Trail Mix to Jesus

As a children’s director for our church I’m always trying to think of what we can do to add one more sensorial element to our Bible stories and lessons.

A few years ago I began handing out this fun snack for the church service closest to Christmas. We forgo Sunday school and children’s worship that 1 day of the year and have a family service. I usually make an activity or gift bag and then put this little treasure in it.

      

You’ll have to walk the aisles of your own store to see what you can find for the different elements.

Angel= mini pretzel twists
Baby Jesus= a small ginger bread boy cookie (Stauffer’s and Pepperidge Farms both make yummy ones.)
Hay= potato matchsticks
Animals= animal crackers (not the circus cookies, but the plain Stauffer’s brand)
Star= (This has changed every year depending on what’s available) Cinnamon Toast Crunch Stars cereal, star shaped marshmallows, small iced star cookies
Gifts of Gold= gold foil wrapped candy (Rolo candy  is nut free, Hershey Kisses with Almonds)

Below you’ll find the PDF I created to print on a full sized label that is attached to a zip bag.

Trail Mix To Jesus w Gold

Joy when you realize God’s there…

A fFeatured imageew years ago my 3rd grade son had a music program at school.  I had done my research, I knew where he was going to be positioned on the risers, and I showed up 30 minutes early to make certain I’d have a good seat.  I sat on the second row, directly in front of where he would be standing- literally a straight shot from him to me.  As soon as he came into the cafeteria he started looking around the crowd. I could tell by his face that he found his dad- he lit up and gave a little wave to the left behind me where his dad was sitting. Then he got to his spot and continued the “Where’s Waldo?” search, looking for me. I sensed he was getting a little panicked, his eyes darted all around the large room…but he still hadn’t seen me…sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM!!  I saw him mumbling,  “Where’s my mom? Where’s my mom? Where’s my mom?” He said it over and over again, while looking around the  room.  He just didn’t land his gaze directly where I was sitting.  I kept trying to dart my hand up to get his attention when his eyes were cast my way, to no avail.

A hush started to fall over the room and his face fell.   Now he needed to look at his teacher because by this time all of the kids had come in and they were getting ready to start their program. He swallowed hard…I could tell he was holding back tears.   Everything in me wanted to stand up and shout his name and say, “Honey!! I’m here! I’m right here! I wouldn’t miss this for anything!” The thought of him believing I wasn’t there to see him perform his special tap dance solo broke my heart!  I felt horrible for him.

But just as they started singing he finally saw me.  Ironically, when he focused on what he needed to, his music teacher, he found me, strategically sitting right behind her.  His face lit up, he gave me a little wave, rubbed his eyes and, as he confirmed later, wiped away the unshed tears.  We shared a smile.

And isn’t that just like it is with me and my search for God, sometimes?

Once in a while, I’m scared silly that He’s not going to make it in time to rescue me from my crises. I worry that He’s not going to show up. That He’s not FOR me. I get so panicked looking for him that I don’t see that He’s right there…in the middle of it all.  I need to remember that He wouldn’t miss it for the world.   And I need to remember that even though I live life with several huge disappointments, He’s still there.  In seasons when I’ve spent hours and hours in doctor’s appointments, just to get more bad news…He’s there.  In struggles at work, He’s there.  During that time several years ago, when my car died, and I still didn’t have a full time job, and my single mom income left me with no options, He was there!!   He was there then and He’s here now.

He’ll keep showing up in my quiet moments of loneliness, grief and fear.  And when my older sons are far away, a Marine overseas or one on a mission trip to Malawi, and I can’t sleep at night because my heart is so heavy for them, He’s there with them.  When my mom was in her final days of hospice care, and I was torn between holding her hand or feeding my kids supper and driving them to marching band practice, I realized He was there with her for her moments when she needed Him the most.

I also know that instead of being concerned about embarrassing us,

He will stand up in the crowd, for as long as it takes, just so we can see Him.isaactap

When my sweet boy thought I wasn’t in that room to support him for the performance we had spent hours practicing, my heart broke that he felt abandoned by me.   But when he saw that I  actually was there, and the relief and joy washed over his face, I could see that he was surprised by how important it was to him for me to show up.  I’m just like that little kid in the mess of my life sometimes.  When God lets me know He is here in my circumstances, when He stands up and shouts, “Hey, you!  The one that I love!  I’m right here.  I didn’t forget to show up because I’m crazy about you!”, it makes my heart sigh with deep gratitude. And I can’t help but think my relief makes Him smile.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;

do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  

I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,

surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41:10

Hoping We Would End It Well

grandma and mom

In September 2000 I was a 33 year old mom to 3 young boys.  My grandma, pictured here with my mom, died after 2 weeks of an acute illness.  She was the woman who knew me best; the person who prayed for me every day without fail.  My heart was shattered.  Exactly a month later my mom had a stroke that disabled her so severely we moved her 400 miles away from her home because she could no longer live alone.  I found myself in what is called the “Sandwich Generation” (definition: a generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children, while caring for their aging parents.)

Prior to this, my mom and I had done the difficult work of fixing our broken relationship.  She went through her own faith journey and submitted her life to Christ on a Walk to Emmaus in 1997.  I had wrestled with God over my issues of unforgiveness and we slowly began to move beyond our past towards a sweeter future.

