Day 19: Loving your neighbors — on a budget

You know all those wonderful things you’d like to do for your neighbors? Flowers when they are sick. Inviting them over for tea. Spoiling the kids a tiny bit.

It all takes money, and sometimes a tight budget makes it tough to be as generous as you’d like to be.

But I do have some suggestions…

loving your neighbors on a budget

loving your neighbor on a budget

Those flowers you’d like to take to the hospital? You could stop by a thrift store and buy a vase or a pot — maybe even something not originally designed to hold a plant. I bought one this week for $1.50 because all green tags were half off. If you have the space, you could grow an easy-to-propagate ivy or a spider plant and then your get well wishes would be very affordable, especially if you plan ahead and have one or two potted plants available all the time.

loving your neighbors on a budget

Interested in inviting someone over for tea or maybe a casual dinner with a friend and her husband? With three boys, I don’t always have extra glasses, much less extra place settings, and I don’t want to invest in more until the boys are a bit older and are able to be more gentle. So, I picked up seven place settings of vintage china for $15 at a thrift store. It was a small investment of money and storage space — and I won’t be upset when something gets broken.

If you are looking for ways to save time and money on meals, there are several Websites full of great ideas.

loving your neighbors on a budget

Need a small gift? I’m planning to have the boys paint these small wooden bowls and then use them to hold keys and jewelry but I got this idea from my very talented friend Alice — who shows you how to take this upcycling project to a chic new level.

loving your neighbors on a budget

If a jewelry holder isn’t the right gift, consider browsing your recycling bin for free glass jars. Most labels come off easily with hot water and then you can fill them with cookies or beautiful handmade projects like these.

loving your neighbors on a budget

My family loves Story Cubes, where you roll the cubes and use whatever it lands on to create a story. I wanted to personalize the game a bit for a recent trip we took to the Adirondacks, so I took camping stickers and added them to wooden blocks that I found at a craft store. Easy… and a great, inexpensive gift for kids!

What budget-friendly suggestions do you have for loving your neighbor?

Day 13: A chance to win a gift for you or a neighbor

Pirates on the FarmRemember those two children’s books I was raving about a few days ago — the ones with such a great message of loving your neighbor? Well, the kind people at Zonderkidz are letting me give away one set of books to you, my wonderful readers!

Here are the rules:

  • Look through the archives here at Simply Faithful and find your favorite post.
  • Share that post online or even in person with a friend.
  • Tell me you did it — and which post you liked the best.

The contest starts at noon today and ends at noon on Thursday (Eastern time zone).

I hope you have fun with this, and I can’t wait to see who wins!

Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door

Day 10: Teaching children how to love their neighbors

Friends, a lot — and I mean A LOT — of children’s books come through my house, and one of the books that means the most to me is Pirates on the Farm by Denette Fretz. It’s funny. It’s educational (even has a glossary of pirate terms!). It has strong characters, and it offers a beautiful message of loving your neighbors. I recommend it every chance I get. That’s why I was delighted to interview Denette, who now has a second book in her series, Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door.

I just love her writing, and her answers to my questions? Well, I think you’ll find true wisdom in them. Enjoy…

Denette Fretz

Pirates on the FarmHow do kids learn to love their neighbors?

As children learn a new mathematics concept, how to play an instrument, or how to compete in a sport, parents and mentors recognize foundational skills, role models, instruction, and practice are necessary. We would agree that children learn to read by reading or to write by writing. When it comes to spiritual training, however, adult influencers often feel children should just “know better.” Training children to “love your neighbor as yourself” is more difficult than learning long division or how to play the piano. Our children are at war with their sinful natures and an “all about me” culture. They need the foundation of the Holy Spirit and—like mastering and maintaining any ability—they need role models, instruction, and repeated practice.

We always seem to focus on parents but are there roles for other people, too?

When a baby is dedicated at the church I attend, the pastor has the congregation covenant to do our part in raising the child. In community, each person who comes in contact with a child—a grandparent, relative, teacher, coach, daycare provider or neighbor—has the opportunity to exhibit and speak Christ’s compassion.

Conrad and the Cowgirl Next DoorWhat are some practical ways to teach compassion? What can I do with my toddler, my 7-year-old and my teen?

I began teaching almost thirty years ago and have observed a huge decline in the percentage auditory learners. Children cannot only be told how to “love your neighbor.” They must see love in action and have opportunities to practice.

