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.

 

 

 

I’m just saying

I live in a small community hosting a multitude of Christian churches. They span the denominational and non-denominational gamut. Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical, Missionary, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Church of God  – you name it, we got it.

I am not saying they are overflowing full-to-capacity every Wednesday evening, Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Or that people are flocking to them in record numbers.

Honestly, there seems to be ample, available parking.

I’m just telling you that they are there.

The large public elementary school where I presently teach by is predominantly staffed by Christian individuals. Every day our cafeteria workers, custodians, and certified staff members have an opportunity to bless the children in their sphere of influence.

I’m not saying that they all openly profess their faith.

That they push the boundary between church and state that the ACLU has established.

I’m just telling you that by their own admission, they are Christians.

For many years, our beginning-of-the-year corporation staff meeting began with a blessing by a local pastor. This year we began without that public prayer.

I know there were probably many churches and small groups praying for the teachers and students in other venues at other times. But this year, on our first day of school, there was no communal blessing.

I’m not saying everyone noticed.

There was no outrage in the teacher’s lounge.

In most conversations, it didn’t take precedence over the predicted changes in our salary schedule.

I’m just saying it wasn’t there.

That day, the open call to God to protect and provide for our community’s most vulnerable and valuable – our children – was marked absent.

For some, it is probably a big “so what.”

But for me, it sounds more like “now what?’

As is, now what is my response?

Just what is my response to empty church pews, silenced public prayers, and a choke hold on the open profession of faith in my classroom?

It can only be one thing.

I will continue to lift up Jesus.

Publicly when I’m called.

Silently when I’m not.

It may not be popular.

Or politically correct.

You don’t have to agree with me.

But I can’t be something I’m not.

It’s just who I am and “Whose” I am that matters most to me.

I’m just saying…

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t change a thing

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While her husband was on a business trip, my younger daughter and her newborn son came to stay with us. What a joy it was to meet each morning through the wide-eyed wonder named Luke.

At five weeks he has already changed so much. Beginning to shake off the sleepy cloak that wraps a newborn’s mind, he is alert for longer periods during the day (and regrettably for his parents, during the night as well.)  When he is awake, his arms and legs engage in a constant stationary dance to music only he can hear.

This morning as he lay beside me on the couch pumping his tiny arms and legs, I began to whisper in his ear. Occasionally he would fix his eyes on me and seem to be soaking in every syllable.

“I love you Luke. You are so beautiful. And even though you really don’t understand how much I love you, it doesn’t change the fact that I do.”

It is doubtful that he understood a word of what I said, but my voice still commanded his momentary attention.

Sometimes I am just like baby Luke. When God calls me, my response involves thrashing around in a crazy stationary dance.  Stuck on the couch looking up at the ceiling lights, neither moving backwards or forwards, my is mind running wild.

What if I fail?

What will people think?

How can I accomplish something so far outside my comfort zone?

Then I remember the promises of God.

I remember that Romans 8:31 says if God is for me, then who can be against me? And according to 1 Thessalonians 5:24,  if God has called me to it, then God will see me through it.

When I’m stuck on the brink of a land flowing with milk and honey, tempted to retreat to Egypt, I can go forth in the confidence that God’s love lies ahead and behind me. Whether or not I believe the promises doesn’t change God.

He remains the same.

The only change is in me when I respond to His promises with faith and love. So when I am faithless and fretful I must listen closely for Holy Spirit’s truth.

The lovely reminder He whispers in my ear.

“I love you Anne. You are so beautiful. And even though you don’t understand how much I love you, it doesn’t change a thing.”

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.

Come to the party

For weeks my class had been working toward an ice cream sundae party. It was the reward for memorizing the addition facts to twenty. Every new fact family committed to memory garnered an ice cream scoop or topping. Everyone had earned at least a single scoop with some sort of topping. Everyone except one. And as much as I tried to help this particular student, it was clear that the effort was very one-sided. He just didn’t take it seriously. So while the rest of the class indulged in the delicious benefits of a job well done, he quietly made his way to the library to read a book.

It’s times like that I really hate being “bad cop”. Praise and encouragement are the teaching tools I reach for most often. But sometimes they’re just not enough to motivate every child, every time and it seriously bums me out. I know, I know – life isn’t all happy faces and rainbow stickers. You can learn a lot from failure and the pain it causes. That being said, no matter how justifiable, I still hate having to don the bad cop cap and badge to carry out a punishment.

In the real world there are always going to be rewards and punishments for our choices. And when we make the choice to put love into motion it changes the world for the better. And if we put forth unloving word and actions, well, the same principle applies. But when it comes to God’s kingdom the stakes are even higher. It’s not just about doing good or bad things, but believing in the One who is the only true source of goodness. Because God is love. 

And one day we will all stand before the throne of love and give an account of our lives. I’m not suggesting that we will get into heaven by our works. That is solely a work of amazing grace, poured out on the cross by Jesus Christ. But we will be rewarded according to our works. And I can only imagine that it will  be like the most fantastic and wonderful party we’ve ever attended. And here’s the thing. I don’t want anybody I love and care about not to be in attendance. We are all invited, but not everybody gets to come. It’s a sobering thought.

But where there is life, there is hope. As Christmas approaches I am keenly aware that even the season’s secular atmosphere seems to soften hearts and minds. And softened hearts and minds lend opportunities to tell the story. The story of a God whose love is so extravagant, that despite our unwillingness to come to Him, He sent His Son to come to us. Jesus came to proclaim His love and claim us for His own. He invites us to be a part of the family of God, to join the party and live with Him forever.

The invitation is there.

We just have to say yes.

The Generous Giver

                                                                                           

 

I was in the car returning home from vacation when I got a phone call from my good friend, Karalee. She is one of the devoted workers that helps provide lunches in the summer to the children of our community. Wanting to fill me in on the details of the previous week I had missed, she was anxious to share an amazing incident.

It was a typical Wednesday at the church as people assembled in the kitchen and fellowship hall making and packing up lunches. Karalee was in charge on this summer morning and was hard at work organizing the troops when her sister pulled her aside. Becky told her a man had wandered into the church and was asking if they could feed him. He said he had been out of work for some time, had no money or food and was hungry. Sadly, he had been to three different churches and no one would help him.

Karalee stopped what she was doing and went to talk to him. Without pause, she made him a sandwich, then packed a large bag with the groceries we had on hand in our church’s small pantry. The grateful gentleman began to cry telling her he would begin coming to our church. He was true to his word and I had the pleasure of meeting him the very next Sunday.

What makes this story so amazing is not the generosity of one woman or one church, but what had happened one hour prior. Before setting up for the summer lunch program that day, Karalee and some of our other church leaders had been in prayer together. They had been specifically asking God to send different groups of people to our church. Having a heart for the poor, Karalee had asked to pray that God would send the poor in our community to our church. God took them seriously.

Isn’t it amazing that when we come to God with open, willing hearts that He will provide us with the things for which we have asked? What a privilege and honor it is to know that when we are sincere in our desires to help others that God trusts us with opportunities to do just that! He trusts us not to try to do everything on our own, but to allow Him to work through us. And when we ask, He generously provides. Ultimately, it is only in His loving provision for us that we may pour that love into somebody else’s life.

Thank-you, Holy Father, for your generosity to me! Help me not to hold tightly to the things you have graciously given me, but to be quick to pass on those blessings to others. Be glorified in the giving, LORD, for truly You are the Generous Giver. 

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.

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!”