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 Bitter and the Sweet

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted.

Months really.

It’s been a crazy, busy year. Transitional, in many respects. No excuse for not writing though, except that maybe I wasn’t sure what to say.

But today I woke up knowing I needed to write.

In the next few weeks I will put a final period at the end of a creatively fueled twenty-two year-long-run-on sentence that has been a central expression of who I am. After spending my entire adult life actively engaged in the lives of little ones – teaching, nurturing, laughing and loving – I’m going to step away from the public school arena. And as the day draws closer, my emotions seem to be stuck on overdrive.

Elation

Sadness

Excitement

Nostalgic

Grateful

Humble

So very, very humble.

But don’t think that this reflection is going to have an ideological veil thrown over it blanketing the past two decades in fairy dust and magic. I won’t profess that every child in my class clawed her way out of the D range to make it to the honor roll. That every broken spirit was miraculously repaired with a well-timed smile, a hug or a kind word. Trust me when I tell you, not every parent signed up to be my biggest cheerleader.

But even so, most of those twenty-two years were so very, very good. In many ways they were excellent. And in truth, those pruning years, the difficult ones, were the years I grew the most.

Personally

Professionally

Spiritually

And for that, I am forever grateful.

This summer I will pressing into a new space. After a few years of wrestling with the call God has placed on my life, I am stepping into new ministry.

Is being obedient scary?

Of course.

Is it going to be worth it?

My heart of hearts says, “Totally!”

My want-to-worry flesh says, “Hopefully.”

The Spirit within me calls out, “Trust Me.”

So now my life seems to be a simultaneous process of excitedly looking forward, while steadfastly trying to remain present to all the moments I’ve been given now.

As in today.

It’s tough. Trying to live the Matthew 6:34 principal rubs against my teacher planning, “think ahead” self. So I’ve had to make a conscious choice to remain present. To let tomorrow worry about itself.

Every day people ask me, “How many more days?”

And every day I can truthfully answer, “I’m not counting.”

I’m not counting, because I don’t want to cheat even one little one out of the best I have to offer.

I’m not counting, because even in these last few days I’m trying to soak up every bit of the bitter and sweet that is left to be savored.

Because I know that’s the real blessing of obedience. The awareness that it takes both the bitter and the sweet to experience the beauty of the journey.

 

 

Signs and Wonders

We saw them as we were stopped at the traffic light. At the time I wondered aloud about what they could be doing on the corner of the highway. Camped out under a group of decorative trees and bushes the young trio resembled scouts on an overnight.

Turning into the entrance of the mall I could see that two of them were holding signs. However the line of cars on the other side of the divider obscured my vision so I couldn’t really see what was printed on them.

They’re raising money for a cause, I thought to myself. After all, in our town it’s not unusual to see people standing on the corner asking for donations for the fire department or the humane society. In fact, kids are always waving signs urging me to pull my car into the parking lot for a quick wash in exchange for dollars toward funding the cheerleading squad or purchasing new band uniforms.

I knew that following our Sunday-after-church-lunch I’d have another opportunity to see what charity they were fundraising for and be able to drop in a dollar or two if I liked what I saw.

And after about an hour, that opportunity came. As our car waited in line to make a righthand turn onto the highway I saw them again. And this time I could clearly read the words on the signs.

They read:

“We are hungry” and “Food”

I know, I know. It could have been a scam. Another attempt to bilk me out of my hard-earned money. Perfectly able-bodied human beings looking for a hand-out.

But in the moment there was a choice to be made.

And because I have free will I could look the other way and drive by.

Or…

Or I could look at the one who was looking at me and choose to be present.

To be kind.

To give hope.

To share what I had.

Whether I judged them to be deserving or not.

So I asked Phil to hand me the bag of food from the back seat. Inside were two large portions of beautifully prepared Italian dishes complete with bread.  I rolled down the window and handed that bag of warm deliciousness to one of the women dressed in khaki and green. She smiled broadly and uttered an enthusiastic, “Wow!”.

