24 Ways to “Give This Christmas Away”

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In the words of Jesus “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)  and nothing could be more true when it comes to giving at Christmas time.  The novelty of receiving gifts quickly wanes, while the blessing that comes from giving is much more fulfilling for our souls. 

I recently picked up a book called “101 simple and thoughtful ways to Give This Christmas Away” by Matthew West.  Here are some highlights from the book, if you want more, you will have to check it out!

1. Take a second look at that old shoe box (for Operation Christmas Child)
9. Be an angel of the night (shovel snow for someone else at night)
12. Set an extra plate at the dinner table
13. Help those who help others
18. Give the shirt off your back (or jacket)
24. It’s payback time (pay back an outstanding debt you have with someone)
32. Pass the buck (hide money in public places for strangers)
33. Volunteer at a homeless shelter after Christmas (not just around the holidays)
35. Collect a cart (return stray grocery carts or help someone with theirs)
43. Invite a friend to church
44. Leave a message (sing a Christmas song on someone’s voicemail)
50. Have an advent-ure (do things each day of advent)
51. Cross the big one off your list (remove the most expensive thing off of your own wish list)
52. Bake an extra dozen
60. Lose your cool (don’t worry about being cool)
64. Give what they want, not what you want for them
73. Give a goat
81. Give your teenagers the opportunity to shine
84. Surprise the angels (check out the Angel Tree program)
88. Read the name tag
89. Park in the back (leave good parking spaces for others)
100. Give them a glimpse of Jesus
101. Fill in the blank

And what is my “fill in the blank”? 

#102 Host an orphan

Giving your Christmas away is a big thing, you literally may have to give many things up in order to invite an orphan into your home.  You may have to give up some of your savings; your children may have to be willing to give up some of their gifts; you may have to give up some holiday traditions because they may overstimulate or trigger a fragile and traumatized child; you may have to give up a guest room; you may have to give up sleep; you may have to give up the comfort of your typical holiday routine. 

Christmas 2010

But, let me tell you, the blessing you receive in return is so much greater than what you may have to give up. If you have hosted before, share in the comments how you have been blessed by giving your Christmas (or summer) to an orphan.

It’s not too late to give your Christmas away!  New Horizons for Children is signing up host families for this December until Monday November 3rd at midnight (EST).   Visit the Facebook page to see photos and stories of real children who are waiting for someone to give the gifts of Christmas, family, love, and Jesus to them.

Then he said to them,
“Anyone who welcomes a little child
like this on my behalf welcomes me,
and anyone who welcomes me
also welcomes my Father who sent me.
Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

Luke 9:48 (NLT)

Christmas Is…

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…coming! 

I feel like I have never been so prepared or looking forward to Christmas as I am this year.  When we hosted Sasha I was so looking forward to Christmas, but definitely not feeling prepared at all! 

Early in October, I was ready to listen to the carols, watch my favorite holiday movies, and start decorating.  I doubt it was the commercialism that got me in the mood, I think it as more that I have been thinking about the Christmas hosting program since August ended. 

To me, Christmas is about family and celebrating Christ’s birth with the ones you love.  It’s about love, family, and Jesus. 

And that is exactly what our orphans need… love, family, and Jesus.  So many people are already in the holiday spirit… the giving, the love, the generosity, the thoughtfulness.  I just can’t think of a better time to invite an orphan into your home.  To include them in the memory-making and the celebrating.  The children we serve have never had holidays like we celebrate them here. 

I just imagine my memories of sitting around the fireplace, opening presents, sharing laughs, waiting for Santa, reading the Christmas story with my family.  Do you think any of that can be replicated in an orphanage of 200 children?  Where there is 1 caregiver for every 10 children and no individual attention?  Where everything is sterile and not warm at all?  Where all are treated equally and therefore all get the same generic gifts?  That’s a Christmas far from the one I would desire as a child.

There are only 4 days left for 32 more host families to be found for orphans this Christmas.  Please, if you can give some love, family time, and Jesus to a child in need this holiday, please don’t hesitate!  Contact me or visit the NHFC website today!

http://www.newhorizonsforchildren.org/orphan-hosting/view-available-kids-here/

Christmas Orphan Hosting–And a Blast from the Past

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One little storyline from a tv show I watched during my junior high years planted seeds of the orphan hosting concept in my heart 15 years ago.  Can you just imagine how much this old Boy Meets World episode means to me now when I look back at it?  It’s amazing how the littlest things from your past add up to big things in your future.

 

 

–Eric, nobody expects you to take care of all the needy children.
–Then why were they sent to me?

 

Do you think I can have parents for Christmas?

