Love Never Fails

I’ve had a knot in my stomach since Tuesday.

And my neck hurts, too. My shoulder muscle started contracting election morning, pulling my neck into spasm, and has not let up.

My body reacting to the tug-of-war in my spirit.

I’m unsettled.

And sad.

And so, so disappointed in us.

I thought we were better than this.

And I’m not talking about the results of the election, but our reaction to the results of the election.

On both sides.

Let me be clear.

I have people in my life I dearly love and respect who voted blue.

I have people in my life I dearly love and respect who voted red.

But the aftermath of this election is sickening. Since when do we take to the streets screaming venomous, vile profanity stringing up our president-elect in effigy Ku Klux Klan style? Is this who we are now? An angry hate-spewing mob?

And since when is it permissible to say to our hurting brothers and sisters that they need to “suck it up”, “stop whining”, and “get over it”? When did we forget to show compassion to the devastated and desperate? When did we become so heartless and numb to the very real fears of the slighted and marginalized?

When did we become a nation of bullies? It seems that all the lessons about kindness and tolerance taught in every classroom have been wasted.

My heart is breaking.

But I am not without hope. Never without hope.

Because as a Christian, I believe that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. Even when things look dire and hate runs rampant, His mercies never come to an end. They are an ever-present reminder that LOVE is stronger.

So I continue to pray. And I ask you to pray, also.

For our fractured country.

For our future leaders.

For our children who will live in this legacy we are creating.

And remember the words the apostle Paul wrote about love. That love is patient and kind. It’s not rude or arrogant. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

We fail, but God never does.

Have faith, my friends.

The Word of God is alive and active. It was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. And it’s very clear on this point.

Love never fails.

 

 

 

The Gift

At this very moment I am sitting in my kitchen with a pile of rocks spread out across my countertop, crying my eyes out. A strange thing to be doing on a Sunday morning, to be sure.

But there is a good reason.

You see, as I entered the sanctuary for worship this morning, a dear friend approached with a gift bag.

A retirement gift.

A good-luck-as-you-pursue-the-pulpit gift.

“You’ll understand it when you read the card,” she said.

Reading through the card, my eyes immediately teared. But it wasn’t until I got home and actually opened the gift that I understood the magnitude of love that had been poured out on me.

At first glance, it was a lovely glass vase filled with colorful river rocks. But as I looked closer I could see there were words written on them. Her card had told me it was a “Rock of Encouragement” jar.

The accompanying card had said,”…with any new experience there can be ups and downs…when you need it, reach in and find a word on it that describes you! Not just any words, but words I received from your family, friends, co-workers, students and church family.”

I emptied the jar and began to read, smiling with each adjective.

“Witty”

“Faithful”

“Angelic” Hmmm…does that person really know me?

“Loving” Aww, so sweet.

“Partner in Crime” Now that’s more like it.

“Blonde” Perhaps some interesting implications

Then I came to the one that stopped me short.

Cue the waterworks.

Because as I read it, I heard the still small voice of the Spirit say, “That one’s from Me.

“Chosen”

The last three weeks have been emotionally and physically grueling.

I packed up twenty-two years of teaching and officially retired from public education…

Endured two weeks of bronchitis and pneumonia…

Wrecked my back by repeatedly picking up and putting a two year-old on the potty…

Made a quick trip to Kansas City to help out my daughter…

And had my first eight-hour License to Preach class.

By yesterday evening the only word that I would have picked to describe myself was

OVERWHELMED.

And yet here I am, on Sunday morning, tears running down my face knowing that is not how I am defined by the Maker of the Universe.

I am chosen.

Like each of us are.

I am not alone in my journey. Yes, I am called to be light and salt to the world. But I do so in the presence of a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before me and those who walk beside me in the here and now.

To the one who is reading this right this very minute, please know my friend, you are precious to the One who made you.

And no matter what other adjectives you may have picked to describe yourself at any given moment there are ones that supersede them.

Loved

Redeemed

Chosen Child of God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bitter and the Sweet

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted.

Months really.

It’s been a crazy, busy year. Transitional, in many respects. No excuse for not writing though, except that maybe I wasn’t sure what to say.

But today I woke up knowing I needed to write.

