Invited Guests

My church offers a Sunday morning van ministry to families who do not have transportation to church. One of those precious passengers is a child in my class. Last week before service he approached me with a concerned look on his face.

Mrs. Gatts, my mom wants you to call her!”

I peppered him with questions to see if the need to call was as urgent as the look on his face. From his answers it didn’t seem as if his family was in crisis, so I told him I would talk to her as soon as I could.

As I was exiting the sanctuary after the worship service I saw his mom standing in the hallway collecting her three children to go home. It was uncharacteristic of her to have made the trek into town instead of letting the kids ride the van home so I went to her to ask if everything was all right.

“It’s all taken care of now,” she said. “But when the van came to get the kids this morning one of the men who sends his kids on the van told my kids they couldn’t go. My kids all ran back to the house in tears and I told them that they could ride the van because Mrs. Gatts had invited them.” 

I was so pleased that she had spoken with authority to allow her children to take their rightful place in that van. Of course it was my hope that someday she would join them, but for now I was ecstatic that her little ones were being given the opportunity to learn about how much Jesus loves them.

There will always be people and circumstances that speak to us telling us that we do not belong. We are not good enough, clean enough, smart enough to be a part of the family of God. That is a lie of the evil one. For although we could never be good enough, clean enough or smart enough, the reality is that we don’t have to be! Jesus invites us into fellowship with Him just as we are. He loves us in spite of sinful selves.

That is what the message of Easter is all about. Jesus was murdered on a cross, buried in the tomb and Hallelujah rose again for all of us. We are His invited guests into the Kingdom. We only have to believe, dear ones. Do not let anyone or anything keep you from coming to Jesus. Speak with the powerful authority you have been given through the blood of the Lamb and claim your rightful place. Jesus has invited you.

Ducks in a Row

One sunny, Saturday morning two mallard ducks waddled through my neighbor’s yard. What an odd ballet of synchronized movement it was. When one moved one way, the other mimicked the motion. Unlike ducklings following behind their mother in a line, these two bachelors were side by side. One was copying the other’s movements with seemingly choreographed precision. My nature-savy husband told me that they were on the hunt for a female. We watched as they circled around the yard, bright green heads bobbing in tandem, before walking down the hill and straight into the middle of the road! Fortunately for Bachelor Number One and his wing man, there were no cars in sight. It wasn’t long after their departure that a little brown female appeared in the yard next to the bird feeder. They had totally missed her.

Sadly, as a young woman, I behaved remarkably similar to those silly ducks. More than once I walked the wrong way down the middle of a road following after someone who said that they knew the way. That journey almost never ended up being a direct route to happiness. In fact, it is nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t end up by the side of the road flattened by the oncoming traffic. As I got older and earnestly sought out God’s calling for my life I began to realize that the only One with an impeccable sense of direction had been right before me the entire time.

Why is it then that I still veer off the path when life throws up a road block? Instead of trusting God to work things out in His own time I am tempted to follow after another little duck if she seems to be paddling by in good time. I empathize with the apostle Paul when he writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I don’t do, but what I hate, I do.”  I know I should wait for instructions, and yet I am so prone to try to forge ahead on my own! How thankful I am that the Father continues to remind me that He has already made a way for me. And the One who is the way, the truth, and the light shines before me like a beacon lighting my path.

“Lord, let me be still and know that you are God. When I am tempted to chase after my own solutions, remind me that You alone are the way. Lead me by by Your righteous hand for You are good and Your faithfulness endures to all generations.”

Out of the Mouths of Babes

This week my daughter Rachel sent me an audio recording of my toddler grandson singing. She had recorded Isaiah’s song as it echoed through the baby monitor. He’d awakened in his crib that morning greeting the day with his cherub warbling, “Glo-wee a God! Glo-wee a God!” (“Glory to God!” in two-year-old-speak.) On hearing his three note serenade I praised God that the same Holy Spirit who lives in me also lives in this little one Jesus loves.

As I listened intently to his sweet praises, the scenario recorded in Matthew 21:16 came to mind. Jesus had driven the money changers from the temple and had begun healing the sick. The little children gathered around calling out praise, while the chief priests and teachers of the law grumbled against him. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

How often have I as an “all-grown-up-card-carrying-adult” missed opportunities to praise Jesus because I have been distracted by the lesser things of this world? Sadly, there have been times when I have woken to grumpy thoughts that included only a lengthy and tiresome to-do list. Meetings and plans pop up in my mind like little text windows beckoning my attention even before I open my eyes. How much better would it be to subdue the day’s earthly agenda and instead christen each morning by following after the example of a child’s adoring praise?

Lord forgive me for the times when I have failed to praise you with the enthusiasm and whole-hearted devotion You deserve! I am sorry for my self-centeredness. Each day, Lord, before my feet touch the floor beside my bed, before I open my mouth to speak a word, let me sing out Your praises as Your grateful child because You are worthy. “Glory to God! Glory to God!”

Back to the Brady Bunch

I caught an old episode of The Brady Bunch the other night. It took me right back to elementary school when all my friends and I wanted to emulate the cool and popular Marsha Brady. Unfortunately, most of us knew we were more likely to be misfit, middle sister Jan-material.

