Monday, December 23, 2013

Amazing Grace

December 24, 2013

This will be a long story, but if you persevere to the end you will be astonished.
God did an amazing thing last week, and I just had to share.
Last year, the C.A.R.E. ministry participated with great joy and even a couple miracles in the Adopt-a-Resident program at the Community Care Center (CCC).  Volunteers provided small gifts for more than FIFTY residents (almost half the population of the facility). In January, I approached the owner of our favorite espresso stand: Jump Start Espresso in Federal Way, and asked whether they'd consider helping us through their holiday gift drive, and the lady I talked to thought that sounded like a good idea. I was thrilled!  
I checked in again in August, and they said to get the list to them in October. So I did.  We set December 8 as the end date, to give me enough time to get things wrapped and over to CCC by their deadline of the 10th.
I phoned the owner just before Thanksgiving to make sure that gave them enough time, and she said "Yeah, sure. No problem. We're posting the list right now. We'll give you a call."
But then no call came. We drove over to the Espresso stand and there was a sign hung outside.
Holiday Gift Drive: Donate items for Thomas Jefferson High School Students by December 8.

I called the owner, and it turns out there was a mixup.  They usually do two drives at once, and she thought when I called that I was the representative from the TJ drive, and she never saw my list.  She apologized, and said the best they could do was collect for the residents between the 14th and 20th. I had delivered all the resident presents to CCC on the 10th and everybody on my list had gifts, so I almost said "Never mind, We'll try again next year."  But that didn't seem like a good idea somehow, so I said I'd appreciate whatever they could do (after all, with 5 new admits a week there's always an opportunity to give socks and fleece throws away), and she said she thought a few people weren't quite done giving.

On Tuesday I went to the CCC to drop off 150 toothbrushes my dentist donated (!)  And the Activities Lady met me at the door, distraught.  They usually have 5 or 6 groups donating resident presents,  and this year only three.  One of the groups had just backed out that day and returned all 20 of the residents they said they'd buy for, and she asked me "Can you take any more?"
I knew I should have said "No, we're done."  I didn't have any money left personally, nor any sponsors, and I'd already used the funds the church gave me.  But I took the list, told her I'd try but no promises, and on the way up the elevator I prayed. Which is still the wrong order, as to pray first - before taking the list - would have been the best way to go. 

That day (Tuesday) was my son's 11th birthday, so we stopped at the Espresso stand to get his favorite drink.  And the owner was there. She saw me and leaned out the window, hollering, "Oh my gosh! I'm SO glad you came by today. Can I give you some stuff now?  It's full back here."
She handed off to me boxes and bags of fleece throws and socks and even (this is amazing) a Switzerland calendar, which was what Tad really wanted (after a Lamborghini).  It'll cover almost every extra resident, and they'd still be collecting until Friday, at BOTH their locations.
So I was feeling mighty blessed, but God hadn't even started yet.  When I got home, the 17-year-old said, "There's a message for you. Deanna from the espresso stand called and wants you to call a guy named Frank.  He wants to know if it's too late to get Seahawks gear for the residents."
Never too late for Seahawks gear.  So I phoned Frank.  He'd had a wonderful year, and wanted to spread the cheer around into his community, but he couldn't find a local charity he could get behind. Then he saw my sign on the Espresso stand.  He ended up his story this way: "I'll meet you at Fred Meyer in Federal Way Friday at 3.  You pick out $300 worth of stuff and I'll pay for it."

Fast Forward to Friday afternoon……
At nearly midnight I was still reeling from the shopping spree.  It was one of the most profoundly unsettling things I'd done in recent memory: I had to go to a Fred Meyer I'd never been to, to meet a man I'd never met, and had no last name or contact info for, and help him spend $300 of HIS money on the residents he's never met.

