Introductions

A public introduction can be a tricky thing. One time before speaking at a women’s conference I received an endearing introduction given by a close friend. Her kind words stirred such emotion in me I had to fight back tears.

Another time I was to give a short lesson to a much smaller group of ladies where the average age hovered around eighty. The introduction I received that day was much more matter-of-fact. It went something like this:

Pastor was supposed to speak with us today, but I suppose something important came up. Instead, Anne is going to speak. We’re letting her go first in the program so she can get out of here.”

Hmmm….not exactly what I was expecting. Still there was no reason to take offense. When there is pie waiting to be eaten at the end of the meeting it’s best to forgo the flowery verbiage and stick to the facts.

Since that meeting I have been considering something. Every single day, I have the opportunity to introduce somebody to Jesus. Most likely it’s not going to be in an overt Bible-toting, public-speaking, church-going kind of way. My typical day does not include standing at the end of my driveway handing out fancy invitations to my next “Meet the Savior of the World” soiree.

Still, in a very public way my life extends a continual invitation to the watching world to see what my Christianity looks like. What I say and do on every usual day of my ordinary life is a representation of my own attitude toward God. Every syllable that resonates from my brain putting words and actions into motion says this is really who I think Jesus is. It is an invitation for others to observe what He means to me.

It can say I am small-minded and judgemental, reflecting every negative stereotype the world wants to portray. Or it can say I am a sinner deserving punishment, but through Christ I am saved by grace.

More importantly it can say to the world – come and see the One who saved me. The One I love. I want you to meet Him. His name is Jesus. Of course, He doesn’t need me to introduce you. He already knows your name.

“”The Lord came to us from far away, saying, “I have loved you with a love that lasts forever. So I have helped you come to Me with loving-kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (New Life Version (NLV)

The Easy Way or the Hard Way

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. It’s your choice.”

My daughter Rachel was describing her interaction with my grandson Isaiah as she was trying to get him dressed. Like a lot of two and a half year olds he can’t be bothered with things like pants or shoes especially if it means interrupting his play time. She had given him plenty of forewarning that they were going to leave the house and that he must stop playing to get dressed. Finally when time had run out she gave him the choice of doing things the easy way or the hard way. The easy way meant he would cooperatively participate in putting on his clothes. The hard way meant screaming and thrashing around as she navigated his body parts into the proper arm holes and pant legs. After a moment of thoughtful pause he simply said, “The hard way.”

That totally cracked me up! The fact that he would choose to exert that much effort to resist the inevitable showed such strong will. But then again, that attitude seemed strangely familiar. Wasn’t that what I had been doing for the past year?

About a year and a half ago God called me into new ministry. He asked me to venture into the unknown and frankly I was terrified. And yet, believing the call was authentic I knew I had to say yes. Still over the past few months my response has been measured, as if I had some control over the outcome. I kept trying to figure out the path in a way that suited me instead of giving control over to Him. And God had been very patient with me. It wasn’t until recently I have heard God say, “Anne, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but ultimately, my will is going to be done.”

Reality stepped forward front and center. Week after week I had stood before the congregation leading worship singing that I would go where He led me and yet my spiritual heals were caked with dirt where I had dug in hard to keep from going forward. What a hypocrite you are!  I thought. You say one thing while you do another, choosing to stay safe and secure in a holding pattern. Suddenly I was the two-year old in this story choosing the hard way. I had been thrashing about with indecision and worry instead of acquiescing to the easy way where green pastures and still waters flowed.

And so I have made some hard decisions. Decisions that will lead me out of a wonderful ministry that I love into new areas of ministry opportunity. The funny thing is, I no longer feel angst about the future but am resting in peace. I still do not know exactly what the future holds, but I am O.K. with that. I know that God goes before me and will prepare the way. “The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23: 1-3

Name the Name

If you are one of those travelers who prefer to be left alone during the mandatory waiting time before boarding your plane I may owe you an apology. You see, I am one of those annoying people who talks to strangers in airports. If you find yourself in a seat across from me in the boarding area or strapped into the seat beside me on the plane I am probably going to start up a conversation with you.