  • Model, model, model.

Be compassionate to your child. Let him see loving responses to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Admit it when you “blow it,” and ask for forgiveness. Is your speech compassionate towards others when they hurt, offend, or fail you? Is loving your neighbor something you do, or who you are? If compassion is not modeled inside the home, every kindness shown outside of it will be viewed as hypocrisy.

  • Target the subject of compassion in Scripture.

There’s a reason that “love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment—the ability to fulfill it lies in the first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-39.) Start with Christ’s example of love and compassion to teach your child how to love God and others. Then, use biblical examples of compassion such as the stories of Joseph (Genesis, chapters 37, 39-45) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

As you study scripture with your child, try to make it auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Avoid supplying all the answers. Rather than regurgitating rote replies, your child needs to use higher-level thinking skills and to apply biblical truths. Have her analyze the Bible stories. Why didn’t the priest or the Levite help the injured man? How do I apply the story of the Good Samaritan at home? At school?

Both books in The Next Door Series show the love-your-neighbor problem being resolved through illustrations. My goal is for the child to analyze and synthesize the what, why, how, and outcome—rather than being told through text.

  • Provide “practice.”

Family missions trips are fantastic experiences. However, loving neighbors is a lifestyle, not a periodic event. Help your child identify needs he can help meet in your home, neighborhood, school, church, community, and through mission experiences. What helps Mom when she is tired? Who needs a friend at recess? Why is Mrs. Jeffer’s lawn so long?

At the private Christian school where I work, teachers are required to clean their own classrooms. Late last Friday afternoon, a colleague supervised her six and eight-year-old daughters as they vacuumed and dusted my classroom. This coworker is teaching a new grade level and had no more time (or energy) to vacuum than I did. Her actions were a fabulous love-your-neighbor-lesson for her kids, and an enormous end-of-the-week blessing to me.

  • Creatively integrate each child’s God-given gifts and interests.

Engage your children by incorporating what they already love to do. A toddler could sing to an ailing friend or paint covers on homemade greeting cards. An animal-loving seven-year-old could walk a shut-in’s dog. The math-genius, Xbox-absorbed teen could tutor a struggling friend, or invite a social outcast over for video games.

  • Use relational conflicts and mistakes as teaching opportunities.

When my teenagers were preschoolers, I made a decision to view disobedience, sibling arguments, and relationship conflicts as teaching opportunities instead of parenting failures. My motto became, “How will they know, unless I teach them?”

With parents’ hectic schedules, it is easiest to tell a child how she did not show love to a “neighbor,” offer a solution or administer a consequence, and move on. Instead, guide your child as she analyzes the problem, her actions, and what she will do differently next time. Have your child evaluate her behavior in light of what she knows about the Bible. Role play responses to the current conflict and be proactive in addressing potential issues. “Pretend your best friends say you can’t play because their game is ‘only for two.’ How do you respond?” Or, “Show me what you do when you hear gossip about a friend.”

  • Pray with your child

Prayer is a compassionate response to others’ needs. Teach your child to pray for hurting people as well as for “neighbors” who have hurt him. Christ modeled compassionate prayer for those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NLT)

Why did you choose this theme for your books? And why did you include characters who are more challenging to love?

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the theme of The Next Door Series because if children can learn to live the second commandment, other relational issues—unkindness, fighting, gossip, stealing, lying about a sibling, jealousy, etc.—submit to love. Jesus said, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based” on loving God and loving your neighbor. (See Matthew 22:40, NLT.)

I also want children to see all people as individuals in need of God’s grace and not as stereotypes. Challenging “characters” are included in my books because they are a part of every child’s life. Matthew 5:47a (NLT) says, “If you love only those who love you, how are you different from anyone else?” It is at points of great contrast—light against dark, right verses wrong, kindness for cruelty—where Christ’s reflection is obvious and souls are impacted for His kingdom.

Day 9: 8 ways to share love with your family this month

ways to show love to family

IMG_7848I find the neighbors I love the most are the ones who share a home with me – and I find it’s the love closest to me that I test and stretch and fail the most.

If I’m not careful, I focus on chores left undone and toys scattered across the floor instead of the way the little one runs into my arms and the way his daddy holds my hand and my heart. I complain about the eye rolling and forget to notice the teenager still tells me he loves me. I want my office area nice and neat, but isn’t the mess worth it when Benjamin likes to sit at my desk and create?