In the next few weeks I will put a final period at the end of a creatively fueled twenty-two year-long-run-on sentence that has been a central expression of who I am. After spending my entire adult life actively engaged in the lives of little ones – teaching, nurturing, laughing and loving – I’m going to step away from the public school arena. And as the day draws closer, my emotions seem to be stuck on overdrive.

Elation

Sadness

Excitement

Nostalgic

Grateful

Humble

So very, very humble.

But don’t think that this reflection is going to have an ideological veil thrown over it blanketing the past two decades in fairy dust and magic. I won’t profess that every child in my class clawed her way out of the D range to make it to the honor roll. That every broken spirit was miraculously repaired with a well-timed smile, a hug or a kind word. Trust me when I tell you, not every parent signed up to be my biggest cheerleader.

But even so, most of those twenty-two years were so very, very good. In many ways they were excellent. And in truth, those pruning years, the difficult ones, were the years I grew the most.

Personally

Professionally

Spiritually

And for that, I am forever grateful.

This summer I will pressing into a new space. After a few years of wrestling with the call God has placed on my life, I am stepping into new ministry.

Is being obedient scary?

Of course.

Is it going to be worth it?

My heart of hearts says, “Totally!”

My want-to-worry flesh says, “Hopefully.”

The Spirit within me calls out, “Trust Me.”

So now my life seems to be a simultaneous process of excitedly looking forward, while steadfastly trying to remain present to all the moments I’ve been given now.

As in today.

It’s tough. Trying to live the Matthew 6:34 principal rubs against my teacher planning, “think ahead” self. So I’ve had to make a conscious choice to remain present. To let tomorrow worry about itself.

Every day people ask me, “How many more days?”

And every day I can truthfully answer, “I’m not counting.”

I’m not counting, because I don’t want to cheat even one little one out of the best I have to offer.

I’m not counting, because even in these last few days I’m trying to soak up every bit of the bitter and sweet that is left to be savored.

Because I know that’s the real blessing of obedience. The awareness that it takes both the bitter and the sweet to experience the beauty of the journey.

 

 

Signs and Wonders

We saw them as we were stopped at the traffic light. At the time I wondered aloud about what they could be doing on the corner of the highway. Camped out under a group of decorative trees and bushes the young trio resembled scouts on an overnight.

Turning into the entrance of the mall I could see that two of them were holding signs. However the line of cars on the other side of the divider obscured my vision so I couldn’t really see what was printed on them.

They’re raising money for a cause, I thought to myself. After all, in our town it’s not unusual to see people standing on the corner asking for donations for the fire department or the humane society. In fact, kids are always waving signs urging me to pull my car into the parking lot for a quick wash in exchange for dollars toward funding the cheerleading squad or purchasing new band uniforms.

I knew that following our Sunday-after-church-lunch I’d have another opportunity to see what charity they were fundraising for and be able to drop in a dollar or two if I liked what I saw.

And after about an hour, that opportunity came. As our car waited in line to make a righthand turn onto the highway I saw them again. And this time I could clearly read the words on the signs.

They read:

“We are hungry” and “Food”

I know, I know. It could have been a scam. Another attempt to bilk me out of my hard-earned money. Perfectly able-bodied human beings looking for a hand-out.

But in the moment there was a choice to be made.

And because I have free will I could look the other way and drive by.

Or…

Or I could look at the one who was looking at me and choose to be present.

To be kind.

To give hope.

To share what I had.

Whether I judged them to be deserving or not.

So I asked Phil to hand me the bag of food from the back seat. Inside were two large portions of beautifully prepared Italian dishes complete with bread.  I rolled down the window and handed that bag of warm deliciousness to one of the women dressed in khaki and green. She smiled broadly and uttered an enthusiastic, “Wow!”.

I met her eyes and returned the smile.

And then we drove away.

The world is always looking for signs and wonders. If they would only see a miracle, then they would believe. The strange thing is that those very signs and miracles are all around us every day. But our ability to sense them has become dulled.

I choose to see this encounter with the woman on the side of the road as a sign of God’s good provision.

Even a miracle of sorts.

You see, during our lunch our waitress had approached us and told us that she had made a mistake when she rang up our order. It seems that she had charged us for a dinner portion instead of a lunch and it qualified us to pick another entrée to take home.

