Kindness…The Universal Language

The Kindness Project– My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, started a weekly kindness project last month. She gives her students a kindness challenge to accomplish every weekend. Some challenges are easy like, “say something kind to your parents” or “call someone and say hi.” Others require a bit more effort like “thank a pastor,” thank the school administrators,” “do something kind for a friend” or “send a card to someone.” All of the challenges are age appropriate tasks to develop a servant heart in the lives of young students. So imagine my surprise when one of the challenges made me reach outside of my comfort zone and transformed my heart forever.

The challenge seemed simple enough, “do something kind for a neighbor.” I thought we could pick our neighbors down the street who have a daughter Lillian’s age or do something nice for the Rogers family, two houses down. They go to our church. But when I asked my daughter which neighbor she wanted to pick she enthusiastically chose our next door neighbors who own Pikachu and Benji, two dogs she absolutely adores! The dogs owners are friendly but we don’t know them very well. They don’t speak much English so our communication with them has never gone beyond a neighborly wave and a nod. Why did my daughter have to pick them? Will our next door neighbors understand why we are giving them homemade cookies and a drawing created with crayons? (what my daughter decided she wanted to give our neighbors) Why couldn’t my daughter pick someone familiar?

Then I thought… What would Jesus do? Would He play it safe or reach out to the unknown? Although this kindness task would force me to step out of my safe haven, I knew I had to assist my daughter and complete the kindness challenge with our next door neighbors. When we rang the doorbell and they didn’t answer, we left the goodies on their door mat. A few days later we saw them in the yard and they waved an enthusiastic thank you and I could tell they were greatly touched by the huge smile on their faces! My heart was overjoyed!

A few weeks later our doorbell rang and our neighbors’ son was at the door with a very special surprise! He was home from college and had a special delivery for my mini me… a stuffed dog that looked like Benji (their dog) and a handwritten heartfelt note that he had written for his parents. It was touching to learn that a small act of kindness meant so very much to them!

All of this happened because of the kindness project initiated by my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and my daughter’s huge heart. As a mother I am hyper focused on all of the things I want to teach my daughter that I never stopped to realize all of the wonderful things I’m learning from being her mother! And what a blessing it is to send our daughter to a Lutheran School where she is growing academically but more importantly learning about Jesus and how to serve others. An authentic friendship has developed between our families and I am thankful my daughter helped me reach out to someone new. I learned that when you show kindness and love to others, language is no longer a barrier!

Happy New Year From the Noteworthy Mommy…An Unprecedented Year and My Wish For You in 2021

If you had asked me in March if I would give up playing with my musical groups, terminate travel, give up my educational consulting job, go without live musical theater, stop singing in the choir, limit my visit with friends and spend Christmas without my parents, in return to spend more time with my family of three at home, I doubt my answer would have been an enthusiastic YES! Although 2020 was filled with its fair share of challenges, struggle and loss, as I look back on the year, it was also filled with many blessings. And spending more time with my family of three is at the top of the list! When all the distractions of my usually busy lifestyle were taken away, it left time for me to focus on a few things… the two people who matter more to me than anything else in the world, my loving husband and our little girl. Don’t get me wrong, there were days and still are (a new year doesn’t make the struggles go away) that I long for nothing more than a night away by myself but in 2020 my eyes were opened to prioritizing my life and putting my family and my faith ahead of everything else.

I almost feel ashamed that it took a pandemic for me to figure out the obvious but I’m grateful that I finally understand what is important. I have tremendous respect for Dan Presgrave, a brilliant conductor, teacher and the founder of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, which I am a member. He was headed down a very dark path, constantly searching for something to give him a “fix” and then he found Jesus and his life was transformed. He became a pastoral counselor, writes a weekly Christian blog at http://meetpastordan.com/blog/ and created a Christian counseling program for veterans. When he resigned as principal director of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, I was shocked. How could such a talented man, who devoted his entire life to music completely walk away from such a passion? Now I get it. Now I understand. Although Dan still appreciates music, through Christ he has completely prioritized his life and now he has peace and happiness that was only found when he put Jesus first.

My mother-in-law recently asked me what thing I missed the most in 2020? I think she was surprised when I shared that I didn’t miss anything. That wouldn’t have been my answer in March when we were in full shut down or even the months that followed. But once I began to concentrate on the gifts God has given me instead of what was taken away, I found an inner peace that has brought tremendous joy even during this difficult year.

My daughter’s amazing kindergarten teacher has her students write in a thankful journal every week. The entry for the weekend after Christmas asked the children why they are thankful for Christmas? My daughter looked at me and said, “That’s easy. There’s only one answer…Jesus!” Tears of joy filled my eyes because my young daughter understands what is important. I pray that she continues to put Jesus first.

