Christmas in July – a better time to help

Having worked with several human services agencies as both a volunteer and Board member, one of the challenges is the timing of cash flow and the need for more of it. Many agencies are funded through a combination of federal, state and local money and donations from the faith community, foundations, businesses and individuals.

During the holiday season, these agencies are blessed with an inflow of giving that would honor Christmas or Hanukkah. Those donations are greatly appreciated and are used judiciously throughout the year. But, the time of greatest need is during the summer months, when the kids are off from school.

Much of my effort has been around helping homeless families climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. The families we help work, sometimes more than one job, but cannot make ends meet or an event has caused them to lose their home. The event could be the breakdown of a car, significant healthcare expenses, reduction in hours at work or the loss of a job.

During the summer months, the working parent(s) are finding and paying for ways to look after children. Also, their hours are cut back due to people being on vacation and shopping less. Or, they work in the school system and are not paid during the summer months. Yes, we have helped teachers and teacher assistants who are homeless.

Rather than waiting to give in December, look into places you normally give and donate during the summer months. Whether it is your money, clothing, books, goods or time, the donation will be greatly appreciated. In fact, small groups of people often can perform duties – stuffing envelopes, setting up crafts, providing day care, etc. that will be beneficial. Look at each organization’s website and see the best way to volunteer.

I have witnessed some wonderful organizations who take their stewardship roles very seriously. They do more with less, but sometimes it is hard. It should not have to be this hard. Thank you in advance for your consideration of helping them make it through.

We seem to have forgotten what Jesus did while on earth


As we enter the Christmas holiday season, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what Jesus did while he walked the earth and what he promoted while he was here. Variations of his overarching themes can also be found in other religious texts, so these tenets are important regardless of religion. His Golden Rule which paraphrases to Treat others like you want to be treated translates well to any religious faith.

Jesus spent most of his adult life with the disenfranchised people of the areas he traveled. He would visit and stay with those who were not the powerful leaders or church leaders of the day. He tended to be with those who needed him most – the sick, the disabled, the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he was not welcome by church leaders in some places and became irritated when church leaders did not use his church for its key purpose.

If Jesus walked the earth today, he would likely be irritated with us for many things.

  • Jesus would not be too keen on the demonization of people who look, speak or worship differently than the speaker.
  • He would not be too keen on intolerance especially when advocated by religious leaders who preach a message of exclusion. Jesus welcomed everyone.
  • He would not be too keen on the commercialization of his birthday, which loses sight of why we are honoring the day in the first place.
  • He would not be too keen on treating the impoverished in the world as if they had a communicable disease. “There, but by the grace of God, go I” he would say.
  • He would not be too keen on turning our backs on people who are refugees from their war-torn land. He would be there welcoming them in.
  • He would not be too keen on people being killed in the name of any religion, especially when the perpetrators are twisting language from its true meaning.
  • He would not be too keen on abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. And, while this may sound inconsistent, he would likely be in favor of using birth control to avoid abortions, lessen poverty and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • He would not be too keen on the prosperity church leaders who live high on the hog after bilking poor and sick people of their money. If you hear the term “seed money,” understand you are being swindled to help someone buy a jet or house.
  • He would not be too keen on corrupt leaders who forsake their mission to govern wisely and judiciously.
  • He would not be too keen on people not being good stewards of our earth which is consistent across many religions.

We seem to have become a collection of cafeteria Christians, only picking parts of the bible we like and missing the overall context and message. We must treat others like we want to be treated, with no caveats. To prove my point, I want you to picture a mental image of Jesus and then go back to the first bullet point above regarding “demonization of people who look….differently than the speaker.”

Now, I want you to picture an adult Syrian refugee. Jesus did not look like Max Von Sidow, Jim Caviezel or Jeffrey Hunter (who played him in movies). Jesus looked more like the Syrian refugees look than how movies portrayed him. And, he did not speak English. If Jesus was among the refugees, we have folks who would be arguing to deny his entrance into America as he would be a single adult male with a mideastern appearance.

We must be better than this. We must understand his key message and live like he would want us to, even if he does not look like we do. It is the Christian thing to do….and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist thing as well.

Safe travels and take along an extra dose of patience

In spite of retailers trying to steal the thunder, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It means time with family and friends. My favorite memories as a child were going to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Now, we have that house, where we will host 15 or more folks for dinner. And, we honor my grandmother, who we called Big Mama, by making her cornbread dressing.

I have written before about Big Mama and Granddaddy. They were each very special people and very different personalities. My grandfather was very quiet and worked with his hands building houses. He also loved to fish and we would leave early morning to drive to the lake returning with endless lines of fish.

Big Mama was a character and had character. She was very funny and was as talkative as my grandfather was quiet. She worked in retail sales for years and had relationships with families as she helped dress their kids all the way through college. Yet, unlike today, she did not work in the store on Thanksgiving.

I bring this up today, as I want people to travel safely to their many destinations. This goes for folks in other countries as they begin travel for their various holidays and year-end events. With things that have occurred in Paris, Beirut, Egypt and Mali recently, we need to remind ourselves to live our lives to their fullest and hug our friends and loved ones closely when we see them.

And, as we travel, please take along an extra dose of patience. Many travel officials are doing their darnedest to make us safe from those who want to do people harm. Help them, help you by being patient, considerate and kind. Expect and plan for travel delays. And, always remember, we choose how we react to things. Don’t cede that power and get flustered by things that are outside of your control. People in line behind you do not want to be in the line with the exasperated or angry traveler, just as you don’t want to be behind one yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving all. Safe travels and may the force (of patience) be with you.

 

Happy Independence Day Early

Best wishes all on a festive, but important anniversary in our US history. A few reminders to all, including my family, friends, and me.

