#Write31Days – Post 6 – Sweetest Day

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I don’t think there is anyone who is reading this that isn’t familiar with Valentines Day, a time when we declare love in our romantic relationships.    It has gone on to include gifts between parents and their children, card exchanges in classrooms with small parties, and even friends will celebrate their affections for one another.
Recently, the holiday “Sweetest Day” was introduced to me.  To be totally honestly, I had not clue what it was about.  Being someone who likes to research I took on the task of learning about this holiday.  The origins were not quite what I expected.  I assumed it was a pre-Valentines Day type thing…. or that it was simply about being intentionally kind to one another.   Since I was unfamiliar with it, I assumed it was fairly new and probably one of those made up holidays to increase retail sales.  Although I wouldn’t complain if I had the chance to swing by a confectionery for a free gift.
In my research, I learned that it was a midwest thing… being from the south… that explains a lot.
I also learned it goes back to the 1920s and all began out of an act of kindess and compassion toward the “least of these”, the orphans & shut ins from around Cleveland.  A local candy store owner gathered friends and families and delivered sweet little gifts to those who were being overlooked, forgotten about, or had fallen on hard times (this was during the depression).  The idea stuck, other people starting pitching in, and it spread into neighboring towns, cities, and states.
What an AMAZING idea!
And, since I like to PARTY…. why not invite some friends to join YOU and plan a SWEETEST DAY party.  Sweetest Day is the 3rd Saturday in October, so you still have PLENTY of time to plan!
Sweetest Day is on the 17th of October.  Consider one of the following party types:
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  1.  Prepping Party on the 16thgather with your friends, put together your sweetest day gift bags, while fellowshiping, munching, and praying over the recipients.  Then you (and your family, or your friends) can deliver them to recipients on the 17th.

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  1. Sweetest Day Party on the 17thperhaps your church could host a fun day at the church of games, activities, food, etc. and invite groups of disadvantaged children from your surrounding neighborhoods to celebrate together

Don’t forget about the kids who are in hospitals or centers that care for children removed from their homes. You can call ahead and plan something with their coordinators to ensure the gifts are approved, and you know how many to plan for.

Or, your heart might be calling you to celebrate with the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  There are also the men, women, and youth who are in prisons and detention centers who could use a little extra love and encouragement.

If you are going to have a party, think SWEETS but don’t forget the healthy foods too!

If you are celebrating with friends, you might want to have a more indulgent menu of desserts and treats while you prepare your gifts.  However, I am sure that hospitals, nursing homes, children’s centers, and even prisons are not going to be keen on a bunch of junk food!  Apple slices with caramel dip are a great balance and still a sweet treat.  Don’t forget about your friends who need a little salt with their sweet!  Chocolate Covered Pretzel Rods are easy, quick, and tasty!

Online retailers, like Family Christian, have items for various age groups and interests.

When putting together gift bags for kids, you may want to consider some of the following ideas:  (Click any photo for more options and suggestions)

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Velvet Wall Posters, Coloring Books are always kid friendly and enjoyed.  Stuffed animals like bears, are a great companion to cuddle into.  Sharing the New Testament with kids in an easy to read format, that has colored illustrations, is a wonderful way to share the Gospel with those you are reaching out to.

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If you can find out the ages of the children you will be visiting, and gender in some cases, you can also bring a gift of books!  It encourages reading, something they can take with them when they move, and with many great Christian titles you can leave them with a gift that will not only be enjoyable but point them toward Christ.

If you are reaching out to the elderly, some great options include:

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Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not have Bible available for their residents, and if they do… they are usually ones that are donated from personal libraries or a church has purchased new ones for their pews.  This means they are rarely large print Bibles.  If the resident brought one with them to the facility, it is possible that it too is not a large print Bible.  When speaking with volunteers at a local center, large print Bibles were a top request!

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A CD of Hymns might also make a great gift, as most of our older generations grew up on these songs as part of their Sunday worship and even weekly family devotion time.

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And never underestimate the joy a few hand drawn pictures from your children, or the ones in your church!  Take a collection, I am sure moms have a few they can spare.  Or have a party at the center, bring the kids and let them celebrate along side the older generations.  Prepare some sing along songs, have crafts on hand to do together, and check with the facility about any dietary restrictions on food brought in.

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For Larger Gifting … a simple snack size candy bar, lollipop, or individually wrapped cookies and snack packs can be paired up with tracts.  They cover a variety of topics, come in different languages, and there are versions for adults and children too.  They are also inexpensive, a pack of 25 tracts can run you less than $3 per pack!

Some additional thoughts, as you consider the least of these:

A trip to a prison, may have much more stringent rules on what you can and cannot bring it.  These rules may very from prison to prison.  So, you are best to contact them ahead of time and get a list. Due to the number of inmates, you may also want to look for something that you can buy in bulk and give everyone the same thing.

Also keep in mind that addiction recovery centers & mental health care facilities may not allow any outside materials due to the nature of their residents conditions.

If you would like to reach out to women, men, or family shelters (particularly abuse shelters) may ask to pick up your donation to distribute themselves, due to the security and protection of their guests.