I met her eyes and returned the smile.

And then we drove away.

The world is always looking for signs and wonders. If they would only see a miracle, then they would believe. The strange thing is that those very signs and miracles are all around us every day. But our ability to sense them has become dulled.

I choose to see this encounter with the woman on the side of the road as a sign of God’s good provision.

Even a miracle of sorts.

You see, during our lunch our waitress had approached us and told us that she had made a mistake when she rang up our order. It seems that she had charged us for a dinner portion instead of a lunch and it qualified us to pick another entrée to take home.

For Free.

We had wondered how in the world we would be able to eat all of that food.

Hmm… a wonder.

Another sign that if I keep my heart open I can be an active participant in God’s blessing to others.

And to be a witness to His daily miracle of love.

One wonderful, miraculous, blessing at a time.

 

 

 

My Opinion- for What it’s Worth

In a world where opinions fly fast and free I am aware that I am not very political.

Even though I have little regard for what the world considers to be politically correct, conflict and confrontation still make me uncomfortable.

I tend to be the smoother of all those ruffled feathers rather than being the one making those feathers fly.

Some would see that as a huge personality flaw.

C’mon! Take a side! Speak out! Step up! Fly a flag! (Oh, but not that one.) Point a finger! (Oh dear, again, not that one.)

No, I am not political.

But I am also very sure of what I believe.

I believe God created us in His own image and He calls me to regard all of His children with love, compassion, and respect.

I believe in the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Created as a perfect guide for our lives and not as a battering ram against people with whom I do not agree.

I believe it is not my job to strong-arm others to believe the way I do. (Only Holy Spirit can convict a heart.)

I believe it is not my job to judge another human being. (Only God can judge the hearts of men.)

My job – my only job – is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

To offer Jesus in every way I can through acts of kindness, love, compassion, justice and mercy. To speak the unwavering truth with the knowledge that what I do here during my limited time on earth matters so much.

Every day is a gift too precious to be wasted on hate-mongering.

Time is short.

Seek the truth.

Speak the truth in love.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Content

Be content.

As I opened my eyes to greet the morning those were the words lingering in my mind. It seemed like an odd reminder because at that very moment I wasn’t feeling agitated or stressed. I had slept well.

There were no particular pressing problems on my mind and yet there was Holy Spirit whispering to me in the wee hours of the waking light.

Be content.

He was preparing me.

He knew what was coming when I did not.

Unlike the storm warnings that flash across my T.V. screen – Be alert! Be prepared! Take cover! He was whispering softly – Be content, Lean into Me, I am your soft place to fall.

Loving and living in God does not mean a free and easy life. It isn’t an iron-clad guarantee that I will be exempt from sickness, that those I love will always agree with me, that stressful circumstances will not come barging into my orderly existence like uninvited house guests.

But it does mean that those things can not overtake me.

Each day, God provides a spiritual covering for my heart in His Word. It is in those moments of quiet that He reminds me that His love never leaves me. That there is nothing that happens in this world that escapes His view. He is aware of it all and is constantly providing for me.

It is up to me to believe and receive.

To lean in.

To trust in His sovereignty.

To be content.

The Popcorn Crisis

He ate my popcorn.

That’s what started it.

A ridiculous argument over puffed up corn kernels.

And it wasn’t even the dripping with butter, salty-goodness, sit through a two-hour movie with a giant bucket of theatre-worthy fare.

It was just plain ole’ popping corn, popped in oil with a scant sprinkling of salt.

Any other time I wouldn’t have even bothered to stick my hand in that bland bowl. But I was on Day 6 of a 21-day Daniel Fast and that popcorn was like taste bud gold to me.

During a Daniel Fast certain foods are denied as an act of worship and devotion to God. During this three-week period I had committed to eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and drinking only water. Dairy, meat, sugar, white flour, caffeine and basically anything that tastes remotely pleasurable were literally off the table. However, the fast is not supposed to be about your need for certain foods, but more about realizing your need for God.

