Back to School

 

Lonesome for Children's Voices

Do you sense fall in the air? Have you noticed the sun’s amber glow? The summer heat is waning. Last month, many families shopped for school and dorm supplies, anticipating the beginning of a new school year.

Yet many families didn’t have money to purchase new clothing or supplies. Their children will have to make do with what they have. Their children need clothing in larger sizes; they have outgrown already worn-out shoes.

Anticipation of a new school year is a joyful time for most children. For children living in poverty, it will be another year of being left behind, receiving leftovers, used clothing, maybe a new pair of shoes, receiving a donated backpack filled with school supplies.

Lining Up for Assistance before 8:30am

People Lining Up for Assistance

Poverty is a constant uphill battle, a formidable foe. It affects a child’s ability to learn. Poverty creates subtle stress in families. If parents can’t put food on the table for their families, how can they afford to provide needed clothing and shoes for their children much less afford to buy school supplies?

You can ease the cycle of poverty:

  • Volunteer at your local school.
  • Find out what a teacher needs for the classroom and donate it.
  • Be a mentor for a child.
  • Help a child learn to read.
  • Donate food to a local pantry.

Be generous to the poor—you’ll never go hungry; shut your eyes to their needs, and run a gauntlet of curses. (Proverbs 28:27, The Message)

 

Just Enough

Just Enough

Your heart melts, looking into her beautiful green eyes watching her lift each of three young friends to the table to choose a donated danish, cinnamon roll or chocolate chip cookie. She is nine years old, but acts more responsible than some adults. She steers another child to the front of the line, “She’s new. She doesn’t know what to do,” she says. Nine people are in her family. We give her a loaf of raisin bread dusted with powdered sugar to make French Toast. Walking away, she is smiling. Your heart melts a second time.

Today, there was just enough bread and pastries for everyone. A woman, a regular, was missing. We wonder where she is. Has she moved?

“You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, Common English Bible)

You are the Light

You are the Light

A green-eyed child taking care to see that other children get a sweet treat on a hot Florida evening is a light in a dark world. Her light shines in spite of the darkness of poverty around her. Just enough good things shut out darkness.

You Don’t Want That Dog

Every evening I look up, watching lights go on in a third floor corner condominium diagonally across the street from my home. Nola used to live there, her terrace filled with tomato plants, basil, other vegetables and herbs. Ten years ago this month, Nola began a 6-week seminar in my home teaching Dr. Joel Furhman’s “Eat to Live” program. Fourteen women gathered every week to listen to Nola’s wisdom.

Nola

Nola

We watched videos, discussing material, enjoying fellowship. Nola passed away August 25, 2012.

A photo of a rescue Chihuahua named Nola living in Virginia is mounted on my refrigerator door.

April of 2013, a beloved friend’s dog named Francois passed away. She notified me of the passing by email. Condolences were sent. I didn’t hear back from her which was unusual.

A lengthly letter arrived August 25, 2013 a year to the day of my friend Nola’s passing. The letter described my friend’s recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, her chemotherapy, surgery and radiation she had gone through the past months. Her letter included a photo of Nola, a newly acquired rescue Chihuahua to help her heart repair from the loss of Francois.

One day she and her husband went to the pound around closing time. She saw a Chihuahua. She was advised not to take the dog, being told, “No one can handle this one.” She asked to take the dog outside. The dog immediately warmed to her, jumping into her lap, sitting peacefully. It was closing time. She decided to take the dog home, naming her Nola, for her love of New Orleans (NOLA) and family ties going back several generations. Two weeks after adopting the Chihuahua, she received the earth-shattering pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

When I read her letter, I shuttered in unbelief. On the anniversary of my friend’s death, I learned of my friend’s diagnosis and learned about a dog named Nola comforting her during a severe medical crisis.

We met later. I shared this with her. It gave her comfort. She is in remission. Her dog Nola does have her challenges with the rest of the family pets, but she is a comfort to her master.

When the lights go on in the third floor condominium, I think of Nola. Angels are among us. Some may be covered with fur.

Furry Angel

Furry Angel

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. Psalm 91:11

The Miserables

The Miserables

The Miserables aren’t only in a French novel written in the late 1800s.

How much more does living below the poverty line cost families already stretched to meet basic living expenses?

“I don’t get my check until 3pm. I will have to pay a $25 late fee after 11am. Can you help me?”

“I contacted the agency you recommended. They can’t see me for 2 months. They told me to save my money.”

As you see from the two statements above, there is a “tyranny of time” that adds to the numerous challenges families living in poverty face every day. Rental late fees dip into already limited family funds. An appointment more than 2 months away adds another roadblock to a family working to pull themselves out of a downward spiral created by a job loss.

Thousands of families struggle to pay monthly rent, provide food, and pay work-related transportation expenses. Many of us live in homes with well-stocked refrigerators, having money in bank accounts to pay rent or mortgages. We can afford gas for automobiles or we are able to fund public transportation fees and purchase food at favorite grocery stores while thousands of families struggle to meet basic living expenses including food.

During a performance of Les Misérables, our cell phones were off. Exiting the theater, we checked emails. A family had sent an email at 10:30pm on a Friday night. They asked for food. The head of household works two jobs. The spouse’s work hours have been cut back to one day a week. They have a 10 year old child. After paying their rent, they had $5 left over. Can you imagine a 10 year old living in a home with nothing to eat in the United States of America?

In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean was arrested and sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his hungry family. If you had no food in your home and your 10 year old child was hungry, what would you do to get food? It is 2014. Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel speaks to us today.

