Seeing God’s Hand

I’ve often wondered, if we could see all that God does on our behalf, how many seemingly random instances would turn out to be miracles. That detour that avoided a crash, or a stop light that placed us in the right place at the right time for a hidden blessing. Every once in a while, we catch glimpses of God’s hand, but I believe He does so much more–each moment in each day–then we’ll ever realize, until maybe we get to heaven.

Today, Gail Pallotta, fellow Clash of the Titles’ hostess and author of Love Turns the Tide, reminds us of how God works behind the scenes, often through His children, to provide for our needs. As you read it, ask God to show you His love and mercy, sprinkled throughout your day. And then, when He does, make sure to thank Him, turning each moment into an act of praise. (Gail is also a Reach Out donor this month.)

God’s Constance Care by Gail Pallotta

Each year members of my Georgia Sunday school class chip in with other churches to provide bagged lunches for homeless children in the community. This year we planned to make our sandwiches one day in mid July. When the Sunday school teacher called to get us on the schedule, the coordinator told him they had plenty of food that week. They didn’t have enough the week after July fourth. The teacher told our class, “I agreed to supply them when they needed them.”

Years ago someone asked us to make the lunches. Sure. We could do that. It meant spending a few bucks each then putting cheese and turkey on bread and cookies in bags.

That’s only part of it. It means the children who come in every day during the summer trusting there will be something for them to eat, find it. In my mind’s eye I saw the youngsters running in hot and sweaty from playing, talking and chattering, teasing each other and giving one another friendly jabs as they sat down and ate their treats.

Then I thought of all the times God works behind the scenes in our lives to meet our needs.

Gail and Rick Pallotta picked up one hundred bagged lunches this July at their church in Georgia to deliver to their community’s homeless children.

The night before, they joined their Sunday school class to make the meals in the church’s large, commercial kitchen. Each bag holds a turkey and cheese sandwich, vanilla wafers, peanut butter cookies, applesauce packets and boxed drinks.

Love Turns the Tide:

In Love Turns the Tide Cammie O’Shea faces a traumatic split-up with her fiancé and has to leave her family and friends to take a new job in Destin, Florida. Heartbroken and alone, she needs God more now than she ever has. But for some reason she can’t explain she feels more estranged from him.

A feature writer, she dreads meeting her new boss, the editor of The Sun Dial, a newnewspaper. However, her real source of angst turns out to be Vic Deleona, the influential real estate tycoon she must write about to help get the paper off its feet. While she refuses to open herself to another painful relationship he attempts to court her. Trying to get over her heartache, she continues to read her Bible and say her prayers. Then break-ins at her and her friend’s condos make her doubt the wisdom of living in Destin even more.

Vic comes to their rescue. He even launches his own investigation into the crimes. Just when Cammie sees a different side of him she gets an offer to return home to her old job. Will Vic solve the crimes and win Cammie’s heart or will she leave?

But it here!

I’d love to hear from you. Has there been an event or encounter that seemed random at the time but later, you realized it was a divine appointment or open door? Or perhaps God has provided for you in an unexpected way. Tell us about it! And may we all be alert to God’s daily provisions and care.

As I close out the month of September, I want to give a shout-out to September’s Reach Out Donors:

Simple Faith by Eddie Snipesthe Road to Mercy by Kathy HarrisThe Other Side of Darkness by Linda Rondeau, and Love Turns the Tide by Gail Pallotta. Kathy Harris, is also donating Karyn Williams’ musical CD entitled Only You.

Transformed by Love

After my post on Saturday, I find Virginia Hamlin’s Reach Out story very encouraging. Notice, she and her husband served for five years. Many of the men and women they served likely stayed on the streets. But one woman grasped onto the hope of Christ and found radical transformation. As you read Virginia’s story, stop to consider Jesus’ parable of the 99 sheep. It’s easy to get so focused on the 99, we lose sight of the one. But not God. Each one of us are incredibly important to Him–dearly loved.

