Jumping for Joy

An unusual blur of motion caused me to look up from where I was seated at the back of my classroom  One of my students was standing beside his desk, leg flung high, with his hand cupped around his heel. He was gleefully hopping up and down on one foot. I caught his eye and asked the obvious question, “What are you doing?”

To which he gave me the obvious answer.

“I’m hopping up and down on one foot.”

Honesty.

It’s one of the things I love best about kids. I wanted to laugh, but instead asked another obvious question, “Is that one of the assigned activities you should be doing right now?’

“No.”

I gave him THE LOOK. You know which one I’m talking about. The one that says I-really-don’t-have-to-say-anything-else-because-you-know-where-I’m-going-with-this-so-maybe-you-should-get-busy-on-something-else.

“OK,” was his reply and back to work he went.

There was a big part of me that admired him for standing up in the middle of class and hopping up and down on one foot for no other reason than he was feeling joyful. I even wished that I felt like doing that. It had been a tough couple of weeks with a particular student in my classroom and I was feeling anything but joyful about it.

Later in the week as I was getting ready for school I noticed that three little figurines on my bathroom countertop were arranged differently. Normally they spelled out J-O-Y, but on this day they spelled out Y-O-J. Evidently my sweet husband had cleaned off the counter the day before and had put the figurines back without paying attention to their order.

YOJ- that pretty much described how I felt. Somehow that nonsense word seemed to perfectly articulate the

Yucky,

Overwhelmed, and

Just plain tired feeling I was experiencing.

I’d had it with the yucky prolonged winter weather that never seemed to end. I was overwhelmed with spending an exhausting amount of energy on trying to fix a student’s problem that was beyond my control. And basically, I was just plain tired of being tired!

And then it hit me. I didn’t feel like kicking up my heels in joy, because my letters were out-of-order. If JOY was an acronym for how we should live our lives then I had it all wrong

It should be Jesus-Others-Yourself and not way I had been going about it.

I had been focusing in on Y instead of the J. Instead of taking it all to Jesus, I had been trying to solve my dilemmas on my own.But here’s the tricky part.

I had been praying about the problem I was having with this student. Multiple times.

But if I were being honest, I had never really, fully relinquished control to Jesus.

 Not on purpose, of course. Every prayer had been sincerely offered up for help. But in the end I had yanked it back.

I guess I’m not the only one to feel like she is missing the mark. After all, in Romans 7:15 the apostle Paul writes about doing things that are totally opposite to what he wants to do.

I especially like the way the Message Bible puts it, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.”

Bingo.

I pour out my heart to God and say I give up control, but the before the amen is barely off my lips I’m thinking about it again.

Clearly I am a work in progress. No surprise here.

But in the meantime, I’m forever grateful for the grace Jesus pours out on me. The grace that allows me to start over whenever I let my Y get in front of my J.

The grace that inspires such love and blessing that despite my circumstances I feel like kicking up my heels and jumping for joy.

Who knows? Next time, one of my students feels the need to hop around I might be the one leading the conga line.

No Expertise Required

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher wrote a high school level algebra problem on the chalkboard and challenged us to solve it. There were three stipulations:

1. It was to be done strictly as homework.

2. We would have to be ready to explain our solution to our classmates.

3. Because it was such an advanced level problem, our parents were allowed to help us.

Never before had I seen such a complicated, convoluted conglomeration of letters and numbers. Feeling doubtful about my mathematical expertise, I still felt compelled to try.

For one thing, I was very competitive when it came to all things school-related. For another, there was a candy prize for anyone who solved it. To the delight of my dentist’s banking account, candy was one of the driving motivators of my ten-year-old life.

That night as I sat at the dining room table struggling to make sense of the numbers and letters before me I came to a decision. I could either go to school the next day admitting defeat or I could ask my college educated parents for help. I chose the latter.

For the next half an hour my parents worked to find a solution while I sat by and watched. From time to time my mother would pop up her head and ask, “Are you sure your teacher said we could help you?” I would nod.

That nod was my sole contribution the process. Because the problem was so far over my head it was more likely that I would spin around and turn into Wonder Woman than it was for me to come up with anything relevant.

The next day I walked into the classroom, my well-worked problem secure under my arm, wondering how in the world I would explain that problem to the class. Math time arrived and our teacher asked which of us had accomplished the task. Only one other person had done the problem.

She asked the two of us come to the front to write out our equations. I might as well have been writing in Sanskrit for all I knew about what my piece of chalk was scratching across the chalkboard.

To my great relief, my classmate asked if he could be the one to explain the solution. As he enthusiastically pointed to parentheses and equal signs, I stood by, blank look on my face, still completely in the dark as to what any of it meant. Afterwards, the class applauded and we were each given a candy cane. I sat down feeling completely unworthily. Later, I tossed the candy cane into the garbage.

I couldn’t receive something I felt did not deserve.

So what’s the point?

Here it is. Jesus offers us something we don’t deserve and every one of us has the choice to happily receive it or throw it away.

We can gratefully accept that fact that by his death and resurrection we are saved. Our sins have been nailed to the cross and we can live as forgiven people under grace.

Or we can go through life, drowning under the weight of our own sin and unworthiness, refusing to accept the gift that He gives.

Let’s face it. We all sin and none of us are worthy. There is absolutely nothing we can contribute to the situation to solve that problem.

But, Good News!  He loves us just the same! Romans 5:8 tells me that God provided for me even while I was still in my sin.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

My sins separate me from God and I can do nothing on my own to remedy that. But God still made a way for me to reconnect.

His name is Jesus Christ. When I yield to Him, His grace pours over me.

I don’t have to stand by, palms sweating, afraid that my unworthiness will be exposed. Instead, Jesus stands in that gap for me. He takes my sins upon Him and reconciles me to the Father.

He did all the work on the cross.

As for me – no expertise required.

Thank-you, LORD.

Why I Don’t Like Math

At the risk of offending mathematicians everywhere, I have a confession to make.

Numbers are not my favorite thing.

1. I happen to like words w-a-a-a-ay more than numbers. Non-mathematical words, that is. Have you ever noticed how extremely difficult it is to pay a compliment using math terminology? In my own experience, “Your mass looks very nice today,” has never been well received.

Even in the best of circumstances.

2. Math can be difficult to grasp for creative thinkers like me. Let’s face it, there is absolutely no romantic mystery in numbers. If 2+2 always equals 4 every single, stinking, solitary time, what’s fun about that? Make a puzzle out of it like 2+__ =4 and the answer is still the same.

It’s 2, people. Number 3 never even had a chance.

3. And as far as I’m concerned, algebra is just a smoke-and-mirrors technique to get us right-brainers to consider doing math. By sneaking in some letters it makes math appear vaguely interesting. It never works for long. a+b=c inevitably translates in my mind to Anne+Baking=Cookies so I end up with a spatula in one hand and a bag of chocolate chips in the other.

4. Calculus. Need I go on?

5. Lastly, it is incredibly annoying to me that I just numbered all of the things I don’t like about numbers.

Evidence that there must be a tiny pull of mathematical logic buried somewhere deep in my brain.

That must be the part that allows me to enjoy the beauty of symmetrical patterns in nature or the complexity of a simple eight-note musical scale. It might even be the part that draws comfort from the predictable sequence of events that order my existence.

Okay. The truth be known, I don’t really hate math.

But if anyone comes up to me and tells me I look solid, I may have to reconsider.

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.

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.