So I prayed and wore my chaplain cross so at least I'd be recognizable.  We walked in and I looked around for someone who looked as though he was looking for someone.  I chose a likely individual, walked up and said 'Are you Frank?" and he said, "Yes, I am."  I introduced myself and the kids and he said, "Well, good. You showed up. Your new spending limit is $500.  And I'm going to go talk to one of the managers here. I know him, and if the store will give you a better deal than their published one, I'll go as high as $700."
I was floored. He got a personal shopper person, handed her my list and said, "Get her whatever she still needs off this list. I'll be wandering around. Call me when you want me to write the check."
So we shopped.  Every once in a while Frank would come over, say, "Hey, what are you getting suspenders for?" and I'd say, "Because Greg keeps coming to church without his trousers." He asked why there were so many clothes in the basket, and I told him about Maisie, who arrived a week ago from the hospital. She came in a hospital gown, her bag of effects included no clothing, and no-one had showed up to bring her any.  She's a ladies' small, and they've been taking clothes out of the lost and found and tying the waistbands into little pony tails so she has something to wear.  He asked me to make sure she was provided for, and I did.

I kept saying to to the shopper, "OK, I think we've just about reached our limit," and she'd look it over critically and say, "Not yet. Trust me - you're well under."
At the checkout, I was completely shocked when I saw the total.  I said, "OK. Let me go through the bags and we'll start putting some things back."
Frank looks at me. "Why would we do that?"
"Because we went over."
"Oh. Well, don't worry about that - it's not much over."
"No really - I'll put these things back and get them another time."
He paused. "Nah. Might as well get 'em now.  You simply cannot imagine the fantastic year I had.  I wanted to do something a little with some of my funds. And you know their NAMES. And what they need.  I know that all this will get directly into the hands of needy people."
Are you sitting down (assuming yes, since you're on the computer).  
He paid for $1100 of stuff for the residents.  AND bought a GPS with lifetime maps for the bus.
I still squirm a little bit inside just thinking about it.
When I tried to thank him profusely, he just waved it away. "That's alright. I really wanted to do something like this, but I didn't want  to just give money, and that's what most charities want.  I wanted to be involved in the process. But I never could have pulled this off - for one thing I'm color blind, and for another I just have no ability to shop.  You did the work, I wrote the check. Merry Christmas." And off he went, with his 32-oz mocha from the espresso stand.

Since then, we've been back to the espresso stand a couple times, and each time there was more and more stuff.  Clothes. Diabetic socks.  Slippers.  A LAUNDRY CART. And enough candy to make up 75 treat bags for the residents. Here they are, with our gingerbread houses:

We serve an amazing God. When He says "More than you can ask or imagine," He's not fooling around.

If you're local, consider swinging by Jump Start Espresso at the intersection of 288th and Military for a really good (Family Friendly) coffee.  And thank them for their support. And praise God with me for His Amazing Grace. And Merry CHRISTmas to all of you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Meditation

December 19, 2013
Since this is the season of Advent, it seemed right to begin with the most recent devotional message given to the nursing home residents on December 15, 2013.  As the Director of our church's nursing home ministry, I have the delightful privilege of participating every week in the worship service we present at the local Community Care Center (hereafter CCC).  Each non-denominational, Christ-focused service contains Scripture reading, prayer (often led by pastors who are residents at the CCC), worship and singing, and a message. We offer communion quarterly, and host special programs for Easter, Memorial Day, and Advent.

In these services I do not usually have the privilege of giving the message; seven wonderful men from local churches speak in rotation. But on this day I subbed in at the last minute and decided to share with them - and now with you - what the Lord has been teaching me as I read, once more, the Christmas Story.

The Journey is Part of the Gift.

The late Ruth Stafford Peale once told the following story:
Her husband, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, had been preaching and teaching in Africa when a teenaged boy was saved and baptised. He left soon after to work in the fields, and they both thought they'd seen the last of him.
But Mrs. Peale said her husband opened the door one night a few weeks later to see the teenage boy, holding a beautiful conch shell. He had traveled many days, always by foot, to bring the shell to them as a Christmas present. The boy described how he had spent many days combing the beach, looking for just the right shell, one with just the right iridescent hues, one with no chips or cracks, one that when held to the ear, produced just the right sound of waves rushing to the shore.
Mrs. Peale said she felt overwhelmed that the young man had walked so far, all alone, just to bring them a Christmas present.
But she said the young man just smiled. "Oh no," he exclaimed in his best English, "you see...long journey part of gift."

