Exactly one year ago I was telling my friend Ashby that I need to do something to teach my kids to be grateful. She suggested purposely doing something kind once a month. Yes! So for the last year we have committed to focus on being grateful and kind. It has noticeably changed my kids’ hearts, but it’s done radical things in my own heart.
It’s not my kids’ fault they think they deserve toys or that it’s normal to have a full fridge or a car to drive. It’s mine. I need to show them not everyone has clean water or food, not just tell them at dinnertime. So that’s what we’ve done this past year, at least one kind thing a month — some big, some small.
A wake up call
One day one of my children told me that he wanted to be a police officer so he could keep all the ticket money! After I finished laughing, I asked him what he wanted to do with all that money. He told me he wanted to be rich and buy lots of things and toys. He sat for a moment and then he asked why his friend wanted the keychain off his backpack when he already has a ton of toys at his own house.
I saw the teaching opportunity and the Lord did not fail me when I looked to him in that moment for words. I told my son that his friend wanted the toy because things don’t make us happy. It’s never enough. If we have more money, we spend more money. If we have more things, we want even more things.
Then I asked him, if he had to choose, would he rather spend an entire day in a room filled to the top with toys alone OR in a room with zero toys filled with his friends and family. He was silent. I was pleased with this response. He was thinking. I had him thinking, but I knew I had to show him:
- People are more important than things.
- We need to be grateful for what we have.
- We need to share what we have.
- We need to show kindness.
- We need to make a difference.
Our grateful project
I feel a sense of urgency with this. How long will I have their ears for so many hours of the day? How long will they listen to my guidance and advice?
This isn’t just for the kids. This is for me too. In 2016 God pressed on me intensely the need to be grateful. This is the year he pressed into me to do it! He wants me to take what I’ve learned and put into action. It’s one step to learn it and another to apply it and live it.
I share these things we did with you not to receive a pat on the back, not even so that you’ll think I’m a nice person, but to inspire you to take on your own grateful project.
Volunteer to serve food
For our first kind act, Ashby and I took the boys to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to migrant workers at the Amigos Center. The kids were in charge of drinks. They took it very seriously — for the most part, until they got distracted by wild chickens. Ashby also had the boys drop off outgrown clothes inside the center.
When we got to the car, she blew my mind by reading the perfect scripture for our time of serving. You should have seen the look of contentment on the boys’ faces when she mentioned giving something to drink!
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:37-40
Sponsor a child
In December our family began sponsoring two children through Living Hope International. We showed the kids pictures of the boy and girl and read an edited version of their troubled stories. When we received colored pictures and a thank you letter from them in the mail, the boys were even more interested in them. (I was a teary mess.) They colored pictures for them as well. We prayed over them and sent the pictures on their way to Mexico.
Religion that is pure and good before God the Father is to help children who have no parents and to care for women whose husbands have died who have troubles. — James 1:27
Send a card to a soldier
In February the boys made Valentine’s cards to send to overseas soldiers though Adriano’s preschool. I have to say, they took great care drawing and writing their messages. I hope they brightened a soldier’s day.
Give back and say thank you
In March Clara had an emergency and I had to take her to the ER. I had prayed aloud on the way to the hospital for God’s healing, protection, favor and the right doctor for her. I prayed that we would bring him glory though whatever would happen.
When I pulled in the parking lot I was so scattered that left the car door open. I was so scared and shaken I could barely tell the receptionist her name. Behind me I heard “Kate! What’s wrong?” It was my friend Daimy. Oh what a sweet, sweet gift from the Lord! She went back out and shut the door for me. When she came back she prayed over us in the lobby for healing and peace. I knew the Lord was with us, but I was so very grateful for his demonstration and her love. I knew things would be ok.
The staff was so very kind to us, offering Clara a blanket, stopping by to chat with her, giving her popsicles, finding the cartoons on TV and waving at her through the window. My tension slowly faded as I saw she was ok, but their kindness to us made a scary day less scary.
