Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Saying Yes Where You Are

“(God) says to ordinary people like me and you that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead.” – Bob Goff, Love Does

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I knew that we would quickly fall for the Albanian children at the orphanage. I felt it when the oldest, an eight-year-old girl with a gleam of mischief in her eyes, took the opportunity once the translator stepped out of the room to speak directly to the unsuspecting Americans:

What’s your name?”

This bright, bubbly child turned out to be a pint-sized translator herself:

Me – “Crayon?”

L – “Lapsi.”

Me – “Orange?”

L – “Portokalli.”

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My memories of my friend and her little sister are rooted in my heart. I was allowed to take a few pictures on our last day together. Most of the pictures are blurry, and eventually my mind’s eye will grow dim, but the eyes of my soul cannot un-see these children.

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But there was a time (not so long ago) when I succumbed to a feeling of helplessness at the darkness and suffering and injustice in our world and I basically chose to “un-see” the needful person across the street and across the sea.

My question was this – What can one ordinary person do to make a difference?

As I struggled with my hesitations and limitations, the Holy Spirit nudged me with another question, plus a challenge:

What difference does Jesus make in my life? Start there.

As I thought about these things, I read books by Richard Stearns, Henry Blackaby, and Emily Freeman which encouraged me to bridge the gap between sacred and secular and to open my eyes to all of life, even in my ordinariness, as my offering.

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Whatever you and I do, we are designed like no one else to say something unique and purposeful about God with our lives. As Emily Freeman says, creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were meant to do. God has created you, Image Bearer, to know Him and to express Him in a million little ways.

The difference that Jesus makes in my life is that I’ve been saved by grace through faith, and Scripture says that this is a gift from God and not the outcome of my works (Ephesians 2:8). It’s tempting, in our cultural mindset, to be outcome-driven, even thinking that ministry is our deal, our doing.

But Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship, created by Him for good works He planned before we were born. What we have to offer is by God’s design and doing. Recognizing this truth has freed me from the burden of outcomes. No, I can’t change the world but I’m not called to. I’m called to offer my heart, my voice, my hands and feet and let God work as He will.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

While we’re waiting for a place where we’re significant and sufficient, He’s asking us to begin with a small step of obedience.

An outcome-mindset comes easily to someone like me who wants to do some good, feel successful in it, and make the world seem more neat and tidy.

An offering-mindset is rooted in the belief that I can do nothing good except for God’s grace in me. Sometimes – most times – this is an uncomfortable process because God shows up best through weakness and humility. But could it be that God’s work is best seen in surrendered people, not skilled people?

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In our individualistic culture, it’s tempting to see ourselves as do-good lone rangers. But Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship and we are better together as each part of the Body of Christ does its unique and valuable part. God designed us to serve alongside, not alone.

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I’m learning that yes – I have a responsibility to this world, but when I am concentrating on my gifts, my purpose, my weaknesses, my calling, I am getting in the way. It’s all His deal, and what a privilege you and I have to be a collective part of His story. Let’s be available and willing to see what He does.

We are all in full-time Christian service …. What has God given you? Moses had a stick. David had a slingshot, and Paul had a pen. Mother Teresa possessed a love for the poor; Billy Graham, a gift for preaching; and Joni Eareckson Tada, a disability. What did they have in common? A willingness to let God use whatever they had, even if it didn’t seem very useful … We may not be clear on just how God wants to use us. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Just jump in, and start doing.”  Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

God is greater than our gifts, and I think He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and open to the unexpected ways He is working. Your offering and my offering, wherever our mission fields may be, matter to Him.

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When you ask God to help you see, He will open your eyes and your heart in a way that’s unique to you. His calling may not lead you to another country. God intentionally places us in our families, neighborhoods, and local communities too. What you offer in these places is significant and sacred.

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The Great Commission is lived out through bedtime prayers, peanut butter sandwiches, a pick-up soccer game with the refugee kids, a gift to the crisis pregnancy center, a Sunday morning in the special needs class.

