Let It Shine

Holding small, battery-powered tea candles in their chubby little hands, my two daughters sang along to “This Little Light of Mine” as we sat in the dark. They were ages 3 and 6, and “light” was the big topic of the week in our homeschool.

After the song, I read aloud Matthew 5:16, in which Jesus says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

With the lights back on and candles put away, our Kindergarten-level discussion quickly led to the question: “What are good works, Mommy?” I don’t recall exactly how I answered, but a few days later, God made the answer clear. Our family was driving about a mile from home when we came upon a car with a flat tire. My husband pulled over to help, and as soon as he left the van, our youngest daughter started the seemingly endless interrogation that characterizes many 3-year-olds.

“What are we doing? Why are we here? Why are we stopped? Who is that? What is Daddy doing? Do we know that lady?”

Continue reading this post over at The End in Mind.

Please Do Disturb Us

Having a flexible schedule is a benefit that ranks high among the reasons moms love homeschooling. It’s the joy of cancelling the day’s math lessons so that you can spend the first warm spring day at the park. It’s the freedom to postpone your first grader’s reading lessons until the quiet hour when your toddler takes her afternoon nap. It’s the empowerment to call off handwriting lessons for two whole months while your third grader’s broken right arm heals in a cast.

Continue reading Please Do Disturb Us over here at The End in Mind.

Letting Your Light Shine

When my daughters were about 3 and 6, “light” was a big topic we closely studied in our home school. We studied the sun, moon, stars and outer space; they even built a rocket ship.

We sang “This little light of mine,” and I read aloud Matthew 5:16 to them. In that verse Jesus says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Our Kindergarten-level discussion quickly led to the question: “What are good works, Mommy?” I don’t recall exactly how I answered that — probably something vague like “actions that show love for others.”

A few days later, our family was driving about a mile from home when we came upon a car with a flat tire. My husband pulled over to help, and as soon as he left the van, our youngest started the endless interrogation for which most 3 and 4 year-olds are famous.

“What are we doing? Why are we here? Why are we stopped? Who is that? What is Daddy doing? Do we know that lady?”

After I explained that he was helping the lady replace the flat tire, something clicked and she excitedly exclaimed, “Oh! Daddy’s letting his light shine!”

Since then, anything that might be considered good works in our family has been known as “letting your light shine.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to let our lights shine, to be doers of good works. Of course doing good doesn’t save us; we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. But without good works, our faith is dead. James 2:14-17 explains how inseparable faith and works are.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

I love the word picture Rich Mullins painted on this truth: “Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing; it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”

The Bible is full of characters known for their faith and good works. The “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 offers a nice overview of many. One lesser known doer with great faith, though, is Gaius. Some of his story is found in the book of 3 John, and I find it inspiring.

The Apostle John, in this letter, calls Gaius “beloved” four times. And we don’t have to read past verse 2 to know that — in John’s assessment — Gaius was in good spiritual shape. That’s a pretty powerful compliment coming from the one who refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23)

In his commentary on this passage, John MacArthur describes Gaius as loving and gentle, readily showing hospitality. He treated people as God would treat them, which is exactly how hospitality should be practiced, MacArthur says.

In short, Gaius knew the truth and faithfully practiced it. His faith had works. He was a doer. He let his light shine.

And in 3 John, Gaius is encouraged to keep on doing good works, even and especially when others questioned whether certain works of hospitality ought to be done.

Martin Luther concurs: “Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are.”

That’s a powerful statement — genuine believers cannot help being busy doing good works constantly — long before anyone comes along and asks if they should be done.

What’s more, James 1:25 says doers will be blessed in their doing. Clearly Gaius was blessed in his good works. He was blessed with the love, kind words and prayers of the Apostle John. He was blessed by the kind words and good report of those strangers he welcomed faithfully. And he was blessed to be a child of God walking in the truth.

How about you — how are you blessed in the doing of good works?

How Hair Nets Bring Joy

Blessed are the heads wearing hair nets, for they help pack food for the hungry. Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says that?