One Woman’s Transformation by Virginia Hamlin

My husband and I were involved in our church’s compassion ministry for over five years from 2002-2007.

We helped prepare 100 meals each Sunday to feed the homeless in a local park. (We enlisted the help of other s to serve and sometimes play worship.) My husband would give a message and then we would break bread with the homeless. Yes, we would sit down at the picnic tables and get to know people. It was during one of those times that I was inexplicably drawn to a woman, Melodie, who was seated alone. We only talked briefly, but I knew God had ordained the meeting. I invited her to our home Bible study and to my joy she accepted!

I came to learn that Melodie was living in her pickup truck with a camper shell that had a hole in the roof and leaked when it rained. One particular night during our Bible study it began to rain as if the world was ending and knowing what I knew there was no way she was going to spend the night in her truck. To make a long story short, my husband and I took Melodie in based on my sharing with my husband that I believed God wanted her to live with us for a bit.

Melodie ended up living with us for over nine-months. During that period, God blessed her with a job, and my husband helped her learn how to budget. She saved her money and during those several months with us, she got medical insurance and dental work done. God also restored a strained relationship with her family on the East Coast. The most wonderful part of all of this is that she came back into relationship with her heavenly Father.

Melodie currently resides on the East Coast. She is no longer homeless. She has a place of her own. She is working full-time and was quickly promoted to a supervisory role. She is attending a local church and sees her family, nieces, and nephews on a regular basis.

I’ve included a copy of a letter she wrote to me (she told me long ago to share it whenever I was led).

Melodie’s letter

Dear Ginny,

“How do I thank thee, let me count the ways…?”

(Just a little paraphrasing of a very famous line.)

I started this letter this way because I couldn’t decide which “Thank You” to write first. Most people would start with the most important “thank You”, but to me they are all equally important enough to be first written or #1 at the top of the list. Even after writing this statement, I don’t know where to start.

So I will begin with telling you that I “thank God” for making me think I had hit “rock bottom” when I was so hungry that I had to swallow my pride and go to the “City Park” where I hear food was made available to the “homeless”.

That day was the day I met you and Ed for the first time. So I thank God for showing me why He let me wallow in self pity and made me swallow my pride and go to the park that day. I know now, he had been trying for months to get me there: because there was someone there he want me to meet.

You!

After I complemented Ed on his beef Stroganoff that day, you finished serving everyone , then came over to talk to me. It was a brief conversation, more of an introduction really, so I know I didn’t reveal my situation. Yet when I left the park, I knew, that you knew what I was going through emotionally, just to be there (among the homeless).

You see, I knew about the outreach program for months, but would go because of pride. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was at this desolate place in my life. I put on this “facade” of “No Worries”, so I wouldn’t be asked questions that would make me reveal my fears or emotions.

All my life I have been a “Giver” without expectations, except for one: I expected others to know or see through the facade when I was in need and offer assistance to me. For me, to have to ask , is such and emotional turmoil of feeling like a failure that it literally makes me ill. For days, I  will continually cry while awake. Exhausted from crying I will go to sleep, without eating, thus from not eating I will get sick. By the time I regain my strength, I forget what I am wallowing in self pity for  and start looking for answers to my “ dilemmas” in the same old way, until I get frustrated again, I start the self pity cycle all over. Since 1975, I have been repeating this pattern over and over. (But that is another story at another time.)

Do you know what they call people who repeatedly do the same thing over and over , not changing the way they do it but expect a different outcome? “Insane!!!”  I was very close to that state of mind.

Then I met you! From the first time I spoke with you I knew what an intuitive person you were. But now after only a few other conversations we’ve had, I know God has brought this lost, stubborn lamb back into His fold and has appointed You as my shepherd.

