The Self Control Button

I got a text from my daughter recently detailing a conversation she had with my four-year old grandson, Isaiah. Evidently he was having trouble being patient while she was completing a task.

Par for the course when you’re four.

Or thirty-four.

Or maybe forty-four.

Definitely at fifty-four.

Let’s be honest. There are those among us who have never mastered the art of patience.

But especially at the tender age of single digit four, waiting is excruciating. So to pass the time he was acting like a robot.

Ever trying to foster desirable qualities in a whimsical way, my daughter asked this robotic wonder if he had a self-control button that he could push.

Oh wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing! A self-control button.

If I could, I would pass one out to every student in my classroom the first day of school saving me hours and hours of behavior management and intervention time.

Of course, I would keep the largest and most obvious one for myself.

Don’t judge. At this time of year it’s every girl for herself.

But I digress.

After thoughtfully considering his mother’s self-control button question, he replied. Yes indeed, he did have such a button.

“But,” he added, ” The sin button is right by the self-control button.”

Truer words were never said.

Why is it that when temptation comes that sin button seems to glow in the dark? It’s always the easy thing to reach, while exercising my self-control feels like fumbling around in the bottom of my purse trying to find my car keys.

I guess the real answer is this.

I’m an imperfect woman in need of a Savior.

A Savior who was willing to go to the cross for my sins, be buried and after three days rise again.

Even when my daily goal is to try to do the right thing, I’m going to think things, say things, do things that in a weak moment translate into sin. As I’m stretching for the self-control button I slip and hit the one labeled sin.

Not every time.

But certainly every day.

Fortunately for me, all is not lost. Even when I hit the wrong button, Jesus forgives and forgets. I get another chance.

And there’s even more good news! Because Jesus paid the price, my sin debt is paid. It’s erased. It’s like I never hit the button at all.

But wanna know the best news ever?

The best news ever is that no matter how imperfect my aim may be, the reality is that Jesus knows me and loves me just the way I am.

I don’t have to be perfect.

I know, right?

That doesn’t mean I won’t keep striving for better self-control. Even a non-robot such as myself has a lot of room for improvement.

It’s just really nice to know that I don’t have to be perfect, because after all…

I already have a Savior who is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Place In Between

During a recent conversation with my youngest daughter, I was surprised to find that she had never stepped inside a Hardee’s fast food restaurant. The most shocking part of the revelation was that I was the reason. She reminded me that years ago I had vowed never again to eat at Hardee’s and out of loyalty to me she had never eaten there either. Lest you think I have some undying vendetta against Hardees let me elaborate.

I can only barely remember what happened. When she brought it up, it was a minute or two before a vague memory slowly surfaced. Honestly, I had long forgotten ever making that declaration of war, but she had remembered the shenanigans between me and a less-than-polite teenager manning the drive through window. And my reaction had stuck with her. The truth be told, I am pretty sure I have eaten there a time or two since then.

It’s slightly disturbing to me what I choose to remember about people and situations. (Of course if I’m being honest, what I really mean is it’s slightly disturbing to me that I have no control over what people ultimately remember about me.) What I say and do in my home, my classroom, my community matters because I am representing myself as an ambassador for Christ.

So what does an authentic ambassador of Christ look like? In a word – Love.  Looking to 1 Corinthians 13 I can find a very accurate description of who I want to be. A true ambassador is patient, polite and kind. Promoting peace, she doesn’t keep score or have to have her own way. She always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres believing with her whole heart that love triumphs.

I know that every day I fall short of that description. I can only pray that the ones who know me won’t remember me on my very worst day or even on my very best, but somewhere in between. It’s that place in between that my most authentic self lives. And ultimately it is the place where I have the most influence for Jesus. The place in between – where every day the messiness of life has an opportunity to be washed with healing and forgiveness. Where rude drive through employees are forgiven and forgotten and people get to eat at Hardee’s again. Where Jesus assures us that He is with us – on our best day and on our worst day and every day in between.