 

Why would you send me that little boy?
Why doesn’t that nice little boy have parents?
Why doesn’t that nice little boy have parents? 
Why did you send me that little kid?

 

I will take care of this.
I can be responsible for the happiness of one little boy.

 

You see, Tommy here doesn’t have a family,
so I thought it would be nice if he could spend Christmas with us.

 

Eric said we can hang out on weekends.
–Yeah it will be like he’s got a big brother… I figured it was something I could do.
 

 

It’s not too late for you to make the difference in the life of a needy child this Christmas!  New Horizons for Children is still looking for Christmas host families.  Deadlines to host Eastern European children begin just 1 week from now!  You can sign up here to take a peek at some of the awesome “Tommys”  out there who just want a family for Christmas.

 

NHFC - Christmas is Coming

Hosting Reflection #31–You must lose your life to find it

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‘Honey, you’re changing that boy’s life.’ ‘No.  He’s changing mine.’ ”  This line from “The Blind Side” stands out to those with a heart for kids in need as well as those who have never given these kinds of kids kids a second thought. 

It’s pretty common for those from the outside looking in, see people like me as someone who is in this to make a positive impact on a child’s life… a do-gooder on a mission to change the world one child at a time.  And perhaps it does begin this way, but it doesn’t end there. 

So many times I meet families who give of themselves to host an orphan for the good of the child.  And within a matter of a few short weeks, somehow the tables are turned.  By the end of the short hosting program, families often say “I never expected to be so blessed by hosting.  I feel like what I have given to this child is only a fraction of what they have given to me.” 

I was no exception to this trend.  When I first heard of hosting, I wanted to give up whatever I could if it meant it could change the life of an orphan.  And I can say, without a doubt, that Sasha’s life has changed since 2010.  What I did not expect, and have found to be exceptionally true, is that I feel like he did even more to change my life.

– – –

As I am approaching our 3 year anniversary of hosting Sasha, I’ve been reflecting on our whole journey.  As I look back over the things that I wrote during that time, my prayers, challenges, fears, and miracles, I have come to be reminded of some big sacrifices I made just to have him here for Christmas. 

The first challenge I faced was finding a way to have an entire month off of work.  I was working part-time in an office where I had virtually no benefits or paid vacation.  I knew it would be a risk to take that much time off.  I pretty much told them, either I get the time off or I will quit.  What, quit?? Did I just say that??  I had no idea what kind of job I would find if I did quit, but faith reassured me that God was all over this and not about to let me down.  Within a week, my boss said they would find a temp to cover while I was gone and I would get my job back whenever I returned.  Amazing!

Next, I was in my 3rd semester of graduate school.  I was scheduled to take an exam the same day that I was supposed to pick Sasha up at the airport in Chicago.  With 8 hours between the university and airport, I knew it would not be possible.  I told the professor what I was doing and asked if there was any way I could take the final earlier.  Her first response is that dates and times of final exams are non-negotiable and there are no exceptions.  Hearing that, I resolved to pray and if she did not reconsider, I would just have to withdraw from the class and start all over again in another term.  Within a week, the professor sent me an email saying that I could take the final exam early and if any other students complained, they could take it early as well if they are also hosting an orphan for Christmas. ; )

Finally came the finances.  While I had gotten an unexpected check that covered nearly the whole cost of hosting, there were still many other expenses that went along with it.  There were costs of flying my dad to St. Louis to attend host parent training, getting an unexpected hotel room on my way to pick Sasha up at the airport, lost income from not working for 4 weeks, as well as all the other items and outings that I got for Sasha while he was here.  I honestly don’t know how I got through, but God provided. 

– – –

Now, I don’t share all this to gloat about all the things I have done, but to share how much had to be given up in order to bring Sasha here.  For a 33 day stay, I put my financial stability, job, and education on the line.  I risked some very important parts of my life in order to make a difference in Sasha’s. 

And his life was changed.  He experienced a loving family for the first time.  He experienced safety.  He heard the truth of God’s Word.  He was accepted unconditionally.  He was forgiven.  He was given the opportunity to have a family forever.  He has been changed knowing that he has a family who will always love him. 

And yet, in all of this, I feel like he has changed my life even more.  He has changed my life by showing me what it means to move beyond a painful past, to trust, to be vulnerable, to be open to love, to be hopeful.  He has changed my life by letting me live out this love that I had only heard about. 

Before Sasha, I thought I had life.  It wasn’t until I actually put all the important things in my life on the line for him, that I really found out what life is all about. 

