Christmas Hope at Waffle House

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I share this not to brag about what we did, but an idea to bless others.

I grew up with one of my parents typically leaving on Christmas day to go work.  My dad would work afternoons/nights at a local hotel as a desk clerk.  My mom had a few jobs that required her to work the holiday.  Our normal Christmas was to open presents and then go to a restaurant for lunch.  My big Christmas meal was spent at Shoneys, IHOP, Chinese, or another local place that would be opened for the holiday.  When we lived a good amount of restaurants were opened on Christmas.

I often felt bad for the waitress or waiters that we had on that day.  They had to leave their family to come wait a table at Shoneys.  That never seemed fair to me.

As I’ve gotten older I realized that most of those folks needed those hours.  Many are getting the best tips they do all year long during those holiday hours.  Almost all are getting paid time and a half or even double time for those hours.  It is true that those businesses are making good money, but by staying open they are helping their employees not miss a significant portion of income that month.  It is also true that none of them want to work Christmas but most of them need to work Christmas.

About three weeks ago I was thinking of my holiday experiences and all those waiters and waitresses.  I knew I wanted to communicate to my kids how blessed they are that their dad and mom doesn’t have to leave to work at a job.  I  wanted them to know that we are blessed to be a blessing.

I asked Jennifer what she thought of going to Waffle House and giving our waitress a gift. I told her what I wanted to communicate to our kids and the opportunity to bless someone that was working on Christmas.  She loved the idea.

After opening gifts we loaded up the kids and headed to Waffle House.  It was total chaos.  The busiest I’ve ever seen a Waffle House and we’ve been during busy times!  They seated us quickly and we ordered our food.

We had my older daughter give the waitress a Christmas card with my business card and a $20 bill.  My wife started talking to her about her Christmas.  She has 3 kids and is expecting another in the next few months.  She was able to get the lunch shift so she could celebrate Christmas with her young kids early this morning.

My kids were crazy so I was thankful that we gave her a card with money and we tipped too!  It was a good experience and gave meaning to our meal.  My hope is that this also encouraged our waitress as she served today.  We try to treat others as we would want to be treated.  If I were giving up time with my kids on Christmas to work at Waffle House, I’d hope someone would bless me with good tips and cards.

Teaching Kids By Giving Presents

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I love this time of year.  Peppermint Mochas, claymation classic cartoons, pretty lights, and decorating a tree.  Almost all of us are doing something family oriented and trying to slow down for a few days to enjoy time with family.  One of the best things about Christmas is the opportunity it gives for family discipleship and missions.

At Connect we are doing a missions endeavor called Project Joy.  We’ve helping 9 families from Amelia, Ohio by providing Christmas presents and food for them.  We want each child to receive 4 presents on Christmas Day – something to wear, something to read, something they need, and something they want.  We want each family to receive a food box and a couple of grocery gift cards to help during this season.  In addition to that we are collecting movie passes and gift cards for these families to provide a family night out for them.

We divided up the needs and listed them on ornaments.  If someone just wanted to do a movie gift card – take that ornament.  If they wanted to provide an outfit for a kindergarten girl – there is an ornament for that as well.  Our hope was that this would allow everyone to take part in Project Joy.

Jennifer and I took 3 ornaments because we have 3 kids.  Normally I would take ornaments that are close in age to my kids, but we decided to take the ones that might be more difficult for others to do.  We want our kids to enjoy this and help meet the greatest needs that we can.  There is balance.

We took our family to Wal-Mart last night to shop.  I talked to them about why we were doing what we were doing.  I wanted my oldest daughter to understand that there are kids that wouldn’t receive a Christmas present if we didn’t help.  We have been given so much and we need to help others that are struggling this season.

We started by shopping for a book for a little girl.  We took our kids to the book isle and explained again this is not for them, but for a girl that is similar to their age.  Options are a kid’s enemy.  Too many options mean they can’t make a decision.  We narrowed it down to a couple of books and allowed her to pick.  Then we went shopping for clothing and shoes for the next kids.

When we left it was time for dinner.  We went to a restaurant and took the ornaments in with us.  These ornaments are made to decorate and the restaurant had crayons.  Our kids were able to color the ornaments while we waited on our food.  This was another opportunity to talk to them about our gift.

Our plan is to put the 3 ornaments on our tree.  These ornaments are a reminder of the three kids that we provided for this holiday season.  We are going to pray for these kids each night during our family devotional.