#Write31Days – Post 1 – Loving Your Enemy

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I think we have all been there, at one point or another, where someone has stepped over the line.  They have hurt us too many times, and we have to step away from that relationship (romantic, friendship, business).  Even though the relationship was unhealthy, we can recognize that their intentions were not bad.  They didn’t mean to hurt us, they were reckless with their words or actions, or maybe they just don’t conform to societal norms and honestly can’t help themselves.  These are people that we can appreciate the memories we made with them, forgive them for their wrongs… at the same time as we are moving away to a safer distance.

Occasionally though, we will encounter a bonafide ENEMY.  This is a person who is intentionally against you.

  • The man or woman who is attempting to break up your marriage.
  • The boy/girlfriend who is trying to isolate your child from the family.
  • The coworker who is trying to sabotage your job or chance of promotion.
  • The neighbor who is trying to scare you out of the neighborhood.
  • The person who serves with you in ministry, that is vying for your position.
  • The competitor that is stealing your customers & trying to shut you down.
  • The person who is stirring up strife & trying to divide your church.

And these, are just a few examples of real life enemies who are working hard to make your life miserable.  When you are dealing with a unhealthy relationship, it is easy to be kind to that person. Because, you actually care about them despite the need for distance.   The scriptures, in Ephesians 4, instruct us to be kind to one another.    However, this is a much harder process  when it comes to the intentional enemy.  How can you be kind and forgive someone who is purposefully working against you?

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

The scriptures have a lot to say about being kind to one another, forgiving each others offenses, even the steps of conflict resolution when you have something against your brother. 

What are some practical steps you can take, to love your enemy?

#1 – You Pray & Forgive Them

Mark 11:25

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

Note, that in the verse, it says if you have ANYTHING against ANYONE.  This means we are called to forgive not just some people, or some offenses, but all.  ANY thing.  ANY one.  In this particular prayer, we are not praying for THEIR sake.   We are praying for OUR OWN.  We are forgiving in the measure in which we want to be forgiven.  We are praying for peace and freedom in our own life from this situation or person.  

#2 – Do Good To Your Enemies

Luke 6:27

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.

While revenge may be tempting, even letting them fall to ruin in their own devices may sound good… it’s not what God would want us to do.  My grandmother would advise me, when dealing with mean kids, to kill them with kindness.  This is actually similar to the scripture in Proverbs 25:  If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. (verses 21,22)

When we are kind to our enemy, we give them no just cause for their words or behavior.  Others will see that we have done nothing but kindness, and know that we are undeserving of our enemy’s disdain.  Eventually, the enemy will reveal themselves to everyone around them as being the real culprit.  They will be known for their misdeeds.  We do not need to retaliate, we don’t need to help that revelation process along the way by intentionally not helping or setting them up for failure.  No.  We just simply go on about our day IN SPITE of their behavior.  We continue to be nice and helpful to them, regardless if they deserve our help or not.

The miracle that can happen, is you may end up finding out that your enemy is a person who is suffering.  They don’t understand kindness.  They don’t understand love or compassion.  When you model it for them, it may make them uncomfortable, but in the end…. you may become the person they trust.  Your enemy may share with you their struggles, and give you the opportunity of wise counsel and leading your enemy to the Cross.

#3 – Intercede on Their Behalf

Acts 7: 60

And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Most people who are just outright mean, were not born that way.  They have had a life time of experiences and circumstances that have shaped who they have become.  There will be some who literally know no other way of behaving, this is normal to them.  Dysfunction is part of how they were raised and relate to others.

I once spoke of a woman I worked with, as others were complaining about her behavior, saying:  “I truly think she is clueless.  I don’t think she has bad intentions, I think she’s totally unaware of the wake she leave behind.”.  This was a woman that many had a difficult relationship with.  It would be easy to cast her as an enemy, she always seemed out to get everyone.  As I got to know her better, I realized she lived in a home that was highly competitive.  Everyone had to fight for their right to simply exist in that home.  She was loud, to be heard.  She was pushy, to get what she needed.  It has nothing to do with us or the job.  But, she was totally unaware that she was misbehaving. 

Coming to this realization, makes it a bit easier to pray that God will forgive that person … because (as Jesus said) they know not what they do.

However, for the person who is totally aware of their misdoings… we can still ask for God’s forgiveness over their actions & words.  We do it from a place of ultimate love, knowing that if they continue down the road they are traveling, they could end up in a final destination that is far from God.  We know that it is God’s desire that NONE shall perish.  So we pray, not because they deserve it… but because they NEED IT. 

I don’t deserve what Christ did for me on the Cross.  Like Paul said, of the sinners I am the worst.  If Christ died for me, He also died for my enemy.  Until they know Him, and have been changed by Him, I can pray on their behalf.

A Word of Caution:  Just because you have forgiven them, have chosen to be kind to them and even helpful to your enemy, and elect to pray on their behalf…. this does not mean you have to submit yourself to their cruelty.   Loving your enemy doesn’t mean you invite them into your home, share your personal details with them, and treat them as if they were your best friend.  You can do all three of these things, at an arm’s length.  Boundaries are absolutely appropriate in this case, to protect yourself from their venom.