Without my faith, my church, my talented pastors, my family and most importantly, Jesus, I would have never survived 2020. I don’t know what waits ahead in 2021 but I know that Jesus will get me through. He will continue to walk beside me through the joyous times, the hard days, the unthinkable and all of the days in between.

I close this New Year message with hope for you and your family. Patrick Swierczek, a childhood friend, posted this on social media and the words accurately depict my wish for you in 2021.

Called to Care…Living Generously This Advent

This year Advent looks and feels different due to COVID-19. I found my usual hectic calendar surprisingly blank and my heart a bit empty. I prayed about something special I could do to fill the void and bring some joy. I knew I wanted to focus on individuals in my church congregation who live alone and are probably feeling isolated, lonelier and more home bound than usual. But I wasn’t exactly sure what God was calling me to do until I heard that the leaders of my women’s bible study were planning a service project that involved creating and delivering care packages to the 35 shut-ins in our congregation. Then I got the idea to write a Thrivent Grant so we could make the care packages special and so more individuals could be reached.

Along with writing personalized notes, the women in my Bible study donated a variety of items from fresh fruit, puzzle books, hard candy and hot chocolate, just a few of the many items in the overflowing bag. Our church, Zion Lutheran Church in St. Charles, MO, donated pens and Portals of Prayer books. Thrivent funds allowed us to add face masks and hand lotions to the initial 35 care packages. One of our leaders sewed the LCMS cross on the masks, making them extra special and with the generous donations from the Bible study, along with the Thrivent funds, I was able to expand the project to 30 additional individuals. (15 additional members at Zion St. Charles, 8 members from neighboring churches, and 7 members from my childhood church, Zion Lutheran Belleville). We were able to bless a total of 65 people!

Pastor Fieberkorn told us many of the individuals receiving care packages are feeling like prisoners in their own homes. They are receiving fewer visits, are not going out and are feeling more isolated.

Our pastor advised us to call first and mentioned that some of the people we deliver to may understandably prefer to have no contact, while others may invite us in. I found both to be true. I left packages at the door or briefly said hello. For those that wanted to talk, we bounded over being Lutheran, most stating that, like myself, they have been Lutheran their entire life. We talked about the virus, the feeling of isolation and the love we shared for our Lord and Savior. I received appreciative waves and “God Bless Yous” from afar, along with sweet phone calls and notes of appreciation.

The entire project filled my heart with pure joy! From writing the personalized notes, to having my mini me help pack the bags, to delivering the bags (with my husband driving, me navigating and our kindergartener learning how to live generously in the back seat), this project was a true gift and made this year end on a positive note. But the greatest gift of all was seeing the smiles on the recipients faces! I learned that it wasn’t about the contents of the bag but the gift of being remembered, knowing in this time of isolation that someone cares. This service project was a reminder that God continues to bless us with tiny miracles, even during times of darkness. We have hope in Him!

The Noteworthy Mommy would like to thank the following individuals for their help and support. This service project would have never taken place without them! Thrivent Financial, The women of Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles Bible Study, Angie Gielow, Rachel Schenck, Pastor Fieberkorn, Vickie Adams, Lillian Talley, Ken Talley, Marilyn Talley and Keith and Janet Freeman.

Operation Christmas Child… It’s Time to Pack Some Shoeboxes!

Every year my daughter and I participate in Operation Christmas Child. We collect items throughout the year and pack them into shoeboxes for the good people at Samaritan’s Purse to deliver to boys and girls in need who live all over the world. Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 with the mission of demonstrating God’s love in a tangible way and sharing the Good News of Jesus.

I began packing shoeboxes when my daughter was one year old and this year we packed six shoeboxes in honor of her 6th birthday. All four of her grandparents donated items for us to pack and gave us money towards shipping. My daughter enjoys shopping for items as well but with COVID-19 we haven’t been going into stores so my daughter used some of her birthday money towards the shipping instead. I am happy she has been called to care and is growing up sharing her blessings with others.

How to Pack a Shoebox- Samaritan’s Purse has a step by step guide on how to pack a shoebox. I’ll outline a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

Step 1- Find a Shoebox- Although any cardboard shoebox will work, I’ve read that the children often view the physical shoebox as a treasured gift. This year I used plastic shoeboxes. One of our shoeboxes came from Hobby Lobby and was specially designed with the Operation Christmas Child logo printed on inviting red and green plastic boxes. I also used three clear plastic shoeboxes that I purchased elsewhere. The other two are complimentary cardboard shoeboxes with the Operation Christmas Child logo that my mother in-law received from her church.