The Long Journey is Part of the Gift.

We think a lot about Jesus’ birth at this time of year.  The name we call him by, Jesus, is just a Greek variant of the Hebrew Jeshua But Matthew 1:23 gives us another name for Him “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” (which means “God with us”).
God with us.  
That in itself is a gift of rare beauty. But like the boy’s shell, there’s more to it than even that. 
As we think about that Baby in the manger, we remember what He became; what He came to do, as we should.  But we don’t often think about where He was before that Holy Night in Bethlehem.  But if we consider the journey He made to come to Earth, we will have an even greater understanding and appreciation of the gift.

What was He doing before He was born on earth?  John 1:1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word Was God. He was in the beginning with God."
So before Bethlehem He was God  The all-powerful, almighty God. 
Born in Bethlehem, he was still God….but in human flesh. And in His humanity, He made Himself subject to our frailty.  For the first time, God fell down and scraped his knee. Caught a headcold. Felt pain. Just imagine…being God and accidentally pounding your thumb with a carpenter’s hammer!  That’s quite a big step on the journey. 
And we read on in John 1: "All things were made through him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."
Wow.  So before Bethlehem, He was the agent of creation. He created EVERYTHING that was ever created.  Now that’s Power!
But when He was born in Bethlehem, for the first time in His limitless existence, God experienced a need.
And the terms he placed on Himself said He could not meet the need Himself; he had to depend on others.
What others? A carpenter and a teenage girl.  It would have been slightly better if He had some to earth as an adult; but a Baby? He needed everything: He needed to be fed. He needed to be changed. He needed to be carried, and protected, and kept warm.

But even more, before Bethlehem, He was the boss. He had the authority to command;  He said in the garden, after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Born in Bethlehem, He put Himself under the law; the law He Himself established. The law that subverted itself to try, convict, and execute Him.

Before Bethlehem, Jesus was worshiped along with the Father; many Psalms speak of Him and exalt Him and magnify His name..
But after Bethlehem, His own people – even his friends - mocked, ridiculed, and denied Him.
Does that give you some idea of the long journey He had to go on to give us the Greatest Gift? Do you understand what He gave up to pay your debt; to win your soul?

A perfect human could have paid the price and satisfied God’s wrath and paid our sin-debt.  And that would have been an amazing gift.  But for God…for Jesus…the long journey was part of the gift.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with out weaknesses…”  He understands us—all of us— because He has been where we are.

Once you start thinking about it that way, it becomes easier to accept that He understands us. But I think the residents are uniquely precious to our Lord and Saviour because They understand Him  They have been mothers and fathers, pastors, businessmen, teachers, ministry leaders and commanding officers. And now they are dependent on others to direct their lives and meet their needs.

When you hear songs about Emmanuel and catch yourself thinking about God with Us this Christmas, think about where He came from…Before Bethlehem… And when you thank Him for the gift, thank Him also for the Journey.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Welcome to Work Among the Wise Ones! - the online updates of CCS Chaplain Debbe Carson. 

Sit down, put your feet up, and join me on my adventures.  You'll laugh with me, and maybe tear up, as we walk down the hallways of one of America's most overlooked mission fields, the nursing home.

First, a few disclaimers:
I call some of the facilities in which I serve as a missionary chaplain "nursing homes," though that term is not currently in vogue.  You will know what I mean.I also serve in hospitals and other medical facilities.
For confidentiality reasons, all resident and facility names will be pseudonyms.

Some of what you will see here is reprinted from the Community Chaplain Service's bi-monthly newsletter, "Connections."  Some is new material, posted only on this blog.  But all of it will show you how God is working - constantly and visibly - in the lives of His precious residents and, through them, in my life as well.  It is a pleasure to share His wonderful works with you.