My hope is that this reminds our children that there are many kids in our community in need of food, shelter, etc.  We/They need to step up and help those in our area.  We are increasing their knowledge and understanding of poverty, but also planting seeds of prayer, generosity, and kindness in their lives.  Plus it is a lot of family fun!

18 Christmas Experiences for Families

  1.  Zoo Lights – I’m pumped about this one.
  2. Advent Calendar – I never did this a a child.  In fact, I think I was in my mid-20s before I’d even heard of Advent.  A daily way for you to talk to your children about Christmas. Some of these calendars are very religious and others are Barbie and Cinderella.
  3. Bass Pro – one thing we always do as a family is see Santa at Bass Pro Shop.  Why?  Because it’s FREE.  Santa pics cost a fortune.
  4. Gingerbread House Making – You can buy a kit or do one at your local library.
  5. Lowe’s Build and Grow Or Home Depot – make a FREE ornament with your kids at Lowes or a Gingerbread Candy Dish at Lowe’s.
  6. Reindog Parade – My kids love dog parades at the holiday time.
  7. Coney Island Nights of Light
  8. Go ice skating as family.
  9. Get in your PJs and watch a few holiday classics on Freeform or YouTube
  10. Check out the Cincinnati Circus at Newport Levee
  11. Take your kids shopping for a child that is in need.  Let them pick out the present and talk to them about giving.
  12. Check out a parade in town this weekend.
  13. Go find some Tacky Lights
  14. Check out a Christmas play at a church
  15. Do a 5k as a family
  16. Scuba Santa at the Aquarium
  17. See the trains at EnterTRAINment Junction
  18. Get a new board game and play it as a family

YouTube Christmas: Church videos

I love having YouTube during the holiday season.  So many Christmas classics that I can watch with my family for FREE.  Normally I make one post with videos that families might enjoy, but there are so many I decided to divide my list into two.  Here are videos that were done by churches and Christian organizations.  These are good for a few laughs this season.  Enjoy!

Christmas in Bevelton – I was at North Point when we did this.  One of my favorites.

iPhone Band – Seems super old now but fun for kids.

Santa Went Down to Georgia – Several of these folks do the Orange Conference. So talented.

One Day More – 2012 Les Miserables spoof

Christmas According to Kids – Southland Christian Church

ReTooning The Nativity – this is helpful to explain what the nativity really looked like

Kid History – Another kid version of the Christmas story

The Living Nativity – Skit Guys

Camel Falls into crowd at Church – So glad I don’t have to work with live animals on Christmas plays

Toy Pianos – some kids will love this

 

My Tennessee Mountain Home

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As I look at pictures of my hometown in flames it is overwhelming to consider the needs of those people.  One of the sweetest families that I know lost their business to this fire.  Many people don’t even know if their home is still standing because the threat of fire is on going.  What do we do?  How do we respond?  Where do we start?

Andy Stanley once said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all”  That statement has been huge in my life in trying to help people.  I can’t provide meals, electricity, and clothing for 15,000 displaced people, but I could help one or two families.

There are a ton of families in need it should be easy to find one to help.  So what’s next?

I lost everything to a house fire when I was 19 years old.  The only clothes that I had was work out stuff that was in the trunk of my car.  I can easily provide you with a list of needs for those that have just lost everything.  Here is the list:  EVERYTHING

People need food, clothing, water, shelter, etc.  I know that many restaurants and businesses are stepping up now, but that is only meeting the needs of today.  Tomorrow is coming and those offers are going to dramatically decrease.  Find a family and help them buy clothing.  Give gift cards to Walmart and Kroger.  Loan out your extra car so the family has transportation to talk with insurance companies and doctors.  The needs are everything and they are everywhere.

Matthew 7:12 says ““So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  If you lost everything you’d wish people would help you.  Think about how you would want to be treated and what your family would need.  It is by God’s grace that you aren’t the one in need.

Bring over gift cards.  Provide a ride to work.  Help them find a new job.  Have their family over to dinner to help everyone process what is going on in town.
For those of us not living in East Tennessee what can we do other than donate to charities.  The number one thing you could do is take your Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge vacation in 2016/2017.  The short term impact of this fire is obviously huge.  It is the long term impact that is equally concerning.  Considering the economy of Sevier County is built on tourism this fire could cost more jobs because of people choosing to not vacation in the mountains.  Most of what you enjoy doing on your vacation is untouched.  I will be there next week staying in a hotel, eating almost every meal out with family, and doing some of the family fun stuff with my kids.  We were scheduled to celebrate Christmas with my family and we are going even though I have no idea what to expect.  So many jobs depend on other families doing the same.