In this particular installment Marsha had been uncharacteristically called into the principal’s office and accused of drawing an unflattering picture of her teacher with an equally unflattering caption. As she flung back her lovely locks in protest and disbelief, her principal sentenced her to an hour of detention every day after school for a week. The injustice continued at home as her parents actually- shocker alert– backed the principal! Carol Brady told her distraught daughter that surely the principal was a reliant source of information and if he said that Marsha had done the dastardly deed then she must have done it. They even had the gall to punish her by taking away her upcoming slumber party!

Granted, by the end of the episode the real culprit was discovered and Marsha got to have her sleep-over, but her parents never apologized for taking the errant principal’s side. In fact, Marsha had falsely accused one of her own friends for the picture and Mr. Brady pointed out that she had jumped to conclusions just like the principal. Instead of either calling the school on the phone to rant about it, reporting it to the local newspaper or phoning the television reporter help line, he turned it into a lesson for Marsha.

Interesting approach.

Hey, I am not totally insensitive to poor Marsha for having to do the time without committing the crime. When I was in junior high school I also experienced a teacher initiated injustice. Our choral director was the new sheriff in town that semester and our class of seventy-plus singers had become unruly. She turned choir into a study hall and gave us an explicit no-talk rule for the remainder of the class time under the threat of paddling.

I was and always have been a rule follower so I got out my spelling book and began copying my spelling list in my notebook. A boy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Is that our assignment?” Without uttering a single syllable I simply nodded and pointed to the lesson in my book. Immediately I was called on the carpet for talking. There was no use in trying to defend myself because in those days the teacher was always right. I knew she was trying to make an example of me. I was a straight-A student and on that particular day I was even wearing my cheerleading uniform.

Into into the hallway I went to stoically receive my punishment.  Two humiliating whacks of a paddle that I will never forget. Was it fair? Absolutely not. Would I ever do that to one of my own students? Never! But did my parents call the school to complain about the unjust treatment of their honor student. Nope. Because it was a different time and parents had a different attitude about teachers.

I will be the first to say that I am so very glad that corporal punishment is considered to be an archaic and abusive form of punishment that is no longer tolerated in schools. Fear and intimidation should never be a legitimate tactic when trying to manage a classroom. But I do wish that the time when parents and teachers were on the same side was the norm and not the exception.

I have been blessed to have many, many wonderful sets of parents who have backed me up through the years. As each year passes and attitudes about school continue to change I am even more grateful for parental support. I don’t think that parents should blindly accept what the teacher says about their child, but when there is a question I do think that the place to start is with the teacher. Not the principal, superintendent, local newspaper or television station. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, but I would pray that when there is a problem that a parent would give me the benefit of the doubt and first speak to me.

As a believer, if a miscommunication arises, I have to take special care in my response to the children and to their parents. If I am Christ’s ambassador to the world I must present God’s love even in the most difficult of situations. I must remember what the Word tells me.

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 29:11“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

By taming my tongue and taking on the garment of humility and love I can trust God to lead me into the most difficult parent-teacher conferences and strive toward resolution. And although I may not be able to neatly wrap it all up like a thirty minute Brady Bunch episode, in the end I hope my attitude can bring glory to the One who loves us all, the parent, the child and the teacher.

The Bothersome Blessings

I braved the snowy less-than-desirable driving conditions out to my rural school only to find out that classes had been cancelled for the day. At first I was annoyed that I had somehow been omitted from the staff list that receives automated school closing text alerts. However, after some consideration I realized that it was only a minor inconvenience and had I not spent the hour driving back and forth here are the things I would have missed:

1. Opportunity to help another. As I made my way home I spotted two fur-clad little girls on the corner waiting for the school bus. I rolled down my window to relay the news. “School’s cancelled for the day, girls, because of the snow!” They smiled and waved and called out a thank-you before turning to walk away. At least I’d saved them from a few more frozen moments on the curb.

2. Views of the extraordinary white-washed scenery in all of its snowy splendor. The brown earth and bare trees had become things of beauty when they were blanketed in snow. The images reminded me of how Jesus covers me with His love and grace. That even though I am stained and dead in my sin I become pure and white through the blood of the Lamb.

3. Time spent in prayer for the parent of one of my students. My drive time is always a great opportunity for conversation with the Father. This morning I had asked Him to give special attention to one of the moms in my room. Her child had recently come to church at my invitation. She wanted to know if she could send his sisters on the van that had come to pick him up on Sunday. I assured her they could and then went on to invite her to come, too. She had looked away quickly without an answer, but not before I had seen her expression. It was one that had said, “I’m not worthy. You don’t know what I have done.” My heart went out to her and I wanted to say, “He loves you anyway.” So this morning I lifted her up to the throne and asked God to whisper His gentle love to her heart.

Suddenly, the trip that had seemed to be a bother, had become a blessing. Simply by changing the lens in which I viewed the situation made all the difference. Thank-you, Lord, for loving me so much that You continue call to me in all the bothersome, blessed places of my life.