Saturday, December 17, 2011

Adventures at the Home - The Prayer Box

My cooking group at the nursing home recently celebrated Christmas. I took in a Christmas cake and egg nog at the suggestion of one of my assistants. It was a good suggestion – everyone loves cake and eggnog.

When everyone was served I started talking about Christmas traditions. I told them about our family traditions and the tradition Santa Claus started in our cul-de-sac. I them asked them to share their family traditions. There were about forty people and to my amazement many of them started talking. The assistant activity director came into the room and asked me, “How do you get them talking like that?”

“I ask them a question” was all I could come up with.

We heard about many time honored traditions. Then one of the residents said, “Jesus is the reason for the season." Another added, “Jesus Christ is why we have Christmas.” And yet another chimed in, “It’s Christmas, Ralph. It’s not the Holiday season.” The door had been opened and I stepped through the threshold. “That’s right.” I said, “and we must never forget that fact.”

I told them about the birth of Christ in the manger and many of the residents added in things – good things, meaningful things. Then I said, “Maybe it is just me but it seems a little odd that on the first Christmas the only one to receive gifts was Jesus. Jesus received gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. No one else got presents. Mary didn’t get any. Joseph didn’t get any. For sure the inn keeper didn’t get any presents. Just Jesus. Yet today we feel we have to buy for everyone we know. Why is that?”

The room erupted in chatter again.

Then I continued, “But the Christmas story doesn’t end there. Thirty-three years later that little baby, Jesus, was a grown man who was crucified on the cross. There were no presents. Mary received no presents, the Roman guards received no presents, and Jesus received no presents.

No one was talking now.

Everything appeared to be okay so I continued, “Three days later God gave His gift to me, to you, and to the world. Mary Magdalene and a few other women walked to the tomb of Jesus only to find it EMPTY! God had given us the perfect gift, a gift no value could be placed on. The only perfect gift that has ever existed. So why do we search every year for the ‘perfect gift’? I don’t know. We already have it.”

Then I pulled out a one inch box designed to be a Christmas ornament and hung on the tree. I told the residents we could start our own tradition and transform that ornament into something more - a prayer box. I told them the box was bright and shiny, which represented the star the night Jesus was born. I showed them how the bow on top could become a cross with just a slight tug. Then I said, “But most importantly the box is empty. Do not open it. There is nothing inside – just like the tomb on Easter morning.” And with that I gave them each a prayer box.

I then asked them not to place it on the Christmas tree but rather to put it on their bulletin board, their nightstand, their window sill, anywhere they would see it daily and be reminded to pray.

One resident asked me, “How many prayers can this box hold?”

“None,” I replied. “All our prayers go straight to God. This box is to remind us to pray and the value of prayer.”

Several residents looked at me and smiled.

Then, one lady said in a very sincere and calm voice, “Praise Jesus.” Many residents nodded their head in agreement.

At the end of class a few nurses and other employees who had been listening from the back of the room asked if they could have a prayer box. One of my assistants asked if I had extras because if any of the residents lost theirs they would really be upset.

The prayer box is not the perfect gift – it just represented it.

Friday, December 09, 2011


Most people have never heard of Marne, Iowa, much less been there. Marne is a community located off of interstate 80 with a population of 149 people. I have been there twice. The first time was by accident.

A few years ago Char and I were in Illinois for a visit and to take a road trip with our future daughter in law, Desiree. Char and Desiree were in the back of the van watching a movie on the DVD player. I was driving along I-80 when I noticed the ‘low fuel’ light came on. No worries I’ll get off at the next exit and get gas. The next exit came and no gas stations were in sight so I continued driving. Another exit appeared but no gas stations so I stayed on the highway.

I was getting a little uncomfortable when I looked down and noticed the low fuel warning light was not only on but now it was flashing. I got off at the next exit and there was nothing except a sign which read, “Marne 3”. No worries, we’ll just drive into Marne and fill up.

Arriving at Marne the first thing I noticed was there were no gas stations! I parked my van in this spot because I noticed two women talking. Getting out of the van I asked where the nearest gas station was. One of the ladies told me it was about seven miles down the road. I thanked them and headed back to the van.

That’s when the woman said, “Do you have enough gas to get there?”

I turned and answered as honestly as I could, “I don’t know.”

She looked at me for a minute and told me she would be right back. A few minutes later she showed up with a five gallon container of gas and a nozzle. I dumped half the gas into the tank, sealed the container and started to take out my wallet. She just waved her hand side to side, while saying, “No you don’t owe me anything.” Back then gas was over four dollars a gallon and I told her I would really like to pay for it.

She looked at me and said, “No that’s not how we do things around here. Not too long ago a young college girl was traveling through with her cat and she almost ran out of gas. She wanted to pay me as well but I told her ‘Honey you don’t owe me anything. That’s not how we do things here.’ I told her just give me a hug and we would call it even.”

I looked at the lady and replied, “Well, I’ll give you a hug.”

She smiled and said, “No. No I’m all hot and sweaty.”

Now don’t read a lot into this because I was under a lot of distress from almost running out of gas but I relied, “I like hot and sweaty.” And with that I reached over and gave her a hug. To her credit she hugged me back while giving me a few pats on the back for good measure.

Then the lady and I stood there talking for a minute while unbeknownst to me Char was coaching Desiree inside the van. “Now when he gets in the van DON’T say anything. DON’T laugh. He’ll just get mad.” I’m sure we all know that’s not true and Char was giving her future daughter in law some bad advice.

Getting into the van, I headed down highway 83 to the nearest gas station located in Walnut when I noticed the movie had stopped and there was silence in the van. I looked in the rear view mirror and asked a simple question, “How you doing Desiree?” She burst into laughter.

Somewhere along highway 83 she caught her breath long enough to say, “I can’t believe you said ‘I like hot and sweaty!’” More laughter ensued not only by Desiree but by Char as well.

I got to the first gas station I could find in Walnut and asked if they needed anything. They were both laughing so hard I just assumed the answer was no.

I filled up with gas, bought a bottle of water then got back into the van where they were both still laughing. Getting onto I-80 they were both still laughing. Fifteen miles down the road they were both still laughing. Finally, I said, “Okay that’s enough.” My words are powerful so they got themselves under control within the next thirty miles.

Yet, every few miles either Desiree or Char would just burst out in uncontrollable laughter. It was a long trip.

So what about my second trip to Marne? Char and I drove through there on a recent road trip. I took some pictures but more importantly I left thinking how we could use more towns, and more people like those in Marne, Iowa.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sunday Funnies

A minister waited in line to have his car filled with gas just before a long holiday weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead of him. Finally, the attendant motioned him toward a vacant pump.

"Reverend," said the young man, "I'm so sorry about the delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip."

The minister chuckled,”I know what you mean. It's the same in my business."