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 Great Amen

Our gregarious grandson recently spent some glorious extended time with us. Pulling us into his full – speed – ahead,  precocious preschooler’s approach to life, my normally active routine paled in comparison. Although nap time was not high on his priority list it became a necessity – for me!

Each day after stalling for as long as he could, he reluctantly went to his room. To ensure he stayed in bed, I would sit on the family room couch just around the corner. He couldn’t see me from the bedroom door, but I could hear him get up and open the door in search of me. When he didn’t see me he would say, “Aww, man!” before closing the door again. I guess he was hoping to convince me to let him get up.

Hearing his plaintive “Aww man!” reminded me of how often I also utter that phrase in frustration. And as those syllables rolled off his tongue, Holy Spirit drew me into an interesting language perspective. By slightly changing the last vowel sound, “Aww man” suddenly became “Amen”.

Hmmm…. the “what if’s” began to percolate in my brain.

What if in every set back I would utter up a resilient  “Amen” in place of a combative “Aww man” ?

What if I resisted the temptation of exasperation and leaned in further to the “Amen”?

And what if I allowed Jesus, the Great Amen,  to reign in my life as the ultimate “so be it”?

I waste a lot of time fighting against opportunities that may be kindling for the first spark of a refining fire.

Experiences that I deem as negative may eventually spur me toward joy. Experiences that can help me rejoice when I run into problems and trials.

For I know that they help me develop endurance.

And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens my confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4)

When life’s doors of opportunity seem to block my temporary goal, am I cracking them open only to rail an “Aww man!” at life?

Or am I acquiescing to the great Amen as I embrace the peace and joy of Jesus?

The choice of one syllable is up to me.

And it changes everything.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

It doesn’t change a thing

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While her husband was on a business trip, my younger daughter and her newborn son came to stay with us. What a joy it was to meet each morning through the wide-eyed wonder named Luke.

At five weeks he has already changed so much. Beginning to shake off the sleepy cloak that wraps a newborn’s mind, he is alert for longer periods during the day (and regrettably for his parents, during the night as well.)  When he is awake, his arms and legs engage in a constant stationary dance to music only he can hear.

This morning as he lay beside me on the couch pumping his tiny arms and legs, I began to whisper in his ear. Occasionally he would fix his eyes on me and seem to be soaking in every syllable.

“I love you Luke. You are so beautiful. And even though you really don’t understand how much I love you, it doesn’t change the fact that I do.”

It is doubtful that he understood a word of what I said, but my voice still commanded his momentary attention.

Sometimes I am just like baby Luke. When God calls me, my response involves thrashing around in a crazy stationary dance.  Stuck on the couch looking up at the ceiling lights, neither moving backwards or forwards, my is mind running wild.

What if I fail?

What will people think?

How can I accomplish something so far outside my comfort zone?

Then I remember the promises of God.

I remember that Romans 8:31 says if God is for me, then who can be against me? And according to 1 Thessalonians 5:24,  if God has called me to it, then God will see me through it.

When I’m stuck on the brink of a land flowing with milk and honey, tempted to retreat to Egypt, I can go forth in the confidence that God’s love lies ahead and behind me. Whether or not I believe the promises doesn’t change God.

He remains the same.

The only change is in me when I respond to His promises with faith and love. So when I am faithless and fretful I must listen closely for Holy Spirit’s truth.

The lovely reminder He whispers in my ear.

“I love you Anne. You are so beautiful. And even though you don’t understand how much I love you, it doesn’t change a thing.”

Sleeping baby

My grandson Luke is four weeks old today and I’m pretty sure he’s a genius of some sort. Although I have no demonstrable proof, trust me when I say that we Gigi’s are very intuitive about these things.

Just ask any of us.

Of course, be sure to allot enough time to see the pictures.

It might take a while.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that he has mastered the art of sleeping. My daughter swears to me that he opens his eyes and even cries on occasion, but I’m pretty sure she’s not telling me the truth. Every time that sweet little bundle is in my arms he demonstrates his superb sleeping skills. (I’m pretty sure Albert Einstein slept a lot as a baby.)

Occasionally he yawns, stretches a tiny arm up over his head and make a brief lamb-like bleat which I recognize as a baby prodigy-speak for, “Feed me.” I oblige with a bottle of milk his mother has supplied. He settles in, eyes still closed, lounging in the hammock that’s the crook of my arm.

While contemplating baby quantum physics, for sure.