Don’t look shocked! (and close your mouth, I know it fell open when you read this last paragraph.) Don’t you see? Because of what you have been through, your trials, your struggles, your disappointments, your pride, your turning your back on God at a point in your life when you were saying, “If there is a God, why…?” All this and more I don’t know about, you have overcome through the guidance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t know if you got to the point of “giving up hope”, but that is where I was until the day I met you. God knew it! He knew I had given up hope. I ignored His pleas in the past and I believe in my heart, that He became desperate for a solution to bring me back and found hunger to be the answer. He showed me, through your own testimony, that you have been where I am now! God wants me to come to you for the guidance and knowledge I need, because He has already given you the answers. We were destined to meet. You said it yourself. “For some reasons I feel very drawn toward you”. The more I talk to you the more I am encouraged and uplifted. He wants me to have patience and to not give up hope. You may not know you are saying these things, but this is what I am hearing from Him in what you do say.

After church services tonight, I came home and went through all of the clothes you gave me. It was like Christmas! I tried everything on and everything fit. (Except the bathrobe and the two nightshirts.) In fact they fit me better than the clothes I’ve been wearing for the last four years.  So I started this letter to “Thank You”(and your mother) for all the beautiful clothes you gave me. This was around 10 p.m. It is now 4 a.m. and I still haven’t thanked you.

So, “Thank You” so much for the clothes. I feel like a new person when I put them on. Please thank your mother for me and tell her I’ll send her pictures, through you , of me in her clothes.

And “Thank You” for thinking of me. “Thank you for watching out for me, “Thank You for keeping me in your prayers and “Thank you for your words of encouragement. “Thanks you for sharing your life with me. “Thank you for being a good listener, friend and confidant. And “Thank You” for keeping your promises and strengthening my trust.

God Bless you for being you, for God Blessed me when you came into my life and rescued me for His sake.

Always in Friendship, with Love in Christ,

Melodie Lynn

Virginia Johnson-Hamlin is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers association and participates in two critique groups, which she also facilitates. She is an active member of her church and is involved in the church’s marriage ministry. Virginia also meets with women from the church in small groups, as well as one-on-one, to discuss women’s issues and the challenges of marriage and family life.

As an author, Virginia writes stories in hopes encouraging readers to live an abundant life, bringing honor to God, by inspiring them to pursue a Christ led lifestyle. Her novels reveal the natural consequences of the characters addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography, which will lead them to face reality. Many will relate to the struggles portrayed by the characters in her novels and it is her hope the characters will create a bridge for discussion in real life

Virginia left her position as a public relations manager for a large southern California ambulance company to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in 2007.

Virginia (Ginny) Johnson-Hamlin writing as G.E. Hamlin

Ginny Hamlin

For Better Or For Worse

Once again, I want to give a shout out to all my July Reach Out Donors:

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Releasing Our Kids to Find Their Calling

As a mom, I love to imagine what God might have planned for our daughter. I know He’s got a plan–an eternally valuable role–uniquely crafted for her. A crucial role in God’s kingdom.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I’ve learned, more often than not God’s plans are so utterly different than anything I could fathom. And yet, when His plan begins to unfold, it all makes sense. We can look back and see the people and events God placed in an individual’s life taking them one step further.

As parents, the best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to embrace and encourage every dream our children have, teaching them to move forward with an eyes-wide-open expectancy. Because we never know which flight of fancy will lead to their divine-calling.

Today’s post is from my daughter. Ashley has always been creative. As a child, she’d craft elaborate two-story houses from paper. I’ve always been impressed with her ability to look at an intricate weaving or piece of jewelry, figure out how it’s made, and replicate it. But although this impressed me, I never gave it much thought … until we visited El Salvador last summer.

While we waited for crusades to start, she studied a wide-banded, beaded bracelets she’d purchased from the locals. Within ten minutes, she’d figured out how it was made and how to replicate it. Our church was teaching orphans how to make jewelry, and she wondered if perhaps she could help with the instruction, teaching them to make the bracelet she’d just deciphered. Although she never got this opportunity (yet. Grin), she didn’t give up beading nor her desire to use her love of beads to bring joy and hope to others.

