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.

 

 

 

Pooh Man and Baby J

Immersed in the task of scraping filth from the kitchen floor, an audience of two suddenly appeared. As I looked up, two pairs of inquiring eyes peered in from the open door.

Pooh Man and Baby J

It was Englewood and here in the ‘hood nobody used their given names.

The two brothers lived downstairs from the apartment we were cleaning and painting for the Chicago Urban Youth Ministry. They had heard the racket we were causing and had come upstairs to investigate.

After inviting them in, I learned that Pooh Man was ten and brother Baby J was six. They were very curious about what I was doing on the kitchen floor with a putty knife. After explaining that I was scraping up the grease and dirt left behind so somebody else could move in they were eager to help me.

We became fast friends in the fight against grime.

I showed Baby J how to position the scraper against the floor and with my hand over his we applied steady pressure to plow up the layers of grease. Each time we managed to move some of the sludge I would say, “That’s so disgusting!”  Baby J would gleefully echo, “Disgusting!” in the way that all little boys do when they revel in getting dirty.

As we worked, we played games and told riddles. Practiced spelling words and addition facts. Every answer, correct or incorrect, received praise and encouragement. That morning I knew I was there to work on the apartment, but recognized that my divine assignment was to lavish love and encouragement on those two beautiful little boys.

As our rapport grew, Pooh Man told me about his family. One of his brothers had passed as a result of the violence in the neighborhood. Another was in jail. He spoke about it without emotion as if it was another ordinary fact of life.

The following day we returned to the apartment to bless it. Pooh Man and Baby J tore up the stairs to join our prayer circle. As we held hands and prayed aloud the Spirit of God descended upon us like a cloud. When I opened my eyes, Pooh Man’s tear-filled eyes were locked onto mine.

And I can’t get them out of my mind.

That little one, hair full of dreads, pants hung low, will never know how deep a place has been burrowed into my heart for him.

But God knows.

So I will continue to lift up prayers of intercession that the God of this city will rescue him.

And I am confident.

Confident that God who loves this child and every other child with an all-consuming love will hear my cries and answer.

Love is on the way

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

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

Fast forward to this past Sunday.

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

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

What had I been thinking?

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

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

I sat on the floor and cried.

And then I prayed.

Slowly, peace came.

Determination followed.

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

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

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

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

No longer is there fear or worry in my heart.

His grace is sufficient.

Love is on the way.

Jumping for Joy

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

To which he gave me the obvious answer.

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

Honesty.

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

Yucky,

Overwhelmed, and

Just plain tired feeling I was experiencing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bingo.

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

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

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

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

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

We’re making progress

Only a first grader, he had been in multiple schools before being expelled from the last one. The comments that followed him to me were that they had never seen a child like him and didn’t know what to do with him. Before he set foot in my classroom, I began praying.

He was a simmer pot.

The little guy whose emotional lid was clamped so tight that when the heat got turned up, the lid blew. Regrettably, both of his parents were incarcerated so it’s no wonder that at the age of seven he had learned that adults were not to be trusted.

Defiant and angry, this wounded soul entered my classroom lashing out at anyone who dared enter his space. His outbursts were frequent, but slowly we began the work of building a relationship. Even though it sometimes seemed that his daily progress was at a snail’s pace, after four months I could say we that we had indeed made progress. However, this particular week I was reminded we were not done yet.

It was usually the little things that set him off and most often it centered around control. Having so little of it in his own life he found every opportunity to assert his control over someone else. This day he refused to cooperate in a small group of children. He was preventing anyone from taking a turn in the game being played by throwing the game cards up in the air. After an attempt to negotiate, I asked him to come sit at a table with me. Instead he crossed his arm, puckered his mouth and paced behind the table.

Soon he was kicking the chairs, then throwing them. It was at this point I draped my arms around him and asked him if he wanted to take a cool down break in the hallway. He refused and began flailing around, yelling, and punching. So with my arms still wrapped securely around him we headed out of the room toward the dean’s office. I’m sure we were quite a sight. I had him tucked up against me like a smuggled diamond while simultaneously avoiding being head-butted.