Afterwards perched on my shoulder as I attempt to summon a burp, my husband manages to capture a wide-eyed picture. Unfortunately, he looks vaguely annoyed with me. (Luke, not my husband.) He was probably on the verge of a scientific break-through.

When I bring him back down to my arms he immediately lapses into a milk coma. Sweet baby sighs and soft rhythmic breathing follow.

Understandably.

Being brilliant is hard work.

 

Can I hear You now?

After a fun-filled extended visit I flew 900 miles roundtrip to deliver my three-year old grandson into his parents’ waiting arms. Knowing it was a distinct possibility that he might have a run-in with reality once he returned home I called my daughter the following day to see how he was getting along. After all, for six days at Gigi’s house he had happily sat on the throne. There was bound to be a bit of an adjustment once he stepped back into a home where rules existed that actually applied to him.

Before you judge me, I want the record to show that I did not raise my three children in a house without rules. On the contrary, our children were raised with daily chores, enforced bedtimes and a routine that included very little TV or refined sugar. Always on a shoe-string budget in those early days, trips to restaurants, zoos and museums were limited unless someone else was paying. And in a household of five, rules were not only necessary, they were the key to our collective sanity.

However, that was then and this is now.

Being a Mommy and being a Gigi are two completely different roles and let me tell you that the latter is the much better gig. Being Gigi means being able to “yes” ninety-nine percent of the time. “Yes, I can make you a fruit smoothie before your nap.” “Yes, we can watch another Curious George episode while we sit in Gigi’s big bed.” “Yes, PopPop can take you on a tractor ride.” “Yes, you can play with Playdough in PopPop’s workshop.” I’m not going to say he is spoiled at our house, but he is “well-loved”.

Which brings me back to the phone call I placed to my daughter. When I asked her how he was getting along, she laughed. “He’s actually doing very well, other than the fact that he’s developed a hearing problem. He just doesn’t seem to hear me when I ask him to do something.”

Uh oh… a “well-loved” week with Gigi may have contributed to his temporary deafness to listen and obey.

I wonder if God ever thinks that about me after I’ve spent a “well-loved” week in the world. Having been caught up in the amusing trivialities of my life, I already know the answer is yes. On more than one occasion I have chased after the “shiny objects” – the indulgent things of lesser importance. Until little by little I found myself at a distance from God, unable to hear what He had to say to me because I had tuned him out.

John 10:27 says, “My sheep know my voice and I know them and they follow me.” Hearing His voice involves active listening. Active listening implies an ongoing effort on my part to set aside time to study the Word, pray and to inquire of God what it is that He wants me to do. I cannot follow if I’m not waiting and listening for instruction.

Romans 10:17 says “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” The word is not going to get into my mind and soul by osmosis. I have to actually open my Bible. I have to read it and pray over what is written on its pages and listen for His voice. Then the promise of Psalm 32:8-9 will come to pass. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way that thou shalt go. I will guide thee with my loving eyes.”

I never want to be so far away from God that my own spiritual deafness inhibits my response to His call. Instead, let it mirror the prophet Isaiah when God asked him whom should He send as a messenger to the people. Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me!”

LORD, let me tune into Your frequency and hear Your voice. Guide me with Your loving eyes so that I can accomplish the work You have established for me on this earth. Let me hear You so that I, too, can respond “Here am I. Send me!”

The Toddler To-Do List

I am not ashamed to admit that ordinarily I like structure and routine. For me, there is comfort in order. However, when our three-year old grandson comes for a visit, life-as-I-know-it changes. In the past six days I have read aloud with expression Curious George Takes A Job no less than a dozen times, sang and danced across the carpet to a spirited version of Go Tell It on the Mountain and loudly applauded successful trips to the potty with exclamations of “Whoopee!”

While Isaiah visited, my to-do list looked like this:

1. Color with fat crayons and don’t worry about staying in the lines.

2. Sift sand sculptures. If you don’t like what you made, flatten it and start over.

3. Lay on your belly and watch the train chug around the Christmas tree. “Choo-chooing” is encouraged, but optional.

4. Play hide and seek in the dark and give away your hiding place by squealing with laughter when you hear footsteps approaching.

5. Giggle ’til your sides ache since practically everything is funny.

6. Go to bed early because you’re probably going to be up at the crack of dawn eating pancakes.

7. Eat peanut butter from a  spoon.

8. Ignore the mounting pile of laundry at the bottom of the basement stairs. Nobody cares that you wear the same pajamas every night.