And in every fast I’ve ever done I have encountered God in a very real and powerful way. It has been a blessing beyond measure. But this time on Day 6, I was feeling a little bit edgy. I had spent the first two days of the fast with severe caffeine and sugar withdrawal headaches. It was taking my body a few days to adjust to this basically vegan-diet-on-steroids and I was feeling physically and emotionally drained. Plus I had a sinus infection.

Since my husband had embarked on this fasting journey with me, we had visited the Whole Foods store several times to stock up on organic produce and grains. The last time we were there we’d bought two bags of Skinny Pop, a permissible snack for the fast. In my naiveté I assumed he would eat one bag and I would have the other.

Cue the popcorn crisis.

I got about a handful from the first bag. No problem. There was a second bag waiting for me.

When I found out that he had eaten the entire second bag of popcorn I am sorry to say that I was not very Christ-like in my response.

As I look back on it now, the argument that ensued was so stupid it’s embarrassing.

Me:  (in my best victim’s voice) “How could you eat all that popcorn? You knew I said I was going to have it for a snack at school!!”

Husband: (sheepishly) “I thought you said you already took a bag to school.”

Me: (misguided righteous indignation) “How could I have taken a bag to school when we only bought two bags?” Dat-dat-dum…

It got worse. I couldn’t find the date paste in the fridge and accused him of throwing it away. Oh the horror of eating unsweetened oatmeal!

O.K., Clearly Not My Best Moment.

However it also highlighted something very important for me.

It showed how much I need Jesus.

Without Jesus, I am self-absorbed. Without Jesus, minor irritants distract me from God’s bigger plan for my life. Without Jesus, my wants supersede someone else’s needs.

I don’t ever want to be without Jesus.

Thankfully, Romans 8:31-39  from the Message Bible tells me that absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus. “None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Not even Skinny Pop.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Meltdown

With three kids under the age of five, a trip to the grocery store used to pose a special challenge for me. In those days we were on an especially tight budget so sticking to my list was a necessity. It used to drive me crazy that the checkout line shelves were always filled with candy, gum, and other eye-catching treats that any child would beg to have.

In an effort to counteract this marketing technique, before entering the store each time I would remind my children that we would not be buying any candy or gum at the cash register line. For the most part it was a strategy that worked.

Until one day it happened.

Total And Utter Meltdown.

If you are a parent you know what I’m talking about.

That dramatic, uncontrollable volcano of emotion that suddenly spews out of your child.

All possibility of holding it together for one more moment has been exhausted and kicking and screaming ensues.

And there you are in the middle of the IGA with two other children who look as if they’re considering following suit depending on your reaction to the offender.

Oh, and absolutely everyone and their brother is watching you.

It’s as if there’s a spotlight suspended over your head and at any moment you’re going to hear broadcasted over the intercom, “Meltdown in aisle two. Parental incompetence suspected.”

Incidentally on this particular day my daughter was wearing the cutest white rabbit fur coat. It was a hand-me-down from a friend and was by far the fanciest and most expensive coat she had ever owned.

Walking in she’d looked like a perfect little princess. Sprawled on the grocery floor throwing a category 10 fit over a pack of gum she looked like an overindulged brat.

I take comfort in the fact that in one way or another most parents have endured a similar scene. And we all get through it.

Although sometimes parenthood can make you feel that you’re just one pack of gum away from throwing your own self to the floor in a hissy fit.

That day I had to make a decision and fast. Taking a deep breath and praying silently, I gingerly stepped over her and proceeded toward the door. In my head I was thinking, “What am I going to do if she doesn’t follow me?”

I needn’t have worried. I wasn’t two steps away from her before she popped up off the floor and hurried after me.

Crisis averted.

You know, there have been times in my life when I’ve been that little girl in the rabbit coat thrashing around on the floor. Instead of trusting in God’s plan for my life I’ve acted as if I’ve known better and then become frustrated when things haven’t turned out the way I thought that they should.