I’m kidding of course. But yes, that’s me wearing a hair net. And I wore it joyfully because blessing others is itself a blessing. Serving in Jesus’ name and showing God’s love to the hungry is a joy. It’s a joy because, as Ann Voskamp says, “…while I serve Christ, it is He who serves me… It’s the fundamental, lavish, radical nature of the upside-down economy of God. Empty to fill.”

Empty to fill.

On Saturday our family — plus an 8-year-old friend and minus our youngest daughter — emptied to fill. We emptied our Saturday schedule and filled the morning with this special project. We emptied any pride we had in our hair-dos and filled hair nets with our hair. We filled boxes and cups with rice and soy nuggets. And then we emptied the cups and boxes to fill meal bags, which eventually filled boxes, which eventually filled pallets that will ship overseas to fill the stomachs of some of the 12 million people who are starving in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

According to the head of the United Nations Relief Agency, these countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing the worst drought since the 1950s. The land is empty of food. It is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

Our family and some dear friends volunteered alongside dozens of volunteers from our church and two partner churches, under the direction of Feed My Starving Children. This nonprofit hunger-relief organization provided all of the food, supplies, equipment, expertise and experience for the packing sessions.

The food we packed was a unique combination of chicken, veggies, soy and rice. Food scientists developed the special formula to include easily digestible protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. It’s a healthy, nutrient-rich meal to fill empty stomachs and satisfy more than hunger pains.

During our two-hour shift, volunteers at our particular location worked together to pack 27,864 meals. That’s enough food to fill the tummies of 76 children for a year. Each meal costs only 24 cents. By the end of the day, our site had packed more than 112,000 meals.

What’s more, volunteers from several other partner churches were also packing meals throughout the day on Saturday, under the direction of Feed My Starving Children and two other hunger-relief organizations: Kids Against Hunger and ImpactLives. This vast effort was called The Hunger Initiative. Altogether in just one day, approximately 4,000 volunteers from 11 churches gathered in eight locations across Minnesota and packed 1 million meals to send to the hungry in the Horn of Africa.

One million meals.

That’s a big number. But here’s an even bigger number: 1.02 billion.

That’s how many undernourished people live in the world today. More than 1 billion.

One in six people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition; it is the number-one health risk and is more prevalent than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Hunger.

Isaiah 58:10-11 says,

“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as the noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”

Want to become the blessing? Want to let your light shine? You can feed the hungry by supporting the mission of Feed My Starving Children in a variety of ways — and only one involves wearing a hair net.

  • Pray for the millions of starving people around the world and for FMSC’s ability to serve them.
  • Volunteer to package meals.
  • Donate online (just 24 cents pays for one meal).
  • Purchase FMSC merchandise from their Online MarketPlace. One t-shirt buys 45 meals!

May God fill you with joy in Him as you love and bless others, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:18)

“The servant-hearted never serve alone. Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him.” -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Because Christmas is Forever

It’s Jan. 23. Nearly a month after Dec. 25. I’m still finding random Christmas items around the house that should have been boxed up weeks ago.

Just yesterday I stashed away a pile of Christmas-themed picture books and board books. And we still have a healthy stash of candy canes and other stocking-stuffer sweets lingering on the kitchen counter.

I think part of me wants to celebrate Christmas again on some random day in February. Pull out the books and the music. Bake up those sugar cookies we never got around to making this year, and maybe whip up another batch of our favorite cinnamon rolls. Mmmmm…

One of my favorite authors, she says you can have the most hope after Christmas. She shares this conversation with her youngest daughter Shalom, who is the same age as my youngest daughter.

“Mama?” Shalom walks beside me, holding my hand. “Will tomorrow be Christmas too?”

I know that feeling. Not wanting any of this wonder to wander away — or me from it.

“Well, I’m thinking… ” I stop, look out across the fields and the white and the stars. “I’m thinking that it’s Christmas now forever.”