The hands and feet of Jesus represent the showing-up part, but they respond to the seeing part.

God invites me and you into His work. We don’t have to figure out where we fit. He will lead us when we keep our eyes open.

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So, let’s not limit ourselves by the question – What can one person do to make a difference?

Instead let’s ask – What difference does Jesus make in my life? and Where is He working?

And let us start there. We can create a ripple effect that swells into a current of life-giving love.

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“Saying yes isn’t really about doing it all. It’s about saying yes right where you are. It may seem small or insignificant, but any time you love someone or care for another person’s needs, you’re changing their world, and yours too. It’s about looking up from your everyday life and seeing opportunities around you to make a difference. It’s about loving others as we are loved.” – Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough

Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast Moving World

Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel and Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning

Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God

 

 


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Sacred September (because you are an artist and your art matters)

“We’re in a lull right now,” and I knew what the radio announcer meant — it’s the in-between of seasons. School & football have started and daylight is waning but I’m not ready for raking leaves and buying pumpkin-everything.

I’m wearing long-sleeves & jeans while my daughter is in shorts because we can’t figure out what to wear. Sandals or boots today?

Seems to early to plant pansies, but my flower beds that bloomed heartily in the heart of summer are tired and done.

September lulls me back into a reluctant place of fixing lunches and checking homework and making lists and running errands. The beginning of September, like a second January of sorts, was filled with newness and expectancy, but now our days feel stalled in the “in-between.”

Flickr - mcamcamca. CC2.0

Photo credit, mcamcamca. CC2.0

Gone are the carefree days of summer and yet to come are the cozy comforts of fall. It’s just an ordinary day.

These are the days when my creativity is as drained as my flowers, or so I think. I’d like to be inspired by the autumn reds, yellows, and oranges but those colors have yet to burst on the scene. Maybe I could compose inspirational words about Thanksgiving but it’s not the giving-thanks season.

Hmm.

Perhaps you feel this way? Could you be in an in-between place too? Life feels kind of uninspiring, maybe small. There’s nothing especially spectacular about you or your world at the moment. Maybe a season of productivity has wilted like tired flowers. Do you have anything to offer? You wonder if God is able to use you in this place, this lull.

But even if you don’t claim “art” as a profession or hobby, you’re an artist. Did you know that?  Every day you’re given opportunities to tell a story, weave words into conversation, create environments for your professional and personal relationships, and reflect the image of our creative and caring God.

God can use you in the lull. This ordinary place can be a meaningful offering, and perhaps an eye-opener to the million little ways that God is showing up in your life, ready to be expressed in your world.

I believe this because I’m reading A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman.

“When we resist living within our ordinary days, we are in danger of losing a sense of ourselves. We don’t need to walk away from our routines and daily rhythms to find something more interesting. More often we need to wake up to them” (page 118).

Sacred happens between the church aisles, but may God give us eyes to see Him in the grocery aisle, the hallways of home, the neighborhood sidewalks, and all the ordinary, ordained paths that make up life.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

I recently traveled a painful journey through sickness and loss, with crisis moments along the way. And just months ago, I experienced the kind of poverty that wrecked my insulated, North American existence.

Why, why, why would I feel dulled by ordinary days?

Perhaps in managing life, I’m missing life being beautiful.

To me, this ordinary day finds me not at the hospital or responding to an emergency or wondering where my child’s next meal will come from. In my context, ordinary is quite a gift. But I’m not entitled to ordinary. I never know when life will bottom out or go roller-coaster on me again, so each ordinary moment offers me a choice about my perspective. Will boredom or blessing set the tone of this day?

Ordinary days – September days – consist of life-giving moments. Instead of waiting for the next big thing, I want to settle into the small beauty of packing lunches and checking homework (except math).  Little moments of intimacy can matter for eternity while grandiose moments of importance might last as long as the wood, hay, and stubble.

My soul craves a giving-thanks day every day. A lull can be a holy space to simply breathe and receive grace; to stop controlling and allow Him to design the canvas; to step back and be yielded to the vision of the Artist; to pause and behold what He calls beautiful.

