The School Bag

School has been out for nearly a month and my school bag has not been touched.

Those first few days of summer break were spent in frenzied, family fun – trips to the zoo, birthday celebrations, cook-outs, and long-awaited dips in the pool. Then there were days of catching up on those built up, back burner household chores.

Factor in a trip to New York City and there you have it. It is now officially four weeks past the last day of school. My overburdened school bag occupies the same place in my closet it has since being plopped down on the last day of school. Granted, every once in a while I might have shifted it around a bit to reach something behind it, but for the most part it has stood its ground, neglected and forlorn.

But never forgotten.

Trust me.

Every time I saw it sitting there in its unattended disarray I felt a guilty twinge.  Staring at me from the corner of the closet floor each morning it practically begged me to put it out of its misery.

So today was the day.

I pulled everything out of it.

It was not a pretty sight.

There were fifteen pens. Fifteen. A disproportionate amount of them were red. Who in their right mind carries around fifteen pens? There are not enough papers in the entire second grade to warrant that amount of ink.

More sensible were the fifty or so family pictures I had. You never want to miss a chance to have those on hand in case someone asks to see a picture (or fifty) of your grandchildren.

Two mismatched winter gloves, a whistle, my badge and an umbrella – recess duty remnants.

My emergency kit of spare reading glasses, breath mints, hand lotion, emery board, lip balm, Kleenex, Tylenol, and deodorant. I’m not sure why the deodorant was in there. I promise that without fail every morning I use antiperspirant. Perhaps I had stowed it for back up during parent teacher conferences. (Just in case things got a little tense.)

Two unopened CD’s. I just never found the time to rip off the cellophane.

A steak knife. Guess I should have used it to open the CD’s.

Three paper clips, a quarter, and a mysterious envelope into which I had shoved $25.00. I’m sure at the time I had a reason.

This year’s yearbook and next year’s class list. Both gave me pleasant pause; one as a happy reflection and the other as a hopeful future.

A black silk bag of small river rocks. I think I had used them as a children’s sermon illustration at church and yet somehow they found their way into my school bag.

At the very bottom were three handwritten thank-you notes, a black Sharpie and a single Reece Cup.

Job completed, I thought.

But then I noticed one more thing covering the bottom of the bag.

Glitter. Lots and lots of gold glitter.

And oddly enough, it made me happy.

Happy because I knew as I had sorted through that bag, my year had been a plethora of precious memories. And now, as a sort of delayed punctuation mark, had officially ended with a glint of gold.

Schools begins in a little more than a month. I’ll be bringing my bag with me with its special coating of glitter in the bottom. Hopefully it will be a sign of good things to come. The new year beginning like the old one ended.

With a classroom of little ones and the golden promise of sparkle and shine.

The Self Control Button

I got a text from my daughter recently detailing a conversation she had with my four-year old grandson, Isaiah. Evidently he was having trouble being patient while she was completing a task.

Par for the course when you’re four.

Or thirty-four.

Or maybe forty-four.

Definitely at fifty-four.

Let’s be honest. There are those among us who have never mastered the art of patience.

But especially at the tender age of single digit four, waiting is excruciating. So to pass the time he was acting like a robot.

Ever trying to foster desirable qualities in a whimsical way, my daughter asked this robotic wonder if he had a self-control button that he could push.

Oh wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing! A self-control button.

If I could, I would pass one out to every student in my classroom the first day of school saving me hours and hours of behavior management and intervention time.

Of course, I would keep the largest and most obvious one for myself.

Don’t judge. At this time of year it’s every girl for herself.

But I digress.

After thoughtfully considering his mother’s self-control button question, he replied. Yes indeed, he did have such a button.

“But,” he added, ” The sin button is right by the self-control button.”

Truer words were never said.

Why is it that when temptation comes that sin button seems to glow in the dark? It’s always the easy thing to reach, while exercising my self-control feels like fumbling around in the bottom of my purse trying to find my car keys.

