Blessings Bags

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A few weeks ago, our minister gave a sermon that has really stuck with me.  He talked about the difference between giving and serving.  I’ve never really thought much about that difference before, but it is such an important distinction.  I have been thinking about this myself, actually, long before our minister spoke about it.  We are teaching the kids about giving to those in need by encouraging them to give money out of their own piggy banks for various things – offerings on Sunday mornings, fundraisers at their daycare, VBS donations, etc.  And they give with such willing little hearts.  It is really inspiring.

But what about teaching them to serve?  Chris and I serve in several different capacities, but most of them are not areas where the kids can come and participate or observe.  So, lately, I have been thinking about ways to get the kids involved in service because I believe that even at this young age of 2 and 4 years old, they can begin to understand that actions we take can help other people.    After hearing my minister’s sermon this weekend, I felt like it was time to DO something with my kids.

Several years ago, I saw these things called “blessings bags.”  I think it was on Pinterest?  I can’t remember where I saw them, but I have always loved the idea.  You take a sandwich bag and fill it with things that a homeless person might need – soap, food, toothpaste, etc. – and you keep them in your car.  Then, when you see someone begging for money on the side of the road, you can give them this blessings bag.  I have always loved that idea, but the few times I’ve seriously considered doing it, I ran into the cost problem.

Our family does well financially.  We save, we budget, we plan, and we have everything we need.  But we aren’t in the position to spend random money.  We have to budget for date nights and family activities, sometimes sacrificing things so that we can do something else.  Even $30 and $40 that we spend unbudgeted will sometimes require a discussion for me and Chris.  Not because we can’t afford to spend that money, but because if we spend it here, then we’ll have to cut back over there.

When I calculated blessings bags, they seemed to be about $20 to $30 for four or five bags.  I could probably do them for less than that, but I wanted them to be somewhat substantial.  And an extra $20 or $30 on our grocery bill one week would mean we would have to give something else up in return.  And we just never seemed to be in the place to do that, or rather, I never wanted to choose to spend that money.  But on Sunday, as I drove to the grocery store, I realized that serving required sacrifice.  Handing someone a bag of toiletries was no sacrifice for me.  The sacrifice would come in what I was willing to give up in order to serve that person.  So I decided, right here in the middle of summer – when I am without a paycheck and our money is tightest – that we could sacrifice in order to serve.

The first thing I did when I got to Target was head straight to the toiletry section.  The blessings bags would come first, and everything else would have to work around them.  Then, throughout the rest of my shopping trip, I would ask myself if what I was putting in my cart was really necessary.  Did I really need that new spray lotion that I had been wanting to try?  Did we really need those popsicles when we have freezer pops in our freezer already?  Slowly but surely, I gave up $30 worth of groceries that day.  It didn’t mean that we would never have these items.  It just meant that in this pay cycle, they would have to wait.  Here are some of the things I cut:

– Lean Cuisines – I would make due without these convenience foods this week ($8.00)

–  An extra box of cereal –  usually I let each kid pick their own box, but I compromised this week and bought one box they both liked  ($3.00)

– School supplies – I was going to get some school supplies for my classroom, but decided they could wait  ($5.00)

– PopTarts – we don’t normally have these, but I was planning to surprise the kids with them.  I decided the surprise could wait.  ($2.50)

– Sodas – I gave up the cans I usually buy myself ($4.00)

– Body wash – I was going to buy this just because I had a coupon, but I really didn’t need it  ($6.00)

– Ice cream – this one was Chris’s sacrifice… a MAJOR sacrifice for him!

With each item I passed up, I thought about those I could serve with my savings.  And, you know, this week in our house, each time someone asks about something that is missing from the pantry that we usually have, it gives us a chance to talk about service to others.  I came home with slightly less full grocery bags, but a completely full heart.

On Monday, I sat down with the kids after lunch and we talked about our house.  I asked them what they liked most about our house (the pool, the bathtub, their toys, etc.).  I also asked what things in our house helped us (our beds, our kitchen, our washing machine, etc.).  And then I told them that some people don’t have houses, and so they didn’t have the things that we have.  I asked how they would feel if they didn’t have their beds at night or Mr. Bear or their toothbrushes.  I wasn’t sure they would be able to follow along, but they really did.  Bean got it right away, and Gracie understood bits and pieces.  Finally, I told them that God loves everyone – whether they have a house or not – and that our job is to love everyone, too.  And we could show people we loved them by helping them.

We spent the next hour stuffing our four blessings bags.  I set everything up on the table and the kids took each bag and filled them with one of everything.

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We stuffed our bags with these items:

Toothbrush/toothpaste kits – $.99 each
Bars of soap (I figured these would last longer than body wash) – $.99 each
Johnson & Johnson first aid kits – $.99 each
Antibacterial hand gel – $.99 each
Applesauce cups (and a plastic spoon I had leftover from a birthday party) – $1.29 for 6 cups
Granola bars (don’t get anything with chocolate since these will live in your hot car) – $2.50 for 8 bars
Boxes of raisins – $1.07 for 6 boxes

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The kids loved picking what to put in each bag (even though they all had the same things in them, they loved picking which item to place specifically in each bag!).

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We ended up with so many items in each bag that we used a gallon sized Ziplock instead of a sandwich sized. Thankfully, these fit in the center console in my car!

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After each bag was stuffed, we put a sticker on the outside of each bag. I found these in our office supplies at home. They were name badge labels, and so I printed one for each bag. On two of them, I put the Bible verse John 3:16:

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And on the other two, I used lyrics from two of my favorite hymns:

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I’m not one to throw Bible verses out to strangers. In fact, that kind of turns me off when people do. But I wanted the people who receive these bags to know where they came from, even if the person doesn’t have the same beliefs.  And after we finished with the bags, the kids and I said a prayer over the bags:  “Dear God, bless our bags of goodies.  Put them into hands who need them.  Teach us to love others like you love us.  Amen.”

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I’m turning the comments off on this post because you all are lovely, loyal, wonderful imaginary friends who always tell me how great I am. And I so appreciate that. But this post isn’t about me or my family. It’s about you, actually. It’s about all of us. What are you doing to serve others? Not just giving money or time when it is convenient, but what are you sacrificing in order to serve someone else’s needs? It will look different for everyone because our level of sacrifice will be different. If you can spent $20 or $30 extra every now and then – do it! But if you can spend $50 or $100 or $200 – do that instead! Give until it is a sacrifice, but take it even further. DO SOMETHING.

That’s what I’ve learned this week. Am I just giving, or am I truly serving through sacrifice?

And that’s my challenge for you. How can you serve through sacrifice? How can you give something up that will help someone else? My motives might be faith-based, but this is not necessarily a faithful practice for religious people. It’s just about making the world a better place, a kinder place. Sometimes that’s done by writing a check. But how much sweeter could the sacrifice be, how much kinder and more humane would it be, if we looked into the face of the person we are serving and said, “I did this just for you.”

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