Her laughter rings all around us.

“Yes, Mama, yes!” She spins around in snow, in the halo of the barn light, us all under stars.

It is Christmas forever now — because Christ is always with us.”

I like the idea of Christmas forever, don’t you? Christ is always with us, and in John 14:23 He promises to make His home with us when we love Him and obey His teaching. Jesus calls us to love and serve one another, and He promises that we will be blessed by doing so. In fact, in John 15:14, He says we are His friends if we do what He commands.

So this year, as Jesus’ friends, we’re re-celebrating Christmas on Feb. 25 in a really big way. This celebration will include hope and food and gift-giving on an enormous scale, but we’ll skip the over-decorated balsam fir, homemade cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies.

On Feb. 25, our church family is teaming up with 10 other churches and three Minnesota organizations (Feed My Starving Children, Impact Lives and Kids Against Hunger) to package and send over 1 million highly nutritious meals to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. Right now in the Horn of Africa, 12 million Ethiopians, Kenyans and Somalians are suffering through the worst drought in more than 50 years. The project is called the Hunger Initiative, and you can learn more about it at thehungerinitiative.org.

Friends, may I humbly offer a few wonderful ways for you — as Jesus’ friend — to join us in loving and serving these who are in such desperate need for food?

First, pray! This is a huge project with the potential of saving thousands of lives. Secondly, since it costs $50 to pack one box of food (about 216 meals), financial donations are needed and appreciated. You can click here to donate — our specific project is the Brookwood/Bridgewood/Oakwood – Feed My Starving Children project.

Or perhaps you might consider serving in a personal, long-term way by sponsoring a child in Ethiopia?

Two years ago our family began sponsoring Dawit (pictured above) through Children’s HopeChest. God has richly blessed us through the pictures and handwritten letters we have received from Dawit. And God is softening our hearts and our children’s hearts as we pray regularly for Dawit and his friends at Kind Hearts carepoint, as we send letters and care packages to him, and as we pray for the various mission teams and mission projects connected with Kind Hearts.

Trees of Glory is another Children’s HopeChest carepoint in Ethiopia, and it has several new children in need of sponsor families. Click here to learn more about this excellent child sponsorship program, coordinated by Karen Wistrom who blogs at Family from Afar.

Christ is with us, so let’s let the world know we are Christians by showing our love. Let’s celebrate Christmas forever!

The Story Behind the Red Kettle and Bells

by Linnea, age 9

Catherine Booth was very bold. She was born in 1829 and died in 1890. She was a woman who preached sometimes. She married William Booth, and they started the Salvation Army together.

It was very hard work. People threw rotten fruits and other stuff at the Salvation Army Band. The Salvation Army tried very hard and succeeded a lot in telling people about Jesus.

If you would like to help the Salvation Army, put money in one of their red kettles. You can find them at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, etc. If you hear some bells ringing at a store and see somebody, there should be a Salvation Army kettle nearby.

If you would like to learn more about the Salvation Army and the Booths, you can read Kidnapped by River Rats  or Heroes of the Faith by Dave and Neta Jackson or watch Torchlighters Heroes of the Faith: The William Booth Story on DVD.

Would you like to know Jesus, too? If you want to know more about Him, you can look at http://www.needhim.org. •

Linnea is 9 years old and a 3rd grader at Starlight Home School. She thoroughly enjoys lessons in ballet, tap dance, art and piano. When she isn’t devouring chapter books, Linnea delights in numerous craft and sewing projects, nature walks, fishing, boating and swimming. In 2011 she rode a horse, a pony and an elephant, and she took a llama on a hike. She recently learned to crochet, and she has become thoroughly ambidextrous this fall while healing from a severe arm injury.

5 Star Links for Friday


It’s 5-star Friday! Yay! Time for me to share some links to great online reading and/or listening.

1. Heart Condition (by Kasey Van Norman at Mentoring Moments) explains why the condition of our hearts is of greatest concern to the Lord.