Step 2- Girl or Boy?-  Although many of the items we pack can be enjoyed by all children, Samaritan’s Purse will ask you to identify if the shoebox was packed for a boy or a girl and what age category. The age categories are: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14; with the oldest group typically being the one to receive the least donations. We pack boxes that correspond with my daughter’s current age so this year we are packing boxes targeted at the 5-9 age group.

Step 3- What To Pack in a Shoebox?- I keep a big box in our basement labeled “Shoebox Items” and go bargain shopping throughout the year. I scored school supplies for 75% off at Wal Mart, got discounted playground balls at the end of the summer from Walgreens and often pick up discounted items in Target’s dollar area when they change seasons. You can locate some outstanding items during after Christmas sales at all stores.

Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing a WOW item in each box. This could be a doll, stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump or a new outfit. Older children enjoy simple tool sets and expandable shoes. Click here to view gift suggestions by age. Amazon has a nice list of shoebox items as does Hobby Lobby. Besides toys we always pack self care items (a bar of soap, washcloths, combs, brushes, colorful band-aids, socks, hair clips and or bows, and toothbrushes.) Liquids and edible items are not allowed so you have to leave out toothpaste, candy and bubbles! We also include crafts and activities (crayons, pencils with a pencil sharpener, markers, pads of paper, coloring books, puzzles, and stickers.) You can also write a letter to include in your box. My daughter enjoys drawing a special picture and writing a note telling the children that Jesus loves them!

Step 4- Pray- Perhaps the easiest thing to do is pray for the children who will be receiving the boxes you prepared. Pray that the boxes will bring them joy and that by hearing the Gospel they will be filled with hope and encouragement.

Step 5- Follow-Your Box Labels- The cost to ship a box is $9 and you can click here to pay for labels that will track your box.

Step 6- Drop Off Your Box- Collection week is always the third week in November. Several churches and other organizations volunteer to be drop off facilities. This year collection week is November 16-23, so you still have time to pack a few shoeboxes! Due to COVID-19, shoebox collection will be drive-through, so you won’t even have to get out of your car! The Samaritan Purse’s website has a place where you can search for a drop off location near you!

Other Ways to Help?- If you would like to help but don’t have time to gather items and pack a shoebox you can save time and pack one online by clicking here or donate money to cover the $9 shipping. People will often pack shoeboxes but not include the money for shipping.

Whether you pack a few shoeboxes, volunteer at a processing center (like my in-laws have done in the past), pray for the children receiving the shoeboxes or donate money for shipping, I hope you will make Operation Christmas Child a family tradition. For many of the children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received. In addition to the shoeboxes all of the children will hear about the greatest gift of all…Jesus!

Living Generously, “Small Business, Supporting Small Business”…Day 67

We are all aware of the financial struggles many small businesses are enduring during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a way to support a local small business, my mother in law bought me a gift certificate to one of our favorite local restaurants for Mother’s Day. During the quarantine we have ordered curbside from Syberg’s a few times as a way to support a local business and to ensure that our favorite wings would be available when we are ready to eat out again.

Living Generously– A few days after my Mother’s Day surprise, I saw a post on-line from Total Comfort Heating & Air Conditioning, another local small business, stating they would match a gift card purchased from Syberg’s (up to $50) as a way to support a fellow small business during this unusual time. All that was needed was a copy of the receipt. With nothing to lose, I emailed the receipt that accompanied my gift card and forgot all about my submission. Imagine my surprise when I received a personalized note and a $50 Syberg’s gift card in the mail from Total Comfort Heating & Air Conditioning! A huge thank you to Kimberly Donahue, the owner, for participating in the “Small Business, Supporting Small Business” initiative. The Noteworthy Mommy and her family are grateful for your generosity! 

 

 

Staying Connected Through a Birthday Visit, Fancy Surprises and a Virtual Concert…Day 63

During a time where we are socially disconnected, in many ways we are connecting even more! We are simply finding new ways to stay in touch and show we care. Today included a surprise birthday visit to a family friend, a heartwarming surprise package in the mail and a virtual live concert by a talented church friend.

A Birthday Visit and Fancy Nancy– Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things we have done during the quarantine is dropping off surprises to teachers, family members and friends. Today we surprised a family friend with a special birthday card. This eleven year old didn’t want a birthday parade, so we recognized her special day with a short outdoor visit. I’m sure this will be a birthday she will never forget! We were treated to laughs and a bag full of “Fancy Nancy” books to take home! If you have a young child in your home I encourage you to check out the character, “Fancy Nancy,” a French loving six-year with a fancy wardrobe and an even fancier vocabulary! In her world of fancy things, “Fancy Nancy” celebrates the things that make us unique and different. CLICK HERE to visit a website filled with fancy fun!

