living room (or other room of your house) into two halves. Use a piece of rope, string or tape, or find some other way to divide the room. Form teams. At the "go" signal, each team can try to get as many snowballs onto the other teams' side of the room before a timer goes off. The team that has the least snowballs on their side is the winning team.
- Make pasta snowflake ornaments! Use different shaped pasta (tubes and wagon wheels work especially well), and glue them together on waxed paper to form snowflake shapes. After the ornaments are dry, paint them with white paint or white shoe polish (using a dauber), sprinkle with glitter while wet and then let them dry. Hang up when finished.
Have fun, and Merry Christmas!
God does so many things. He creates. He comforts. He guides and directs. But there are also many things God doesn't do.
God doesn't do boring.
God not only created birds, but he created birds that have found a way to live inside Home Depot stores, which makes shopping for lumber and potting soil so much more interesting.
God doesn't do plain.
God not only created flowers, but he created over 400,000 different types of flowers. Roses, tulips, daisies, bleeding hearts, corpse flowers, lady's slippers and sea poison tree flowers all make you feel like you're bathed in a rainbow.
God doesn't do insignificant.
When someone stops to listen to how your day went, that's not insignificant. When someone holds the door for you, that's not insignificant. When your child cleans up his toys without being asked or reminded, that's not insignificant.
God doesn't do serious all the time.
The platypus is a great example of God's sense of humor. As is a squirrel on a bird feeder. And a Venus flytrap. And isn't it funny how God decides that what we don't want to do is often exactly what he says we need to do.
God doesn't answer every prayer the way we want.
God hears all our prayers, but God will not act in a way that is contrary to his will. God will not make Michael Phelps win goldthat's what practice is for. God will not make the traffic light turn greenthat's where patience comes in. God will continue to act in ways that nurture and support his people so that more people will come to know God.
God doesn't apologize.
God created each of us in his image. And what he has created, and will continue to create, is good. God doesn't make mistakes and doesn't apologize for what he has done, what he has created or for being who he is. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
God doesn't abandon us, get tired or stop loving us.
"Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, he is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you." – Deuteronomy 31:6
God's love is endless. According to Jeremiah 31:3, he has loved us "with an everlasting love."
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary." – Isaiah 40:28
Truly our God is an awesome, unchanging and eternal God. He is unlimited in power, majesty, knowledge, wisdom, love, mercy and holiness.
In almost any situation there are leaders and there are followers. Both positions are equally important, but to be a leader who makes a difference, you need to be able to see the bigger picture in whatever you're doing.
Whether you're just earning a living, doing the best at your job or trying to leave an imprint on the world, there is huge value in seeing the big picture. But seeing the big picture sometimes isn't enough. True leadership must have a combination of seeing that big picture and also helping others to see it as well.
The following story illustrates these ideas:
"One day a traveler, walking along a lane, came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. 'I am cutting a stone!' Still no wiser the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. 'I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that its square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.' A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied:'I am building a cathedral.'"
While all three stonecutters were doing the same thing, they each gave a different answer. They each knew how to do their job, but the third stonecutter knew not just what he was doing but why. He knew that each part of the job was helping to build a larger vision. And he understood that who you are and what you do will leave an imprint on the world and other people.
I would think that a person's answers might change over time. Maybe the job a person has is just temporary, a way to earn a living. Or maybe being good at what we do is enough, and we don't feel the need to see the big picture. Maybe we have other concerns such as family or health issues.
But when thinking about how we spend the main hours of our livesas a parent, spouse or employeewouldn't it make sense that the time we spend is as fulfilling as possible? Cathedrals take years to build. They are not only solid structures but often full of art and architecture and built with the hope that they will stand for centuries, long after the stonecutters have cut the last stone. For years after the last stone has been laid, people can worship in that building. Families can be united through marriage and, in death, others can be laid to rest. Memories can be made and souls might be saved, and, through the years, that cathedral may affect the lives of more than we'll ever know.
Remember, as a wife, mother, husband, father, child or employee, what you do each and every day is help create cathedrals, both physically and metaphorically, which will continue to bless others, sometimes long after the building is finished.
"How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world." – Anne Frank
Think for a moment about someone you know who is a whiz at math or puzzles. You might also know someone who can whip up a meal from a jar of pickles, Cheez Whiz and some stale potato chips. Then there's that neighbor who can listen to the strange noise your car is making and diagnose the problem within seconds. We all have gifts that God has given us. Some are visible, such as a talent for playing soccer or painting a picture. But some are not as visible, such as showing compassion for others.
I truly believe that God has gifted some with a heart for volunteering. There are some people who live to help others, whether it's packing lunches for the homeless, mowing a neighbor's lawn or just listening when someone is having a bad day.
Sometimes the volunteering we do is "formal" or organized. This might include joining others in your city to clean up the local river or helping at a 5K race on a Saturday morning. But other times volunteering isn't "formal," although it certainly takes place! When a family watches another family's house while they're on vacation, that is volunteering. When someone helps a stranger change a flat tire, that's giving of yourself as well.
When we volunteer as families we not only make the community a better place, but we give our children the wonderful feeling of making a difference. When families work together and they see mom, dad or other adults helping others, they learn that this is normal and natural. When we make service work a normal part of our lives, we don't simply teach our children strong core values, we also demonstrate these values in action.
If we want our children to have good table manners, we model those manners when we eat together. If we want our children to be great readers, we read to them, take them to the library and make books a priority. If we want our children to give back to others, we need to teach them how, both with "formal" volunteering and "informal" volunteering.
I think some feel that there must be tangible proof for our actions to be considered "real volunteering." And while picking up litter off the side of the road is a wonderful thing, we must also work at volunteering in ways that stretch us as children of God. It's easy to help with the same volunteering projects over and over, but giving of yourself outside your comfort zone can be a wonderful thing too.
My daughter is now a senior in college and will be graduating this year. When she was younger she would be "volun-told" to help teach Sunday School, work with younger Girl Scouts, or, as a home-schooler, help younger children with their schoolwork. Over the years she has developed a passion for children and will be graduating with her teaching degree in a few months. She often tells me that her passion for children came from all those "forced volunteering jobs" I made her do. I'm pretty sure she would have rather been playing with her friends or watching TV, but volunteering outside her comfort zone opened up her eyes and heart to her career pathone that might not have been formed otherwise.
As a family, try to volunteer together at least once a month, but also stretch yourselves in new ways. One month you could help others learn a new skill. The next month you could collect items to be donated to an organization. Another month you could donate your labor at a park or school. Whatever you choose to do, just do something. And do it together.