2. Understanding the Unfathomable: God’s Unconditional Love (by Pastor Andreas Custer at Oakwood Community Church) reminds us how deeply God loves and encourages us to love one another.

3. The Most Needed Peer Pressure (by Wendy Alsup at Desiring God) urges us to love unconditionally when bearing with a loved one’s struggles.

4. 8 Tips for Talking to Your Kids about the Sermon (by Pastor Joe Holland) tells how little folks sitting in the pews retain more and understand more than you think they do and how we, as parents, can follow up with them after the sermon. Great tips!

5. Gaining Clarity on Women’s Roles Part 1 and Part 2 (by Leanne Popeko at CBMW) explains some key aspects of God’s lovely design for women in the church.

I pray that these words encourage and inspire you as much as they did me.

Also, may I ask a favor? I recently re-wrote my personal testimony as part of an assignment in the Bible study group I attend. The new version is much shorter and employs a very different format than the earlier version, which I posted years ago. If you would read it and perhaps leave a comment, I’d be ever so grateful to you. Just click here. Thank you!

“March on, my soul; be strong!” -Judges 5:21b

Love Letters to Ethiopia

For a little more than a year now, our family has been sponsoring Dawit, a little boy at Kind Hearts Care Point in Ethiopia.

In giving, we have been blessed beyond measure! What a great honor to play this role in caring for the suffering on the other side of the world. 

We have never met Dawit, but we have been writing to him — mostly by e-mail — through the Lord’s faithful servants at Children’s HopeChest. Last fall, we enjoyed sending him a little care package, and we were ever so delighted to receive pictures of him opening it a few months ago.

Last month we received our first hand-written letter from Dawit! Oh, what joy! He asked us to please pray for his school and wondered if we would be visiting him in Ethiopia someday.

Earlier this month, thanks to the generous work of Little Goody 2 Shoes, Dawit and the other 98 children at Kind Hearts received brand new shoes. Isn’t that fantastic news? You can read more about these kids who are walking a little taller if you jump over to Family from Afar.

Just a day or two after Valentine’s, we received the opportunity to send Dawit a letter and a few other items that would fit in a business-sized envelope. The girls found some Silly Bandz and extra Valentine cards to send, and then they helped me draft the letter. We also enclosed a cute little paper puppet.

If you would like to join us in praying for the ministry of Children’s HopeChest in Ethiopia, here are some specific requests they sent us a few months ago. 

  • Pray that may God expand the ministry of Children’s HopeChest in Ethiopia.
  • Pray that all of the registered children be healthy and successful in their lives.
  • Pray also that the staff at the U.S. office, Ethiopia country office, and at each care point and orphanage will be energetic for the ministry of children and for the wisdom of the Lord while working to serve Him.
  • Pray for the health of all sponsors, donors and all of sponsorship community leaders.
  • Pray for the coming months, that it may be a season of success, strategic expansion and experiencing the hand of God in the ministry.

Also, would you prayerfully consider sponsoring a child like Dawit through Children’s HopeChest? If so, please contact Karen Wistrom, the sponsor coordinator for Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory Care Points, at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”

-Isaiah 1:17 NLV

10 People Who Inspired Me in 2010

 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24 NIV

About a year ago, I shared in this post how friends of ours had spurred me on toward love and good deeds. As I reflect on 2010 and continue to thank God for their friendship and encouragement, I thought it’d be fun to share some other sources of encouragement and inspiration that might just inspire and encourage you, too.

1. My husband, Michael, always inspires me, and for so many reasons. In August I blogged about 15 reasons why I love Michael. I should also note that in the first three months of 2010 Michael lost 65 lbs., and he has kept them off! Yay! But of more significance than his weight loss are his spiritual gains in 2010. He has clearly grown closer to the Lord  — through prayer, Bible study, and Scripture memory — and that truly inspires me! What a blessing to have a strong spiritual leader in our household.