I guess the real answer is this.

I’m an imperfect woman in need of a Savior.

A Savior who was willing to go to the cross for my sins, be buried and after three days rise again.

Even when my daily goal is to try to do the right thing, I’m going to think things, say things, do things that in a weak moment translate into sin. As I’m stretching for the self-control button I slip and hit the one labeled sin.

Not every time.

But certainly every day.

Fortunately for me, all is not lost. Even when I hit the wrong button, Jesus forgives and forgets. I get another chance.

And there’s even more good news! Because Jesus paid the price, my sin debt is paid. It’s erased. It’s like I never hit the button at all.

But wanna know the best news ever?

The best news ever is that no matter how imperfect my aim may be, the reality is that Jesus knows me and loves me just the way I am.

I don’t have to be perfect.

I know, right?

That doesn’t mean I won’t keep striving for better self-control. Even a non-robot such as myself has a lot of room for improvement.

It’s just really nice to know that I don’t have to be perfect, because after all…

I already have a Savior who is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessing in the Journey

Stopped at a traffic light behind a car equipped with a drop-down DVD screen I could see Disney’s Frozen playing. It was 7:30 a.m. so I suspected that Mom or Dad was on the way to childcare to drop off their little ones before work. Two thoughts came to mind:

1. That movie-playing-ability-at-a-finger’s-touch would have certainly come in handy when my children were small.

2. That movie-playing-ability-at-a-finger’s-touch was robbing that parent of potential quality time.

I am no stranger to chaotic car rides. Traveling with three children under the age of five nearly necessitated the supernatural growth of third arm to pick up dropped pacifiers, separate dueling toddlers and calm a crying preschooler all while keeping one hand on the steering wheel. Later, traveling with three teenagers under the age of eighteen offered special opportunities designed for my personal and spiritual character development such as enduring three simultaneous eye rolls without bursting into anger and careening into an oncoming car.

Still, there is something to be said for being conversationally engaged on the way to and from wherever you might be going. When my children were little we didn’t just talk, we sang just about everywhere we went. Sometimes they were just silly songs to release energy. Other times there were songs to imprint God’s word on their hearts.

When we talked, we talked about where we were going. “Yes, Mommy is lost again, but don’t worry. We’ll get there eventually.”

What was expected of them once we got there. “Do not ask me to buy you gum when we get to the check out. It’s not going to happen.”

And of course, encouragement and praise. “You did such a great job today. I am so proud of you.”

As my kids grew into teenagers they would often feel free to open up about things when my eyes were on the road and not on them. I remember a conversation I had when both of my girls were in the car and the oldest told me that one of her classmates was pregnant. The conversation that followed was heartfelt and honest in a way that we all felt comfortable without the potential of embarrassing eye-contact.

Allowing your child to zone out while watching a movie for the umpteenth time is a tantalizing temptation for tired parents. If I’d had the option when my kids were growing up I am sure I would have had the occasion to use it.

However, as the mother of three amazing grown children I know that the time sphere of influence you have as a parent is precious and limited. When we are over-scheduled with before and after school responsibilities, community functions and church activities, driving in the car can offer some bonus one-on-one interaction if we choose it to be.

I know there will be times when we are rushed and irritated that conversations will be limited to “Stop touching your brother.” or “Don’t make me pull this car over!” But if we always allow our children to be anesthetized by the power of a singing snow queen we miss a unique opportunity.

The opportunity that uninterrupted time offers us to get to know our children better, share ourselves with them and truly train up our children in the way they should go.

And that can be the real blessing along the journey.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

The Popcorn Crisis

He ate my popcorn.

That’s what started it.

A ridiculous argument over puffed up corn kernels.

And it wasn’t even the dripping with butter, salty-goodness, sit through a two-hour movie with a giant bucket of theatre-worthy fare.

It was just plain ole’ popping corn, popped in oil with a scant sprinkling of salt.