Ordinary is where our most God-glorifying art comes from. As we search for God’s purpose for our lives, He’s beckoning us to just pay attention to where He is working.

The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays, but in the seeking heart.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Friend, your ordinary matters.

“Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings— it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.

The things Jesus did were the most menial of everyday tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels, dishes, sandals, and all the other ordinary things in our lives reveal what we are made of more quickly than anything else. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the most menial duty as it ought to be done.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, entry for September 11.

Your art is made of whatever opportunity you have to sanctify life and glorify God. Whatever your art is – your parenting, your listening, your befriending, your mastery with numbers, your teaching, your writing, your praying, your building, your homemaking, your giving – it matters.

You are God’s workmanship, and any given day holds holy, if unexpected, moments in which He can orchestrate experiences where His glory blows your blinders off.

Fellow artist, let’s show up to the page.  Let’s be who we are and offer our ordinary without concerning ourselves with the outcomes. Sacred things happen in September.

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The meaning of our lives is not dependent upon what we make of it but of what he is making of us … What makes us come alive goes deeper that what we choose to do in our professions and our free time. What makes us come alive is life, and this life is Jesus. Painting, cooking, parenting, calculating, and conversation all have the potential to hold within them a mystery and an expression of our life in Christ.  Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways, page 30.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in five minutes.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find Him at all.” Richard Foster, Prayer.

I found the Oswald Chambers and Richard Foster quotes in Emily Freeman’s Simply Tuesday, her latest book on the grace & beauty of small-moment living.


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The Best Song You Can Sing

I’ve thought and written a lot recently about my “one-word” – receive – as I’m learning (again and again) to rest in my Father’s unconditional love.  His grace invites us to come to Him in a posture of receiving, not achieving. Nothing we do can add to or take away from His love.

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And as I study what the Bible says about receiving from God, I notice a pattern like this:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:2).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God (1 John 4:7).

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away (2 Corinthians 9:10, The Message).

Do you see the pattern? As we receive love, we’re not meant to keep it for ourselves. Love comes to us that we can release it back into love for God and love for a needful world. So I’m thinking that perhaps my “one-word” has turned into 2 words: Receive and Release are a package deal.

Friends, as beloved children of God, we are the receivers. And we grow more fully in God’s image when we are also the releasers. When we give bountifully out of our resources and our hearts, we reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Think of how different our world might be if our homes and communities were soaked with the overflow of God’s love.

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On her beautiful site, Abiding Love, Abounding Grace, Karrilee expresses what releasing looks like:

I feel Him all around and I breathe Him in!
The temptation is to hold my breath…
to keep Him in…
To fill my lungs and try to push Him down…
To swallow Gulps of God.
 But Always, He was meant to be let out!

Last year I wrote a series on speaking life, being deeply inspired by these words:

Each of us is the beloved of God. Helping others claim and realize their belovedness is a privilege and sacred responsibility. This means we learn to be “for” our friends and family and not against them. Being for people means that we believe they are God’s beloved. (Stephen W. Smith)

To me, this being “for people,” this speaking for the belovedness of every person, especially those who cannot speak for themselves, is my sacred responsibility to release love.

This coming Sunday – January 18 – is Sanctity of Human life Sunday, and being “pro-life” is much more than taking sides and resigning this perspective to a political platform. It’s a worldview that embraces each person that God has created, from “womb to tomb” as our pastor says. It’s “a way of looking at life that transcends culture, class, race, age, and opinion, knowing that we are all uniquely created in the image of God” (The Dignity of Human Life video).

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Friend, you are created in God’s image. You are fashioned uniquely by Him for a purpose. He longs for you to receive His love and then to release it into your world. When you and I understand ourselves as the Beloved and the Image-Bearers, there is no limit to the difference we can make through our receiving and releasing.

As I wrote about speaking life, I learned many things, especially that it is not a solo effort. Rather it is a symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person.