For Free.

We had wondered how in the world we would be able to eat all of that food.

Hmm… a wonder.

Another sign that if I keep my heart open I can be an active participant in God’s blessing to others.

And to be a witness to His daily miracle of love.

One wonderful, miraculous, blessing at a time.

 

 

 

My Opinion- for What it’s Worth

In a world where opinions fly fast and free I am aware that I am not very political.

Even though I have little regard for what the world considers to be politically correct, conflict and confrontation still make me uncomfortable.

I tend to be the smoother of all those ruffled feathers rather than being the one making those feathers fly.

Some would see that as a huge personality flaw.

C’mon! Take a side! Speak out! Step up! Fly a flag! (Oh, but not that one.) Point a finger! (Oh dear, again, not that one.)

No, I am not political.

But I am also very sure of what I believe.

I believe God created us in His own image and He calls me to regard all of His children with love, compassion, and respect.

I believe in the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Created as a perfect guide for our lives and not as a battering ram against people with whom I do not agree.

I believe it is not my job to strong-arm others to believe the way I do. (Only Holy Spirit can convict a heart.)

I believe it is not my job to judge another human being. (Only God can judge the hearts of men.)

My job – my only job – is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

To offer Jesus in every way I can through acts of kindness, love, compassion, justice and mercy. To speak the unwavering truth with the knowledge that what I do here during my limited time on earth matters so much.

Every day is a gift too precious to be wasted on hate-mongering.

Time is short.

Seek the truth.

Speak the truth in love.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Teach

This past week was National Teacher Appreciation week and I was blessed to be on the receiving end of a lot of love. It was so encouraging and very humbling to be acknowledged for just doing my job.

No doubt, teaching has changed dramatically over the years. This is my twenty-first year at my present school. And although I couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment, it’s definitely not the same job I originally signed up for two decades ago. Much of the professional autonomy is gone. Curriculum is driven by educational law largely lacking in common sense. Testing is out of control.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is this – children still need somebody to love them and invest in them. They need someone who will care enough about them to hold them accountable. To say no to unacceptable behavior and yes to putting forth the necessary effort to succeed. They need somebody who will help them push past failure and cheer them on even when its hard.

Learning isn’t about perfection. It’s about progress.

Over the years, I’ve rejoiced in my students’ successes and agonized over their failures. And still I feel like I’m the lucky one. The one, who for at least a short while, got to walk that path of progress alongside them.

A few weeks ago a child in my class wrote me a note on the back of her math homework. She was moving to another state on short notice and on her last day of class she handed in her homework along with these words.

To the best 2nd grade teacher anybody could ever have.

School is very important. That is not why I like it though. I like it because of all of the people you can meet and the things you are able to learn. People become teachers. They take the time to teach us new things. Mrs. Gatts, yes, my teacher, helped me. She and all my teachers helped me learn and know what I do know. I love my teacher. I love you, Mrs. Gatts.

That’s why I do it.

That’s why I teach.

That’s why any loving teacher teaches. We love learning, but more than that, we love the learner.

Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all my fellow teachers! Keep loving the learners. They are so worth it.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Content

Be content.

As I opened my eyes to greet the morning those were the words lingering in my mind. It seemed like an odd reminder because at that very moment I wasn’t feeling agitated or stressed. I had slept well.

There were no particular pressing problems on my mind and yet there was Holy Spirit whispering to me in the wee hours of the waking light.

Be content.

He was preparing me.

He knew what was coming when I did not.

Unlike the storm warnings that flash across my T.V. screen – Be alert! Be prepared! Take cover! He was whispering softly – Be content, Lean into Me, I am your soft place to fall.

Loving and living in God does not mean a free and easy life. It isn’t an iron-clad guarantee that I will be exempt from sickness, that those I love will always agree with me, that stressful circumstances will not come barging into my orderly existence like uninvited house guests.

But it does mean that those things can not overtake me.

Each day, God provides a spiritual covering for my heart in His Word. It is in those moments of quiet that He reminds me that His love never leaves me. That there is nothing that happens in this world that escapes His view. He is aware of it all and is constantly providing for me.

It is up to me to believe and receive.

To lean in.

To trust in His sovereignty.

To be content.