Today she shares her story, or should I say, the beginning of her story. 😉

Bracelets for the Beautiful by Ashley Slattery

About a year ago my church helped serve a meal at a homeless shelter, and while I was there these two little girls were fascinated with the bracelets I was wearing. I ended up giving the bangles to them and they were excited. It made me think, if it made those feel beautiful would it make others? so I decided to use my beading skills to make bracelets for homeless ladies, make them feel loved and beautiful like those little girls did that way. Last month I had an opportunity to do so. My family when to a homeless ministry called Taking it to the Streets in Omaha, and I brought 20 some bracelets with me and gave them to the ladies there. I loved seeing that my hobby could bless them. It truly amazed me that a simple craft  put a smile on their faces. It showed me that God truly does have a use in mind for every aspect of you.

***

God willing, Ashley hopes to teach the ladies down at Taking it to the Streets how to make jewelry. She hopes this will not only give them a marketable skill, but something they can feel good about–a hope-infusing sense of accomplishment. It’s hard for someone who’s been beaten down to strive for better. (Read When Helping Hurts, a phenomenal book about the psychological struggles inherent with poverty.) But often, success is contagious–motivating.

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

When God Says Stay

Today’s post comes from a sweet woman I first met at the Writing for the Soul Conference in Dallas. Elizabeth is one of those people that brighten up a room–always smiling. She radiates the love of Christ in all she does. The story she shares with us today is a perfect example of how.

Strange Praying

by Elizabeth Veldboom

            One day when I was working as a receptionist I went outside to enjoy my lunch. As I rounded the corner to my favorite spot, I stifled a groan. A man I didn’t know was sitting at my table. Normally, I liked having lunch alone. It gave me a chance to think and re-energize for the rest of the day.

I decided to sit at the other table across from him, smiling and nodding. Maybe he’ll leave soon, I hoped.

I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I know one did. The man told me about how he had to ride the bus because he didn’t have a car, how he didn’t have a car because he’d been too nice to his ex-wife after their divorce, and how he had a meeting nearby at 2:00 with some people who were going to help him find some housing.

            2:00? I thought. That’s two hours from now! I guess that means company for lunch.

I winced with guilt at the thought. This man didn’t have a home, and there I was, upset because of my disturbed lunch hour.

I studied the talkative man across from me. He didn’t look especially scary, but I rarely spoke to strangers. I’d actually listened to that talk when I was younger. I could hear my dad’s warning voice clanging like a bell in my mind, and I thought about what I should do. From the man’s talk I surmised he was homeless, or close to. He had a big belly that hung over his old shorts, a long scrape going down one of his skinny legs, a face full of haunting eyes, and a head full of disheveled hair. Not exactly “respectable” company, but not dangerous, either.

But I was all alone, and he was poor. The perfect situation for a lot of bad things to happen. Still, something in his demeanor told me he wasn’t going to hurt me. I decided to stay.

The man-who later introduced himself as Richard-said he’d been waiting since 10:00 that morning for his meeting because it was the only time the bus could drop him off without making him late. He said he’d walked across to City Market and bought himself a water to pass the time, and only had two dollars left. He brought his hand out of his pocket to prove it but was surprised when he found three instead.

I stared down at my $5.00 lunch.

“It might be enough to buy me a beer somewhere,” he said. “I haven’t had a beer in three years. I might go buy one.”

Was he a drunk, and that’s really what had gotten him into his current financial situation? Or was he just an occasional drinker, longing for a treat he hadn’t partaken of in years? Either way, it didn’t make sense to me. Why spend your last few dollars on a beer?

“Why?” I finally asked.

“Because it’ll make me feel good,” he shrugged.

My heart tore for him. I couldn’t imagine an existence where a beer was a person’s only source of comfort. As we continued talking, I felt more and more sorry for him.

“Dropped out of school to join the army. Seventeen, and jumping out of airplanes,” Richard said.

He’d been through three divorces and was once a vacuum salesman. He never spoke of children, and his wives seemed to want to have nothing to do with him. My heart grew heavy for this man Richard as he shared his story, and I yearned for some way to help him. He’d had such a sad life. I thought about offering my lunch, but I’d already eaten half of it and didn’t want to offend him. I could give him money, but what if he just used it to buy a beer? Then I remembered I didn’t have any money with me anyway.        What I wanted to give him most of all was a relationship with Christ.

