Noise. Busyness. Negative media. Bad news. Disasters. Suffering. Sickness. Financial crisis. Personal struggles. All these things fill our world at large and often our personal worlds. If I’m not careful, these things easily overwhelm me. But, if there is anything the past several months have taught me, especially through a fear-packed election cycle and a year where so many people I know have struggled through grief, it is this: What we do matters.
As we enter into this new year–2017–we have a choice. Really, we have a choice every minute of every day. We can allow fear and worry and busyness to overwhelm us, or we can do our best to step out and do something–even something small–to share some love with someone else. There is power to relieve our own stress and bring us perspective when we choose to put our time, energy, and focus on someone else, rather than our own problems.
In Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life (Amazon affiliate link), she talks about living given. She calls it “being the gift” and looking for ways to reach out and love others, both in our own homes and with complete strangers. This is not a bran-new idea, but it is a powerful one that I need reminded of often. What we do matters. God calls us to be conduits of his love in a broken world. Small things add up. And you never know, something you view as minuscule, may be HUGE to someone else.
Some things cost us nothing–like a smile or kind word. Earlier this week my daughter and I squeezed into a local attraction for kids that offers “Dollar Days” on Tuesdays. Since school was about to go back into session and the weather was cold, rainy and bleak, the place was packed. Our friends had not yet arrived, so we crowded in with everyone else. As I looked around I saw many moms. Some look frazzled from the holidays, tugging along their kids and many lugging a carseat. Others seemed self-conscious and anxious. Several, like myself, were very pregnant. Though I was a bit frumpy myself and claustrophobic in the packed line, it was an easy gift to simply smile and say hello as we all waited, wrangling our excited kids.
In my opinion, as much as possible, smiling or offering a kind word should be a way of life. Something we can do anytime, anywhere.
Sidenote to moms: Maybe I am crazy, but sometimes in environments where there are lots of moms with their kids, it feels cold. Before I became a mom I thought going to the library or parks, etc. would be a great chance to meet moms and make friends. But more often than not, moms are already there with their friends, or they look angry with a “don’t talk to me” vibe. Maybe this is all in my head! And I think we all struggle with feeling self-conscious, especially when we are tired, frumpy, grumpy, or worried about our kid’s crazy behavior. One of my resolutions is to try and leave my judgements of others at home–after all, I don’t know the context. I am also going to try my hardest to not let my insecurities get in the way. What do you think–could you offer me and yourselves the same grace?
Other acts of love take a bit more intentionality: having your neighbor over for dinner, delivering cookies, sending a random thank-you note, etc. Acts of love can also be pricey to our time or finances. And more often than not, that is what holds me back. I don’t feel like I have the time or money to do what I would like to. And sometimes, those concerns are legitimate. But living given isn’t always easy or comfortable. It takes both intentionality and inconvenience. Loving others is rarely convenient or easy.
So, here is my challenge to you–and me: Pick out two intentional things a month to do to show love to others. And hold space for the unexpected opportunities to love someone, to be a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or a friend during a time of need.
My two intentional acts of love this month are two-fold. One is for someone we know, the other for strangers:
1. Give a teacher a “Back-to-School Survival Kit”. Having worked in public schools in the past, I have witnessed firsthand how hard teachers work. And even though it seems like they have “luxurious breaks” (Ha ha), they spend many of their days off prepping to return to school. Many teachers I know get little time to prepare for the holidays, are swamped with Christmas festivities, and then are busy prepping for the next semester in their classrooms before school even starts back up. It is a hard job, but a worthy one.
I believe a heartfelt “thank you” can go a long way. Whether you have kids in school or not, making a little kit of goodies for a teacher you know, or ones you don’t, can be a sweet surprise and needed encouragement. Plus, if you do have school-age kids, it is a really fun activity to involve them in: giving input, shopping, assembling, and delivering. 😉
This idea is versatile and can cost a lot or a little. I am sure teachers would adore things like Starbuck’s giftcards, but you can also do it on the cheap. My plan is to go by the Dollar Tree, get a cute mug or box and fill it with chocolate, teacher supplies, chap stick, etc. Don’t forget to include a sweet note of appreciation and encouragement!
I made up some quick tags that you can print and punch a hole in and use–help yourself: Encouragement Tags
2. Take around warm food to the homeless or donate extra winter hats, scarves, and coats. There are several intersections in town where we frequently see people out asking for money, food, or help. It breaks my heart to see several standing in the cold rain or snow. It made me think how easily we could bring them a hot cup of coffee or make and pack up some homemade breakfast burritos, kept warm wrapped in tinfoil and an insulated bag.
I also know that many families don’t have the warm clothes they need during the winter. Our church here participates in Warm Up Columbia. And the church we attended in York organized an amazing outreach called The Clothing Exchange twice a year. My parents’ church also organizes clothes to give away to those in need in the community. If you have the chance to participate in a program like this–please do! Otherwise, I would recommend looking up a local refugee help group. I have heard that many refugee families, especially those coming from warmer climates, don’t have the winter blankets, coats, hats, gloves, etc., that they need. Another option would be to keep a few extra things in your trunk or backseat to offer to homeless men or women in the cold.
I would love to hear more ideas from you? How are you going to “be the gift” and intentionally share love this month?