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.

 

Who is My Neighbor?

During my fall break from school, my daughter Rachel and grandson Isaiah flew in from Kansas City to spend a few wonderful days with us. On one of those days we visited the world-class Indianapolis Children’s Museum along with an estimated 12,000 others. Needless to say, being able to share space and toys was the required skill for the day and when you are two years old and an only child that is asking a lot. There were more than a few occasions when Isaiah had comfortably settled in to play only to find out that others had their eye on the things he had piled in front of him. When he objected with a vehement “No!” to another child, Rachel would intervene with, “Let’s share with our friends.” The look on his face that followed such reminders was one of confusion. I know he was probably thinking, “I’m sorry, momma, but you must be mistaken. Those kids are not my friends. In fact, they are perfect strangers to me!”

It makes me wonder if that’s not my own subconscious attitude sometimes. To my friends and family I try to be loving and giving, but when it comes to the unnamed and unknown hurting and the helpless in the world am I doing as much as I could? It reminds of the introduction to the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. In the tenth chapter of Luke I read that an expert in the law asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asked him what the law said the man rattled off, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I can just picture that man in my mind parroting back what he had learned in his life long study of the Torah. In my mind, he is saying it with all the conviction of a child reciting the state capitals. The information was in his head, but not in his heart. Still, Jesus told him that he had answered correctly. But of course because the man was trying to justify himself, he couldn’t let it go at that and pressed Jesus a little harder asking him, “And who is my neighbor?” That’s when he got an answer he wasn’t expecting.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:30-37

I realize that as a Samaritan the kind man was actually the cultural enemy of the beaten man. Sadly, I also know that priest and the Levite represent the churched people in the world and if I am not careful that can easily be me. It can be me who turns a deaf ear to the suffering around me if I am not tuned into the Spirit. If I decide that my neighbors, my friends, are only the ones that I recognize in my day-to-day living then it becomes me who crosses the street so I don’t have to help the bruised and bleeding one in the road.

Oh, Lord have mercy on me and my short-sightedness. Let me see beyond my own little world to be the Good Samaritan to the unknown friends and neighbors that need my help. Break my heart, Lord for the ones who break Your heart. Be my guide to sharing your love.