Do for one what you wish you could do for all.  Not just a philosophy of giving for this moment, but for every moment and in every community.

 

The Man Comes Around

Easter 2015 – Jennifer tells me that she has a gift for me for Easter.  I was mad because we didn’t have the money for any gifts.  I had no idea what was coming next.  She hands me the pregnancy test with neither of us knowing how to respond.  I was devastated.

It was just a few weeks ago that we had agreed the worst thing that could happen to us was a baby.  That probably sounds terrible to you, but you have to understand what was happening.  We were in between ministries with no income.  Our health insurance was going to run out in just a few months.  If something didn’t change soon we were going to have to move in with Jennifer’s parents (which we did).

Gwinnett Church had an amazing service that Easter morning, but I think both of our minds were on the news of our new baby.  We talked, prayed, cried, and tried to make sense of it all.  Slowly we were becoming excited about the baby, but we had no idea how we would survive the next several month.

We also had no idea how to  tell people that Jennifer was pregnant.  Everyone acted excited, but I’m sure they were concerned for us.  How many people go their entire pregnancy with no steady income?

I like control.  Actually I love control.  Our lives was suddenly completely out of control.  We were having to walk by faith in a way that most people don’t have to.  We had ‘real’ problems.

We began to fight to get government insurance and then the fight to actually use the government insurance.  We had no idea but Jennifer being pregnant made this process much easier and helped to provide insurance for her.  The fight to use the insurance is sometimes worse than the fight to get it.  We had a wonderful friend that was a nurse at an OBGYN practice.  Because Jen had switched to their practice they agreed to take the insurance.

I remember that sweet nurse saying this is going to be the best thing that could happen to you.  I thought she was crazy.  What she meant was that the insurance would cover everything (which it did).

The doctor told us that the baby would be due near Thanksgiving.  Such irony this baby would be born when we focus on being thankful.

We had a lot of heartbreak on the job end, but I learned how to sell on eBay.  God provided every step of the way.  We went that entire pregnancy with no income, but every bill was paid on time!  I still don’t know how it worked out, but the Lord provided.

When we found out the baby was a boy we became even more excited.  We were going to get to use the name that we had chosen years ago: Cash River.  Cash is named after Johnny Cash.  When Johnny Cash became a Christian his life was radically changed.  Instead of living his life in a Christian bubble, he chose to live it in the real world.  Several people followed Jesus because of Johnny’s influence.  My life was changed by my youth pastor – Scott Carter – who is a part of Cash’s family.

Everything worked out for the best.  Jennifer received the best hospital care she had ever had at Gwinnett Medical.  Cash was healthy and a wonderful blessing.  We owe nothing from his birth or hospital stay.  The Lord provided through it all.

You can do a thousand bible studies on faith, but nothing is like having to walk in faith that God is in control and He will provide.  Faith is experiential and cannot be learned through a class or study.  Our faith in the Lord is much greater today because of the way God chose to give us Cash River.

Thankful for Connect

 

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I was being interviewed for a position with a church in Indianapolis a couple of years ago.  The pastor reviewed my resume and asked a unique question.

“Which of the churches you have worked for best represent who you are”

“None of them really” – Me

“Really?  You’ve spent your whole life working for churches that are not like you?  That is sad” – Pastor

I don’t think you are suppose to have a major life crisis during a Skype interview, but I was having one.  I remember just wanting to shut the computer and stare at the wall.  I finished the interview knowing that his question was more important than the position they were trying to fill.

Honestly I never thought I would be at a church that would line up with who I am.  My values, ideology, philosophy, etc.  Considering all mainline denominations are dying,  I always thought I would be working in churches different than me trying to helping them transition into reaching their community- with probably little success.

I am so thankful for Connect Christian Church.  They were an answer to our prayers.  Connect has been a blessing for our family.  We have seen God work in an amazing way in just 4 months.

The reason is that who I am and who Connect is – fits.  In every way Connect is a representation of what I believe church should be.  Instead of fighting silly battles, we are working toward reaching our community for Jesus.  Connect has made drastic changes in 3 years all to help reach those don’t have a relationship with Christ.  I believe our area would miss Connect if we didn’t exist.

I’m thankful for our Connect family.