Remembering

Until recently I had a small, round china jar that had belonged to my grandmother sitting on my vanity. Complete with lid, it was just the right size for housing stray buttons and bobby pins. Not exactly a family heirloom, I loved it anyway because it made me think of Grandma.

And when it was accidentally broken, try as I might, I couldn’t hold back a few tears.

I knew it was silly, but being the sentimental person I was, it was inevitable. Years ago when I took the Briggs-Meyers personality test it told me I was “the keeper of family traditions.” No surprise there. It also should have said “keeper of things that other people usually throw away.”

Not in the hoarding kind of way, but I do tend to keep things that hold meaning for me.

Christmas ornaments that my children made in elementary school.

Sweet misspelled notes from my past students saying “You are my best techer”. (No chance of getting a big head over that one.)

Thirty-year old birthday cards from my grandparents – just seeing their scrolling signatures brings a smile to my face.

My first diary complete with lock and key lest anyone try to pry into my nine-year old self’s private business.

Loose pictures, scrapbooks, pictures albums, framed pictures. (A lot of them bearing less than flattering hair styles. Note to Self- you do not look good in a perm.)

Why do I keep all of these things? Because all of them have the ability to whisk me back to a time and  place where I felt loved. That is an amazing thing and one of life’s greatest treasures.

I am so thankful that God created me with the capacity to remember. Not everything that has happened in my life has been good. There have been plenty of tragedies and trials.

But I have the power to choose.

And the things that I choose to remember most are the gifts of love that God has showered in my life. For I know that every good and perfect gift is from the Father.

I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1:3

The best intentions

Today was the day I had originally slated to begin a juice fast. With the advent of the new year I had decided to set aside some special time to fast and pray. However, winter blew in a ferocious snowstorm which landed my younger daughter, her husband and their dog at our doorstep. So I made chicken and dumplings instead.

Oh, and I also may have baked a loaf of molasses wheat bread, too.

And about four dozen chocolate chip cookies.

Not exactly what I had planned, but you seriously can’t expect a household of people which includes a pregnant woman (my daughter, not me) to exist on a diet of juice and water when it is -17 degrees outside. We’re used to cold winter weather in the Midwest, but yesterday the temperature was actually warmer in Alaska than it was in Indiana. The land of igloos and sled dogs would have been balmy compared to what it felt like outside my front door.

So instead of fasting, I feasted. There’s something about a houseful of family that beckons me to the kitchen. A homemaker at heart, I love to cook from scratch and serve up heaping portions to whomever gathers around our big dining room table. I can’t help it. It’s like it’s programmed into my DNA.

But then, of course, I know that I was designed by an awesome God who put me together just the way He wanted. He is the One who placed the desire in my heart to love and care for others. And He is the one who taught me that by serving others I can show His love for them. So I’m not going to guilt trip myself into feeling bad about not beginning my fast today. The year is still young and there will be another day soon to devote to fasting.

Just as soon as those cookies are gone.

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.

Come to the party

For weeks my class had been working toward an ice cream sundae party. It was the reward for memorizing the addition facts to twenty. Every new fact family committed to memory garnered an ice cream scoop or topping. Everyone had earned at least a single scoop with some sort of topping. Everyone except one. And as much as I tried to help this particular student, it was clear that the effort was very one-sided. He just didn’t take it seriously. So while the rest of the class indulged in the delicious benefits of a job well done, he quietly made his way to the library to read a book.

It’s times like that I really hate being “bad cop”. Praise and encouragement are the teaching tools I reach for most often. But sometimes they’re just not enough to motivate every child, every time and it seriously bums me out. I know, I know – life isn’t all happy faces and rainbow stickers. You can learn a lot from failure and the pain it causes. That being said, no matter how justifiable, I still hate having to don the bad cop cap and badge to carry out a punishment.

In the real world there are always going to be rewards and punishments for our choices. And when we make the choice to put love into motion it changes the world for the better. And if we put forth unloving word and actions, well, the same principle applies. But when it comes to God’s kingdom the stakes are even higher. It’s not just about doing good or bad things, but believing in the One who is the only true source of goodness. Because God is love. 

And one day we will all stand before the throne of love and give an account of our lives. I’m not suggesting that we will get into heaven by our works. That is solely a work of amazing grace, poured out on the cross by Jesus Christ. But we will be rewarded according to our works. And I can only imagine that it will  be like the most fantastic and wonderful party we’ve ever attended. And here’s the thing. I don’t want anybody I love and care about not to be in attendance. We are all invited, but not everybody gets to come. It’s a sobering thought.

But where there is life, there is hope. As Christmas approaches I am keenly aware that even the season’s secular atmosphere seems to soften hearts and minds. And softened hearts and minds lend opportunities to tell the story. The story of a God whose love is so extravagant, that despite our unwillingness to come to Him, He sent His Son to come to us. Jesus came to proclaim His love and claim us for His own. He invites us to be a part of the family of God, to join the party and live with Him forever.

The invitation is there.

We just have to say yes.