The thought entered my mind that I could pray for him. But I’d never prayed out loud for someone before. It was a fear I’d wanted to conquer for some time and was considering putting on my blog (each month I faced a fear of mine and chronicled on my blog what happened when I did) but was I brave enough to do it right here, right now?

I knew it was the most important thing I could give him. I knew it was what I wanted to give him. So I prayed how I was comfortable at first- silently with just God and I.

            Oh, God. You know me. I’m bad at these things! Please, please, please give me the courage. If you want me to do this, you’re going to have to give me some kind of opening, because I really don’t know how to do this.

It was only minutes before I needed to be back at work, and I was running out of time. I needed to do it if I was going to. But I hated praying out loud! Whenever I did, my prayers became awkward, fake, and staged. It seemed so wrong to condense the Living God into a plastic prayer, as if He weren’t actually listening. And yet, that’s what I did every time. It was easy for me to speak to God when it was just Him and I, but praying out loud and for other people was another story. It felt strange, unfamiliar.

I looked helplessly again at my purse. I don’t have any money to give him.             Suddenly, I was reminded of a similar situation in the Bible. It was Acts 3 when Peter and John went to the Temple and met a beggar lame from birth. When the beggar approaches them for money Peter says, “‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.”

That was it! God had given me my opening. I knew what to do, and how to do it.

I leaned forward, all apprehension gone. “I have to leave soon, but before I go, there’s something I’d like to do. I don’t have any money to give you, but can I give you what I do have? Can I pray for you?” I held my breath.

He paused. “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt, could it?”

I shook my head with a smile and bowed my head. ”Father God, thank you so much for giving me the chance to meet Richard today. It was great getting to know him, and I pray you’ll bless him. Give him money where he needs the money, and let him know you and how much you love him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

As I looked up, I saw the most precious sight, one I’ll never forget: tears glistened at the corners of his eyes.

He let me see them for only a moment, straightening and blinking. Still, his voice was a little husky when he spoke. “I feel the same. I’m glad I got to meet you.”

My prayer was nothing special. It was one of the shortest and most simple I’d ever heard. It wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but it had still seemed to touch him.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know what happened to Richard. I don’t know if he got his life turned around, or started a life with Jesus as his Savior. But I do know I will never regret praying for him or seeing those tears.

I believe in the power of prayer and in the name of Jesus, so I have no doubt God moved. How he moved is His business. But it might just have left a man broken from birth leaping and dancing. At least, that’s what I’m praying.

***

Bio: Elizabeth Veldboom is devoted to God, a small town girl, and a freelance writer. An Apprentice graduate from Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, she has previously been published in places like CBN.com and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. Visit her blog anytime at www.thefearlist.wordpress.com– the place that is for the faint of heart.

***

Before you embark on your busy day, I’d like to ask … Where will you spend your lunch? And who might you encounter while there? Perhaps pause to pray that God would keep you alert to the open doors He provides–open doors to show, tangibly, the love of Christ to a hurting world.

I want to give a shout-out to our June donors:

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.

Homes for the Homeless

I’m excited to launch my “Reach Out to Live Out” campaign! The Bible tells us to spur one another on toward good deeds and to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and praises. By seeing God’s love pour through others, we’re encouraged to allow Him to do the same with us. I pray the testimonies shared here will encourage you to live out your faith in obedience and love. As an added participation incentive, each month I’ll select one reader from subscribers and comments to win a free book, and I’ll invite you to choose your favorite “reach out” story. The winning contributor will receive the gift basket highlighted on the April’s Donors Page.

Today, multi-published author and “Reach Out” book donor, Mary Ellis shares a touching story of sharing Christ’s love with the homeless.

***

I had the honor and privilege of volunteering for several years with the program “Operation Homes” in Ohio.