Fellow Image-Bearer, God created you with something to offer, and you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – add to a chorus that can change a world one life at a time.  YOU have something to say, someone to bless, and your receiving and releasing gives glory to God, like breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praiseIt’s the best song you can sing.

As Sarah Bessey beautifully says, “If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand in yours, then you are loving the world … And so the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our days can tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world.”

“If there is one soul in your care, one (2)

May the following words inspire us to present our unique offerings, embrace the ordained ordinary, see weaknesses not as obstacles but as opportunities, and surrender the outcomes as our opened bag of loaves and fishes:

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those who sang best. Henry Van Dyke

“If your personal genome sequence were written out longhand, it would be a three-billion-word book. The King James Version has 783,137 words, so your genetic code is the equivalent of approximately four thousand Bibles … My point? You aren’t just surrounded by miracles.  You are one.” Mark Batterson, The Grave Robber

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“There are many false ways of achieving uniqueness. These all result from attempts to create a self rather than receive the gift of myself in Christ. . . Identity is never simply a creation. It is always a discovery.” {Thank you, Emily Freeman, for sharing these words from David G. Benner. I’m eager to read his book, The Gift of Being Yourself}

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Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
~ Saint Teresa of Avila

Releasing God’s love and our art in a way that reflects His glory is our highest purpose and greatest joy.

Join me in the song?

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Thank you, Lisa of {www.lisanotes.com} for introducing me to some truly inspiring thoughts from Sarah Bessey. Lisa’s post on Women in the Kingdom is filled with encouraging words about receiving and releasing for the sake of the Kingdom.

Linking with Beloved Brews Thursday @ Faith Barista. Fellow writers in Bonnie’s community are sharing their “one-words” for 2015. Bonnie’s offering a giveaway too, worth $100!

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Linking with Lyli and her friends who offer challenging, encouraging, and inspiring words @ Thought-Provoking Thursday.

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Linking today with Kelly and her encouraging community at Purposeful Faith and the #RaRaLinkUp. Find inspiration by clicking {here}.

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Does your heart need a pick-me-up? Join us over at Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart by clicking {here}. Holley is offering a giveaway today too 🙂

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Random & Real Things I Learned in May

A couple of summers ago, I attended the She Speaks Conference (for writers, speakers, and women’s ministry leaders). I quickly discovered that my fellow participants were swapping business cards. I didn’t have any business cards (I didn’t have a blog either). So in preparation for this year’s conference, I had cards made in hopes of being a little more with the program.

On the back of the cards, I tried to come up with something descriptive, maybe interesting, about me. You know, something concise yet clever & creative. (And, well, necessarily true).

After floating all sorts of ideas, here’s where I eventually landed:
“Christ-follower, wife, mom, wanna-be-pastry chef, and writer about things random to redemptive.”

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If you’ve read more than one post on my blog, you probably know that I don’t write about random, more-fun-than-serious things very often. Yep, I’m usually a reflective sort of gal.

That’s why I like linking up with Emily Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned in (whatever month just passed) series. Emily asks us to share lessons from the silly to the serious, so it’s a good challenge for me to look for some sort of balance between the two. Here goes –

What I Learned in May:

1. My dog isn’t the only dog that takes a mouthful of food out of his bowl, walks over to the rug, drops his food, and chows down. I’ve discovered that many people attribute this habit of eating off the rug to some kind of evolutionary instinct (as in, dogs in years past dragged their food away from their pack to avoid fighting for it). Nah … I think my dog is just quirky like this. But at least he eats every crumb.

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2. After 20 years of marriage, my husband still can’t read my mind. But I still expect him to, as evidenced by the question I asked him last night: “Do you think we should replace that thingy in there?” Of course, my question was met with the.blank.stare. And this works both ways; he can’t read my mind either, though – thank goodness – he doesn’t use words like “thingy.”

3. In May, I learned another definition of introvert: “The Introverted are the people who live in the constant tension between the desire to communicate… and the desire to hide.” Yep. That about sums me up right there.