Any other time I wouldn’t have even bothered to stick my hand in that bland bowl. But I was on Day 6 of a 21-day Daniel Fast and that popcorn was like taste bud gold to me.

During a Daniel Fast certain foods are denied as an act of worship and devotion to God. During this three-week period I had committed to eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and drinking only water. Dairy, meat, sugar, white flour, caffeine and basically anything that tastes remotely pleasurable were literally off the table. However, the fast is not supposed to be about your need for certain foods, but more about realizing your need for God.

And in every fast I’ve ever done I have encountered God in a very real and powerful way. It has been a blessing beyond measure. But this time on Day 6, I was feeling a little bit edgy. I had spent the first two days of the fast with severe caffeine and sugar withdrawal headaches. It was taking my body a few days to adjust to this basically vegan-diet-on-steroids and I was feeling physically and emotionally drained. Plus I had a sinus infection.

Since my husband had embarked on this fasting journey with me, we had visited the Whole Foods store several times to stock up on organic produce and grains. The last time we were there we’d bought two bags of Skinny Pop, a permissible snack for the fast. In my naiveté I assumed he would eat one bag and I would have the other.

Cue the popcorn crisis.

I got about a handful from the first bag. No problem. There was a second bag waiting for me.

When I found out that he had eaten the entire second bag of popcorn I am sorry to say that I was not very Christ-like in my response.

As I look back on it now, the argument that ensued was so stupid it’s embarrassing.

Me:  (in my best victim’s voice) “How could you eat all that popcorn? You knew I said I was going to have it for a snack at school!!”

Husband: (sheepishly) “I thought you said you already took a bag to school.”

Me: (misguided righteous indignation) “How could I have taken a bag to school when we only bought two bags?” Dat-dat-dum…

It got worse. I couldn’t find the date paste in the fridge and accused him of throwing it away. Oh the horror of eating unsweetened oatmeal!

O.K., Clearly Not My Best Moment.

However it also highlighted something very important for me.

It showed how much I need Jesus.

Without Jesus, I am self-absorbed. Without Jesus, minor irritants distract me from God’s bigger plan for my life. Without Jesus, my wants supersede someone else’s needs.

I don’t ever want to be without Jesus.

Thankfully, Romans 8:31-39  from the Message Bible tells me that absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus. “None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Not even Skinny Pop.

 

Resemblances

Every time I see him, he seems to have changed.

His large, round eyes look a little bluer.

His wispy strawberry-blonde hair, a little thicker.

And depending on who you are talking to, he looks remarkably like “their side” of the family.

Honestly, at four months of age it’s hard to tell who our newest grandson is eventually going to grow to look like. The one thing we all agree upon is that he is adorable.

It’s funny how we search to see ourselves in the faces of our children and grandchildren. Even though my older grandson came into our family through the blessing of adoption I love it when people tell me he looks like me. While he’s not biologically related to me, we are forever bonded together at the deepest level of our hearts.

It amazes me how perfectly God has crafted our family to be.

You see, years ago when I began thinking about having a family I envisioned little blonde and blue-eyed replicas of myself happily frolicking at my feet. Of course, knowing what I know now about children that was a very unrealistic dream.

The children I know did very little frolicking at their mother’s feet. Generally, the only time my children happened to be around my feet was while I was on the phone trying to have an adult conversation. That was the moment they chose to run circles around me yelling, “But it’s mine” while holding a toy over their head just out of reach of their sibling.

Chaotic childhood skirmishes aside, falling in love with a tall, dark and handsome man was what significantly reduced the physical odds of fulfilling that fair-haired fantasy. His very dominate gene pool produced three beautiful brown-eyed children and of course, I wouldn’t have changed a hair on those silky brown-haired heads.

Because really, no matter what they looked like on the outside, I knew they were made in the very image of God. And because of that, their inner countenance became much more important than their outer appearance.