The Great Amen

Our gregarious grandson recently spent some glorious extended time with us. Pulling us into his full – speed – ahead,  precocious preschooler’s approach to life, my normally active routine paled in comparison. Although nap time was not high on his priority list it became a necessity – for me!

Each day after stalling for as long as he could, he reluctantly went to his room. To ensure he stayed in bed, I would sit on the family room couch just around the corner. He couldn’t see me from the bedroom door, but I could hear him get up and open the door in search of me. When he didn’t see me he would say, “Aww, man!” before closing the door again. I guess he was hoping to convince me to let him get up.

Hearing his plaintive “Aww man!” reminded me of how often I also utter that phrase in frustration. And as those syllables rolled off his tongue, Holy Spirit drew me into an interesting language perspective. By slightly changing the last vowel sound, “Aww man” suddenly became “Amen”.

Hmmm…. the “what if’s” began to percolate in my brain.

What if in every set back I would utter up a resilient  “Amen” in place of a combative “Aww man” ?

What if I resisted the temptation of exasperation and leaned in further to the “Amen”?

And what if I allowed Jesus, the Great Amen,  to reign in my life as the ultimate “so be it”?

I waste a lot of time fighting against opportunities that may be kindling for the first spark of a refining fire.

Experiences that I deem as negative may eventually spur me toward joy. Experiences that can help me rejoice when I run into problems and trials.

For I know that they help me develop endurance.

And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens my confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4)

When life’s doors of opportunity seem to block my temporary goal, am I cracking them open only to rail an “Aww man!” at life?

Or am I acquiescing to the great Amen as I embrace the peace and joy of Jesus?

The choice of one syllable is up to me.

And it changes everything.

 

 

 

 

Unearthing the Truth

It began last night with a question. This unraveling of me.

What is it that has kept me from being who I am supposed to be?

It’s strange how Holy Spirit breaks into the places I think I have patched up so neatly with the Do Not Disturb sign clearly posted. But there I was in the middle of dinner and He asked me that very question.

What is it that has kept you from being who you were meant to be?

He knew the answer. It was me who needed to probe a little deeper.

But instead I turned to the one I love and asked him that question. Surely we all have things that have held us back. Perhaps hearing his answer would guide me to my own. But instead of giving me his own definitive answer he turned the question back to me.

And in the middle of a crowded restaurant over a perfectly lovely dinner, my eyes began to well with tears. I knew the answer. It was hidden in the same pathetic phrase I had uttered to myself time and time again. It was fuel to the raging fire that consumed those around me in my pursuit of perfection. It was the fear that held me back from anything that seemed too wonderful.

Am I worth it?

Seeing those words makes me cringe.

They beg a deeper question as they call my faith to the spotlight.

Do I believe that this Jesus, the One who anchors my hopeful heart, thinks I am enough? Despite my faithlessness, does He still think I am worth it?

And beyond that, does He adore me?

Too often I try to display the Father in the faulty, family frame I inherited. My perspective of His love for me gets muddied by the emotional gaps reflected in my shallow stream of understanding.

I know my earthly father loved me. The deepest parts of my heart tell me so. But the words of affirmation and adoration that I longed to hear were never spoken aloud.

And my interpretation of that silence formed an inaccurate picture of who I am. It has followed me into womanhood and surfaces every time I am on the brink of becoming more of who I was meant to be.

I’ve spent a lot of time digging in that garden of lies scratching the dirt and pulling at roots, desperate to unearth the weeds that grow there. I remember that each time I am able to grab a root in my hand and raise it to the light, it withers allowing space for good seeds to grow.

So here I am again. On my knees in the dirt grabbing at the root of this lie. The one that tells me I am not enough. I am not adored. I dig into the Psalms to unearth the promises of redemption and restoration He has for me. The ones that proclaim a father’s compassionate love so great that it is as high as the heavens are above the earth.

That truth begins to reverberate anew in my soul. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 

God is not stingy with His love. He lavishes it on me, pours it over me in extravagance. He spared no expense in the pursuit of my heart. Not even His very own Son.

That’s how much I am adored. The truth I have known my whole life suddenly seems a fresh truth. A new depth. He died for me.

He adores me. I am worth it.

Thank-you, LORD.