The Character that Counts By Jo Russell

January 29, 2012

In just a few days, some school child in the under-twelve group demonstrating the shiniest sterling character of the month–helpfulness–would be a star! Announced by the principal and featured on the office bulletin board, the Character Count kid got more fanfare than those on the honor roll. Competition was fierce!

At lunchtime, just as Robert’s orange fish crackers slipped out of the bag and speckled the concrete around a picnic table outside, his brother dived on his belly and slid to the center of the cracker spill. “Wait, Robert! I’ll help you!” Billy promised.

In no time and without a broom, the seven-year-old tidied up the large area while a crowd of envious boys and girls watched Billy in action.

“Wow!” Peggy told her friend, “Lucky Billy! I wish I got to the crackers first.”

“Teacher! Teacher! Look what I did!” Billy exclaimed soon after. He pointed to the clean concrete. “Robert spilled his fishy crackers. I helped him clean them all up by eating them!”

Billy’s motivation for his helpfulness was to be the star of the month—and he got a snack, at the same time!

What had started as a good idea had snowballed into little people doing things mostly for the attention.

Jesus himself said, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1.

Being helpful in secret? That is truly the character that counts.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog weekly on Button-to-God.com.]

Valuing Life As God Does By Jo Russell

Sanctity of Life Sunday, January 22, 2012

Backing out of a driveway in a residential neighborhood, I was stunned when a teen girl with a very round belly pulled open my passenger door. She was gasping. Her baby was nearly full term.

“Please, could you take me to…,” she started. I had already figured she would finish, “The hospital.” Instead, she continued, “the Justice Court. My friends forgot to pick me up.”

As I drove her a few blocks to the court, she told me that the father of her baby had broken her hand and her ribs. She was charging him with assault. She held up her hand, “See, it’s crooked.”

Tears of anger came to my eyes. Though I see my mission as helping others help themselves, I had felt myself harden after recent experiences. Some frequently abused women I had mentored just accepted the violence against them and their children.

“Don’t back down! He needs to know he can’t treat anyone like that, not a woman, child, not anyone! You are too valuable!” I began, but stopped. She knew anger already–in her broken bones. Instead, in Christian love, I talked about how much God loves all of us, including her and her baby. I sent her off with a prayer for safety.

Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” Think on these words, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’” Jeremiah 1:4-5 [NIV]

God has outlined the futures for the teen mom and her child. Through time and experiences, these two unique people will develop, grow, and blossom.

One recent prominent billboard shows a healthy, beautiful baby, and the message proclaims, “God is Pro Life.” Amen to that.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

The “God Loves You” House by Jo Russell

Someone soaped our front windows and it wasn’t even close to Halloween!
Spurred to action, I cleaned the scribbles off first, then took a thick orange bar and wrote “God Loves You!” across the front picture windows.

I asked my teen sons to clean the windows later in the month, but by that time, window washing would have been smearing ice over the glass because of the winter temperatures. Also the word “windows” was not in their vocabulary nor their agenda. They simply don’t do suds and glass.

The prominent message turned out to be useful. “Turn left on Center, then find the ‘God Loves You’ house on the corner!” Or, “Our house has bright accent colors and a ‘God Loves You’ message on the front windows.”

As weeks went by and winter turned to spring, my sons walked by the message daily, failing to notice. Wholesome outdoor activities continued in the front yard with friends while I was still at work. Soon I found a film clip starring my teens. One son had been jumping a bicycle over four other young men lying in the front yard like sardines. The “God Loves You” message was bright in the background. Soon after, I heard from angry, wet neighbors who had been squirted with a hose through their car window. I lectured about the “God loves you” mission statement at our house.

One of my sons brought up the topic of the windows.

“When are you going to clean them off?”

“Remember, I asked you to do it. Actually, I thought it was a great message in the neighborhood. Did you notice no one has tried to soap the windows since?”

“Yeah, but no one has washed them, either.”

“I wasn’t planning to wash them until summer. I am growing to like it very much!”

“Geez, Mom! You’re embarrassing us!” The two teens disappeared inside and came out with rags and the window cleaner. They worked until the picture windows shined like crystal.

Soon after, I was headed out the door to the dusty truck with an orange bar of soap. One of my sons stopped me to demand, “Where are you going with that?”

“I thought many in the community could benefit from a ‘God loves you’ message on the back window of the truck! Don’t you?”

