Love is on the way

As soon as it was mentioned last winter, I knew I would be going.

This year instead of spending my final week of summer break preparing for the coming school year I would be heading to the south side of Chicago to do some inner city mission work. I would have to spend some time organizing my classroom a bit earlier than usual, but I thought I would be up to the challenge. After all, it was months away.

Fast forward to this past Sunday.

My daughter’s sweet family had just left on Friday after spending three wonderful weeks with us. Putting school work as far out of my mind as possible, I enjoyed every minute of their stay. I did manage to squeeze in a morning or two at school, but for the majority of the last month I chose to soak up family time like a thirsty sponge.

Now it was Sunday afternoon and the reality of what I had to get done in a week’s time began to bear down on me.

What had I been thinking?

I would not return home from Chicago until the Saturday before school began on Monday. Although Monday was a designated teacher day I knew it would be filled with meetings from the beginning and end with an introduction to my new students and their families at our Back to School Night. There would be no time on Monday for lesson planning or preparing materials for the open house.

Panic-stricken I began to melt like a sugar cube dropped in a tea cup. A few hours of work at school on Sunday afternoon had only intensified the pressure. I’d begun to realize there was NO WAY I was going to get everything ready for school and the mission trip. So I did what I always do when I am feeling completely overwhelmed.

I sat on the floor and cried.

And then I prayed.

Slowly, peace came.

Determination followed.

So now the words of Jude 1:2 from the Message Bible are resonating in my heart. “Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way.”

Joy fills my heart. The cavalry is coming! Love is on the way.

As the school year begins I will enter encouraged and prepared.

The mission work accomplished on the streets of Chicago will be a blessing.

No longer is there fear or worry in my heart.

His grace is sufficient.

Love is on the way.

Jumping for Joy

An unusual blur of motion caused me to look up from where I was seated at the back of my classroom  One of my students was standing beside his desk, leg flung high, with his hand cupped around his heel. He was gleefully hopping up and down on one foot. I caught his eye and asked the obvious question, “What are you doing?”

To which he gave me the obvious answer.

“I’m hopping up and down on one foot.”

Honesty.

It’s one of the things I love best about kids. I wanted to laugh, but instead asked another obvious question, “Is that one of the assigned activities you should be doing right now?’

“No.”

I gave him THE LOOK. You know which one I’m talking about. The one that says I-really-don’t-have-to-say-anything-else-because-you-know-where-I’m-going-with-this-so-maybe-you-should-get-busy-on-something-else.

“OK,” was his reply and back to work he went.

There was a big part of me that admired him for standing up in the middle of class and hopping up and down on one foot for no other reason than he was feeling joyful. I even wished that I felt like doing that. It had been a tough couple of weeks with a particular student in my classroom and I was feeling anything but joyful about it.

Later in the week as I was getting ready for school I noticed that three little figurines on my bathroom countertop were arranged differently. Normally they spelled out J-O-Y, but on this day they spelled out Y-O-J. Evidently my sweet husband had cleaned off the counter the day before and had put the figurines back without paying attention to their order.

YOJ- that pretty much described how I felt. Somehow that nonsense word seemed to perfectly articulate the

Yucky,

Overwhelmed, and

Just plain tired feeling I was experiencing.

I’d had it with the yucky prolonged winter weather that never seemed to end. I was overwhelmed with spending an exhausting amount of energy on trying to fix a student’s problem that was beyond my control. And basically, I was just plain tired of being tired!

And then it hit me. I didn’t feel like kicking up my heels in joy, because my letters were out-of-order. If JOY was an acronym for how we should live our lives then I had it all wrong

It should be Jesus-Others-Yourself and not way I had been going about it.

I had been focusing in on Y instead of the J. Instead of taking it all to Jesus, I had been trying to solve my dilemmas on my own.But here’s the tricky part.

I had been praying about the problem I was having with this student. Multiple times.

But if I were being honest, I had never really, fully relinquished control to Jesus.

 Not on purpose, of course. Every prayer had been sincerely offered up for help. But in the end I had yanked it back.

I guess I’m not the only one to feel like she is missing the mark. After all, in Romans 7:15 the apostle Paul writes about doing things that are totally opposite to what he wants to do.

I especially like the way the Message Bible puts it, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.”

Bingo.

I pour out my heart to God and say I give up control, but the before the amen is barely off my lips I’m thinking about it again.

Clearly I am a work in progress. No surprise here.

But in the meantime, I’m forever grateful for the grace Jesus pours out on me. The grace that allows me to start over whenever I let my Y get in front of my J.

The grace that inspires such love and blessing that despite my circumstances I feel like kicking up my heels and jumping for joy.

Who knows? Next time, one of my students feels the need to hop around I might be the one leading the conga line.

No Expertise Required

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher wrote a high school level algebra problem on the chalkboard and challenged us to solve it. There were three stipulations:

1. It was to be done strictly as homework.

2. We would have to be ready to explain our solution to our classmates.

3. Because it was such an advanced level problem, our parents were allowed to help us.

Never before had I seen such a complicated, convoluted conglomeration of letters and numbers. Feeling doubtful about my mathematical expertise, I still felt compelled to try.

For one thing, I was very competitive when it came to all things school-related. For another, there was a candy prize for anyone who solved it. To the delight of my dentist’s banking account, candy was one of the driving motivators of my ten-year-old life.

That night as I sat at the dining room table struggling to make sense of the numbers and letters before me I came to a decision. I could either go to school the next day admitting defeat or I could ask my college educated parents for help. I chose the latter.

For the next half an hour my parents worked to find a solution while I sat by and watched. From time to time my mother would pop up her head and ask, “Are you sure your teacher said we could help you?” I would nod.

That nod was my sole contribution the process. Because the problem was so far over my head it was more likely that I would spin around and turn into Wonder Woman than it was for me to come up with anything relevant.

The next day I walked into the classroom, my well-worked problem secure under my arm, wondering how in the world I would explain that problem to the class. Math time arrived and our teacher asked which of us had accomplished the task. Only one other person had done the problem.

She asked the two of us come to the front to write out our equations. I might as well have been writing in Sanskrit for all I knew about what my piece of chalk was scratching across the chalkboard.

To my great relief, my classmate asked if he could be the one to explain the solution. As he enthusiastically pointed to parentheses and equal signs, I stood by, blank look on my face, still completely in the dark as to what any of it meant. Afterwards, the class applauded and we were each given a candy cane. I sat down feeling completely unworthily. Later, I tossed the candy cane into the garbage.

I couldn’t receive something I felt did not deserve.

So what’s the point?

Here it is. Jesus offers us something we don’t deserve and every one of us has the choice to happily receive it or throw it away.

We can gratefully accept that fact that by his death and resurrection we are saved. Our sins have been nailed to the cross and we can live as forgiven people under grace.

Or we can go through life, drowning under the weight of our own sin and unworthiness, refusing to accept the gift that He gives.

Let’s face it. We all sin and none of us are worthy. There is absolutely nothing we can contribute to the situation to solve that problem.

But, Good News!  He loves us just the same! Romans 5:8 tells me that God provided for me even while I was still in my sin.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

My sins separate me from God and I can do nothing on my own to remedy that. But God still made a way for me to reconnect.

His name is Jesus Christ. When I yield to Him, His grace pours over me.

I don’t have to stand by, palms sweating, afraid that my unworthiness will be exposed. Instead, Jesus stands in that gap for me. He takes my sins upon Him and reconciles me to the Father.

He did all the work on the cross.

As for me – no expertise required.

Thank-you, LORD.

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.