We ended up seated in a conference room in the main office. As we waited, I held him on my lap and spoke quiet, soothing things into the nape of his neck. And as I attempted to administer comfort, I suddenly got a clear picture of God doing the same thing for me. In the middle of all the chaos, I was seated in the lap of the Father. He was whispering the words into my own heart that I was voicing. “You are safe. It’s going to be all right. I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry you are hurting. I love you.” Eventually peace came to us both.

It occurred to me that I am not so unlike that little one. I get wounded by the world. There are days when I feel out of control and strike out in frustration. What a mystery it is that on those days the God of the universe is still concerned with me. That in that struggle He still chooses to He wrap His arms around me and tell me I am loved. And the by-product of that all-consuming-love is an amazing one. It produces a grateful heart in me that fuels my desire to try to love the unlovable. I’m not always successful. I fail and I fall down. Alot. Thankfully, He’s not done with me yet. But after a lifetime of relationship building I can say this – we’re making progress.

Living in the Fast Lane

Lately, I’ve been considering what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. I’ve thought about what it takes to be someone who isn’t just playing church, but is wholeheartedly sold out for God. And as I have been thinking and praying, God has been patiently, lovingly nudging me toward the idea of fasting.

And in my usual stubborn way I have been trying to dodge the issue. Putting it off because the time was not right, my life was too hectic, or I was just too afraid to face the fact that I might be too selfish to give up my favorite foods. Socially acceptable seasons of fasting like Lent would come and go with only the smallest effort of sacrifice on my part.

Honestly, the thought of any kind of fast was petrifying. How in the world would I make it through the day without the three major food groups – Coffee, Diet Pepsi, and Chocolate? To be truthful, I could live without meat – but dairy and bread? Come on, Lord – I’m a midwestern girl!  You know those two groups make an appearance at every meal. 

And so I quietly resisted. Assuming that fasting was intended for someone much holier than me. Continuing to pretend as if I didn’t hear the call.

Until now.

On Saturday, I began my journey on a 21 day Daniel fast. It will be three weeks without dairy, meat, bread, sugar, caffeine or processed foods. In addition to that, the Lord has called me to a deeper fellowship time with Him that does not include TV or social media. (So to all my Facebook friends, except for publishing my blog, I won’t see you again until October.)

This past week as I prepared for my fast, I cut down on my sugar and caffeine intake and tried to eat as organically as possible. Still, on Friday morning I had an unexpected major meltdown. I was on my way out to school and was stopped at a red light when I started crying. Of course, there were other cars on both sides of me. Their passengers gawking at me probably wondering if the little blonde woman in the car next to them was having a mid-life crisis. As I wrestled a napkin from my lunch to catch the waterworks I was wondering why didn’t I listen to my mother about always carrying a Kleenex in my purse!!

It had begun because I’d been thinking about the fast. Suddenly I was gripped with an overwhelming sense of fear and guilt. Fear of not being able to go through with it. Guilt over the fact that if I was considering backing out then I was obviously addicted to food. But even in that panicked moment I felt God’s comforting presence. I began to pray and I remembered that in God there is no fear and no guilt. Those are schemes of the enemy. I spoke God’s Word over my anxiety and allowed Him to replace my fear and guilt with love and mercy.

And so off I go into the land that is not flowing with milk and honey. But I go knowing I am not alone. Only when I am willing to totally surrender my life can He can take away the things that separate me from Him. And in my state of physical hunger I will wait for Him to satisfy my spiritual hunger. I am ready now, Lord. Ready to encounter the loving God who wants to pour out His heart to me.

The Generous Giver

                                                                                           

 

I was in the car returning home from vacation when I got a phone call from my good friend, Karalee. She is one of the devoted workers that helps provide lunches in the summer to the children of our community. Wanting to fill me in on the details of the previous week I had missed, she was anxious to share an amazing incident.

It was a typical Wednesday at the church as people assembled in the kitchen and fellowship hall making and packing up lunches. Karalee was in charge on this summer morning and was hard at work organizing the troops when her sister pulled her aside. Becky told her a man had wandered into the church and was asking if they could feed him. He said he had been out of work for some time, had no money or food and was hungry. Sadly, he had been to three different churches and no one would help him.

Karalee stopped what she was doing and went to talk to him. Without pause, she made him a sandwich, then packed a large bag with the groceries we had on hand in our church’s small pantry. The grateful gentleman began to cry telling her he would begin coming to our church. He was true to his word and I had the pleasure of meeting him the very next Sunday.