Instead of appreciating all the good that is in my life, I begin to focus on what is wrong. I’ve complained and protested.

Honestly, I’ve been sort of a brat. And if I’m not careful I could begin to think that God has left me alone to my own misery and simply stepped over me.

Not true.

It’s really me who has stepped away in disobedience.

I am so glad that God never thinks, “What am I going to do if she doesn’t follow me?” What a blessing to know that He has a plan and He’s sticking to it. No matter what, He is always patiently pursuing my heart.

And when I finally get over my melodramatic meltdown I realize that I was never really alone. He was just one step ahead waiting for my return.

 

 

 

 

The Warning Signs

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I suffered a toe injury. Then thanks to my ability to minimize my body’s natural alarm system (PAIN means Alert! Alert! Attention needed!) it got worse.

I knew a visit to the doctor was warranted, but I kept putting it off. In part, because I didn’t want to hear any sensible advice (like stay off your foot) that might interfere with a two-day trip I had planned with some girlfriends.

So I ignored the warning and went on my trip. After the first day my toe was sore, but hadn’t really gotten any worse. However, the second day we did some extensive walking. By the time I returned home my toe was visibly swollen and throbbing with pain.

I scheduled an appointment at the clinic for the next day.

By morning my toe hurt so badly that I was unable to find a single pair of shoes I could tolerate wearing. After settling on some open-toed sandals, I made my way to the car using the ever popular step-drag method. Add a hump on my back and I could hear the bell towers of Notre Dame calling me.

It was when I stepped out of my car in the clinic parking lot that I knew I was in real trouble. Up to this point I had managed to downplay the impact pain had on my mobility. Now parking as close to the entrance as possible, the door still seemed like a football field away.

Two other women got out of their cars at the same time I did. One was about eight months pregnant. The other had her foot in a surgical boot. In the race to the front door I came in a distant third.

By a long shot.

During my appointment as I experienced some painful procedures, the practitioner threw around scary words like MRSA and staph infection. I left with two double doses of antibiotics and an appointment with a podiatrist.

All from a tiny innocuous injury to my big toe. Crazy, right?

But here’s the thing. Sin is like that, too.

Little words or actions I know are wrong get diffused in my mind. I begin to reason that what I said or did wasn’t “that bad”. Rejecting accountability by letting those sins continue without correction assures that inevitably things will get messy.

In reality, sin is sin. And when left unattended it can grow and infect.

Here’s just one example. (And in the name of truth I will admit that I have suffered the consequences as both the recipient and the perpetrator.)

Words have the ability to build up or tear down and sometimes the line gets slightly blurred. Ignoring that a cutting comment clothed in humor can diminish another’s self-worth, unkind words are uttered in a joking way.

I’m not saying that humorous or silly remarks are bad. It’s the manner in which they are spoken. When innocent remarks begin to morph into hurtful sarcasm the warning bell in our heads should begin to sound.

Why do we think that as long as someone laughs along with us, the verbal slap didn’t sting? The person who said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a liar.

Thoughtless words can land a permanent wound on the recipient. If I am not actively “encouraging one another and building each up” as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, then I am in opposition to the Word and inviting sin to have a comfy spot in my heart.

By downplaying the damage, I can easily end up with a sin-sick soul in need of more than a double dose of antibiotics.

Fortunately, I know a really great Physician.

Heeding the warning signs of my sin, I can run to Him in sincere repentance and find that He is the antidote for any pain. Every cure, whether reprimand or restoration, is rooted in His abounding, unending love for me. Simply put, I can trust God to know what’s best for me.

Each visit yields another lesson learned and increases the likelihood that I will respond to repentance’s call the next time the alarm is sounded.

I am so thankful that the LORD’s clinic is always open for counsel and healing.

Free of charge.

It’s a good thing, too, for as much time as I spend there I could never afford the co-pay.