That truth applies to me, too. Whether or not I have my earthly father’s eye color or my mother’s brilliant smile is of far less importance than whether I possess my Heavenly Father’s heart. If others are to know “Who” is at the root of my family tree, my life must bear good fruit.

Fruit proclaiming mercy in the place of judgment.

Commitment instead of compromise.

Peace over fear.

D.L. Moody said, “Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.”

My greatest joy would be that when others “read me” they can say that they saw the story of a child of God.

An imperfect and flawed child, no doubt.

But still, a child who was striving to grow, day by day, to look a little bit more like her Father.

 

 

 

Self Sabotage

It’s interesting how my mind works. Before a recent trip to the store I grabbed a pen and paper to jot down a grocery list. I knew the fruit drawer in my fridge was nearly empty so I wrote down “fruit”.

Funny thing, though.

When I looked back at the list I had actually written “cookies”.

Hmmmm…

I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.

An inspiration to take a walk strikes me, but on the way to get my shoes I end up in front of the computer checking my friends’ riveting Facebook updates. I mean to grab my Bible, but spy the TV remote and suddenly the newest episode of House Hunters is on.

It would be easy to just blame it on the fact that I’m a weak-willed-woman.

But that would be a lie.

I am not a weak-willed woman.

But, I do get sidetracked on occasion. My priorities get out of kilter. Especially if I’m overwhelmed with activities or lacking the necessary sleep to keep me functioning at peak performance.

(O.K. I had to suppress a giggle just then, because I don’t think I’ve been at peak performance since 1994.)

Still, I’m not the only one for whom self sabotage is an issue.

The apostle Paul also struggled with his own contradictory behavior. In the New Living Translation of Romans 7:15 Paul writes, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

That sounds freakishly familiar.

So what’s the answer?

Whenever a friend of mine does the children’s moment at church she tells the kids that it’s a pretty safe bet if she asks them a question the answer is always going to be “Jesus.” The apostle Paul would agree with her. In Romans 7:25 Paul says, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Here’s why.

Jesus has my best interest at heart even when I don’t. And what’s more, He sent Holy Spirit to me as my biggest cheerleader. When I lack the motivation to do what I know I should, I can ask for Holy Spirit’s encouragement.

Granted, sometimes that encouragement comes in the form of asking me to give up control.

And that isn’t easy.

But giving up control helps me develop discipline. Discipline that urges me to take the narrow road even when the wide path looks like a tantalizing short cut. Discipline that guides me to do what I should in the moment instead of setting it aside until later and then it is forgotten.

I know it may not keep me from penning “cookies” on my grocery list, but there is a sweeter satisfaction to be had.

And His name is Jesus.

 

The Meltdown

With three kids under the age of five, a trip to the grocery store used to pose a special challenge for me. In those days we were on an especially tight budget so sticking to my list was a necessity. It used to drive me crazy that the checkout line shelves were always filled with candy, gum, and other eye-catching treats that any child would beg to have.

In an effort to counteract this marketing technique, before entering the store each time I would remind my children that we would not be buying any candy or gum at the cash register line. For the most part it was a strategy that worked.

Until one day it happened.

Total And Utter Meltdown.

If you are a parent you know what I’m talking about.

That dramatic, uncontrollable volcano of emotion that suddenly spews out of your child.

All possibility of holding it together for one more moment has been exhausted and kicking and screaming ensues.

And there you are in the middle of the IGA with two other children who look as if they’re considering following suit depending on your reaction to the offender.

Oh, and absolutely everyone and their brother is watching you.

It’s as if there’s a spotlight suspended over your head and at any moment you’re going to hear broadcasted over the intercom, “Meltdown in aisle two. Parental incompetence suspected.”

Incidentally on this particular day my daughter was wearing the cutest white rabbit fur coat. It was a hand-me-down from a friend and was by far the fanciest and most expensive coat she had ever owned.

Walking in she’d looked like a perfect little princess. Sprawled on the grocery floor throwing a category 10 fit over a pack of gum she looked like an overindulged brat.