The next day we made brownies and wrote a thank you card to take to the staff. When we walked in, the receptionist dryly said “How can I help you?” He didn’t even look up from his computer. The guard had his feet up on the desk and also didn’t look up. When I told them we made them brownies and wanted to thank the staff for their kind care the atmosphere changed. The receptionist smiled and scrambled around for a pen and piece of paper. “Can I take your information?” he asked. He wasn’t even sure what to do in such a situation. The guard took his feet down and “Said that is so nice!” with a big smile. A woman in the lobby said “awwwww!”
What this told me is that people, including myself, don’t do kind things for each other nearly enough. This was so foreign to them even though this place saves lives every day. A box of brownies I bought for $2.50 and a card with a sweet message that was $.50 brightened an office’s day.
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2
Take a meal
We made chicken noodle soup and brought it along with some treats (because soup alone is not dinner, haha!) to friends with a new baby. People always appreciate a meal! It doesn’t have to be gourmet or fancy. Ask when you can bring it after a baby or funeral or time of need. They won’t forget it, I promise. Get the recipe here.
Give to someone in need
Over the summer I had fallen off track with our monthly acts of kindness. One morning the kids and I were driving in the minivan and I was thinking about what we should do. Who could we help that was really in need? A few moments later I saw a woman standing at the light of the interstate exit ramp holding a cardboard sign. That’s sad, I thought. Then I did a double take. “Kate! What are you waiting for? You just asked God who you could help who is in true need!”
I quickly used the next road to turn around. I had to go north on the interstate, take the first exit and get back on the interstate headed south to end up where she was standing. As we drove past her again, headed in the other direction, I asked the boys if they saw the woman. They had. I asked if they thought it would make her happy to have some money and a new Bible. They said yes!
I remembered I had two sets of $50 in my wallet — one for emergencies and one for the babysitter that night. A verse I had read in Luke that very morning came to mind. “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, do the same.” At a stop light I pulled out one set of $50 and a couple gift certificates I had to restaurants. I remembered that I had a new study Bible in the car too. (Earlier this year I started buying extras of my favorite books and Bibles and keeping them in the car for occasions such as these.)
I wrote on the cardboard packaging on the Bible “Luke chapter 6, God loves you.” I prayed out loud, so the boys could hear me, for her and I to be able to meet her if it were God’s will. I prayed for her to have a softened heart and feel God’s love, for her to accept Jesus as her savior if she hadn’t already, for her nourishment, lifestyle, family, future, for someone to step up to be her mentor … I prayed we wouldn’t be in the back of the line for the red light off the exit or hit the green light. I prayed we would be where she could see us.
As I pulled off the exit ramp, she came into view. She was probably in her late 20s or early 30s. She was hot in the Florida sun, wiping the sweat from her brow. The light was green, but turned red as we approached. Don’t you know, we pulled up first at the light, right next to her for our divine appointment. She didn’t make eye contact until I rolled down my window. She approached timidly. I handed her the Bible with money and gift certificates inside. She smiled.
I told her that when I saw her I turned back around on the interstate. I gathered what I could to give to her and prayed for her the whole way. “You prayed for me?” she asked with a soft and surprised voice. “Yes. I read Luke 6 this morning and the Lord says ‘blessed are the poor.’ I wrote the chapter there.” I pointed to the Bible.
“It’s a study Bible,” she said as she looked at it, smiling. “And God loves me.” She looked up at me with gratefulness.
“God loves you and I do too,” I told her. We both had tears in our eyes. The light turned green. I rolled up the window. She packed up her things into her backpack and started to walk away, but looked back and waved at us first.
It was not a major sacrifice for me. It took 10 extra minutes of my time. But it made a lasting impression on both of us and the kids. If I hadn’t been in the Word that morning or talking to God in the car we would have missed that moment. I hate to think about all the moments I have already missed.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Luke 3:11
Pick up trash
Luca’s idea was to pick up trash. I was a little nervous about this one. Who knows what they would find! So I made them wear plastic gloves and kept an eye out ahead of them for what kinds of trash lay ahead. It was a good opportunity to talk about caring for this beautiful Earth God has entrusted to us.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” — Genesis 2:15
Welcome new neighbors
New neighbors moved in next door and the boys and I put together a welcome basket. Our neighbors were delighted and invited us into their home. They sent a thank you card with their phone numbers and that established the beginning of a relationship.
