Remembering

Until recently I had a small, round china jar that had belonged to my grandmother sitting on my vanity. Complete with lid, it was just the right size for housing stray buttons and bobby pins. Not exactly a family heirloom, I loved it anyway because it made me think of Grandma.

And when it was accidentally broken, try as I might, I couldn’t hold back a few tears.

I knew it was silly, but being the sentimental person I was, it was inevitable. Years ago when I took the Briggs-Meyers personality test it told me I was “the keeper of family traditions.” No surprise there. It also should have said “keeper of things that other people usually throw away.”

Not in the hoarding kind of way, but I do tend to keep things that hold meaning for me.

Christmas ornaments that my children made in elementary school.

Sweet misspelled notes from my past students saying “You are my best techer”. (No chance of getting a big head over that one.)

Thirty-year old birthday cards from my grandparents – just seeing their scrolling signatures brings a smile to my face.

My first diary complete with lock and key lest anyone try to pry into my nine-year old self’s private business.

Loose pictures, scrapbooks, pictures albums, framed pictures. (A lot of them bearing less than flattering hair styles. Note to Self- you do not look good in a perm.)

Why do I keep all of these things? Because all of them have the ability to whisk me back to a time and  place where I felt loved. That is an amazing thing and one of life’s greatest treasures.

I am so thankful that God created me with the capacity to remember. Not everything that has happened in my life has been good. There have been plenty of tragedies and trials.

But I have the power to choose.

And the things that I choose to remember most are the gifts of love that God has showered in my life. For I know that every good and perfect gift is from the Father.

I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1:3

Where are we, anyway?

It’s a well-known fact among those who know me well, that if at all possible, I would rather ride than drive. In exchange for a spot in your car’s passenger seat I will happily deliver colorful commentary all the way to wherever we are going. One of my good friends who drives with me frequently calls me Miss Daisy (as in the movie Driving Miss Daisy). Even though I am neither elderly nor blind, she tells me she is still looking for the qualifying deduction box on her tax returns for driving services rendered.

My dislike for driving is rooted primarily in my absolute lack of directional ability. North, south, east and west mean nothing to me. You might as well be speaking in German. (Which, in case you were wondering, is one of the many languages in which I am not fluent.) I respond more to directional landmarks like, “Go down the windy road and up the hill past the pond on your right. When you see a big red barn, slow down and then take a sharp left at the one-armed scarecrow.” Curiously, you’d be amazed at how many one-armed scarecrows there are in this part of the country.

I’m not sure how I got left out of the directional loop in the gene pool. In regard to longitude and latitude, all of my siblings seem to have a firm grasp on where they are on the planet. I remember being in the middle of New York City with all three of them trying to figure out where we were. One sister was studying the map, my brother was scanning the street signs and my other sister was looking for moss on the trees to determine which direction North was. Seriously. She was looking for moss.

I kept quiet and tried to look interested.

I wonder if that attitude is shared by many people when it comes to their spirituality. The regular church-goers who attend Sunday service, sitting silently in the pews trying to appear interested. The ones who after the final worship song is sung leave wondering where in the world they are when it comes to Jesus.

I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve been that person. What does their/my witness say to the ones outside of the church who are carefully watching those Sunday worshippers and wondering what makes them/me different from everybody else in the world?

The only way I know how to let my witness be a worthy one is to step back and let Jesus take the lead. But that doesn’t mean I can stand quietly by, feigning interest. If I want to be an authentic believer I have to be in active pursuit of the people Jesus loves. The lost, the lonely, the hungry, the poor, the needy, the not-so-cleaned-up-and shiny people of this world. Those are the ones Jesus longs to bring to Him.

Look, I may not possess an internal compass to get me from place to place on this earth. And in all honesty, I am probably going to need to bum a ride to the next unfamiliar place I need to get to. But I surely have been given a far greater gift the any GPS could afford me. The gift of Jesus –  the eternal guide who will never leave me or forsake me. ‘Cause when I’m with Him, I always know where I am.

The true picture of me

Sometimes I stress out about the most ridiculous things. Like having a new passport picture taken. I’d like to think that I have more important issues in my life to worry about than whether or not I take a good passport picture, but apparently not. The thought of having a bad picture on my entrance ticket to the world for the next ten years was making me a wee bit crazy.

I kept telling myself – who cares what you look like on that super important official government document? Only cranky custom officials look at it and they are way more concerned about whether I have smuggled illegal agricultural items in or out of their country than if my passport picture looks like a glamour shot. (Just for the record – I have never smuggled anything in or out of any country. One time I did have some undeclared coffee from Mexico in my suitcase, but I swear it was an unintentional omission.)

I think the main reason I was obsessing about the picture was I had looked at my photo from my first passport. Ten years had passed since the original one had been issued and although I wouldn’t necessarily want it framed and showcased on my living room wall, it wasn’t too bad. In reality, it probably looked a lot better to me because I was ten years younger and a few pounds thinner.

Oh who am I kidding? I was probably more than a few pounds thinner. Seeing that younger, thinner version of me surprisingly stirred up some feelings of insecurity.