We had 3 great years together, free of strain and conflict, before the stroke resulted in Jacquin and I taking care of her.   When the shock of her brain injury and grandma’s death wore off, and the reality of the personal cost to our family set in, I was left with a lot of anger, frustration and resentment.  Once again, we were taking care of mom, only this time without my grandma’s support.  Her behavior and personality changed, making it difficult to have a mother/daughter relationship. I convinced myself she was making a withdrawal in the “emotional love bank” that she really hadn’t deposited very much into.  The dusty memories of taking care of a drunken mother returned and with those memories came a flood of negative emotions.

One exhausting night, as I held my sleeping baby, God began to break through my grief, heartache, selfishness and judgement.  I had been telling Him how I didn’t remember my mom loving me the way I loved the baby I was holding.  I told him how I knew my grandma had really loved me selflessly, and that if it was her I was being asked to care for I’d be delighted to do it.  “But my mom?  Her?  Really Lord?  How can I possibly do this? I’d rather be caring for grandma!”   How could He ask me to take care of the woman who I felt I was an inconvenience to most of my childhood?

What I write here is the heart conversation He and I had that night.  It was not an audible conversation, it was a rush of knowledge and emotion that the Holy Spirit planted into my heart.  I’m attaching conversational words to it, so you can get a picture of what it was about:mom and gabe swtwtr
Do you see this baby you’re holding?   Imagine this baby someday being an adult who is frail and can’t take care of himself anymore.  And imagine that you don’t get to be the one who will be here to take care of him when he needs it most, left to rely on someone else for everything.   How would you want him to be treated?  What kind of compassion do you hope your elderly son will get from their own child when you’re not here to love them?  You don’t feel like your mom made the amount of love deposits for the kind of withdrawal that’s required today.  You’re telling me her love bank is overdrawn.  But her mother, your beloved grandma, made more than enough deposits to cover
that.  So, instead of you taking care of your mom, I’m asking you to do your best to take care of your grandma’s baby, the one she’s not here to take care of herself.

God knew what would work for me to get the message.  It was gentle, but direct.  On the heels of her death, I could relate to having an opportunity to make my grandma proud and do one more thing for her.  I would like to say that after this moment of exhortation from God I was the perfect daughter to a disabled mom, but that’s far from my truth.  I can’t even say “I did the best I could”.  I can say things improved with my shift of focus. 

In the following years, as my marriage fell apart and I became a single mother, I found myself much more compassionate to the difficulty of parenting alone and my judgmental spirit took a back seat to reality.   I understood the blessing mom gave me by allowing me time with my grandparents, because I longed for my own kids to have grandparents in their life that would sweep in and clean up the mess their parents made.  I realized my kids weren’t an inconvenience, as I had mistakenly felt I was to my mom.  In contrast, I just didn’t have anything left to give them and would have welcomed someone else stepping in to give me a break.   Mom shared with me how painful it was to watch my affections and loyalty transfer to my grandma, but she felt she was in no shape to guide me morally and spiritually herself.
She felt the best thing she could do was give me access to Jesus, through my grandparents.

In the last few months of her life, she lost most of her ability to communicate.  In contrast, I did not.  For weeks I sat at her 11187508_10205575397640275_726232898_o (1)bedside telling her how sorry I was that I hadn’t been more understanding.   I finally realized that my biggest regrets in our relationship were not the detailed offenses I believed she had committed against me, the ones I had once recorded in my mind and repeated often with my lips.  My biggest regret, at her bedside vigil, was that I didn’t have the grace to allow her to be human, to make mistakes as a mom.  In my immature, early years, I expected her to be perfect and have all the “right” and godly answers.  Now, I sat wishing I could go back to my 20-30 something self and tell her she should back off trying to fix the woman in front of me and focus more on what was right and wonderful about her.

This past May, just 10 weeks before mom passed away, I went to the nursing home to check on her after I got my own kids settled for the evening.  I chatted with her for a few minutes before embarking on our routine- I sang a few songs, read our devotional and said prayers.   Because she was unable to pray out loud for herself, I tried to remember to pray for all the things she did when she could talk.   As I tucked her fluffy, blue blanket up under her chin and kissed her goodnight on the forehead she whispered, “You’re a good mother.”  At first I thought she was talking about me mothering my own kids.  The look on her face told me that she was thanking me for mothering her, as her own mother would have done, had she been given the gift to be there.

In that moment I remembered my conversation with God 15 years ago.   And that’s when I knew I could love her with more authenticity in her final days.  My heart bank was full, it had plenty of reserves from the many years we’d had together post-stroke. I matured and came to appreciate her for who she was and what she could do: telling me I looked pretty every time I saw her, scratching my back with her one good hand, giving Bingo games all her concentration to collect trinkets from the gift store for the grandkids, listening with understanding to my single-mom woes, praying for her children and grandchildren.  God, in His sweet wisdom, allowed me a few months with my mom when we weren’t arguing, and He made it more fulfilling than it was a burden.  Our relationship started well, the middle was very messy, but it ended more beautifully than I could have hoped.  Only a very big God can do what the selfish human heart cannot.  “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

When you care for your parents in their final days,

I pray you find joy in loving and nurturing them

as you would, if you could, for your own child.

~God’s Joy, Michelle Deavenport