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” — Galatians 5:14
Help those in need
In September Hurricane Irma hit southwest Florida and left many with uninhabitable homes, no water and no food. Grocery stores were closed or empty, gas stations were closed or had two hour lines and resources were scarce. It was a scary time here. You can read our story here: Hurricane Irma brought us to our knees.
This is an excerpt from that post:
Seeing that my house is essentially unscathed has me open, willing and ready to hear God’s call for how I can serve. But I have three little kids! I can’t serve food or stack boxes, I have to watch them. That is no matter for God. He has already given me missions I have been doing from home — connecting people, collecting donations, running to Costco and dropoffs.
I also realized that sometimes helping after a natural disaster doesn’t look like organized outreach, sometimes it means reaching out to the person right in front of you. Marcello and I helped an elderly man at the condo. He felt abandoned by his family and his cell phone was dead. When we went in to his powerless condo to give him food, his windows weren’t all the way open and he had one flashlight. We were able to give him a lantern, food, money and call his son on my phone. I know that our love meant more to him than any of that. I sadly feel this is a common story of the elderly.
We went into a restaurant to escape the heat and maybe have a drink with ice in it. Our waitress was visibly frazzled and when asked she said her roof had leaks, was missing shingles and she is a widow. I asked her name and told her I would pray for her. It meant something to her that someone cared. We also left her an unexpected tip with our emergency cash stash.
We can make hot coffee and boil water for our neighbors who don’t have electricity. We can open our home, offer our extra bedroom, let people sit in the AC and use wifi. We can offer our weird snacks and canned food dinners! Haha. There are actually a lot of things I can do with three kids and teach them to serve others in the process.
He doesn’t need me for his plan, but he sure does love to involve me. And you too.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” — James 2:15-17
Our local Boys & Girls Club lost most of their children’s library during the hurricane, so we donated some of our books.
I was impressed. I only asked the boys to put in the box the books they didn’t read any more and they donated almost half of their books. My heart rejoiced because I know that wouldn’t have happened at the beginning of the year! What a beautiful thing when a child sees a need and wants to help from his own heart, not because his mother told him to.
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” — Acts 20:35
Join efforts with your church
You don’t have to go it alone or wrack your brain to come up with ideas. Join efforts with your church. Our church always has ways and ideas to serve. You can sign up to bring a meal to a new foster family, bring Christmas presents to those in need, donate food. This photo is from one church service that was released early so everyone could go to the closest grocery store and buy food from a list to replenish a local food bank.
Marcello and I joked that our real sacrifice in this act of kindness was taking all three of our kids into the crowded store, haha! Do you see their faces? Not sure how “grateful” they were on that particular day.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” — Romans 12:4-5
A serving heart is a grateful heart. The Bible knows what it’s talking about, psychological studies show there is a direct connection between kindness, thankfulness and happiness. A grateful person can make a difference! A grateful person puts on armor against jealousy, anxiety and fear. When you’re grateful, you’re honoring God.
Do your own family grateful project!
We are going to do the Grateful Project again in the coming year. I’m not sure I will post about it because I don’t love the idea of keeping record of kind things we do. Matthew 6:3 says, “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I’ll give it some thought, but you should definitely consider doing your own grateful project! Please, please tell me how it goes if you do. I would love to hear!
These aren’t things that will take you to another side of the world — they won’t even take up your whole afternoon — but they make a difference. They make a difference to others and especially your own family!
Pray for the holy spirit to give you wisdom as to what words to use with your children, what services to do, what needs to try to meet. I noticed a significant difference when I prayed for wisdom, especially with one child who has a tendency to feel jealous.
Go ahead and get out of your comfort zone. People are in need of company, kindness, a hand, food, drink, clothing. Just because they are not right in front of you asking for it doesn’t mean the need isn’t there.
There’s always something to be grateful for. Always. What are you thankful for on this day? What would you have left if you woke up tomorrow and only what you had thanked God for remained?