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 Sweet Spot

A few nights ago as I was putting the finishing decorating touches on our Christmas tree a dear friend and her husband came by. Our house was full of extended family and as they all chatted I continued to wind garland around the tree. Each time I made a pass around the tree I had to squeeze into the corner to place the garland on the back branches. My friend’s husband watched for a few moments as I made my tight orbit around the trunk before he strode across the living room toward me.

“You need to move that tree out from the wall,” he said.

Before I could utter a word he grabbed hold of the tree and lifted it up. As he did so the top part of the tree disconnected from the base. Undaunted, he hastily shoved it back on. Then repositioning his hand for better grip he moved the tree about a foot away from the wall.

I didn’t know what to say, but I’m sure my face revealed more than I wanted it to. After all, he had no idea that I had spent the last twenty minutes partnering with my affable son-in-law in the pursuit of the Christmas tree “sweet spot”. He didn’t know that the tree had already made a 16-foot journey across the room leaving a trail of major furniture adjustments in its wake before landing beautifully in the corner of the room.

He was just trying to help.

But now in the span of about twenty seconds my tree had been shifted from its perfect perch, its ornaments shaken from their special spots.

He was attempting to solve a problem he thought I was having.

I appreciated the thought behind his action, but it made me stop to think how many times I may have done that very same thing to someone else.

Impulsively jumped in and try to solve a problem that I thought existed without ever stopping to ask the person if they needed or even wanted my help. I’ve tried to instantly make something better that needed time on its own to heal.

As a teacher and mother the temptation to step right in and do too much can be a big temptation for me. I think I know the best way, the right answer, the easy fix. And there are times when I try to make it better that I am actually robbing someone else of the satisfaction of figuring it out on their own.

Or even worse, I am trying to fix a problem that only exists in my eyes. Because if the truth be told the real problem is…gulp….me.

Me and my need to control the situation.

Sometimes the best help comes in the form of listening instead of doing.

In whispered prayers and waiting.

And the keen awareness that what I might perceive as a problem, might just be somebody else’s sweet spot.

 

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.

 

 

 

The best intentions

Today was the day I had originally slated to begin a juice fast. With the advent of the new year I had decided to set aside some special time to fast and pray. However, winter blew in a ferocious snowstorm which landed my younger daughter, her husband and their dog at our doorstep. So I made chicken and dumplings instead.

Oh, and I also may have baked a loaf of molasses wheat bread, too.

And about four dozen chocolate chip cookies.

Not exactly what I had planned, but you seriously can’t expect a household of people which includes a pregnant woman (my daughter, not me) to exist on a diet of juice and water when it is -17 degrees outside. We’re used to cold winter weather in the Midwest, but yesterday the temperature was actually warmer in Alaska than it was in Indiana. The land of igloos and sled dogs would have been balmy compared to what it felt like outside my front door.

So instead of fasting, I feasted. There’s something about a houseful of family that beckons me to the kitchen. A homemaker at heart, I love to cook from scratch and serve up heaping portions to whomever gathers around our big dining room table. I can’t help it. It’s like it’s programmed into my DNA.

But then, of course, I know that I was designed by an awesome God who put me together just the way He wanted. He is the One who placed the desire in my heart to love and care for others. And He is the one who taught me that by serving others I can show His love for them. So I’m not going to guilt trip myself into feeling bad about not beginning my fast today. The year is still young and there will be another day soon to devote to fasting.

Just as soon as those cookies are gone.

A Life of Love and Laughter

I’m just going to admit it.

I have a history of laughing inappropriately in serious situations. It is a trait shared by many in the long line of quick-witted people in my family. I will also readily admit that I know it doesn’t excuse my behavior. But none-the-less I continue to find myself in solemn gatherings where I had to excuse myself because something cracked me up.

Recently I traveled nine hundred miles to attend the memorial service for my aunt. She was a dear Christian woman who loved her family and was committed to serving Jesus by serving others. The service was one of the most beautiful memorials I had ever attended. The scriptures read were ones she had underlined in her Bible. Her children sang and played moving musical tributes. The talented choral group in which she had participated led the congregation in  her favorite hymns.

It was in the middle of one of those hymns that I began to laugh.

You see, I love to sing. And when I sing, I sing loudly. I can’t help it. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but on those occasions when I sing a wrong word it is going to be pretty obvious to anyone who is within twenty feet of me. Sometimes I try to go on as if I really meant to say that word hoping they’ll think I was used to singing a different version of the song. (Kind of like me saying “forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer when everyone else in the congregation is saying “forgive us our debts”.)

Of course none of this would have had happened had I taken the time to get my glasses out of my purse. But I didn’t. And the hymn that had been chosen was one that I wasn’t that familiar with. I could read the notes, but the words were a little blurry. So at the top of my lungs I sang “unresolved” instead of “unrevealed”. Most people probably wouldn’t have even noticed, but one of my sisters was standing next to me and she immediately began to giggle. I faltered a bit, trying to ignore her, but I already knew it was useless. Soon she was convulsing so hard that she had to sit down and cover her face with her program. At first, my other sister thought that she had been overcome with grief. That was until she looked at me and saw me shaking my head as I unsuccessfully tried to squelch my own laughter. By the time the hymn was over I had tears running down my face. I just hoped people would think they were the appropriate kind.

As I sat down in embarrassment I was apologizing in my head to my aunt for my unceremonious behavior. Avoiding any possibility of eye contact with my sister I stared straight ahead lest I launch into another fit. I was even sending up apology prayers to God asking Him to forgive me for my lack of control. “Lord, you know I didn’t mean to offend you.”

And then a funny thing happened. As the service progressed, people began to come to the front  to give their tributes to my aunt. And almost all of them included a reference to her great sense of humor. They told of her ability to provide comic relief for every occasion. And then there it was.

Grace.

Once again Jesus had offered me grace instead of guilt. In that moment, in some strange way, I not only felt redeemed, but blessed. It was as if in that uncontrollable outburst of inappropriate merriment I had been able to pay special homage to her. My Aunt Janet had lived a life of love and laughter. And if she had been there, I am pretty sure she would have joined in.

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!