– Don’t drink and drive – it is a bad idea anyway, but many police officers will be doing road checks looking for overly imbibed drivers.

– Along these same lines, remember alcohol, testosterone, and fireworks do not mix very well, so please leave the lighting to those who are more coherent.

– Stay hydrated if outside. So easy to forget, so easy to fix.

– Drive safely as many of us will be on the road. If you can read my bumper stickers, you are too close, unless we are at a traffic stop. And, the trucker sticker is true – if you can’t see his/ her mirrors, he/ she cannot see you.

– Remember the sunscreen song that began and ended its many lessons with advice to lather up when you go out – this is particularly true if drinking is involved, as a drunk lobster of a person is not at his/ her best (and will be in pain tomorrow).

– Keep an adult or older teen eye on kids around water. It only takes a few seconds. If you have folks to your pool, lake, river, etc. for a swim, make sure all can as hosts can get caught up in the event.

– Remember to hug loved ones close when you leave. It only takes a few seconds and means so much to both hugger/ huggee.

Finally, let’s remember the true meaning of July 4. It celebrates our freedoms. So, remember your freedoms are as important, as my freedoms. Not more or less. That is what we fought for and our history has been one of making sure that is true for all. Happy 4th of July!!!

 

 

Don’t let Black Friday take you into the red and other savings ideas

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” which is the official launch of holiday shopping. Some even start on Thanksgiving, which is usurping the best family holiday in America, for people to spend money. If you are an American or know one, you know that Americans like to do two things more than anything else – be entertained and buy stuff.

I have written before about ways to save money, as we have too many folks who want yours. Let me use this Black Friday to rehash a few of them and speak to the holiday season where buying gifts is done in excess. If you follow a few of these, you will end up with more money to live better, have less stress, retire earlier, and be more in control of your life. In no particular order:

– you don’t need to participate in Black Friday. Trust me, the retailers will get desperate closer to Christmas and layer in discounts. You will also be less tempted to buy if you take your time.

– speak with your family and friends about gift giving. Maybe you could limit the giving to the kids or have a charity donation for adults donating a small sum to a favorite charity of the recipient.

– for year-round, do not play the lottery. I have written several posts on this, but my favorite line is from John Oliver who stated your chances of winning the lottery are the same as being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark. Save the $10 a week and at year-end you will have $520 plus interest.

– for borrowing, tear up all credit cards but one or two. You do not need more than that. My wife and I get 3 to 5 offers a week for new cards. You get very popular when you manage your debt and save a lot of money.

– do not borrow from pay-day lenders. They are one step above leg-breakers and you will quickly spiral into a rabbit hole of debt with over a 1000% interest rate. I am not making this up. This is about the worst thing you could do if in trouble.

– be wary of credit consolidators. They are not all created equal, so do your homework. Also, there are a number of non-profit advisors who can help you consolidate or manage your debt.

– be wary of for-profit colleges which are 5 to 6 times the cost of community colleges. A rule of thumb, the bigger the celebrity advertising the college, the worse its record for graduating. These colleges prey on veterans, spend more on marketing than education and graduate less than 15% of their students.

– if you have no health coverage, sign up for the Affordable Care Act at http://www.healthcare.gov. Subsidies to pay for premiums are available up to $95,000 in income for a family of four, higher if a larger family and lower if smaller. Healthcare coverage will get you doing preventive medicine rather than reactive medicine and keep you from going bankrupt.

– if you work, save in your 401(k) plan or something similar. Using payroll deduction, it is like paying yourself first, especially when the employer will match your savings.

Finally, be wary of scammers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Many scammers prey on church and association leaders to get at others, prey on the elderly with confusion, and prey on everyone with fear (IRS scams, power shut off scams, computer repair scams, etc.). If someone offers you a potential high rate of return with no risk of loss, it is a scam.

If you do all of these things, great. If you know someone who would benefit from the advice of an old fart, please send them this link. Always remember, you do not have to buy anything except food, water, minimal clothing, transportation and shelter. The rest becomes wants and can be managed. Happy holidays.

Travel safely and happy Thanksgiving

It looks like my youngest son will be traveling through some rain and snow as he ventures home from college. We have been watching the weather and it looks like he may get through early enough, but we will keep our fingers crossed. Unfortunately earlier options are not possible given the flights of students going home.

I wish for everyone who is traveling or has loved ones or friends who are traveling to do so safely and without too much disruption. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it means fellowship with friends and families. To me, it is offensive that end of year holiday sales will ramp up on that day for some. I will take my usual pass on Black Friday and wish shoppers happy hunting.

I would encourage all to take the time Thursday to remember the ones who are no longer at the table. Tell stories about your fathers, mothers, uncles, grandparents, etc. who have passed away. Think of a few conversation starters to get the stories flowing. “Do you remember the time….” will work just fine in this regard. We will have several siblings of my wife at the table, so we will have many perspectives on family history. It is interesting how much is learned each year by all.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my grandmother, whom we called Big Mama. Although she had the same name as the matriarch in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” my mother’s mother was not a mouse like the character in the play and movie. She was a character and had a lot of character. She would have stood up to Burl Ives’ Big Daddy in the movie version. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven kids, so she had to fend for herself with older brother and sisters.

Tomorrow, I will begin cutting up celery and onions as my wife makes Big Mama’s “egg bread” before we make her dressing on Thanksgiving day. Egg bread is cornbread with a few more eggs in it than normal. And, as any southern cook knows, you make your corn bread and only your corn bread in a certain iron skillet. Now, my wife tells me we will be using vegetable stock (rather than chicken stock) with the dressing this year for my traveling son and other vegetarians. Even my grandmother would go out of her way to welcome people, so she would be OK with this digression. To her, family is what it is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you do not celebrate such in your country, please think good thoughts about your lost loved ones and fellowship with others. Take care.