December 6, 2016

When You Take a Food Gift to Your Neighbor

Last year at Christmas, I had spent a Saturday morning baking banana bread using the same recipe I have used for decades with plans to give it away as gifts. I had the cute mini-loaf pans and prepared them to take to my nearby neighbors. The first neighbor, a family of four, was not home so I left theirs in the mailbox.

I walked across the street to the house where some new neighbors had moved in just before school started. I had only briefly met the parents once on my way back from a walk when I caught them outside and introduced myself. We didn’t speak long because they were standing by their car preparing to leave. After that I rarely saw them. I noticed a young girl who walked to the bus stop and a boy who rode his bike to school. Have you ever noticed that some neighbors seem to remain practically invisible?

I hoped Christmas would offer a good opportunity to connect with them again.

I knocked on their door with my mini-loaf of bread in hand and hoped the mom would answer the door.

Instead, two large young men opened the door. I explained I was giving banana bread to some of the neighbors for Christmas and asked if their mom was home, to which they informed me she was shopping.

I looked down at my small loaf in my hands, and then I looked up at the two large young men and said, “I thought there were just two kids here.”  The tallest one laughed and said, “Oh no, there are five kids, two in school, two in college and one right out of college that is coming home today.”

Okay, so that makes seven, and two of them were tall and looked very hungry and this isn’t going as planned! My mini-loaf divided up seven ways will be very small pieces! A small canister of cookies would have worked better...I thought to myself. 

I also thought about the loaf I had just put in my other neighbor’s mailbox and for an instant was tempted to walk across the street and take it back out so I could give this family two loaves. No, that was a stupid idea! I would have to go with the “It’s the thought that counts even if it isn’t much” and hey, they probably have a kitchen counter full of goodies and this is just one more. Or, maybe they didn’t have any goodies because they were new in town…

My venture across the street to give banana bread to new neighbors didn’t go as planned. I hope they enjoyed it whatever size piece each person had! For me, the joy was in the giving and hoping that it made this family feel a little more at home on our street and in our community.

Oh, and about the other neighbor, whose banana bread I briefly considered taking back out of the mailbox to give to the big family... Shelly, the mom, caught me outside a few days later and said, “Thank you so much for the banana bread, we loved it! It’s our favorite!”

It was definitely enough for a family of four! Sometimes, things do go as planned. And, I do believe it truly is the thought that counts.

December 4, 2016

Christmas Caroling

Each Christmas since my sister and her husband were killed in a car crash a few years ago, I have shared a Christmas memory related to them. The first story was The Christmas Jar, their secret mission to take the change they saved each year and leave it on the doorstep of a family in need without their knowing who it came from. Last year I shared The Snowflake Ornament from Donna and her class at church and how special it is and that it is the first ornament I put on my tree each year.

Now that another Christmas has rolled around, I will share another Christmas memory of my sister, Donna and her husband, Dewayne.

I was single and in my early twenties and Donna and Dewayne were the closest family I had. I went to “their” church. I helped Donna with her class of girls.

At Christmas time a group from our church (in Kentucky) decided to go Christmas caroling. The previous year we had gone to the hospital and just caroled in the hallways. This time we decided to go to some of the homes of families from our church.

It was a cold evening so we were bundled up and I remember gathering on the church bus and pulling our coats and scarves tight around us because it was cold and the bus heater, well, it didn’t do much heating.

Donna had stayed home. She had been baking cookies, making candies and promised all of us hot chocolate at her house after the caroling. We thought about her hot chocolate and desserts all evening long.

Dewayne, my brother-in-law, was known for his good singing voice. Not trained, no music degree, just a natural tenor voice and he enjoyed singing with anyone that would take him up on a duet or trio or quartet. That was back in the days when some churches, especially in Kentucky, still had Singings. Do you remember those?

Someone in the group had made copies of the songs we were to sing and we practiced a few at the church before heading out for our caroling.

When we started to practice Away in a Manger we all began to sing the song, but something didn’t sound right. Everyone but Dewayne was singing it one way, and Dewayne was singing it a different way and it was …wrong! We told him so.

He said,” No, this is how it goes.” We said “No, you are singing it wrong.”

He said, “Then you haven’t heard the other version.”

“What other version?” we asked him.

He convinced us there was another version out there, but for that night, he would sing it the “traditional” way most of us know.

The evening went smoothly as we made stops at homes throughout the town and sang our Christmas songs to church families who stepped outside to listen and neighbors who heard our singing and also came outside and shivered in the cold while we sang.

As the evening grew late we headed over to Donna and Dewayne’s house where a group of cold carolers rushed in to crowd around the fire place and were handed cups of hot chocolate by my sister. Her Christmas cookies and fudge were delicious and the conversation continued to be about how Dewayne sang Away in a Manger the wrong way.

He still assured us, his way was not wrong.

Several years later, Christmas music was playing on the radio and a set of Anne Murray songs began, and don’t you know, she started to sing Away in a Manger…wrong! She sang it the way Dewayne had sang it all those years ago.

There was another version!

I called Donna to tell her I had heard the over version and that Dewayne was right! Dewayne came on the phone, “Hey Sis, I told you so!” He always addressed me that way, “Hey Sis.” Just like Donna did. 

December 1, 2016

Faith That Grows at Christmas

There was a lady in my Sunday school class years ago whose ex-husband was in jail and she was severely struggling financially to provide for her two sons. I saw Melinda wrestle with her faith to trust God to take care of them.

I often encouraged her because I sincerely believed God would meet her needs and provide for her and her two boys. She would tell me that she wanted to trust God but the whole situation just looked so impossible.

One Sunday she came in especially discouraged because a car repair had emptied out her checkbook and she desperately needed groceries. What she didn’t know was that we had already decided to fill her pantry and every lady in our class had brought in a bag of grocery items and we had hid them in the classroom closet. We were able to surprise her with this blessing of groceries and see the joy on her face when she saw what we had done for her family.

We definitely saw her faith begin to grow after that. She still struggled but now she would say, “I know God will provide!”

At Christmas she worried she would not be able to buy any presents for the boys, but what she didn’t know was that several men in our church had taken on the project of collecting money to buy two bikes and other presents for these young boys. Melinda was right. She didn’t have enough money to buy gifts that year. But she didn’t have to because they were bought by others in our church who knew she was in a very difficult situation and wanted her boys to have a good Christmas.

When I urge someone to trust God and to have faith that He will see them through a difficult circumstance, these are not empty words. They are words to live by because I have seen God grow my own faith and trust in Him throughout the days and years of my life, and because I have witnessed it in the lives of others who have also seen God work in amazing ways to demonstrate His loving care for them.

Philippians 4:19   
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.