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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

Unearthing the Truth

It began last night with a question. This unraveling of me.

What is it that has kept me from being who I am supposed to be?

It’s strange how Holy Spirit breaks into the places I think I have patched up so neatly with the Do Not Disturb sign clearly posted. But there I was in the middle of dinner and He asked me that very question.

What is it that has kept you from being who you were meant to be?

He knew the answer. It was me who needed to probe a little deeper.

But instead I turned to the one I love and asked him that question. Surely we all have things that have held us back. Perhaps hearing his answer would guide me to my own. But instead of giving me his own definitive answer he turned the question back to me.

And in the middle of a crowded restaurant over a perfectly lovely dinner, my eyes began to well with tears. I knew the answer. It was hidden in the same pathetic phrase I had uttered to myself time and time again. It was fuel to the raging fire that consumed those around me in my pursuit of perfection. It was the fear that held me back from anything that seemed too wonderful.

Am I worth it?

Seeing those words makes me cringe.

They beg a deeper question as they call my faith to the spotlight.

Do I believe that this Jesus, the One who anchors my hopeful heart, thinks I am enough? Despite my faithlessness, does He still think I am worth it?

And beyond that, does He adore me?

Too often I try to display the Father in the faulty, family frame I inherited. My perspective of His love for me gets muddied by the emotional gaps reflected in my shallow stream of understanding.

I know my earthly father loved me. The deepest parts of my heart tell me so. But the words of affirmation and adoration that I longed to hear were never spoken aloud.

And my interpretation of that silence formed an inaccurate picture of who I am. It has followed me into womanhood and surfaces every time I am on the brink of becoming more of who I was meant to be.

I’ve spent a lot of time digging in that garden of lies scratching the dirt and pulling at roots, desperate to unearth the weeds that grow there. I remember that each time I am able to grab a root in my hand and raise it to the light, it withers allowing space for good seeds to grow.

So here I am again. On my knees in the dirt grabbing at the root of this lie. The one that tells me I am not enough. I am not adored. I dig into the Psalms to unearth the promises of redemption and restoration He has for me. The ones that proclaim a father’s compassionate love so great that it is as high as the heavens are above the earth.

That truth begins to reverberate anew in my soul. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 

God is not stingy with His love. He lavishes it on me, pours it over me in extravagance. He spared no expense in the pursuit of my heart. Not even His very own Son.

That’s how much I am adored. The truth I have known my whole life suddenly seems a fresh truth. A new depth. He died for me.

He adores me. I am worth it.

Thank-you, LORD.

Not Your Average Joe

This time of year our focus is on the baby in the manger and rightly so. We also give special attention to His virginal mother, Mary. But what about the third part of that holy family?

You know who I’m talking about. That stand in the background out of the spotlight guy named Joseph.

Maybe he was an introvert by nature. Maybe not. I really don’t know a lot about Joseph simply because there isn’t much written about him in the scriptures.

When you really think about it, Joseph must have been a truly amazing guy for God to have picked him to be the earthly father of His only son, Jesus. God could have picked absolutely anyone for the job – a king, a statesman, a rabbi, a rich man.

But He didn’t.

He picked Joseph. And by all accounts he was just an ordinary, average Joe.

A carpenter. A man who worked with his hands.

What was so different about Joseph’s character that he was the one to make the cut above all the others?

In the first chapter of Matthew, the nineteenth verse we can gain a few clues to his character. Matthew writes that Joseph was as a righteous man.

To be righteous means to be in right standing with God. Joseph loved God and did what His law commanded. He could stand before God and say, “Everyday I’m doing my best to do what you’ve asked of me.”

Not really so ordinary, is it?

When I read further I find how he dealt with a problematic situation.

You see, his fiancé Mary had given him some troubling news.

She was pregnant.

And the baby wasn’t his.

But it got even stranger than that.

Not only was she pregnant, but she claimed that she was still a virgin and had been chosen to give birth to the very Son of God.

I can only imagine the look on Joseph’s face when she dropped that little bombshell. He must have thought she was slightly delusional. After all, hadn’t she been visiting her relative Elizabeth for the past three months? Had something happened to her there that she just couldn’t bring herself to admit?

You know that if this happened in our present day he might have suggested that she be psychologically evaluated or at the very least have insisted upon a DNA test to determine paternity. This had Jerry Springer written all over it.

But as I read on I see his reaction isn’t one of anger or betrayal. It is humility and love.

Yes, he’s going to break it off with her, but he’s going to do it quietly. In those days, under the law those who became pregnant outside of marriage could have been stoned to death. But for Joseph to marry her after she had revealed her pregnancy was to say that he was the responsible party in the matter.

But Joseph was a righteous man. He was in right standing with God. He followed the rules and would have never been intimate with his fiancé before marriage.

So what to do?

The scriptures say he considered what to do. He gave it some long, hard thought. He knew what he must do. Out of compassion he would let quietly her go.

However, all those hard, thought out plans changed in an instant when he got a visit from an angel of the Lord. Everything Mary had told him was validated by that angel. Joseph was to take Mary as his wife, raise the boy as his own and name Him Jesus.

Did you get that? He was to be the adoptive daddy to the Son of God.

Jesus, the Savior of the world.

My Savior. Your Savior.

Joseph’s Savior.

Definitely not your average Joe.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

I’m just saying

I live in a small community hosting a multitude of Christian churches. They span the denominational and non-denominational gamut. Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical, Missionary, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Church of God  – you name it, we got it.

I am not saying they are overflowing full-to-capacity every Wednesday evening, Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Or that people are flocking to them in record numbers.

Honestly, there seems to be ample, available parking.

I’m just telling you that they are there.

The large public elementary school where I presently teach by is predominantly staffed by Christian individuals. Every day our cafeteria workers, custodians, and certified staff members have an opportunity to bless the children in their sphere of influence.

I’m not saying that they all openly profess their faith.

That they push the boundary between church and state that the ACLU has established.

I’m just telling you that by their own admission, they are Christians.

For many years, our beginning-of-the-year corporation staff meeting began with a blessing by a local pastor. This year we began without that public prayer.

I know there were probably many churches and small groups praying for the teachers and students in other venues at other times. But this year, on our first day of school, there was no communal blessing.

I’m not saying everyone noticed.

There was no outrage in the teacher’s lounge.

In most conversations, it didn’t take precedence over the predicted changes in our salary schedule.

I’m just saying it wasn’t there.

That day, the open call to God to protect and provide for our community’s most vulnerable and valuable – our children – was marked absent.

For some, it is probably a big “so what.”

But for me, it sounds more like “now what?’

As is, now what is my response?

Just what is my response to empty church pews, silenced public prayers, and a choke hold on the open profession of faith in my classroom?

It can only be one thing.

I will continue to lift up Jesus.

Publicly when I’m called.

Silently when I’m not.

It may not be popular.

Or politically correct.

You don’t have to agree with me.

But I can’t be something I’m not.

It’s just who I am and “Whose” I am that matters most to me.

I’m just saying…