Love Never Fails

I’ve had a knot in my stomach since Tuesday.

And my neck hurts, too. My shoulder muscle started contracting election morning, pulling my neck into spasm, and has not let up.

My body reacting to the tug-of-war in my spirit.

I’m unsettled.

And sad.

And so, so disappointed in us.

I thought we were better than this.

And I’m not talking about the results of the election, but our reaction to the results of the election.

On both sides.

Let me be clear.

I have people in my life I dearly love and respect who voted blue.

I have people in my life I dearly love and respect who voted red.

But the aftermath of this election is sickening. Since when do we take to the streets screaming venomous, vile profanity stringing up our president-elect in effigy Ku Klux Klan style? Is this who we are now? An angry hate-spewing mob?

And since when is it permissible to say to our hurting brothers and sisters that they need to “suck it up”, “stop whining”, and “get over it”? When did we forget to show compassion to the devastated and desperate? When did we become so heartless and numb to the very real fears of the slighted and marginalized?

When did we become a nation of bullies? It seems that all the lessons about kindness and tolerance taught in every classroom have been wasted.

My heart is breaking.

But I am not without hope. Never without hope.

Because as a Christian, I believe that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. Even when things look dire and hate runs rampant, His mercies never come to an end. They are an ever-present reminder that LOVE is stronger.

So I continue to pray. And I ask you to pray, also.

For our fractured country.

For our future leaders.

For our children who will live in this legacy we are creating.

And remember the words the apostle Paul wrote about love. That love is patient and kind. It’s not rude or arrogant. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

We fail, but God never does.

Have faith, my friends.

The Word of God is alive and active. It was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. And it’s very clear on this point.

Love never fails.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Teach

This past week was National Teacher Appreciation week and I was blessed to be on the receiving end of a lot of love. It was so encouraging and very humbling to be acknowledged for just doing my job.

No doubt, teaching has changed dramatically over the years. This is my twenty-first year at my present school. And although I couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment, it’s definitely not the same job I originally signed up for two decades ago. Much of the professional autonomy is gone. Curriculum is driven by educational law largely lacking in common sense. Testing is out of control.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is this – children still need somebody to love them and invest in them. They need someone who will care enough about them to hold them accountable. To say no to unacceptable behavior and yes to putting forth the necessary effort to succeed. They need somebody who will help them push past failure and cheer them on even when its hard.

Learning isn’t about perfection. It’s about progress.

Over the years, I’ve rejoiced in my students’ successes and agonized over their failures. And still I feel like I’m the lucky one. The one, who for at least a short while, got to walk that path of progress alongside them.

A few weeks ago a child in my class wrote me a note on the back of her math homework. She was moving to another state on short notice and on her last day of class she handed in her homework along with these words.

To the best 2nd grade teacher anybody could ever have.

School is very important. That is not why I like it though. I like it because of all of the people you can meet and the things you are able to learn. People become teachers. They take the time to teach us new things. Mrs. Gatts, yes, my teacher, helped me. She and all my teachers helped me learn and know what I do know. I love my teacher. I love you, Mrs. Gatts.

That’s why I do it.

That’s why I teach.

That’s why any loving teacher teaches. We love learning, but more than that, we love the learner.

Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all my fellow teachers! Keep loving the learners. They are so worth it.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.”

Look at My Eyes

On the day of our arrival, the resort front desk explicitly explained their pool towel policy. For the duration of our week-long stay, we were issued two towels that we were to guard with our lives. To receive a new towel, each day you had to exchange your old one.

No exceptions.

We were also told that failure to turn in our towels before we checked out would cost us twenty dollars.

Per towel.

Let me assure you that these towels were nothing to write home about. In fact, they were rather ratty around the edges, but for whatever reason this was the rule.

Unfortunately for us, one day when we left the pool briefly to get something to eat, our unattended towels disappeared. We had a pretty good idea of who had taken them, but not wanting to cause a scene I went to the towel booth to plead my case.

When I tried to explain that our towels had been stolen, the towel booth attendant shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the sign behind him that said in bold letters: TWENTY DOLLAR FINE FOR LOST TOWELS.

Since we did not share the same native  language I became more animated in hopes of conveying that someone had actually taken our towels. He just kept pointing and shaking his head. Finally in exasperation I took off my sunglasses and said to him, “Look at my eyes. I swear to you I am not lying.”

It was then he finally flashed a toothy smile and handed me two new towels.

It’s true. Our eyes really do give a glimpse into what lives in our hearts.

Matthew 6:22-23 in the Message Bible puts it this way, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

In Revelation 1:4 the apostle John describes Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire.

That knowledge is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. It tells me that Jesus sees my true self. Nothing escapes Him. He sees the worst of me and the best.

Still His gaze remains constant.

And the truth of the matter is that when I raise my own eyes to meet that gaze, it is His consuming fire that purifies me. The fire that burns away anything that hinders my love for Him.

The fire that sets my heart ablaze with love for Him.

The eyes of fire that look into my eyes and understand me to my core.

He speaks my native language and I don’t have to plead my case to Him. Because He already knows me.

And He loves me anyway.

 

 

 

 

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.