My Baby Book

From the time my children were born I kept a journal about them. Each one has their own personal history bound in a beautiful book  penned by one who loves them. I had always told them that they would be welcome to read their baby book and recently my youngest daughter asked for hers.

When I handed over the history of her life according to Momma I thought how glad I was to be able to give her such gift. Inside those journals held every first of her early life –  first smile, first tooth, first step. Later it told of her challenges and triumphs as she grew from toddler to adolescent. But more than anything it chronicled my great love and affection for her and gave her the chance to see herself through the eyes of someone who loved her unconditionally.

I thought how different the world would be if children everywhere had the opportunity to see themselves through their parents eyes of love and devotion. But then it hit me. We do! Our Father God has penned a love story over every one of us that pours out His great love for us.

My story begins when Psalms 139:13-14 tells me that He knit me together in my mother’s womb and declares that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. What a miracle that was! It was no accident that I was created.

Zephaniah 3:17 reminds me that God takes great delight in me and sings over me in the heavens. Just as I took pleasure in holding my little ones on my lap to whisper sweet melodies in their ears, God is pleased to sing over me in His great love!

In every trial and struggle as I grew into adulthood God was with me. Deuteronomy 31:6 encouraged me to be strong and courageous because God would never leave me or forsake me. And as I floundered around in a fallen world God assured me in Romans 8:38 that nothing could separate me from His great love.

And it didn’t end there. For even after my story has been completely told from my first glimpse of the world to my final breath, Psalms 103 gives me yet another promise. The promise that the legacy of love that He has established with me will extend to my children and grandchildren. His abounding love remains and will go on and on and on.

Such an incredible love story takes my breath away. I am humbled that God would choose to record and reveal such an amazing love for me. No other personal history could be as accurate, not even one authored by a loving parent. For His perspective is unique and documents more than just a conglomeration of triumphs and failures. I am seen as I truly am – a forgiven, healed and cherished child of God. Thank-you LORD!

The Place In Between

During a recent conversation with my youngest daughter, I was surprised to find that she had never stepped inside a Hardee’s fast food restaurant. The most shocking part of the revelation was that I was the reason. She reminded me that years ago I had vowed never again to eat at Hardee’s and out of loyalty to me she had never eaten there either. Lest you think I have some undying vendetta against Hardees let me elaborate.

I can only barely remember what happened. When she brought it up, it was a minute or two before a vague memory slowly surfaced. Honestly, I had long forgotten ever making that declaration of war, but she had remembered the shenanigans between me and a less-than-polite teenager manning the drive through window. And my reaction had stuck with her. The truth be told, I am pretty sure I have eaten there a time or two since then.

It’s slightly disturbing to me what I choose to remember about people and situations. (Of course if I’m being honest, what I really mean is it’s slightly disturbing to me that I have no control over what people ultimately remember about me.) What I say and do in my home, my classroom, my community matters because I am representing myself as an ambassador for Christ.

So what does an authentic ambassador of Christ look like? In a word – Love.  Looking to 1 Corinthians 13 I can find a very accurate description of who I want to be. A true ambassador is patient, polite and kind. Promoting peace, she doesn’t keep score or have to have her own way. She always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres believing with her whole heart that love triumphs.

I know that every day I fall short of that description. I can only pray that the ones who know me won’t remember me on my very worst day or even on my very best, but somewhere in between. It’s that place in between that my most authentic self lives. And ultimately it is the place where I have the most influence for Jesus. The place in between – where every day the messiness of life has an opportunity to be washed with healing and forgiveness. Where rude drive through employees are forgiven and forgotten and people get to eat at Hardee’s again. Where Jesus assures us that He is with us – on our best day and on our worst day and every day in between.

The Casual Gardener

IMG_0799

Dinner at my house this time of year means garden fresh vegetables on the table. Tomatoes, green beans, radishes, and corn are plentiful. Daily we enjoy the results of my husband’s efforts. Throughout the spring he diligently tended to the generous plot of garden space in our back field. Tenacious tilling, planting, weeding and watering have rewarded us with a delicious harvest.

His work ethic is to be commended. And each day I have the opportunity to apply that same principle of “you reap what you sow” in my own life. I must ensure that I am not a casual gardener of the soil that God has allotted me. For it can be so easy to carelessly sow a crop of hurt with a hasty word or thoughtless action without considering the fragile soil into which it is thrown.

Also I must be aware when seeds of unforgiveness have rooted themselves in my spirit to the point of choking out loving thoughts and words. When I begin to feel “prickly” about someone or react in a way that is contrary to love’s requirements I need to stop and examine my heart. What seed has begun to grow there that would result in bitterness, selfishness, anger and score-keeping? I can be sure that anything that is not creating a bounty of love is a seed sown by the enemy.

Look at the apostle Paul’s familiar words describing love’s harvest, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud, it is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” There is only one way I can hope to produce this beautiful crop. I must give myself over the to Master Gardener to prune my heart. Painful though it may be, in due time it will yield a bountiful and beautiful harvest for the Kingdom.