I promise I won’t interrupt you if you are engrossed with your Kindle or plugged into your Mac or your iPad. But if you are simply sitting alone and staring into space, in my mind, you are fair game. That is especially true if we are sitting side by side on the plane. For me, there is nothing more awkward than wrestling for the armrest with someone I have barely acknowledged beyond a half-smile in response to their muffled, “Excuse me,” as they shuffle by to the window seat. (My long-legged husband always sits on the aisle so I am forever destined to sit in the middle.)

Recently we were traveling internationally which requires you to be in the airport at least two hours before take-off. Surprisingly we got through security very quickly so when we reached our gate there was still a very long wait ahead of us. A stylishly dressed young man walked into the boarding area where we were seated and took the open chair across from us. He carried two bags, but no electronics. I waited a minute or two before striking up a conversation.

You can learn a lot about people in an airport if you are a friendly listener. The anonymity of the experience seems to give people license to talk. The chances of ever seeing each other again are slim so why not socially engage for an hour? I quickly learned that Joe was a twenty-nine year old automotive designer, originally from Maine who now lived in North Carolina. He had met his brother and parents for a weeklong vacation and was headed home to his dog and an important presentation at work.

I told him about my life, too and little by little we got to know each other as well as two people can within an hour and a half time span in an airport terminal. You might wonder why I am even writing about this young man who occupied my attention for such a short time.The real reason is this:

I feel as if I missed an opportunity to introduce him to Jesus.

I casually told him about my walk with the Lord as if it were just another detail in my life instead of it being the most important, defining element that it is. He told me that he had been raised Catholic, but no longer attended Mass because there were too many rules. I told him that it wasn’t really about rules, that it was all about love. But I didn’t name the Name. I don’t even know why. I just kept waiting for the right time and then the time was over and we were being called to board. And now I cannot quit thinking about that missed opportunity to share the Gospel.

My husband thinks I am being too critical of myself. He reminds me that I showed Jesus’ love through example. That I listened to a young man who needed to talk about some of the hard parts of his life. That I gave him encouragement. Somehow that still doesn’t seem like enough.

So I just keep praying for him. I pray that God will call to his heart and open his eyes. I pray that someday soon another person will enter his life and tell him specifically about Jesus. And I pray that the next time I find myself next to someone who doesn’t know the living Savior that I will not get lost in generalities and miss another opportunity to name the precious Name of Jesus Christ.

Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy. Psalm 99:2-3

Ducks in a Row

One sunny, Saturday morning two mallard ducks waddled through my neighbor’s yard. What an odd ballet of synchronized movement it was. When one moved one way, the other mimicked the motion. Unlike ducklings following behind their mother in a line, these two bachelors were side by side. One was copying the other’s movements with seemingly choreographed precision. My nature-savy husband told me that they were on the hunt for a female. We watched as they circled around the yard, bright green heads bobbing in tandem, before walking down the hill and straight into the middle of the road! Fortunately for Bachelor Number One and his wing man, there were no cars in sight. It wasn’t long after their departure that a little brown female appeared in the yard next to the bird feeder. They had totally missed her.

Sadly, as a young woman, I behaved remarkably similar to those silly ducks. More than once I walked the wrong way down the middle of a road following after someone who said that they knew the way. That journey almost never ended up being a direct route to happiness. In fact, it is nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t end up by the side of the road flattened by the oncoming traffic. As I got older and earnestly sought out God’s calling for my life I began to realize that the only One with an impeccable sense of direction had been right before me the entire time.

Why is it then that I still veer off the path when life throws up a road block? Instead of trusting God to work things out in His own time I am tempted to follow after another little duck if she seems to be paddling by in good time. I empathize with the apostle Paul when he writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I don’t do, but what I hate, I do.”  I know I should wait for instructions, and yet I am so prone to try to forge ahead on my own! How thankful I am that the Father continues to remind me that He has already made a way for me. And the One who is the way, the truth, and the light shines before me like a beacon lighting my path.