I take comfort in the fact that in one way or another most parents have endured a similar scene. And we all get through it.

Although sometimes parenthood can make you feel that you’re just one pack of gum away from throwing your own self to the floor in a hissy fit.

That day I had to make a decision and fast. Taking a deep breath and praying silently, I gingerly stepped over her and proceeded toward the door. In my head I was thinking, “What am I going to do if she doesn’t follow me?”

I needn’t have worried. I wasn’t two steps away from her before she popped up off the floor and hurried after me.

Crisis averted.

You know, there have been times in my life when I’ve been that little girl in the rabbit coat thrashing around on the floor. Instead of trusting in God’s plan for my life I’ve acted as if I’ve known better and then become frustrated when things haven’t turned out the way I thought that they should.

Instead of appreciating all the good that is in my life, I begin to focus on what is wrong. I’ve complained and protested.

Honestly, I’ve been sort of a brat. And if I’m not careful I could begin to think that God has left me alone to my own misery and simply stepped over me.

Not true.

It’s really me who has stepped away in disobedience.

I am so glad that God never thinks, “What am I going to do if she doesn’t follow me?” What a blessing to know that He has a plan and He’s sticking to it. No matter what, He is always patiently pursuing my heart.

And when I finally get over my melodramatic meltdown I realize that I was never really alone. He was just one step ahead waiting for my return.

 

 

 

 

The Warning Signs

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I suffered a toe injury. Then thanks to my ability to minimize my body’s natural alarm system (PAIN means Alert! Alert! Attention needed!) it got worse.

I knew a visit to the doctor was warranted, but I kept putting it off. In part, because I didn’t want to hear any sensible advice (like stay off your foot) that might interfere with a two-day trip I had planned with some girlfriends.

So I ignored the warning and went on my trip. After the first day my toe was sore, but hadn’t really gotten any worse. However, the second day we did some extensive walking. By the time I returned home my toe was visibly swollen and throbbing with pain.

I scheduled an appointment at the clinic for the next day.

By morning my toe hurt so badly that I was unable to find a single pair of shoes I could tolerate wearing. After settling on some open-toed sandals, I made my way to the car using the ever popular step-drag method. Add a hump on my back and I could hear the bell towers of Notre Dame calling me.

It was when I stepped out of my car in the clinic parking lot that I knew I was in real trouble. Up to this point I had managed to downplay the impact pain had on my mobility. Now parking as close to the entrance as possible, the door still seemed like a football field away.

Two other women got out of their cars at the same time I did. One was about eight months pregnant. The other had her foot in a surgical boot. In the race to the front door I came in a distant third.

By a long shot.

During my appointment as I experienced some painful procedures, the practitioner threw around scary words like MRSA and staph infection. I left with two double doses of antibiotics and an appointment with a podiatrist.

All from a tiny innocuous injury to my big toe. Crazy, right?

But here’s the thing. Sin is like that, too.

Little words or actions I know are wrong get diffused in my mind. I begin to reason that what I said or did wasn’t “that bad”. Rejecting accountability by letting those sins continue without correction assures that inevitably things will get messy.

In reality, sin is sin. And when left unattended it can grow and infect.

Here’s just one example. (And in the name of truth I will admit that I have suffered the consequences as both the recipient and the perpetrator.)

Words have the ability to build up or tear down and sometimes the line gets slightly blurred. Ignoring that a cutting comment clothed in humor can diminish another’s self-worth, unkind words are uttered in a joking way.

I’m not saying that humorous or silly remarks are bad. It’s the manner in which they are spoken. When innocent remarks begin to morph into hurtful sarcasm the warning bell in our heads should begin to sound.

Why do we think that as long as someone laughs along with us, the verbal slap didn’t sting? The person who said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a liar.

Thoughtless words can land a permanent wound on the recipient. If I am not actively “encouraging one another and building each up” as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, then I am in opposition to the Word and inviting sin to have a comfy spot in my heart.

