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.

 

 

 

Mixed Signals

This morning as I was driving down a two lane road I encountered a road repair crewman standing in the middle of the intersection. In his right hand was one of those two-sided signs that said SLOW on one side and STOP on the other.

The side that said STOP was facing me, so I did.

However, in complete contradiction to the sign he was holding, the crewman began to motion that I should make a left-hand turn.

I looked to my left and spied a line of cars creeping forward. Should I choose to follow his command, I was positive a collision was in my immediate future.

Thinking he must be confused, I sat still.

When I didn’t move he began gesturing even more emphatically. It was now obvious that even though he was holding up the STOP sign, he meant for me to turn left in front of all those other cars.

Hoping that he knew what he was doing I made the turn. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the turn that I saw another man holding a sign for the oncoming traffic to halt. My view of him had been obscured by a large piece of paving equipment.

It got me to thinking – isn’t that what faith is all about? Following God’s lead when everything in the natural tells you to turn around.

Sometimes the world’s perspective is telling you to stop. Those insidious lies that sneak into our heads say:

There’s no way you can do this. 

It’s completely beyond your skill set.

If you try, you’re going to fail.

And yet the voice of truth whispers:

Go on, I’m right here with you.

A path has been cleared, I’m making your ways straight.

You can do all things when you lean on my strength.

Each day I’m given a new chance to walk in the light or cower in the shadows. I can choose to ignore what the world says about me to rest in the promises God has for my life.

Ultimately, I can view the stop signs of this world’s as an opportunity. An opportunity to make an unexpected turn, while trusting that the signs of life are straight ahead.

 

 

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.”

The day after Christmas

For over a month it occupied the space normally taken by our enormously overgrown umbrella plant. The places underneath it now bare; presents it had guarded, opened and gone. The gold beaded garland which had been hung with so much care a few weeks before now hangs in drooping, careless cascades where little hands have pulled at it. 

As I take the ornaments from their posts I feel an overwhelming melancholy. The house is too quiet and all that remains to be done is to put away the decorations. I wonder what is there to look forward to now? Where is the unspeakable joy of Christmas Eve? What happened to the sweet song of the angels?

On Christmas Day in the midst of all the squealing laughter and happy chatter I had paused to kneel in the corner of my kitchen to give thanks for the blessings of my family. Now only days later I am wondering where my happiness lies. But as quickly as those thoughts are formed the Spirit whispers to me in the quiet of the house. And because of the silence I can hear Him plainly.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Missing the faces of my family around me it is all too easy to slip into the nearsighted vision of the world. In reality, there is much to look forward to because God has a plan. A plan that is meant for me alone. Joy still abounds even in the days after the celebration. And it is because of the stillness I can clearly hear the continuous song of the angels. Glory to God in the highest!

A Sweet, Sweet Sound

At this moment squeals of laughter resonate outside my bedroom door as Isaiah sings and strums his “a-tar” to the worship music. What a sweet, sweet sound it is to my ears. How I wish that every child could know that joyous expression of love.

Although I have great affection for all of the students in my classroom, there are certain children who burrow into deepest part of my heart. Most often they are living in homes where chaos reigns and hurtful words and actions abound. One day this week a story came tumbling out from such a child. He described cuddling his wailing sibling while his mother and her boyfriend violently fought just a few feet away. A lamp sailed across the room shattering as it hit the wall. He peeled off his shoe to reveal his bloodstained sock where a broken piece had cut his foot.

After a trip to the nurse I stood for a moment in the hallway and fought back tears, the anger I felt toward his mother burning inside me. My mind raced with furious emotion. I am so mad at her! How could she let this happen to him? How could she pull him into the violence she had created? But as quickly as my thoughts formed the Spirit spoke, “But she is also my child. Pray for her. Pray for her, too.”

And so I am devoted to praying not only for this little one I love, but also for the ones who are committing these atrocities against him. I can be confident that the LORD hears my prayers and will intercede on their behalf. James 6:5 tells me “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” I must confess my own judgemental heart to the Father and pray for healing for this struggling family. I will pray 2 Thessalonians 3:3 over this broken family believing that “…the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

And in the interim, I will wait with a thankful heart knowing that God is good and God is just. Letting my prayers of intercession rise, I can know they are received into the throne room of God as a sweet, sweet sound releasing the power of the Spirit. As I confidently wait for the change that will come I will continue to do the work he has established for me. Revealing His love to the ones around me – one little soul at a time.

Tangled Strands

The other day I reached for a necklace only to find it was a mangled mess. I’m not sure how it happened since I store my longer chains in a compartmentalized tray to avoid that predicament, but there it was. I spent several seconds struggling to unbraid the strands pulling one side and then another, only to end up with an even tighter knot. I could feel the blood rising to my face as my frustration increased. Suddenly the Spirit spoke to me saying, “Anne, just one strand at a time.