“Lord, let me be still and know that you are God. When I am tempted to chase after my own solutions, remind me that You alone are the way. Lead me by by Your righteous hand for You are good and Your faithfulness endures to all generations.”

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!”

Back to the Brady Bunch

I caught an old episode of The Brady Bunch the other night. It took me right back to elementary school when all my friends and I wanted to emulate the cool and popular Marsha Brady. Unfortunately, most of us knew we were more likely to be misfit, middle sister Jan-material.

In this particular installment Marsha had been uncharacteristically called into the principal’s office and accused of drawing an unflattering picture of her teacher with an equally unflattering caption. As she flung back her lovely locks in protest and disbelief, her principal sentenced her to an hour of detention every day after school for a week. The injustice continued at home as her parents actually- shocker alert– backed the principal! Carol Brady told her distraught daughter that surely the principal was a reliant source of information and if he said that Marsha had done the dastardly deed then she must have done it. They even had the gall to punish her by taking away her upcoming slumber party!

Granted, by the end of the episode the real culprit was discovered and Marsha got to have her sleep-over, but her parents never apologized for taking the errant principal’s side. In fact, Marsha had falsely accused one of her own friends for the picture and Mr. Brady pointed out that she had jumped to conclusions just like the principal. Instead of either calling the school on the phone to rant about it, reporting it to the local newspaper or phoning the television reporter help line, he turned it into a lesson for Marsha.

Interesting approach.

Hey, I am not totally insensitive to poor Marsha for having to do the time without committing the crime. When I was in junior high school I also experienced a teacher initiated injustice. Our choral director was the new sheriff in town that semester and our class of seventy-plus singers had become unruly. She turned choir into a study hall and gave us an explicit no-talk rule for the remainder of the class time under the threat of paddling.

I was and always have been a rule follower so I got out my spelling book and began copying my spelling list in my notebook. A boy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Is that our assignment?” Without uttering a single syllable I simply nodded and pointed to the lesson in my book. Immediately I was called on the carpet for talking. There was no use in trying to defend myself because in those days the teacher was always right. I knew she was trying to make an example of me. I was a straight-A student and on that particular day I was even wearing my cheerleading uniform.

Into into the hallway I went to stoically receive my punishment.  Two humiliating whacks of a paddle that I will never forget. Was it fair? Absolutely not. Would I ever do that to one of my own students? Never! But did my parents call the school to complain about the unjust treatment of their honor student. Nope. Because it was a different time and parents had a different attitude about teachers.

I will be the first to say that I am so very glad that corporal punishment is considered to be an archaic and abusive form of punishment that is no longer tolerated in schools. Fear and intimidation should never be a legitimate tactic when trying to manage a classroom. But I do wish that the time when parents and teachers were on the same side was the norm and not the exception.

I have been blessed to have many, many wonderful sets of parents who have backed me up through the years. As each year passes and attitudes about school continue to change I am even more grateful for parental support. I don’t think that parents should blindly accept what the teacher says about their child, but when there is a question I do think that the place to start is with the teacher. Not the principal, superintendent, local newspaper or television station. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, but I would pray that when there is a problem that a parent would give me the benefit of the doubt and first speak to me.

As a believer, if a miscommunication arises, I have to take special care in my response to the children and to their parents. If I am Christ’s ambassador to the world I must present God’s love even in the most difficult of situations. I must remember what the Word tells me.

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 29:11“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

By taming my tongue and taking on the garment of humility and love I can trust God to lead me into the most difficult parent-teacher conferences and strive toward resolution. And although I may not be able to neatly wrap it all up like a thirty minute Brady Bunch episode, in the end I hope my attitude can bring glory to the One who loves us all, the parent, the child and the teacher.

Opportunity knocking

I swear I had only stepped out into the hallway for a minute before the morning bell rang. In truth, I was actually in the doorway but my back was to the classroom as my colleague and I briefly discussed the rescheduling of a cancelled field trip. As soon as I turned to face my class the town criers were up and out of their seats ready to tattle.

Ben and Jay were fighting!