By downplaying the damage, I can easily end up with a sin-sick soul in need of more than a double dose of antibiotics.

Fortunately, I know a really great Physician.

Heeding the warning signs of my sin, I can run to Him in sincere repentance and find that He is the antidote for any pain. Every cure, whether reprimand or restoration, is rooted in His abounding, unending love for me. Simply put, I can trust God to know what’s best for me.

Each visit yields another lesson learned and increases the likelihood that I will respond to repentance’s call the next time the alarm is sounded.

I am so thankful that the LORD’s clinic is always open for counsel and healing.

Free of charge.

It’s a good thing, too, for as much time as I spend there I could never afford the co-pay.

 

 

Sleeping baby

My grandson Luke is four weeks old today and I’m pretty sure he’s a genius of some sort. Although I have no demonstrable proof, trust me when I say that we Gigi’s are very intuitive about these things.

Just ask any of us.

Of course, be sure to allot enough time to see the pictures.

It might take a while.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that he has mastered the art of sleeping. My daughter swears to me that he opens his eyes and even cries on occasion, but I’m pretty sure she’s not telling me the truth. Every time that sweet little bundle is in my arms he demonstrates his superb sleeping skills. (I’m pretty sure Albert Einstein slept a lot as a baby.)

Occasionally he yawns, stretches a tiny arm up over his head and make a brief lamb-like bleat which I recognize as a baby prodigy-speak for, “Feed me.” I oblige with a bottle of milk his mother has supplied. He settles in, eyes still closed, lounging in the hammock that’s the crook of my arm.

While contemplating baby quantum physics, for sure.

Afterwards perched on my shoulder as I attempt to summon a burp, my husband manages to capture a wide-eyed picture. Unfortunately, he looks vaguely annoyed with me. (Luke, not my husband.) He was probably on the verge of a scientific break-through.

When I bring him back down to my arms he immediately lapses into a milk coma. Sweet baby sighs and soft rhythmic breathing follow.

Understandably.

Being brilliant is hard work.

 

How long?

The last day of school has finally arrived and the children are anxiously anticipating our awards program. Even though I have set the movable hands on the demonstration clock at the front of the room to 12:15 one little guy continues to ask, “How long ’til awards, Mrs. Gatts?”

After answering him multiple times throughout the morning I finally point to the clock and say, “What does the clock say?”

He screws up his face in concentration.

“3:00?’

“Try again. The little hand points toward the hour. The big hand tells how many minutes past.”

“Three after twelve?”

I sigh. Great. It’s the last day of school and he still doesn’t know how to tell time. Trying to maintain a happy heart I muster a smile.

“It’s 12:15,”  I tell him.

He smiles back.

“But how long ’till awards?”

This time I can’t help but chuckle.

“I tell you what, darlin’, ” I say. “When it’s time, I’ll tell you to line up. I promise I won’t let you miss it.”

His freckled nose crinkles up as he grins. “O.K.,” he says.

I get it.

Waiting is hard work. And not just for little boys. It’s hard for us big kids, too. It feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

“How long, O LORD?” I cry out. “How long before You hear my prayers and answer them?”

I want answers to my questions, solutions to my problems, sometimes even an end to my sufferings and I want it right now.

Today.

Actually, yesterday, if possible.

But God doesn’t schedule in His answers according to the calendar I keep. He loves me too much to rush the process. That intricate process of me becoming who I am to be.

Learning to be content in the waiting rooms of my life allows me to cultivate trust and obedience. Character traits that can only be grown in the slow, steady light of the Father’s perfect timing. Resting in the knowledge that God alone knows the when and where of my life.

So when impatience gets the best of me and I cry out, “How long, O LORD?” I can be confident that He sees me, freckled nose and all and says,

“I’ll tell you what, darlin’. When it’s time, I’ll tell you. And I promise I won’t let you miss it.”