This month I’m hoping to do a better job of loving the neighbors nearest to me. Some things I’m considering:

  • Sharing stories about family history because sometimes the best love stories are true.
  • Volunteering as a family. I know of a food pantry that would let us put together celebration bags and donate them to families with upcoming birthdays – and that would make my party-loving son smile.
  • Playing a game or creating a memory jar where I say what I admire about my family or what I’ve learned from them.
  • Taking time to really solve one of our repeat arguments. If it’s a frustration that shows up again and again, maybe I should be proactive and protect people’s feelings.
  • Planning a day where we sample each other’s interests. We could spend 20 minutes at the train museum, 20 minutes building a Star Wars Lego set and another 20 minutes browsing at a used bookstore.
  • Documenting today by snapping a few family pictures or taking a quick video of our everyday, silly lives.
  • Giving the gift of time. Sitting on the porch and reading a favorite book out loud. Making the banana bread because it makes his day. Sneaking away from the pile of laundry and calling my mama.
  • Celebrating something – anything. I’m thinking of lighting candles and pulling out the nice placemats. I might even put those leftover streamers and balloons to good use just to make my people feel special. Because they are.

I know 20 minutes at the museum and a loaf of banana bread won’t magically make me more loving toward my family, but maybe they are enough to adjust my thinking and reset the dial toward gratitude.

Day 7: Loving far away family and friends

Distance doesn't have to make us distantFriends, do you know what my most popular blog post is here at Simply Faithful? Any guesses?

It’s the one where I offer 42 fun things to send to kids you love — and I think it is most popular because it is the most needed. We all know people who have moved and taken parts of our hearts with them, and we want those relationships to remain strong even if we are far apart.

So today, for those of us with loved ones outside of arms’ reach, I’ll offer those ideas again…

When I pulled out of my driveway in Oklahoma and headed out for a new job in New York, it was my relationship with my nieces and nephews that I worried about the most. You see, I always wanted to be that aunt. The one who took you to movies. The one who invited you to spend the night — or the week. The one who thought you were perfect at 3, at 13 and even at 30. That aunt.

I decided early on that I wouldn’t let distance make me distant. So, here are 42 ways you can stay close, too.

Using books

For an older child, I sent books from the “Chronicles of Narnia” and then called to discuss them. For a newborn niece in another state, I created the Aunt Marketta Monthly Book Club. Each month a new book arrived for her library.

We’ve been known to read books on Skype, but I also recommend reading a book and uploading it to YouTube so your loved one can hear you reading anytime.

And for those of you who are grandmothers, try “My Grandma & Me,” which is a 68-page, newly released devotional book by Crystal Bowman. It’s designed to be shared not just with the grandchildren on your lap but for your grandchildren everywhere.

Crystal Bowman

“Today’s Christian parents have a tougher job than I did,” Bowman told me, adding that Grandma and Grandpa and aunts and uncles need to reinforce values and spiritual lessons. “Children need to hear Biblical truths from more than just parents.”

Fun things to send through the mail

(I like to keep padded envelopes on-hand. That way I can get everything ready at home and then just run it in to the post office.) 

  1. Stickers

    Simple handmade card and a sheet of stickers

  2. Books. (Always check Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I buy children’s books there for $2.29… and sometimes less!)
  3. Pictures from your town
  4. A toy from your childhood
  5. A toddler’s wallet that you make yourself. Learn more here.
  6. A card with your hand traced on it. Maybe add the book “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
  7. A page from a coloring book that you have colored. A page for your friend to color.
  8. Homemade cookies or a treat that’s unique to your location
  9. Gift card to McDonald’s
  10. Photo album of your family
  11. A bookmark. Here’s how to make one from the pages of a comic book.
  12. I-spy bottles that are easy-peasy to make