I didn’t get a chance to soap my message on the vehicle. My young men washed the truck and shined all the windows, too. God surely does work in mysterious ways!

Motherhood is a job that deserves, but never gets a nomination for the Presidential Motherhood Medal of Honor. Moms are in the line of fire in enemy territory. Women learn that to stay steadfast in raising children is like trying to keep a car steady as when you just had a tire blow out. In Proverbs 20:11, Solomon penned these words: “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.”

Moms, stick to your agenda and your standards. The troops will come around.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

Do Red Trucks Have More Fun? By Jo Russell

Glancing at my watch after I spewed gravel in an arch while parking for a meeting, I grumbled, “Shoot! Ten minutes late! I hate this!”

Dashing inside, I explained to Richard, the leader, “Sorry for being tardy. I have always heard that red vehicles get stopped more. Guess research is right!”

Richard studied me with a smile, and then remarked, “Actually, I know for sure that drivers of red pick-ups, like yours, get pulled over for breaking the law.”

Yep. Police Officer David had called Richard, his dad, before I got there. Busted! Fellow church member David was serving his first day on the job. He had to pull me over for speeding. The young man’s face had been as red as my truck. After several decades of driving down the main drag, I couldn’t claim ignorance of the speed limit.

It was time for me to take responsibility for my own actions. The color of my pick-up was not the problem. It was my foot on the gas pedal.
Remembering the large donation for a previous speeding fine, I flinched.

However, God had gotten my attention. The message: slow down!
“Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Hebrew 12:5-6. God loves me and wants me uninjured and able to do His work.

But just as we as parents had corrected our children, God disciples us. Don’t miss the motive for it all: He loves us. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

Rena’s Resolution By Jo Russell New Year’s Day, 2012

Rena lined up her four boys and lovable family dog in order of size: Brent, age 16; Rick, 13, Rodney, 8 and Shawn, 6. Last in line in front of the garage was Floppy Joe, a shaggy brown mutt with ears that hung down like pancakes.

A successful businesswoman who ran a pre-school, Rena knew how to handle children. She wore a look that would stop traffic. She waited for silence from her sons. It came quickly. Even the flies stopped buzzing.

“This is the new family car,” Rena announced. “Your dad and I haven’t had a new car since Rick was born. So these are the new rules: No trash in the van! No eating! No milkshakes! Forget riding in wet swim suits! No cleats on the carpet, and no throwing up! When we park, no one will bang the doors into cars parked next to us. We will keep this car clean and polished. That will take teamwork from all of us. Any questions?”

“What about Floppy Joe?” Shawn patted the dog as the animal swatted at his own ears. An irreverent puff of dust within soiling distance of the polished new van shot out of Floppy’s fur. “Can he still ride with us?

“As long as you put a towel on the seat for him to sit on.”

Despite her best intentions and the boys’ efforts, life happened and the van took the rap for it. On day twenty, a shopping cart careened into the van, denting the rear quarter panel. Soon after, young Shawn grew woozy coming down a twisted mountain road. Rena warned him, “Whatever you do, don’t throw up in the van!” She tossed her large purse in the back seat. “Do it on my purse!” But he couldn’t stop himself and decorated the carpet instead.

Weeks later, Floppy Joe (on a scrunched-up towel) dropped to the floor to lick up grease from a juicy hamburger. “Who was eating in the van? Where did all this sauce and goo come from?” Rena never got an answer. Nobody was talking.

Car washing and detailing improved the van, but the family no longer cleaned it on a regular basis. Rena’s resolution that was supposed to last a decade or so went by the wayside in weeks, as they often do.

That’s life.

Paul advises, “Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks for all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 [NIV]

My resolution was to improve my relationship with God by doing better at my prayer time. My spiritual life deepened two-fold when I took ten minutes at the table to pray with my sons and share a short Bible study. My faith leaped with growth when I prayed and studied every day, even when a rotating work schedule forced me to do prayer/study time anytime from 3:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. As a person who would probably test as Attention Deficit Disorder today, I recently learned to keep more focused by praying out loud. Too often, I had found myself in “La La Land,” skimming the written petitions and praises each day. If I’m not paying attention, is God? Hearing the words gives more weight, attention, and importance to prayers when I read them aloud.

Like Rena, I am not always consistent in my resolutions. However, I can make a new start if I fail. Overall, God guides me to stay on the path. I move forward.

So don’t give up if you fall. Begin again with a promise to yourself. Decide and do it, day by day. God will be helping along the way.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, check her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]