The Casual Gardener

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Dinner at my house this time of year means garden fresh vegetables on the table. Tomatoes, green beans, radishes, and corn are plentiful. Daily we enjoy the results of my husband’s efforts. Throughout the spring he diligently tended to the generous plot of garden space in our back field. Tenacious tilling, planting, weeding and watering have rewarded us with a delicious harvest.

His work ethic is to be commended. And each day I have the opportunity to apply that same principle of “you reap what you sow” in my own life. I must ensure that I am not a casual gardener of the soil that God has allotted me. For it can be so easy to carelessly sow a crop of hurt with a hasty word or thoughtless action without considering the fragile soil into which it is thrown.

Also I must be aware when seeds of unforgiveness have rooted themselves in my spirit to the point of choking out loving thoughts and words. When I begin to feel “prickly” about someone or react in a way that is contrary to love’s requirements I need to stop and examine my heart. What seed has begun to grow there that would result in bitterness, selfishness, anger and score-keeping? I can be sure that anything that is not creating a bounty of love is a seed sown by the enemy.

Look at the apostle Paul’s familiar words describing love’s harvest, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud, it is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” There is only one way I can hope to produce this beautiful crop. I must give myself over the to Master Gardener to prune my heart. Painful though it may be, in due time it will yield a bountiful and beautiful harvest for the Kingdom.

Galatians 6 :9 “Let us not grow weary in doing good, in due season we will reap, if we don’t lose heart.”

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.

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! 

Forgiveness

How wonderful life would be if we could resolve our conflicts as quickly as children after a playground tussle. Two little boys, one blonde the other brown-haired, sat together at lunch smiling and laughing, trading stories and cookies. Five minutes into recess they were at my side wailing accusations. Brown-hair said he had been pushed and kicked. Blonde-hair was sporting a goose egg above his eye. Best of friends only minutes earlier were now spewing out conflicting crime scene reports. I listened intently as each one told his version then put on my referee shirt and sent them to opposite ends of the time-out area to cool down. After the proper amount of “refrigeration” we came back together, talked it out, shook hands, forgave and forgot. They ran back out on to the field of play as friends again.

I have to admit that I don’t always handle conflict in my own life quite so well. I wear my referee shirt a little too often letting that innate sense of fairness get in my way. If I get hurt, it is usually because I feel I have been treated unfairly and the road to resolution is blocked by my unwillingness to let it go. I don’t stay mad; I hold onto hurt.

Recently someone I dearly love unintentionally hurt my feelings.  It took a day or two but I got over myself and forgave the slight. After all, I told myself, I’m not the kind of person who holds onto grudges. I have always taken seriously the “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against” part of the Lord’s prayer. Still as I prayed the Spirit called me into account. I may have forgiven and given up the anger part of the offense but knew deep down I was still harboring hurt. As long as I allowed that seed of hurt to remain no good fruit was going to grow. It was time for me to live out 1 Corinthians 13:5 as an example of love. Paul writes that love “ does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

It’s hard to ignore that last part- it keeps no record of wrongs. I was fooling myself to think that just because I wasn’t angry any more didn’t mean I wasn’t keeping score. The fact that I was still hurt was evidence to the contrary. The Spirit reminded me that allowing hurt to hold me hostage is a scheme of the enemy.

And so I finally gave it up – all of it this time and managed to break out of my pity-party-prison. I’m not saying it was easy – just necessary. Sometimes putting the key into that prison lock and turning till I hear the click is the hardest thing in the world to do. And yet when I finally summon up the courage to do it I find myself basking in the sunshine again wondering why in the world I waited so long. And then like the little boys in the school yard I can run back onto the playground with a free, unincumbered heart thanking my God for the gift of forgiveness.

Thank-you, Jesus for the extravagent love and forgiveness You have poured out over me. Although I am undeserving, I accept it with a grateful heart. Help me to return that love and forgiveness to the ones around me. I love you, Lord.