    I-spy bottle… formerly Diet Coke bottle

  13. Photo album that shows  a day in your life. (My best friend sent my boys a book she made about harvesting wheat, and they love it.)
  14. Candy kisses or hugs
  15. Paper banners for holidays, like this garland made of hearts
  16. Crayons — or better yet — crayons that are upcycled into fun shapes. Here’s how.
  17. Temporary tattoos
  18. Trading cards
  19. Video messages sent via cell phone or burned to DVD
  20. A file folder game for the pre-school crowd. You can customize your own (maybe a game where you match the name to the picture of the cousin) or download one of these super cute ones.
  21. Matchbox cars
  22. A series of cards or maybe pumpkin cut-outs that start with “I’m thankful for you because…”
  23. Finger puppets. (They are $1 at Michael’s or make your own bunny hand puppet using this tutorial. Perfect for Easter!)
  24. ABC book based on scriptures. Download. Print. Cut. Assemble. Enjoy.
  25. Magnet from your state
  26. CD of favorite songs
  27. Christmas ornament. Maybe buy two — one for you and one for your loved one.
  28. Calendar with handwritten notes, scriptures and jokes on it
  29. Lunchbox notes, slipped in with help from Mom or Dad
  30. Postcards when you travel
  31. Regular letters, sent in crazy cute envelopes you make yourself
  32. Tickets to a local museum or zoo
  33. Your favorite comic strip from the newspaper
  34. Deck of puzzle cards or flash cards

    Puzzle cards and flash cards from Dollar Tree

  35. Erasers in fun shapes
  36. Origami creatures
  37. Small notebooks or customized ones like these with their favorite characters
  38. Trace your head and arms to send a hug
  39. Jokes from places like Paging Supermom
  40. Craft supplies
  41. Shrinky Dink jewelry
  42. Puzzles. You can make your own with craft sticks.

P.S. Visit for the happiest mail you’ve ever seen!

Day 6: What to do when your neighbors live with you

Isaiah 55:12I’m great at loving my neighbors in theory and from a distance. But the neighbors who live the closest — my family — see me at my best and at my worst. And those precious neighbors? They need to see more of my best.

Some things I’ve been thinking about:
• I should maybe re-read “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” and pick up the version for kids. Here’s a free printable based on that series to help you better love your children.
• After four years of painting airplanes in the Navy, my husband can’t stand the smell of nail polish. So, I paint my nails on the porch. It’s a small thing, but it helps him. What else could I do? How could I take this idea to the next level?
• My husband and oldest son have attention deficit disorder, and I find myself irritated at their lack of organization and time management. And, to be honest, it creates tension in our home. I wonder what role my expectations are playing… and are they reasonable? Are there areas where we would all be better served if I chose grace?
• It might help to revisit some of Stormie Omartian’s books, where she writes daily prayers for the people in your life. One of my favorite wedding gifts was a book of hers on the subject of praying for your husband.
• There’s a scripture that has been clanking around in my head for more than a year now. It is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 55. It’s just the beginning of verse 12: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…” My understanding is that this wasn’t written as a lesson for families, but every time I think of the verse for some reason I picture my home and I wonder if I’m helping my husband and boys to be joyful. Do they have peace? Am I strengthening them – or draining them?

How do you offer your best to the neighbors who live with you?

How to use what you have to teach kids about faith

how to use what you have to teach kids about faith
how to use what you have to teach kids about faith

Mama used to joke that I’d be the only bride who registered at junk stores for wedding gifts.

I think that started after I found a pair of wooden theater seats tucked away in a store that looked like a chaotic indoor flea market. Or, now that I think about it, maybe she said that after I drug home that old Army chest.

Regardless, no one was surprised when I bought what looks like a shallow wooden basket and put it – chipping paint and all – on our coffee table. I, however, am surprised by how helpful it has been in talking with our family about faith.

I started by filling the basket with seasonal items and stringing a tiny banner made out of scrapbook paper across the handle. Within minutes, I found out that this was prime real estate in our house. Anything I put in the basket would be touched and read and rearranged by our boys. So, I started using the basket more purposefully.

In the spring I scoured the house for anything bee related and brought it to the coffee table, along with books on God and animals. Soon I’m planning to borrow the wooden fruit and vegetables from the boys’ pretend kitchen and talk about what we learn about God from watching seeds grow and be harvested.

Eventually I want to pull together quiet bags that inspire questions and conversations much the same way the basket does – only in a portable fashion for those times when we find ourselves waiting or needing to be silent.

I also mix in storybook bibles and other faith-related books with the stacks of Star Wars and train titles we read, and religious music is in the rotation for family dinners. I write scriptures and prayer requests on the chalkboard in the kitchen.

If I want faith to be at the center of my family’s lives, it helps for faith to be at the center of our home. So, I use what I have – even a wooden basket with chipping paint and crumbs of chalk – to teach and shape, to question and invite.

And I pray that God will take my chipped and broken efforts and use it all for his glory.

If I want faith to be at the center of my family’s lives, it helps for faith to be at the center of our home.