Galatians 6 :9 “Let us not grow weary in doing good, in due season we will reap, if we don’t lose heart.”

Being like Andrew

I’ve been studying the Gospel of John again. As I read the familiar text for the umpteenth time, something new jumped out at me. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist. How had I missed that information before? Andrew had been more than just your average hard-working fisherman. Being a disciple of John the Baptist meant that Andrew had been a seeker. He’d been actively looking and listening for the coming Messiah. The Baptist he followed denied any claim that he was the one that they all hoped for, but instead preached words of repentance. “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”  John 1:23  He’d been urging to the Jews to prepare their hearts and minds for the arrival of the greatest love they would ever know. The One and Only they had waited for – the very Son of God was coming to embrace His beloved.

The scripture records that John was standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walked by them. (Andrew is named as one of the disciples and the other is most likely to have been John, the author of the Gospel.) John the Baptist had baptized Jesus the day before and had witnessed the sign of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove resting on Jesus. So as Jesus passed by them on this day John pointed out to the two who were standing with him, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

After hearing this, Andrew and the other disciple pursued Jesus and ended up spending the day with him. And after investing some serious time with him Andrew knew he had found the Messiah. The scriptures record that after that revelation the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon, tell him what he had discovered, and then bring him to Jesus.

As I take a closer look at Andrew’s actions I see a perfect plan for my own Christian witness. Prior to the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry, Andrew was closely following the most important religious leader of the time. In the same way, I must be actively looking for and listening to reliable Spirit-filled leaders to discern what God has to say. Searching beyond my own understanding and spending time with others like my pastor and spiritual mentors will help me gain new perspectives about what God is saying through the scriptures. Church attendance and Bible study fellowships are important times spent preparing my own heart for God.

Andrew spent concentrated time with Jesus. The Word records that when he went with Jesus to the place where he was staying it was the tenth  hour – or about four o’clock in the afternoon. Since travel after dark was considered dangerous it is likely that they spent all evening together and probably stayed  the night. Spending time with those who are learned in the Scriptures is important, but spending quality time alone with Jesus is the place where relationship is built. It is the place where I can confess my heart and inquire for understanding. It is the holy time where Jesus speaks to me and me alone. Without this time my spirit grows cold and the place in my heart that should be reserved for God begins to be filled with lesser things.

Having the knowledge that Jesus is my Savior is incredible news. Why would I ever want to keep that to myself? Once Andrew had been convicted that Jesus was indeed the Christ he wasted no time in sharing the news. John 1:42-43 tells us “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him “We have found the Messiah” (that is the Christ.) And he brought him to Jesus.” Like Andrew I must seek out others and share the Gospel. Andrew began with the family member closest to him, his older brother Simon. From there his witness spread.

In my own life I have shared my love of Jesus with husband, my children and many close family members. Leading my family to Jesus and introducing them to the best friend they will ever have has been a blessing. Perhaps the hardest part has been realizing that they have the choice to accept or reject the truth.  Most have accepted the truth wholeheartedly; others I am still praying for. In the end, it is not my responsibility to save  them – Jesus is the only One who can do that. It is simply my responsibility to follow Andrew’s enthusiastic example to seek out my brothers (those I am related to and those I am not), offer the truth and bring them to Jesus. I can trust that He will do the rest.

Choosing joy

Last week when my daughter’s flight from Kansas City was delayed due to stormy weather I was afforded a little more time in the airport to “people watch”. Fortunately, I was seated where I could easily observe passengers emerging onto the concourse without looking like a stalker. Minutes after the arrival board posted each plane’s landing, throngs of people would pour out through the hallway. Some passengers had loved ones gathered close by the entrance to greet them. Squeals of joy, bear hugs and pats on the back followed. Other travelers arrived with little or no fanfare. Smartly dressed in business suits with briefcases in hand, they strode toward the next meeting. Still others emerged from the hallway with the look of uncertainty that often accompanies travelers in a new city.

Interestingly, even though every arrival had its own story, each person’s eyes seemed the same in one distinct way. They were all searching for something. Some were undoubtedly looking for a familiar face in the crowd. Others routinely scanned phone messages on the way to the escalators. A few looked anxiously for the signs that would point them to the baggage claim area. As I watched them parade by it struck me at what a perfect a parallel this was for the way I can choose to approach my life. I can either expect business as usual, fearfully contemplate what to do next or anticipate joy.

I’ve been there. Falling into the routine that is “the business as usual” way of looking at life. Losing sleep in fearful anticipation of the unknown. But the good news is that no matter where I am in any situation I can always choose joy. And in choosing joy I receive the source of my strength. Nehemiah 8:10 tells me that “The joy of the LORD is my strength.” I choose to believe Psalms 27 that “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life.”

Therefore, I must search through life with conscious intent. By choosing the numbness of busyness or being sidelined by paralyzing fear, I am allowing the enemy to rob me of the extraordinary. Instead, I must anticipate the best that God has to offer me. And in doing so, I will choose joy.