Might you help a family in your community? Consider donating to a local food bank, feeding the homeless or discovering other ways to help families living in poverty.

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” Matthew 25:40

Hope

Have you helped someone get along a little better today?

My family picks up bread from a local Panera Sunday nights. Monday morning, we package the bread into family friendly portions. Monday afternoons, we take the bread to local motels filled with homeless families and children. Today we had an abundance of bread, french baguettes, dozens of bagels, loaves and loaves of sliced bread. Almost every week, regardless of the quantity of Panera’s donated leftovers, God provides the exact amount of bread to serve the children and families who stand in line to receive.

Today was no different except we had 3 bags of bagels left. At the last minute, we encountered a mom and her children who were grateful to receive the bagels, stuffing them into their school backpacks.

My niece’s son is a freshman at college. We “face timed” with him last night, meeting his roommates and a study partner. Introduced to amazing college freshmen planning majors in biomedical, aerospace and other engineering specialties, we talked and laughed together.

We talked about the perspective of the Block “O” of Life, its purposes and goals.

A Block "O" for Life

A Block “O” for Life

This afternoon, I texted my nephew with a visual of the Block “O.” He was preparing to donate blood. I was humbled by his giving spirit. I recalled times he visited us, helping us package bread, pass it out, helping to deliver Christmas and Easter meals to families living in poverty. I am grateful that there is a new generation that realizes the importance of caring and giving to people living on the fringes of society, those who are marginalized through uncontrollable and unforeseen circumstances. There is hope.

Because the poor won’t be forgotten forever, the hope of those who suffer won’t be lost for all time. Psalm 9:18, CEB

 

Road Trip Gifts

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A luncheon guest gave me a copy of her recently published book. At a Maryland rest stop, Black Eyed Susans were in full bloom. 

Hosting gatherings of family and friends were priceless gifts.

The house at Ocean Grove turned out to be a near-perfect place to host family and friends at God’s Square Mile on the Jersey Shore.IMG_2457

 

 

 

Shopping for groceries at Wegmans was a gift. We looked forward to our daily trip to Wegmans.

We adjusted our original road trip schedule to attend Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit at Ocean Grove. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear Louie Giglio, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, Tyler Perry and many more leadership experts.

Road Trips can be a quiet time away from over-scheduled calendars, telephones, emails and to-do lists. One never knows what kinds of gifts wait to be opened.

Are you familiar with the movie Soul Surfer, the true story of Bethany Hamilton who was attacked by a shark while surfing in Hawaii? A speaker at a recent writers workshop is an editor for a Christian teen magazine, Sisterhood. Her presentation was great but I had no idea how it would impact me in the days to come. About a month after the workshop, I learned my granddaughter liked surfing, then I recalled the presentation. The speaker talked about Bethany Hamilton. During coffee with the mom of a 12 year old, I asked her if she knew about Bethany Hamilton. “We just finished a study of the movie. I have it. Would you like to borrow it?” she replied. I purchased the movie bundled with the downloadable study guide and gave it to my granddaughter, along with the magazine article and a subscription.  What happens next is in God’s hands.

On Sunday, Andy Stanley said, “You have no idea and I have no idea what God is up to in the world.” Stanley said, “I can’t, He can, He can through me.”

When you are on the road, look for what God is up to in the world. The 12 year old’s mom calls moments such as these “God winks.”

What Music is in You?

We were absorbed in the soundtrack from the movie Platoon. Minutes later, someone shared the impact of the soundtrack from HBO’s mini series, Band of Brothers. The soundtrack resonated in the bones of a son’s father, a WWII veteran.

Last Sunday’s worship service opened with Sister Sledge’s We Are Family which brought down the house. Surely God was smiling. The sermon was based on Psalm 133,

A pilgrimage song. Of David. 

Look at how good and pleasing it is
when families live together as one!

It is like expensive oil poured over the head,
running down onto the beard—
Aaron’s beard!—
which extended over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
streaming down onto the mountains of Zion,
because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing:
everlasting life. (CEB)

Music is the Universal Language of Mankind wrote a gifted high school musician in a yearbook more than 45 years ago. He went on to play for Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones and others.

What is it about music that grabs us, touching the center of our souls? To me, music is mystical. I remember listening to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue one day when my father came home from work. “Turn it down, you’re shaking the leaves on the trees,” he said. I complied, turning it down but I felt Gershwin’s music in my soul and I still do today. Music can release me from where I am to where I might go. Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, Chuck Berry, Elvis, the Beatles……James Brown? Garth Brooks? Hymns? What music is in you? What music resonates in your soul?

Our nephew visited during spring break. One afternoon the two of us talked about music after he set up my Apple TV. He is a four part harmony aficionado. We shared music, sitting close together on our couch before leaving for dinner. “I want you to watch a documentary,” I said. We watched 20 Feet From Stardom that won this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. He enjoyed it.

In July, our nephew returned with friends. They purchased tickets to a performance by the Liberty Voices. An afternoon after the performance I picked him up. When he got into my car he said he told his friend, “If my aunt is driving her car, you will hear the “Liberty Voices.” Sure enough, The Magic of Voices CD greeted them when they got into the car. We laughed together, listening to the CD, thankful for a gift from friends.

Music is a universal language that bridges gaps, bonds people together, and creates irreplaceable memories. Go ahead, turn up the volume and shake the leaves on the trees. It’s okay when someone asks you to turn it down. You’ve got the music in you. Play on.

To watch the trailer from 20 Feet From Stardom, click here.