Two very familiar culprits were then called into the hallway for an up-close and personal discussion with me. Out poured the stories, each one collaborating the other while putting the most favorable light on whomever was doing the telling.

“I was in the bathroom and he started knocking on the door saying, ‘911, this is an emergency. Come out with your hands up!’ and then I opened the door and he pushed me down. Then afterwards when he went into the bathroom I did the same thing to him.”

“No you knocked me down and started trying to do karate on me.”

All I could think was, “I was three feet away! How could that all have happened without me hearing it?”

In the end, nobody had suffered anything more than hurt feelings and a need to be right.

But isn’t that just like life is sometimes? We get distracted by things we deem more important and miss the more urgent issue that is right behind us? Like the overwhelming need to be right in a situation that really calls out for an act of mercy and compromise. Or giving into retaliation instead of offering up forgiveness. Am I not so unlike the eight year old boys who struggle to be heard as they tell their side of the story?

When did it become more important to be right than to be happy? Truly- it is the moment I decide that I am more important than somebody else. It is in the moment when I forget that I am called to be a child of God with a loving, humble and forgiving spirit. It is in the moment when I cease to listen with my heart.

I am thankful that I am surrounded by chances to grow each day. Even in the ordinary classroom squabbles or the sometimes annoying inconveniences there can be a hidden opportunity. For it is within those less then desirable circumstances that change can be found. And it is there that I can choose to expand into a little better version of myself. A version that looks a little less like me and a little more like Jesus.

Obedient Hearts

The children in my second grade class were giddy with excitement in anticipation of our Valentine’s party. Controlling the exuberant enthusiasm as we spent our reading time immersed in a Japanese folktale and then later in math computing two-digit subtraction problems was like holding down a boiling pot lid with two hands. Finally the hands on the classroom clock pointed to two o’clock. The explosion of hearts and candy began! Love was definitely in the air and as candy and cards spilled out it was also on the floor!

What would it mean to our lives if we pursued God’s heart the way a typical eight-year-old anticipates a Valentine party? And what does it really mean- to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? We read in Acts 13:22 that King David was a man after God’s own heart. It’s interesting to think that David was the one God chose to describe in those terms. After all, wasn’t David an adulterer? Didn’t David murderously send a good man to the front lines of battle to be killed so that could have his wife? How in the world could he be a man after God’s own heart?

Doctor Luke wrote these words “After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” David was not a man after God’s own heart because he was perfect, for in fact he was full of sinful behavior. But God said that David was a man after His own heart because David would do everything he wanted him to do. When God called David to do something he responded by doing it. David had a humble and obedient heart.

If we are striving to be men and women after God’s own heart we can look at David, a child of God as an example of the kind of heart God wants us to have- full of faith and obedience. Obedience is not exactly my favorite word when it applies to my own self. It reminds me of bossiness and there’s probably nobody who doesn’t want to be bossed around more than me. And yet, obedience to God is exactly what He asks of me.

Each morning when I wake I pray the same prayer- “Lord, let me be a woman after your own heart today.” I am sure there are people in my life who might be thinking at times- Really? Because you sure aren’t acting like that! But just like every other human being on the planet, I am flawed and in need of a Savior. My intentions are to follow after God’s heart and then well, life happens and I get sidetracked.

In order to truly pursue God I need to firmly plant the Word of God in my heart. So when life happens, my default reaction is not worldly but rooted solidly in the Word. What is displayed in my life is the overflow of what is in my heart. For me to be woman after God’s own heart, my own heart and mind have to be open to what God has to say to me. And when He calls me, I must respond in obedience.

For God will never call me to a place where He has not gone before. I can rest in the knowledge that His grace is sufficient to my every need. Every day may not be filled with hearts and roses, but if I am obediently pursuing God’s own heart it will be abundantly filled with the Father’s grace and love.

As Far as the East is from the West

This weekend I had the awesome opportunity to speak to a beautiful group of ladies at a women’s conference. As we explored what it meant to be a woman after God’s own heart using 1 Corinthians 13 we took a hard look at forgiveness.