And, my dear friend, what about you?  Have you really discovered what life is all about?  If you continue holding tightly to the trivial things you have, it’s going to be hard to see what life really is.  Take a good look and see what it is you can start putting on the line.  It’s when you do that, that you will actually find what your life is for.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25 (NIV)

Hosting Reflection #30–The Love of a Dog

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“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them… And filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.” 

Committing to bring an older orphan into your home for 1 month can be a scary thing… for many reasons.  How will they act? How will we communicate?  How are they going to treat our family?  How will they connect with us?  How can we make them feel comfortable and safe?  It can be overwhelming and nearly impossible to really plan. 

It had been 24 hours since Sasha’s plan landed in the US and we were finally getting home.  His plane had arrived in Chicago on a Tuesday night and we had planned to make the 5 hour drive the whole way home, but the snow had gotten really bad and we had to stop and spend the night in the hotel.  The next morning Sasha got up very early, he was still stuck in old time zone ways, and we continued the drive back home.  He was good but very quiet.  We talked on and off in Russian, but I think he was still trying to make sense of everything… and I don’t blame him!

Once we got home, he really started to settle in.  He got to meet the rest of the family, move into his own room, and adjust to the time change.  But I think the thing that helped him most of all was our family dog, Pepper.  On that very first day at home, I heard him say his first English phrase “Come here Pepper” and my face and heart smiled.

Sasha took to Pepper so quickly.  He love to play with him… and try to trick him sometimes too.  He loved to give him treats, take him for walks, and just love on him.  He told me about the dogs at his orphanage, which he seemed to love as well.  But I know with him, and many other children like him, dogs are more than a fun pet.

Animals are not as socially complex as humans, tending instead to live in the moment.  Dogs, in particular, are forgiving and loving creatures that do not play the same mind games and dance the same confusing social dance as humans are so want to do. 

~ Dr. Gregory Keck, Parenting Adopted Adolescents

Sasha is a thoughtful, kind, empathetic kid… but he didn’t entirely come to us that way.  He came to us guarded, unsure of what to expect, naturally trying to protect himself.  He probably had just as many questions as we did.  How will these people treat me?  What will they do if I make a mistake?  How will they react if I make a poor choice on purpose?   How much do they really care about me?  What if they don’t like me?  What if they don’t love me?  Imagine the pressure…

But Sasha did not have to worry about any of that with our dog.  He knew he would be loved no matter what by Pepper.  Our playful and highly tolerant dog was always there to give Sasha attention, physical touch, and companionship.  I truly believe the bond that Sasha made with Pepper in those first moments at home helped to put Sasha at ease in our family.  The love he felt from Pepper and the love he showed back to Pepper opened the door for Sasha to share in our family’s love. 

Sasha was not a huge fan of taking pictures while we hosted him.  But towards the end of his time with us for hosting, he wanted to be sure to get photos of the special things from our home to take back with him.  Who was first? Pepper.  He wanted the picture to be perfect and he was no longer camera shy when he requested several shots with the dog until he he was happy with just the right one.

Trying & trying until it was just right!

Since we hosted Sasha and he returned back to his home country, we would often call him on the phone.  Nearly every time we talked with him on the phone, he asked how each member of the family was by name, including Pepper. 

Pepper turned 16 this year.  Over the past year or so, his brother and sister (from the same litter) passed away, so we knew his time was coming soon.  This summer, I told Sasha that Pepper was getting old and probably would die soon.  Sasha was so sad to hear this and insisted it couldn’t happen. 

Just this past week, Pepper had to be put down.  We have not gotten to tell Sasha yet.  In Pepper’s 16.5 years with our family, some of the best times were when Sasha was with us.  That little dog made all the difference in our hosting experience with Sasha and, I believe, in his life as well. 

Thank you little Pepper for leading the way and showing an orphan unconditional love in the purest form.  Thank you God for using a little animal to change in the life of a hurt boy and our family!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

 

A little clip of S & Pepper on our first full day at home and 1 week later on Christmas

Hosting Reflection #29–Unexpected Opportunities in Unanswered Prayer

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“Pray for no rain!” is always what they say around my church when it’s time for an outreach event.  Last Saturday, I volunteered at our Easter outreach, where its expected that thousands of people will visit the church to have fun with their kids for the holiday.  There’s always lots planned indoors and outdoors… which means the weather is usually a factor in the ‘success’ of the event. 

3 years of God’s provision!