About seven or eight churches rotated assistance to the county’s homeless for one week every other month. We fed them dinner each night in the church basement, provided cots for sleeping (families were kept together in Sunday school rooms) and drove those without transportation to where they needed to go the next day. We helped complete unemployment compensation forms, apply for jobs, select suitable business attire at Goodwill, obtain medical treatment, and line up permanent housing for those ready to stand on their own. But most of all, we prayed with them, listened to them, and demonstrated lessons taught by the Savior. Several of them joined our church afterwards. What did I gain from the experience? There, but for the grace of God go I. These people were no different than you or me. Loss of employment or a serious illness could place any of us into dire straits. I get down on my knees each night and thank the Lord for His continued mercy and grace in my life.

***

Mary Ellis lives her faith out loud through acts of service, like the one referenced above, and through stories God stirs in her heart. To motivate others to live out their faith, she’s donating a copy of  An Amish Family Reunion:

During a rumschpringe visit to Niagara Falls, Phoebe Miller meets Eli Riehl, a young man who charms her—and everyone else—with his exceptional storytelling ability. When Phoebe sketches scenes to illustrate one of his tales, Eli encourages her incredible talent, and together they embark on a lofty and unlikely business venture for two young Amish people—writing and illustrating a children’s book.

Eli’s kindness and appeal extend beyond his knack for words to reach inside Phoebe’s heart. But he is an only son with five sisters, and when his father suffers a heart attack, Eli gives up his writing to assume responsibility on the farm. Though willing to abandon his dream of becoming an author, he won’t give up his beloved Phoebe.

Can their love for a good story develop into something that lasts forever, or will Phoebe’s deep-seated fear of desertion stand in their way?

Buy it here.

Mary Ellis grew up near the Amish and fell in love with them. She has now written nine novels set in their communities. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, bicycling, and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. Her debut Christian book, A Widow’s Hope, was a finalist for the 2010 ACFW Carols. Connect with her at:

www.maryellis.net

www.maryeellis.wordpress.com

Facebook.com

Mary’s testimony reminds me how important it is to spend time connecting with others, showing them the love of Jesus, and praying with them. Do have any similar stories you can share? Maybe of a time when you started a service project to find God calling you to pause to take time to love? Or perhaps a time when God loved on you through someone else? Leave a comment for a chance to win a free book, and submit your “reach out” story for a chance to win a gift basket.

April’s donors include Mary Ellis with An Amish Family Reunion, Deborah Raney with Almost Forever, Cara Putman with A  Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, Vannetta Chapman with Falling to Pieces, Rebecca Lyles with Winds of Wyoming, and Gina Holmes with Dry as Rain. (Read more about all these great books here, and show your appreciating by clicking on their names to visit their websites.)

Is Compassion Caught or Taught

As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to move frequently. As a result, we’ve visited numerous churches, from the tiny one room steeple to the multi-level mega church. In many ways, I’ve become a “church student”. I’d like to think this is due to the evangelist in me, but perhaps it’s my insatiable curiosity. Regardless of the reason, when I enter a new environment, a new sub-culture if you will, I want to know what works. When you walk into some churches, it’s like you’re returning home after an extended absence. Others leave you cold and prickly. And it seems like what is experienced in the Sunday morning pews trickles into the Wednesday night youth gathering.

I’ve been involved in childen’s church for over twelve years, and I’ve always said you can tell the health of the church by the behavior of the students. Now, this might be a tough concept to wrap your head around. You might even strongly disagree. I mean, seriously, kids are about as predictable as a curve ball on a windy day. They go from giggles to tears to all out war at the slightest provocation, and there’s no holding back. If it enters their brain it’s gonna spill out. Likely at the most inconvenient of times. Which is why they are such great litmus tests, because not only are they emotionally sporadic, they’re also insatiable sponges, ever absorbing the attitudes, ideas, and thought processes of others, primarily their parents.