As I write these words, God is teaching me to apply that same principle to my life. I am being called to a new journey, but the place I long to be seems so far away. I can see the vision in the distance, but the practical to-do list that blocks the path looks more like an endless scroll. My impatience builds and suddenly I am that necklace, tangled and pulled in a million directions, winding myself up into a bigger knot.

Remembering that God has a plan for me can be difficult for this impatient child, but the real question becomes “Do I trust Him?”  Do I trust Him with the timing of my life? Do I trust Him enough to wait?

Isaiah 40:31 speaks to me of the benefits of waiting on the LORD. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I am quickly reminded that the times when I am feeling frazzled are directly related to the times when I have not spent enough time with the Lord.

In my eagerness to get to the next place I must be careful not to miss out on the opportunities to do the work He has set before me now. Today. This very moment. The inconveniences, the interruptions, the tangled messes of my life can be the very spots where real miracles take place. He is calling me to yield to His will taking the time to unravel my life one strand, one story, one precious person at a time.

Lord,  forgive me for my impatience. Help me to remember that you have a plan for me that will be revealed in Your time. Keep calling out to my heart, Lord. I long to know You more.

Watching My Witness

This past summer my entire family spent a beautiful week on the shores of South Carolina. On the last day of our vacation I sat on the balcony overlooking the ocean with my twenty-two month old grandson. We watched the waves lazily lap up on the sand against the back drop of a robin’s egg  blue sky and I began to pray aloud. I thanked God for the wonderful family time we had spent together, asked for traveling mercies as each one made the journey home and said a special prayer of healing for the little one in my lap. He had taken a fall the afternoon before and had been limping around on an obviously sore ankle.

Anyone watching us from a distance would not have necessarily known that I was praying. I wasn’t in a typically recognized prayer posture – my head wasn’t bowed, my hands weren’t folded and my eyes were wide open. I simply sat in the sunshine with Isaiah and had an out loud conversation with Jesus. And that morning a most remarkable thing happened when I’d finished speaking to the Lord. As I closed my prayer I said, “Thank-you, Jesus” and without pause a little voice piped up and said, “Amen.” I was so blessed in that moment. I’d had no idea that he was even paying attention to what I was saying or doing and yet in the mysterious, wonderful working of the Spirit he had become my little prayer partner.

That experience reminded me how important my witness is in this world. What I do and say matters even when I think that nobody is paying attention. My witness is so much more than just the times I spend in front of the congregation leading worship when I know people are watching me. The opportunities for which I have come prepared to sing or to speak – cleaned up and clarified– ready to share what God has called me to do are tremendous, but what of those other times? The times when I am blindsided with the unexpected or encounter a critic – what does my witness look like then? Am I still the sunny, smiling woman full of kindness and patience? Or do I fall into the trap of complaining and adopt a woe-is-me attitude? I wince at the thought of some of the reactions I have had when the world-according-to-Anne doesn’t cooperate.

Then there are the daily miniscule interactions I have with the ones around me in the lines in which I wait or with the people I pass in the hallways. Do each of these say “There’s a woman after God’s own heart!” When no one is noticing, am I living as if they were? My witness matters in these times too, because even when no human eyes see me, there is One who knows my every thought and every word. Is my life a living, breathing, praising act of worship to the One who created me and loves me far beyond my own ability to fathom?

Micah 6:8 says that my witness should be to “To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.” I want to live like that, but if I am to walk humbly with God then I must to stick close by Him in loving obedience, not impatiently running up ahead or lackadaisically lagging behind. Ultimately, I want what I do and say to point to Jesus in the extraordinary and the mundane, the expected and the surprises, and even when I think that nobody else is watching or listening. After all, I might just get an unexpected, “Amen.”

Polished Stones

We recently updated the twenty-five year old dusty pink, laminate countertop in our kitchen. Although it had served us well, it was outdated and chipped and was practically begging me to put it out of its misery. Okay, maybe the begging was actually coming from me, but I digress. At any rate, I saved my pennies until I could afford a beautiful, new granite countertop and was beyond thrilled at its appearance.

However, as is so often the case when making home improvements, one change precipitated another. Tearing out the old countertop ruined the tile backsplash that was on the wall behind the sink so over the weekend, Phil and I headed out to our neighborhood home improvement store to find a suitable replacement. We took along a small piece of the granite so we could match potential colors. Three of its sides were shiny, but the fourth was left in its original state.  As we drove along Phil looked over at the granite piece and remarked, “You know without polishing, granite doesn’t look that great.”

He was right. When initially mined, granite looks fairly unremarkable. It’s hard for me to fathom the ancient volcanic eruption that spewed forth fiery magma that later cooled and hardened into granite. Although crystalized patterns can be seen from the extreme heating and cooling process, the colors are mostly dull and muted. The edges of the large slabs of stone are jagged and grey. It’s not until it is ground with diamonds that it begins to unveil its luster and shine. Hmmm, I think, that’s sort of like me. For in truth, if left in my natural state I might choose to stay rough around the edges, unhewn and coarse in my selfish desires. I would never get to be my best self without a little polishing from God.