Interestingly, I’ve been reading a best-selling book by Beth Moore about that very subject. According to her, just about everybody deals with insecurities on some level. I would agree that most of the women and even some of the men I know have difficulty being completely happy in their own skin. We are our own worst critics when it comes to our appearance.

And that, my friend, is a sad thing.

But more than that, it is a completely unbiblical perception of ourselves.

For God clearly tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He designed each of us with such care that the hairs on our heads, whether stick straight or naturally curly, have been numbered in His eyes. And although we have been made in His very image, God gave each of us a physical and personal identity that is absolutely unique. I am me and you are you because that is how He planned it. Who am I to argue with that?

So even though temporarily I may have gone a little nuts over the whole new picture on my passport thing, I’m over it now. It doesn’t matter if it’s my worst picture or my best. For I know that the true picture of me can never be seen on a piece of paper. The true picture of me is revealed in the way that my Father sees me. And the way that He sees me is through the perfect eyes of love.

Be Like a Tree

After spending a few frozen days cooped up in our house, I ventured out into the snow-covered world courtesy of my husband and his faithful four-wheel drive vehicle. As he was navigating the hilly country roads, I was marveling at the beauty of the ice-laden landscapes. Everywhere I looked, trees were topped with thick layers of ice and snow. Even with only the filmy winter sun’s appearance, they were dazzling.

After a coating of ice had fallen, multiple inches of wet snow piled on top. Many of the trees’ limbs were bent low to the ground under the increased weight. Other trees had succumbed to the added stress and were surrounded with broken branches at their base, their limbs unable to sustain the storm without injury.

Life is like that sometimes. It comes with storms so harsh and cold that it threatens to shatter me into pieces on the cold, hard ground. Buried beneath the weight of my circumstances, I am overwhelmed. Disappointment, disillusion and heartache pelt against me, piling their heavy load upon my branches. How can I sustain such a storm? How do I bend, not break?

The answer for me lies in the scriptures. Psalm 1: 3 tells me that blessed is the one who meditates on the Word. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” In every season I must be connected to the Word. My roots growing deep into its rich soil, fueling my spirit so that it remains tender and pliable.

The book of Psalms is just one of the treasure troves of God’s promises. Promises written to me that feed my faith. They tell of God’s unfailing love and protection. Reminding me that God is an ever-present help in time of trouble delivering me from all my fears. So that whether it’s the blizzard’s blinding breath or the sun’s scorching rays, I can stand tall with supple branches, roots growing deep, drawing my life from the promises of God.

The ones that got away

Two snow days tacked onto the end of a generous Christmas break with a third day impending for the next…the time had come. I could put it off no longer.

It was time to clean out my sock drawer.

Sadly, that is what my life has become. Even sadder is the fact that I have fourteen socks with no mates. Now, half of those socks are ones that I never wear any more  – I always like to state the obvious right up front– but the other half  belong to socks I wear on a pretty regular basis.

Or are they?

Come to think of it, I may have been wearing mismatched socks for a long time now. It’s true that my bedroom doesn’t get a lot of natural light in the winter. And after I have committed to covering my feet in the morning I don’t give my tootsies a second glance. In fact, there may have been one occasion when I actually wore mismatched shoes in public.

They were both pumps, similar style, one inch heels. Well, at least one of them was a one inch heel. The other was more like an inch and a half which gave me an uneven gate. Very runway model-like.  After nearly tripping, I discovered that the right shoe was navy and the left was dark green. I like to think of myself as somewhat of a trendsetter. Others may have another name for it.

Still, back to my socks – FOURTEEN! How does one go about their normal sock-wearing life in complete oblivion when there are more than a dozen socks at large? That’s a basketball team roster of socks (with a few on the injured reserved list) roaming around the house somewhere between the dryer and my dresser drawer. Unless an unmarked package of neatly folded socks appears on my doorstep I may have to resign myself to never uncovering the whereabouts of my AWOL socks.

Maybe they’ve gotten into a pick up game with the missing forks from the silverware drawer.

The best intentions

Today was the day I had originally slated to begin a juice fast. With the advent of the new year I had decided to set aside some special time to fast and pray. However, winter blew in a ferocious snowstorm which landed my younger daughter, her husband and their dog at our doorstep. So I made chicken and dumplings instead.

Oh, and I also may have baked a loaf of molasses wheat bread, too.

And about four dozen chocolate chip cookies.

Not exactly what I had planned, but you seriously can’t expect a household of people which includes a pregnant woman (my daughter, not me) to exist on a diet of juice and water when it is -17 degrees outside. We’re used to cold winter weather in the Midwest, but yesterday the temperature was actually warmer in Alaska than it was in Indiana. The land of igloos and sled dogs would have been balmy compared to what it felt like outside my front door.

So instead of fasting, I feasted. There’s something about a houseful of family that beckons me to the kitchen. A homemaker at heart, I love to cook from scratch and serve up heaping portions to whomever gathers around our big dining room table. I can’t help it. It’s like it’s programmed into my DNA.