For years when I noticed a rather self-centered youth group I held the senior pastor responsible. My reasoning was, if it’s taught on the pulpit, it will be taught in the home. But then we spent time in a biblically accurate, love-focused church (on the pulpit, anyway) with the most active, coldest, cliquish youth group I’ve ever seen. I watched week after week as the pastor tried to combat this lack of love in his sermons. I listened to the youth intern talk about how “bad she felt” watching it happen. And yet, despite all these good intentions, nothing changed.

Fast forward a few years. Now we are part of one of the most loving–genuinely loving–churches I’ve ever been to. At every level. It’s like there are a bunch of eyes scouring the place looking for that newbie, that person sitting by themselves in need of prayer. And if you happen to cry? Whew! Watch out, chances are you’ll be enveloped in a hug before you even realized the tears are falling. But what impresses me most is the youth group. They are the most outreach-focused youth group I have seen. They go on mission trips, visit homeless shelters, cook meals for the residents of these shelters and for the church body as a whole, and consistently work as a group to bring Christ to their schools. In a nutshell, they’re others focused. (Normally I try not to talk about my church, but hey, if it’s working, I’m going to share it.)

At first, their behavior shocked me. When I watched a large herd of kids surround the youth group newbies with smiles and introductions.

“Hi, I’m Stacy.”

“And I’m Jenna.”

“Oooh, I just love your hair! Can I touch it?” (This is the teenage equivalent to, ‘let’s be friends.’)

The new girl, used to being shoved aside, put off, and ignored, stares at the floor, not quite sure how to respond. Her eyes dart up briefly, long enough for her to mumble a quick, “Hi.” Then they’re back to the floor, zeroing in on that tiny loose thread being worked over by her big toe.

Watching this interaction over time got me thinking–what made this youth group so compassionate when other youth groups were so self-centered.

This morning as I got ready to join our youth pastor at a local grocery store to buy food so that his students could cook dinner—using money donated by the youth—for a local family shelter, it hit me.  Compassion is both taught and caught. Our kids do more outreach than any other youth group I’ve known. In fact, most youth groups are all about the fun. And I think the intentions are good. Maybe if we’re a bit more exciting, have better, louder music (okay, so our youth has some pretty loud music, but that’s beside the point.) whatever, more kids will come.

Maybe. But what’s more important—to have a gym packed with kids learning to be more self-centered or a small class room filled with kids learning to love.

I’m going to play a video that I found very touching, and challenging. I disagree with the stated goal of being happy. I don’t agree that happiness should be our primary focus. For the Christian, holiness is our ultimate goal. But I do agree that compassion can and should be taught. I also believe that compassion is a holy emotion. It was compassion and love that drove our Savior to the cross.

Children Full of Life

There are so many hurting kids in our world. Are you part of the solution or part of the problem, because every casual word, every momentary choice has consequences. Choices. We make a million a day. To buy that Big Mac or donate a buck or two, to go to a movie or spend time at a youth center, to pause and smile or hurry by—choices.

I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and even though it’s not my style, the words really resonated. Looking For Angels.

Want to teach your children/students to be givers, not takers? Want to help them get their eyes off themselves and onto others?

1) Find organizations that reach out to others that they can get involved in. Sunday a highlighted a wonderful movement that has transformed participating teens into passionate, compassionate givers all across the country. You can also take them to your local food pantry or shelter.

2) When you see a homeless man or woman, stop and engage. Shake their hand then watch their face light up as you demonstrate the love of Christ and let them know that no, they are not disgusting. They are children of God in need of a Savior.

3) Pray for others, out loud and invite your kids to join you.

4) Jump on their bandwagon, even if it seems to be wobbling down a dead-end road on three wheels. (In plain language, if they come up with an idea on how to bless others, help them make it happen, focusing more on the process and the lesson learned then the result.)

5) Pray for their heart. Wow, this is a biggie.

6) Actively and consistently combat negative attitudes, words, and judgments. I have been known to jump up, grab my Bible and a computer (to educate against the misconception) in the middle of dinner and you’ll frequently hear me spout Ephesians 4:29 followed by the question, “Now did that statement you just made build up or tear down?” Yeah, I’ll get an eye roll, but her reaction is temporary. Her mindset is long-term.