My last testimony centered around my coming to the realization that my life as a Christian must be about “Loving God and Loving Others.” When Jesus was asked, “what is the greatest commandment?” He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 36-40) This is a high bar; it does not say some of your heart, some of your soul, or some of your mind. It says all. That would be everything about you, the whole nine yards, the whole shooting match, all the way in, meaning there is no sitting on the fence. Now that is a tall order, one that you can’t handle on your own.
The good news is, we don’t have to try to go it alone: Jesus’ death and His resurrection for us provides the answer. Accept Him as your Savior, and you will become a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) He will fill you with the Holy Spirit that will allow you to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind. I know; it happened to me. I am not the man that I was before being saved. I was of this world, pleasing me took precedence, leaning on my own understanding guided me, and seeking earthly treasures were my primary pursuits. Billy Graham once wrote, “the opposite of Godly love is selfishness,” you know where I stood there. That’s right, it was all about me.
How did I change? For me, it began with my mind. I was a John Wayne character type of guy, independent, self-reliant, and listened to myself (i.e., leaned on my own understanding). With the Holy Spirit’s help, I did as Paul writes about in Romans 8:8, I allowed myself to be transformed by renewing my mind. How we think determines how we act and with whom we interact. I sought to change by allowing my thoughts to be shaped by His Word, fellowship with other Christians, worship, and prayer. I’ve deliberately tried to fill myself with things of God by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me.
It isn’t always easy as my old stubborn will is still there, saying, take it easy, Al, your 78. You don’t have to work so hard, put yourself first today; don’t go to church today, sleep in; skip that Bible study this week; quit supporting so many causes; let someone else give that needy person a ride to the doctor; and so on. Let me share a recent example where I had to fight off my old will and listen to God’s will.
I love photography for many reasons, especially landscape photography. We are blessed with amazing scenery in West Virginia that speaks to this earthly home as being Almost Heaven. My passion allows me to be engulfed in the beauty of God’s creation and provides me an opportunity to “Reveal God’s Glory.” One of the ways I get to do that is by creating a West Virginia Scenic Calendar. When I first started developing it about ten years ago, I didn’t do it to make money. But I quickly began getting requests for copies. For nearly five years, any funds I made, I donated to my church’s youth group to help fund their mission trips.
Five years ago, a brother in our Bible study group suggested that we could probably make some money selling calendars to help those in need. We were, and still are, a small group of about 20 Christian men from various churches in Upshur County that meet at 6:30 a.m. every Friday. We had been meeting for three to four years prior to our decision to try to embark on an outreach ministry to help disadvantaged families and children that we call “Help us Help Kids.” The decision to do so coincided with the devastating floods in southern West Virginia. We coined the term Band of Brothers and decided to try to help people ravaged by the flash floods by providing Christmas presents and food for the holidays. We were completely overwhelmed as we raised over $20,000, allowing us to help families, most of which were living in temporary places, in Clay, Kanawha, and Webster counties. We were able to do so at Christmas and the following Easter. We were also able to help several local youth programs closer to home as well as mission trips to other countries. People’s generosity was extraordinary as we were able to bless many more people and kids than we ever dreamed of doing. Each of the next three years, our “Help us Help Kids” outreach has grown tremendously.
Then comes 2020 and the pandemic. On top of that, I had turned 78 and am slowing down considerably. I had pretty much decided that last year was the last for me to lead the effort. I am also sure that some of the brothers were relieved for the break as it is very time-consuming. When the pandemic lockdown came about canceling all activities/events/programs, it seemed to suggest that a “Help us Help Kids” initiative was not in the cards this year. For me, it meant I would have my September to December to myself. Whew, I can relax. Not!
Eventually, things gradually opened up, and we resumed our fellowship Fridays, albeit in a socially distanced fashion. It was wonderful to be regularly back in the Word again! Each week, we close our Bible study with prayer, with each brother lifting-up their concerns and praises. Every once in a while, we would talk about and pray for the dear people residing in nursing homes. As the summer went on, the plight of nursing home residents began to consume my mind. I often pray in the morning, asking the Lord how He can use me that day. I couldn’t shake the plight of nursing home residents from my mind. It became apparent that helping them in some fashion was His will for me. One Friday, I broached the idea of revisiting the calendar project one more time and focusing on the most vulnerable amongst us. I am sure somewhere in my mind, I was hoping that some of the brothers would say, “Al, that’s too difficult to do.” No one did. Although I didn’t get any “that’s a great idea,” I did recognize there was a great need.
At the time I raised the idea to my brothers, we happened to be studying 1 Corinthians in which the Apostle Paul writes that the greatest of “faith, hope, and love” is love. He encouraged the Corinthians and us to pursue love, just as Jesus did in His greatest commandment scripture. We can think of few people who need love more at this moment than those lonely souls in nursing homes, where residents feel abandoned and long for contact with their loved ones.
“Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”Proverbs 16:3
The die was cast. So, we decided to take on the challenge of working with as many nursing homes as possible. The goal was to shine some light in those dark places to uplift as many residents as possible this Christmas. Once we made that decision, the challenge was HOW? We couldn’t attend all the venues (craft shows/bazaars, civic group meetings, church meetings, etc.) as we have done in the past. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” So, we chose to turn it over to the Lord and trust Him. Then we set about communicating our message through social media, the local press, churches, and word of mouth. That message is resonating with people locally, across the state, nationally, and even in England. As I am typing this late on a Sunday evening, my phone just dinged. It was a lady whom I don’t know that lives in State College, PA. She texted me via Facebook to say she is sending us a donation.
As I write this, we have surpassed last year’s record total of $32,000. We stand at $41,107 with over 880 calendars sold. I thought we wouldn’t sell more than five hundred calendars. Is our God awesome or what!?
Our goal of helping at least 10 to 15 nursing homes or more is now achievable, proving Solomon definitely knew what he was talking about, and with God, everything is possible.
I could have easily taken the fall off this year. But that would have been selfish. Paul encourages us all to remain steadfast and to “always abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that our work is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58), whether we are 28, 48, 78, or some other age.
If you supported our “Help us Help Kids from 1 to 92” project, it should be special for you knowing that you helped put a much-needed smile on some elderly folks’ faces this Christmas. God bless you.
Feature images: Backyard Photography