9. Get down on your knees to pray before you go to sleep.

10. Kiss, cuddle and say “I love you” every chance you get.

11. Repeat number 10.

Next week when the school break is over and I return to my classroom, my to-do list will likely return to its normal state of lesson plans and meetings. And because I love my job I will be glad of it. But I will go with a refreshed spirit and a grateful heart because during those dull December days at the end of the year I had a chance to step out of the ordinary.

The infectious laughter and insatiable energy that only a little soul can bring both exhausted and exhilarated me. Loving the chaos and the calm, I am thankful for it all. After all, remembering Matthew 18:3, if I must become like a child to enter the kingdom of God, then I had better be sure the child inside me is alive and well. Perhaps that Toddler to-do list might just replace my  regular agenda. At least some of the time.

On and on and on it goes

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While dusting the coffee table in our living room I noticed a rather substantial nick in the wood top. Having survived a boisterous family of five, the table is not new, but the dent was. Since my husband is the person who spends the most time in that room I asked him if he knew how it had happened.

Phil had a ready theory that involved our three-year old grandson and the substantial amount of Hot Wheels cars that live at our house.  He recalled that the last time they used the table top as a race track things might have gotten a little bit wild.  Smart strategy. He knows that my love for Isaiah far outweighs any offense he might commit. I just could never be mad at him.

It’s the same way with God’s love for us. So many people waste their time thinking that God is mad at them. It simply isn’t true. The facts are that even when we were still in our sin, Jesus gave up his life for us. He didn’t wait until we made things right because he knew we couldn’t do it on our own. It was out of His great love for us that He sacrificed so we would not have to be separated from the Father.

God isn’t mad at us. He’s angry at the sin in our lives that separates us from Him. Psalm 103:13-14 says that “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Just as I know that a three-year old has limitations to his understanding of the world, God knows my own human limitations and has compassion on me in my failures. My sin may separate me from His blessing, but His love for me never ceases . Verse 17 tells me “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.

I am the one who turns away. I am the one who exercises my own free will to step away from the light into the darkness. Even so, God’s love for me goes on and on and on.

From everlasting to everlasting.

Forever.

The apostle Paul describes it well when he writes in Romans 8:39 that “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a wonderful thing it is to know that no matter how many nicks and dents I manage to accumulate on the race track of life God’s love for me never ends.

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.

Interpretations

My two-year old grandson is learning more words every week. It’s such a delight to listen to him try to put his thoughts into words in a way that I can understand. Of course, attempting to hold a regular face to face conversation with a toddler who is in the room with you can be a challenge let alone trying to do that using Skype. Often my daughter Rachel has to play the part of the UN translator and interpret the word exchange for me. Usually it goes a little like this:

Rachel: Tell Gigi what you did today.

Isaiah: Uhmmm. I creek.

Gigi: Oh did you go to the creek?

Isaiah: I kirl.

Gigi: Did you play with a girl?

Rachel: No, he saw a squirrel. Tell Gigi what the squirrel did.

Isaiah: (No verbal response. Starts bouncing up and down.)

Gigi: Did you see the squirrel run up the tree?

Rachel: No it shook its tail at him. Remember, Isaiah?

Isaiah: (No response since he has become bored with the conversation and has run out of the room.)

Isaiah reminds me a bit of Dug, the befuddled little dog in the animated movie, Up, who is constantly distracted by squirrel sightings. Dug would be engrossed in a conversation with the other story characters then would suddenly halt mid-sentence to point and shout, “Squirrel!” Funny how that behavior also occasionally mirrors my conversations with God. There are times when I try to pray, but my mind seems to chase after every “squirrel” that enters my brain. What am I to do?

I guess the first thing is to admit to God that I am distracted at that moment. Too often, I try to jump into serious conversation without readying my heart and mind.  I certainly agree with the apostle Paul when he writes in Romans 12:12 that we should, “pray without ceasing,” keeping an ongoing conversation with God as we move through our day. However, I also have a daily need to lock myself in my prayer closet and devote undistracted times for worship, thanksgiving and petition. When I am having trouble focusing I pray something like, “Lord, I want to talk to You about this, but other thoughts keep creeping in and pulling me away. Father, center me on You alone.” If I remain quiet and focus my mind on God, my heart and spirit follow.

Even in those times when I am unable to verbalize exactly what I want to say I am assured that I am heard. Romans 8:26- 27 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” What a wonderful promise that is!

Lord, Jesus, thank-you for the promise of your Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in us interceding to the Father on our behalf. I am so grateful that You hear me when I call out to You even in those times when I cannot adequately express myself. I love you, Lord.