Every time there’s an event like this, the church and especially the planning team make it a point to pray for no rain.  This way more people will be willing to come, be welcomed to the church, enjoy their time with their family, and possibly be introduced to Jesus.  And honestly, at some huge events, there has been miraculous proof that God stopped rain and gave us an awesome day for the outreach.  See the video-

But what happened this time? It rained.  A nice cold cold windy rain.  Not just for a little while, but for most of the event.  I was so blessed (insert sarcasm) to be stationed outside… I was supposed to be helping the little kids explore a real ambulance with an EMT in the middle of the parking lot.  I was scheduled to be out there for 3 hours, but within 30 minutes, the EMT wanted to shut it down and go inside. 

So, I followed her lead and went inside. I liked it much better where it was warm, dry, and there was no chilling wind cutting through my layers.  After just a few minutes of being inside trying to warm up, I began to wonder what I was supposed to do for the rest of my time.  What’s the point of being here?  Could I just go home?  I didn’t want to sit for the rest of my time. 

So, after a while, I went back outside to see if people were still around.  Surprisingly there were still lots of families with their children coming inside, dodging the rain, and hanging out under the church’s awning with their kids waiting to see some other vehicles. 

There were some more volunteers who had not given up so easily and were toughing it out for the kids, getting wet in the rain.  The church had some umbrellas, but they were nowhere to be found at the time.  I brought 2 with me, so I ran out to my car and brought them back to share with the volunteers.   They were so grateful. 

I hung around a little more, tried to warm up, then went back outside to still see lots of families still cowering from the rain because their kids wanted to see the school bus and fire truck so bad. 

By then, the umbrellas had mysteriously appeared and I knew I could put them to good use.  I thought of the times the parking lot and door greeters would walk ladies from their cars to the church with an umbrella when it rained.  I grabbed the biggest one I could find and found the closest person around who looked fearful of jumping into the rain.

The rest of the morning, I spent my time sharing my umbrella with moms, dads, grandparents, and children who were in need of shelter from the rain.  When you share an umbrella, a stranger can’t stay a stranger for long.  You gotta get pretty up close and personal.  During those few minutes, I got to help them out, talk with them, and see their kids enjoying the event.  

It was so special to me to be able to take some time with each of those people.  It wasn’t just about keeping dry, it was about going the extra mile, making someone comfortable, getting to know a visitor to the church, letting them know that we care and want to help. 

In the last 20 minutes of the event, the rain stopped and I was able to put the umbrellas away and go back to helping at the ambulance.  But, as my shift ended and it was time to go home, I thought back:  I hadn’t wanted it to rain.  We prayed it wouldn’t rain.  It made me freezing cold and grumpy when I was supposed to be ministering.  But, it was the rain that gave me those personal moments with so many families.  I got to be close with them, talk with them, care for them.  If I could do it all over again, the only thing I would change would be to have more time of rain, so I could have spent more time with more people… not make the rain stop.

That made me reflect even more.  How many times do we pray for something we think should happen, it doesn’t happen, then we get grumpy, frustrated, angry, or upset?  How many times do we try to tell God this is not the way things were supposed to happen?  But what if through all that negativity, it is really an opportunity God is trying to share with us?  An opportunity to act, to care, to help, to be personal, to minister, to grow….

And what about orphans?  If I had it my way, there would be no orphans in the world.  I can’t speak for God, but I trust His will and that he has a plan for all that’s happened in their lives.  Instead of getting frustrated with the problem of having millions of orphans around the world and praying for God to fix the problem, what if it is really an opportunity God is trying to share with us?  An opportunity to act, to care, to help, to be personal, to minister, to grow…

How is He speaking to you to minister?  To carry the umbrella of care and be close with someone in need?  We may wish the negative situation away, but I believe those are some of the most precious times we can have with others and with the Lord. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
Psalm 34:18a (NIV)

You’re the Key… Unlock a Lost Heart

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147 million orphans in the world. Each one with a story, a soul, a heart.

After even just a short period of rejection and abandonment, one begins to fade.  Emotions are dulled, personality fades, heart becomes lost.  Alone, without a parent or mentor, orphaned children are destined for a life of struggle in anonymity.

And yet, there is hope!

You have the power to unlock a lost heart.  The key-love, extended with your  willingness to reach out for a lost heart.

love is the key

When you love an orphan, it unlocks their lost heart.  Emotions, personalities, and dreams come to life.

The transformation of orphans who have been hosted by a loving family for just 5 weeks is unmistakable. There is a noticeable difference in their countenance that was not there the day they arrived in the US. Children’s dull eyes begin to sparkle.  There is confidence, there is hope, there is the capacity to love and be loved.

There are 140 lost orphans waiting to be chosen for NHFC’s Summer 2013 host program.  Will you use the key you have to unlock their heart that’s been lost for far too long?

See waiting children here

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