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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pooh Man and Baby J

Immersed in the task of scraping filth from the kitchen floor, an audience of two suddenly appeared. As I looked up, two pairs of inquiring eyes peered in from the open door.

Pooh Man and Baby J

It was Englewood and here in the ‘hood nobody used their given names.

The two brothers lived downstairs from the apartment we were cleaning and painting for the Chicago Urban Youth Ministry. They had heard the racket we were causing and had come upstairs to investigate.

After inviting them in, I learned that Pooh Man was ten and brother Baby J was six. They were very curious about what I was doing on the kitchen floor with a putty knife. After explaining that I was scraping up the grease and dirt left behind so somebody else could move in they were eager to help me.

We became fast friends in the fight against grime.

I showed Baby J how to position the scraper against the floor and with my hand over his we applied steady pressure to plow up the layers of grease. Each time we managed to move some of the sludge I would say, “That’s so disgusting!”  Baby J would gleefully echo, “Disgusting!” in the way that all little boys do when they revel in getting dirty.

As we worked, we played games and told riddles. Practiced spelling words and addition facts. Every answer, correct or incorrect, received praise and encouragement. That morning I knew I was there to work on the apartment, but recognized that my divine assignment was to lavish love and encouragement on those two beautiful little boys.

As our rapport grew, Pooh Man told me about his family. One of his brothers had passed as a result of the violence in the neighborhood. Another was in jail. He spoke about it without emotion as if it was another ordinary fact of life.

The following day we returned to the apartment to bless it. Pooh Man and Baby J tore up the stairs to join our prayer circle. As we held hands and prayed aloud the Spirit of God descended upon us like a cloud. When I opened my eyes, Pooh Man’s tear-filled eyes were locked onto mine.

And I can’t get them out of my mind.

That little one, hair full of dreads, pants hung low, will never know how deep a place has been burrowed into my heart for him.

But God knows.

So I will continue to lift up prayers of intercession that the God of this city will rescue him.

And I am confident.

Confident that God who loves this child and every other child with an all-consuming love will hear my cries and answer.

Love is on the way

As soon as it was mentioned last winter, I knew I would be going.

This year instead of spending my final week of summer break preparing for the coming school year I would be heading to the south side of Chicago to do some inner city mission work. I would have to spend some time organizing my classroom a bit earlier than usual, but I thought I would be up to the challenge. After all, it was months away.

Fast forward to this past Sunday.

My daughter’s sweet family had just left on Friday after spending three wonderful weeks with us. Putting school work as far out of my mind as possible, I enjoyed every minute of their stay. I did manage to squeeze in a morning or two at school, but for the majority of the last month I chose to soak up family time like a thirsty sponge.

Now it was Sunday afternoon and the reality of what I had to get done in a week’s time began to bear down on me.

What had I been thinking?

I would not return home from Chicago until the Saturday before school began on Monday. Although Monday was a designated teacher day I knew it would be filled with meetings from the beginning and end with an introduction to my new students and their families at our Back to School Night. There would be no time on Monday for lesson planning or preparing materials for the open house.

Panic-stricken I began to melt like a sugar cube dropped in a tea cup. A few hours of work at school on Sunday afternoon had only intensified the pressure. I’d begun to realize there was NO WAY I was going to get everything ready for school and the mission trip. So I did what I always do when I am feeling completely overwhelmed.

I sat on the floor and cried.

And then I prayed.

Slowly, peace came.

Determination followed.

So now the words of Jude 1:2 from the Message Bible are resonating in my heart. “Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way.”

Joy fills my heart. The cavalry is coming! Love is on the way.

As the school year begins I will enter encouraged and prepared.

The mission work accomplished on the streets of Chicago will be a blessing.

No longer is there fear or worry in my heart.

His grace is sufficient.

Love is on the way.

Self Sabotage

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

Funny thing, though.

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

Hmmmm…

I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.

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

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

But that would be a lie.

I am not a weak-willed woman.

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

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

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

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

That sounds freakishly familiar.

So what’s the answer?

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

Here’s why.

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

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

And that isn’t easy.

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

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

And His name is Jesus.