Although having my rough spots ground away is not always what I would ask for at the time, the result is a greater revealing of the Spirit within me. And it’s that is the very thing that I cry out for when I ask the Lord to give me an undivided heart. I echo David in Psalm 86 when he writes, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth. Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O LORD my God, with all of my heart; I will glorify your name forever.”

I ask not for a heart of stone, but a loving, beating, pliable heart that will do the will of the Father. But oh how hard it is sometimes to do what loves requires– to repay evil with good, to throw away the score card, to hold my tongue, to trust when the way seems impossible. Those actions and attitudes are only possible when I offer myself up to the transformational love of Jesus Christ – the love that embodies the power and wisdom of God the Father. So when my own life erupts with trouble and testing I can be confident that on the other side of the Refiner’s fire waits the outstretched hand of my Redeemer.

Thank-you Lord, that You hear my cry and do not leave me in my distress. You look upon me with compassion and mercy even in the midst of my trouble. And though the grinding of this life seems hard, I know that Your love in my life will produce a luster more beautiful than diamonds.

Letting Go of the String

A few years ago when our youngest graduated from high school we hosted his graduation open house outdoors in our yard. As we were cleaning up afterwards one of the helium balloons that had been tied to a table as decoration escaped my grip and floated away. I stood for a moment to watch it rise into the air, its red ribbon tail twisting behind it. Finally it slipped behind the clouds and disappeared. Just like sending a prayer to God, I thought, and suddenly I could visualize all my praises and petitions twirling up to the throne room of God. That particular day prayers for my newly graduated son’s future were tied to that string and many more would follow.

The apostle John gives me an even better image when he describes the church’s ascending prayers as wispy curls of sweet-smelling incense “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 4:8. I love that thought – that my prayers rise up before God and that He hears and actually sees my prayers.

Still there are times in my life when I have struggled to let go of the string that’s holding on to my prayer request. Let’s be honest. I still struggle at times. I ask God to give me the courage to face an uncertain situation, to handle a difficult person, to give up control, but it isn’t long before I am madly grasping for the string to pull it back.

It can be a real challenge to walk by faith and not by sight, but that is what we are called to do. In order for God to take charge of our lives we have to allow Him to work. Our Father in heaven is the perfect gentleman. He never forces His way in, but Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” If I want God to take control of my life I have to be willing to release my problems and petitions to Him. I have to relax my grip on the things around me and let them ascend to heaven being confident in the knowledge that God hears and sees my needs and will act upon them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thank-you, Lord, that I do not have to hold tight to the strings that seem to bind my life together. Jesus, help me to remember that to release those ties is to find freedom in You.

Interpretations

My two-year old grandson is learning more words every week. It’s such a delight to listen to him try to put his thoughts into words in a way that I can understand. Of course, attempting to hold a regular face to face conversation with a toddler who is in the room with you can be a challenge let alone trying to do that using Skype. Often my daughter Rachel has to play the part of the UN translator and interpret the word exchange for me. Usually it goes a little like this:

Rachel: Tell Gigi what you did today.

Isaiah: Uhmmm. I creek.

Gigi: Oh did you go to the creek?

Isaiah: I kirl.

Gigi: Did you play with a girl?

Rachel: No, he saw a squirrel. Tell Gigi what the squirrel did.

Isaiah: (No verbal response. Starts bouncing up and down.)

Gigi: Did you see the squirrel run up the tree?

Rachel: No it shook its tail at him. Remember, Isaiah?

Isaiah: (No response since he has become bored with the conversation and has run out of the room.)

Isaiah reminds me a bit of Dug, the befuddled little dog in the animated movie, Up, who is constantly distracted by squirrel sightings. Dug would be engrossed in a conversation with the other story characters then would suddenly halt mid-sentence to point and shout, “Squirrel!” Funny how that behavior also occasionally mirrors my conversations with God. There are times when I try to pray, but my mind seems to chase after every “squirrel” that enters my brain. What am I to do?

I guess the first thing is to admit to God that I am distracted at that moment. Too often, I try to jump into serious conversation without readying my heart and mind.  I certainly agree with the apostle Paul when he writes in Romans 12:12 that we should, “pray without ceasing,” keeping an ongoing conversation with God as we move through our day. However, I also have a daily need to lock myself in my prayer closet and devote undistracted times for worship, thanksgiving and petition. When I am having trouble focusing I pray something like, “Lord, I want to talk to You about this, but other thoughts keep creeping in and pulling me away. Father, center me on You alone.” If I remain quiet and focus my mind on God, my heart and spirit follow.

Even in those times when I am unable to verbalize exactly what I want to say I am assured that I am heard. Romans 8:26- 27 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” What a wonderful promise that is!

Lord, Jesus, thank-you for the promise of your Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in us interceding to the Father on our behalf. I am so grateful that You hear me when I call out to You even in those times when I cannot adequately express myself. I love you, Lord.