A Generous Surprise– My daughter was excited to receive a spring craft packet in the mail from Katelynne, a mommy blogger, who is also know as The Disguised Super Mom. CLICK HERE to check out her website. What a generous surprise! We can’t thank you enough! 

 Virtual Concert– I filled a wine glass with some liquid therapy, sat on my comfy couch and experienced my first virtual concert with “Live at the Library With Bethany Coad.” Bethany is an extremely talented contemporary folk singer/songwriter who also happens to be a member of my Zion Lutheran Church family. It was a relaxing hour of fabulous music, storytelling and escapism. Her original songs took me on a delightful journey and for a few minutes I forgot about social distancing, disappointment and the pandemic. I could relate to the peppy tongue and cheek “Lincolntown” as I have made the laborious drive from St. Louis to Chicago too many times to count! I also enjoyed the beautiful ballad titled “Lewis and Clark.” Her newest song, “A Place Where Time Stands Still,” conjured up happy memories of playing concerts, dining with family and attending festivals and parades along our historic main street in what has become my daughter’s hometown, St. Charles, MO. If you missed the concert, no worries, it was recorded. CLICK HERE to listen to Bethany Coad’s virtual concert at the library.

 

 

Live Generously, Virtual Happy Hour and Socially Distant Coffee Hour…Day 32

Living Generously- Beyond problem solving and learning Foundational Skills my hope for my daughter is that she is a caring and generous person who gives unto others authentically. One of the things that first attracted me to my husband was his huge, unselfish heart. Without wavering he immediately offers assistance to those in need. He never seeks acknowledgement for his good deeds, preferring to stay invisible. Like her parents, our daughter is growing up in a Christian home where these values are instilled but more importantly modeled and put into practice. During this time of isolation we are living generously by surprising loved ones and friends with care packages and parades. Reaching out to others we haven’t talked to in awhile and thanking God every single day for the many blessings He has given us.

Generously Living… Sharing meals, margaritas, treats, cards and more.

Virtual Happy Hour- This is the fourth Friday I have participated in a virtual happy hour with a few of my girlfriends. With wine in hand, we gather around our screens and talk. We begin with airing our weekly frustrations from facilitating virtual learning (for those with children) to working from home (for those who work) to social distancing, sharing recipes and finally securing some much needed toilet paper! But then the conversation turns to talking about the past, reliving cherished memories of when we were young and care free. As we laugh until we cry, the unconditional love from my girlfriends is just the support I need to get me through another week.

Pat’s Socially Distant Coffee Hour– My sister in law began a weekly Zoom chat and opened it up to any female on her Facebook list who was interested in joining in. During our first meeting we met each other, a group of eclectic women across multiple states who didn’t have anything in common except having some sort of connection with our host. Pat asked each of us to share a favorite coffee mug and the history behind the mug. Another week we shared something that was helping get us through the quarantine. This week we are sharing a favorite picture. Through the sharing we are connecting, learning about each other, processing our new reality and supporting each other. I look forward to our weekly chats and through my sister in law’s socially distant coffee hour chats, I have met some amazing Christian women who I no longer call strangers but now proudly name as friends.

Living Generously, Easter Eggs and Holy Saturday

We spent Holy Saturday Living Generously by cooking, filling plates and delivering Easter meals to our parents and to family friends. All are being cautious about going grocery shopping due to their high risk status of contracting COVID 19. After days of isolation my daughter and I were excited to go on a drive where we helped others. Last week we prepared and delivered Easter baskets to my daughter’s BFFs and surprised some special friends with a palm cross. Although we didn’t use Live Generously funds for these outreach opportunities my daughter and I began discussing what we can do to Live Generously in the future.

Easter Eggs– I have many wonderful memories of decorating Easter eggs with my father. When my daughter came along he continued the tradition with her. This year the quarantine kept us from decorating eggs with Pops so our family of three had a night of decorating instead.

Holy Saturday– Today was supposed to be Immanuel Lutheran Church’s annual Easter egg hunt. I had signed my daughter up for the hunt and upon cancellation our sister church contacted me with the exciting news of delivering goodie bags to all of the families who planned on attending. My daughter beamed when she discovered the goodie bag on our front door. One of the gifts in the bag was the book, The Sunday Morning Miracle along with a companion activity book. I enjoyed reading the book to my daughter in preparation for Easter Sunday.

We also watched a short video about Holy Saturday. CLICK HERE to view and we sang the following song… He Hung Upon A Cross.

He hung upon a cross, He hung upon a cross. He hung upon a cross for YOU and ME…

One day when I was lost (ca chicka chicka) He Hunt upon a cross (ca chicka chicka) He hung upon a cross for me.

He bowed His head and died…

They laid Him in a tomb…

He rose on Easter morn…

He’s coming back someday…

CLICK HERE to listen to the song.