1 Corinthians 13 verse 5 says that love keeps no record of wrongs. What a wonderful thing it is to know that this is God’s attitude toward my sin when I repent. Psalms 103:12 tells me “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

As I was preparing to speak at the conference I ran across a letter that one of my daughters had written to me when she was very young, probably age eight or nine. This is what the letter said:

 

I am so so sorry Mother. I love you. I do not hate you. I was just mad. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me? Please. You mean a lot to me. I tried doing it without you and I couldn’t do it. I need you.

 

That letter was not kept as a reminder of the unkind thing she said to me, but instead because of the love it conveyed. In truth, I do not even remember her telling me she hated me or why she said it. What I do remember is her repentant heart and the great compassion I felt for her plea for forgiveness.

That is how I have come to the Father many, many times over. I have never told Jesus that I hated him, but my words and actions toward someone or something else certainly did not convey love. My prayers could have mirrored her letter.

 

I am so, so sorry Father. Jesus, I love You so much and yet my actions tell a different story.  In my anger at someone else I have sinned against You. Please, Lord, You mean everything to me. I have tried doing it my way and it just hasn’t worked out. I need You.

 

The Lord has great compassion on us and we too need to have compassion on others when they sin against us. We are called not to hold grudges, but to forgive and forget. The world tells us to remember, but God says to forget. How do we get to that place of forgiveness? Very often I cannot get there on my own, but must rely wholly on God. I must pray Psalms 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

 

Love does not keep score. In a world where we want everything to be fair, that is hard. Almost every day at school some child wants me to mediate a disagreement.  I try to be fair. But in general, life isn’t always fair. People I love hurt me and I hurt them. My sense of earthly justice wants to keep score.

 

But then I remember that in my relationship with God I do not get what I deserve. My sinful nature merits justice. I deserve punishment and condemnation, but God gives me pardon and mercy instead. And when I pour out my heart to Him asking for forgiveness and expressing my absolute need for Him he looks at me in love, chooses to forget my transgression and pulls me close. Thank-you, Lord for the undeserved gift of mercy! 

Pity Party

Shortly after attending a teachers meeting this week I threw myself a big ‘ole pity party. I began inviting my colleagues to join me in my party lament of “too-much-to-do-and-not-enough-time-to-do-it-and-furthermore-nobody-appreciates-what-I-do-anyway.” Throwing out complaints like confetti I began cataloging all the things that make my job seem impossible – increasingly higher expectations with larger class sizes, diminished prep time, increased duty time, and no classroom aides. I come to school early and stay late, but there is never enough time to do everything that is required of me. My discouragement-o-meter was pointing to HIGH by the time I got home that night.

My husband lent a sympathetic ear as I continued to complain that talk was cheap. “People can say they appreciate what you do, but unless they really do something to show you it means very little.” Even as I fell into bed that night trying to sleep the party racket went on. Finally, in the war between spirit and flesh I gave in and began praying. “Lord, you know I don’t want to feel like this. I want to be a woman after Your own heart and be thankful in all circumstances. But sometimes it is so hard when it seems like nobody cares that you are doing your best. Nobody shows you that it matters what you do.

And then before I could get another word out, the Holy Spirit began reminding me of the ones who did appreciate me. Little Allie who’d met me at the door that morning with a beautifully drawn picture of flowers and butterflies with the words “You are the Best Teacher” written in crayon across the top. An orange pipe cleaner heart placed in my hand by Katelyn. “I made this for you,” she’d said with a smile. And two bear-sized hugs from the two Justins in my room before they had left for the day. The remembrance of these heart-felt expressions brought me to tears. How could I have been so blind to the appreciation that was right before me? The appreciation that meant the most to me! “Forgive me, Lord! You showed Your love for me through a child’s pure devotion and I almost missed it.

The pity party was over and in its place I threw a big “I love you, Jesus” celebration. I am so thankful I serve a God who loves me so much that He comes to my lousy self-centered parties and changes the atmosphere just by being there. For when Love enters, there is no room for anything else.

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