But then, of course, I know that I was designed by an awesome God who put me together just the way He wanted. He is the One who placed the desire in my heart to love and care for others. And He is the one who taught me that by serving others I can show His love for them. So I’m not going to guilt trip myself into feeling bad about not beginning my fast today. The year is still young and there will be another day soon to devote to fasting.

Just as soon as those cookies are gone.

Can I hear You now?

After a fun-filled extended visit I flew 900 miles roundtrip to deliver my three-year old grandson into his parents’ waiting arms. Knowing it was a distinct possibility that he might have a run-in with reality once he returned home I called my daughter the following day to see how he was getting along. After all, for six days at Gigi’s house he had happily sat on the throne. There was bound to be a bit of an adjustment once he stepped back into a home where rules existed that actually applied to him.

Before you judge me, I want the record to show that I did not raise my three children in a house without rules. On the contrary, our children were raised with daily chores, enforced bedtimes and a routine that included very little TV or refined sugar. Always on a shoe-string budget in those early days, trips to restaurants, zoos and museums were limited unless someone else was paying. And in a household of five, rules were not only necessary, they were the key to our collective sanity.

However, that was then and this is now.

Being a Mommy and being a Gigi are two completely different roles and let me tell you that the latter is the much better gig. Being Gigi means being able to “yes” ninety-nine percent of the time. “Yes, I can make you a fruit smoothie before your nap.” “Yes, we can watch another Curious George episode while we sit in Gigi’s big bed.” “Yes, PopPop can take you on a tractor ride.” “Yes, you can play with Playdough in PopPop’s workshop.” I’m not going to say he is spoiled at our house, but he is “well-loved”.

Which brings me back to the phone call I placed to my daughter. When I asked her how he was getting along, she laughed. “He’s actually doing very well, other than the fact that he’s developed a hearing problem. He just doesn’t seem to hear me when I ask him to do something.”

Uh oh… a “well-loved” week with Gigi may have contributed to his temporary deafness to listen and obey.

I wonder if God ever thinks that about me after I’ve spent a “well-loved” week in the world. Having been caught up in the amusing trivialities of my life, I already know the answer is yes. On more than one occasion I have chased after the “shiny objects” – the indulgent things of lesser importance. Until little by little I found myself at a distance from God, unable to hear what He had to say to me because I had tuned him out.

John 10:27 says, “My sheep know my voice and I know them and they follow me.” Hearing His voice involves active listening. Active listening implies an ongoing effort on my part to set aside time to study the Word, pray and to inquire of God what it is that He wants me to do. I cannot follow if I’m not waiting and listening for instruction.

Romans 10:17 says “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” The word is not going to get into my mind and soul by osmosis. I have to actually open my Bible. I have to read it and pray over what is written on its pages and listen for His voice. Then the promise of Psalm 32:8-9 will come to pass. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way that thou shalt go. I will guide thee with my loving eyes.”

I never want to be so far away from God that my own spiritual deafness inhibits my response to His call. Instead, let it mirror the prophet Isaiah when God asked him whom should He send as a messenger to the people. Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me!”

LORD, let me tune into Your frequency and hear Your voice. Guide me with Your loving eyes so that I can accomplish the work You have established for me on this earth. Let me hear You so that I, too, can respond “Here am I. Send me!”

The Toddler To-Do List

I am not ashamed to admit that ordinarily I like structure and routine. For me, there is comfort in order. However, when our three-year old grandson comes for a visit, life-as-I-know-it changes. In the past six days I have read aloud with expression Curious George Takes A Job no less than a dozen times, sang and danced across the carpet to a spirited version of Go Tell It on the Mountain and loudly applauded successful trips to the potty with exclamations of “Whoopee!”

While Isaiah visited, my to-do list looked like this:

1. Color with fat crayons and don’t worry about staying in the lines.

2. Sift sand sculptures. If you don’t like what you made, flatten it and start over.

3. Lay on your belly and watch the train chug around the Christmas tree. “Choo-chooing” is encouraged, but optional.

4. Play hide and seek in the dark and give away your hiding place by squealing with laughter when you hear footsteps approaching.

5. Giggle ’til your sides ache since practically everything is funny.

6. Go to bed early because you’re probably going to be up at the crack of dawn eating pancakes.

7. Eat peanut butter from a  spoon.

8. Ignore the mounting pile of laundry at the bottom of the basement stairs. Nobody cares that you wear the same pajamas every night.

9. Get down on your knees to pray before you go to sleep.

10. Kiss, cuddle and say “I love you” every chance you get.

11. Repeat number 10.

Next week when the school break is over and I return to my classroom, my to-do list will likely return to its normal state of lesson plans and meetings. And because I love my job I will be glad of it. But I will go with a refreshed spirit and a grateful heart because during those dull December days at the end of the year I had a chance to step out of the ordinary.

The infectious laughter and insatiable energy that only a little soul can bring both exhausted and exhilarated me. Loving the chaos and the calm, I am thankful for it all. After all, remembering Matthew 18:3, if I must become like a child to enter the kingdom of God, then I had better be sure the child inside me is alive and well. Perhaps that Toddler to-do list might just replace my  regular agenda. At least some of the time.