4. My daughter is listening in church. As our pastor delivered a message on Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”) he explained that we can be peace-makers, peace-breakers, or peace-fakers. (He makes applications so easy to remember like this). He hit upon my tendency, as the aforementioned introvert, to be a “peace-faker” – the one who thinks she’s making peace by avoiding conflict, only to stuff all sorts of stuff that simmers inside (until reaching the inevitable boiling point). Later that Sunday, my daughter was with me when I received an email that stung. I tried to temper my reaction, but she immediately inquired: “So, what are you going to do, Mom? Are you going to be a peace-maker, a peace-breaker, or a peace-faker?”

I need to keep listening to my pastor. Because she is. And she’s watching me.

5. Did you know that the television (and Twitter) ratings for the NFL draft were way higher than the ratings for the NBA playoffs? Yeah. As of this writing, kickoff is 94 days, 23 hours, and 18 minutes away.

6. Ah, and there’s the age-old lesson: never say never. I will never learn this. I know because I’m back into cake decorating when (after a couple of disasters) I said I would never do it again (except for my daughter’s birthday). But because I’m fund-raising for a mission trip, I figured that cake decorating was something unique I could offer. And it’s actually worked out this time, although transporting these cakes has taken a few years off of my life.

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Well, Olaf didn’t arrive in one piece, but I did that on purpose with appreciation for this character’s tendency to lose his head anyway.

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7. According to Barna research, I live in the 6th most “Bible-minded” city in the United States. Barna describes “Bible-minded” as a combination of regular Bible reading with belief in the Bible’s accuracy. Interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I’m pleased and grateful. But on the other hand, I have to wonder why my city also has the sixth highest incidence of human trafficking in the United States. Hmm. Human trafficking is not a foreign issue, and it’s time to do something about the disconnect in our Bible-minded cities. It happens here. Action starts with awareness but it doesn’t end there. True biblical mindedness compels us toward the biblical mandate to love and serve our neighbors. May we be doers of the Word and not merely hearers (preaching to myself!).

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8. I am inspired by people who are going after their goals in the golden years. An 81-year-old veteran, Bill Nave, just earned his master’s degree in Biblical Studies from my alma mater. Another Christ-follower, Orville Rogers – a great-grandfather in his mid-nineties – is still (literally) running after world records and says, “If God gives me five more years I expect to be very much in the hunt for golds and more world records.” He is amazing. And I could watch the video of Kitty Cohen throwing out the first pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays all day long. Kitty is 101. You gotta watch her winding up …. and winding up … and winding up some more. This.is.her.moment. (and she’ll enjoy it until she’s 102 and some more).

The cool thing about Kitty is that she’s been walking in events for cancer research since she was the spry age of 95. So far she’s logged 224 miles.

I want to run my race with purpose and perseverance too and be inspired by teammates going before me and be an inspiration to those coming after me.

9. There’s a lot of land-clearing going on around my house. Forests are leveled for lots where large homes will rise.

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The other day, as I was thinking about a misunderstanding that my daughter was having with a teacher, I drove past a bulldozer doing its thing. With an image of that bulldozer in my mind, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me to NOT step into that situation (as I was tempted to do). As a mom, I often want to clear obstacles and troubles out of my girl’s way. But doing so would take away an opportunity for her to develop courage, responsibility, and character. Of course, there’s a time and place when a parent has to be an advocate, but our culture consistently disregards the value of disappointment, perseverance, and natural consequences, and parents who buy into the idea that their kids can’t fail aren’t giving them the chance to succeed either.

10. The “Kid President,” Robby Novak, is a riot. You have to watch “Five Things that Make Summer Awesome.” Just try to NOT smile. You can’t.

And keep watching. You’ll learn, like I did, why summer isn’t awesome for everyone. And for every view, like or share of Kid President’s video through July 31 , the ConAgra Foods Foundation will donate the monetary equivalent of one meal to Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, up to one million meals.

“Let’s feed some kids, yo.”