2. Our pastor, Steve Anderson, is a wonderful, encouraging pastor, as well as leader of the small group in which my husband and I participate. In November while he was serving as a short-term missionary in Nicaragua, I blogged here about how thankful I am for Pastor Steve and his lovely wife Sharon. They are truly wonderful people who bless us each week. When he returned from Nicaragua, Pastor Steve told us an amazing story about handing out baseballs and Beanie Babies to the children there. God performed a miracle that day! You can listen to him tell the story if you click here. It starts at 19 minutes into his sermon “Whose Stuff is All This Anyway?” By the way, you can find out more about short-term missions and adopt-a-pastor opportunities in Nicaragua by visiting Repairers of Broken Walls.

3. Andreas Custer is the Student Ministries Director at our church. He’s a great guy, and while our family doesn’t yet have any students in his ministry, his contagious passion for the Lord and inspiring manner spills over and touches our family regularly. After visiting Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields this fall, Pastor Andi preached this really dynamite sermon about fixing our eyes on Jesus in the same way soldiers fix their eyes on their battle flag. The key Scripture passage he used was Philippians 3:7-21, and he explains that those who have their eyes set on earthly things, in contrast, are enemies of the cross.

4. Karen Wistrom at Family from Afar is a working mom with four children, two biological and two adopted, and is a child sponsorship coordinator for Children’s HopeChest. Besides raising money for all sorts of orphan-care projects, she traveled to Ethiopia this fall — for the third year in a row — to minister to orphans at Kind Hearts, where our sweet Dawit is. Thanks to Karen, we were able to put together this little care package for Dawit in August, and then a couple of months later Karen sent us pictures of Dawit receiving it. Yay, Karen! 

5. Samantha at Little Goody 2 Shoes is an 11-year-old who is selling bottle cap necklaces to raise money to buy shoes for orphans in Ethiopia. We bought a few of them that say Kind Hearts, and they are so adorable! To date, Samantha sold 314 necklaces and raised enough money to buy 103 pairs of new, custom-made shoes for orphans at Kind Hearts and two other orphanages in Ethiopia. Way to go, Samantha!

6. My own daughter, Linnea, at the ripe old age of 7, decided to donate 11 inches of her hair to Locks of Love in February. She was so brave and so passionate about giving to a little girl in need. That was a lot of hair!  

7. Author Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience is a farmer’s wife, homeschool mother of six, and an amazingly gifted writer. She faithfully uses her gift for God’s glory. I am so eager to read her latest book, 1,000 Gifts, which will be released Jan. 25.

8. Writer Holley Gerth at Heart to Heart with Holley is another writer whose words transcend into the spiritually inspiring realm. She also faithfully uses this gift to point others toward God.

9. My beautiful and sunshiny friend Alice, who recently moved to our little town, totally inspires me to be a better mom and to more intentionally play with my kids, especially while they are still willing to play with me! Alice is outgoing, full of life, and truly a fantastic cook and baker. All those traits come in handy as a stay-at-home mom to three handsome and energetic boys, all under the age of 5! While the girls and I were over for a visit last week, Alice gave us all flashlights, turned off the lights, and asked us to hunt for stuffed animals that had been hidden around her kitchen and living room. This “jungle-safari” version of hide-and-seek was great fun! Thanks for being so wonderful, Alice!

10. And last, but certainly not least, is Jodi, another beautiful friend of mine who inspires me to be a better mom and not neglect my creative side.  Jodi is a tea-drinking homeschool mom of five children, ranging in age from 1 to 13. She also teaches art, jazz, and tap dance lessons. My daughter is in one of Jodi’s art classes and adores every moment of it. If I were to write a biography about Jodi, I’d entitle it Everybody Loves Jodi. She is creative, encouraging, sweeter than pie, and everybody loves her! Last I checked she wasn’t sporting a red cape, but she is truly a super woman, empowered by God. 

Now I’m shutting my laptop and heading off to play Little People with my 5-year-old, so it’s your turn to share.

Who has inspired you in 2010? Do tell!