What makes this story so amazing is not the generosity of one woman or one church, but what had happened one hour prior. Before setting up for the summer lunch program that day, Karalee and some of our other church leaders had been in prayer together. They had been specifically asking God to send different groups of people to our church. Having a heart for the poor, Karalee had asked to pray that God would send the poor in our community to our church. God took them seriously.

Isn’t it amazing that when we come to God with open, willing hearts that He will provide us with the things for which we have asked? What a privilege and honor it is to know that when we are sincere in our desires to help others that God trusts us with opportunities to do just that! He trusts us not to try to do everything on our own, but to allow Him to work through us. And when we ask, He generously provides. Ultimately, it is only in His loving provision for us that we may pour that love into somebody else’s life.

Thank-you, Holy Father, for your generosity to me! Help me not to hold tightly to the things you have graciously given me, but to be quick to pass on those blessings to others. Be glorified in the giving, LORD, for truly You are the Generous Giver. 

Waiting in the Wilderness

I have begun taking early morning walks again. Popping out of bed, putting on my shoes and heading toward the park before the general population rises is about the only sure way for me to get in my exercise for the day. If I wait until my foggy brain clears, it would surely come up with a legitimate excuse not to go!

A beautiful park near my house has a winding trail that takes me along a shallow creek through the forest. It is a peaceful place where the early morning fog hovers above the grass like the spirit of morning rising. It is the perfect setting for a conversation with God.

This particular morning as I put one foot in front of the other along the trail I cried out to God for clarity. The past few weeks had been for me like a spiritual wandering in the wilderness. Everything was changing in my life’s ministry and nothing seemed clear. I was grieving the ending of one phase without knowing for certain what lay ahead of me. Obedience was becoming a challenge in a way that I had not expected.

So now as I was striding down the trail this summer morning I cried out to God, “What is it that You want from me?” At that moment two beautiful sun speckled deer walked across the path. They paused, gazed at me for an instant and then sprang into the trees on the other side.

Psalms 42 resonated in my spirit.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

And then I knew what God wanted from me.

He just wanted me. All of me.

Sometimes He allows me to walk in the wilderness. Not because He has forsaken me, but because He knows that when I am free from the distraction of knowing what is to come, I develop a thirst. A thirst so strong that can only be quenched by the Living Water of the Most Holy God.

I am waiting in the wilderness for You, Lord.

Come, fill my cup.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Miracles

I believe in miracles. I just never guessed that a miracle would involve a mission of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. During the summer months I spend part of every Wednesday traveling the country roads surrounding my town delivering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  A devoted group of volunteers gathers midweek in our church’s fellowship hall to slather slices of bread with peanut butter and jelly in an effort to feed our community’s hungry children.

The first part of the miracle begins as an assembly line forms midmorning. Purposeful hands make sandwiches, while others stuff brown paper lunch bags with granola bars, applesauce, fruit, veggies and homemade cookies. Coolers are filled with ice and bottled water is packed in tight. Baby food and formula is set aside for the families with infants.

There is no official sign-up sheet for this ministry. Eleven o’clock dawns on Wednesday morning and through the door the workers pour in. Despite summer camps, swimming lessons, crazy schedules and family vacations, they come. Although you may not see exactly the same faces each week, there is always more than enough help to get the lunches packed, the vans loaded and the lunches delivered. This is the body of Christ at its best, working in miraculous precision.

Part two of the miracle happens as we deliver the lunches to grateful families. My group drives our big, white church van filled primarily with colleagues from my school. Distributing the food offers up opportunities to continue to connect with our students and their families. We speak words of love, listen as problems are shared, offer up encouragement and pray.

It always amazes me how receptive most people are when I ask if they would like for me to pray with them. Sometimes I have just met them and have to ask their name before I begin praying. They might feel a bit awkward at first as I take their hand and pray out loud, but afterwards I see it. It is the look in their eyes that tells me that they have been acknowledged before the throne of God as a person of worth. That, my friend, is a miracle. A peanut butter and jelly mission miracle.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40

The Bothersome Blessings

I braved the snowy less-than-desirable driving conditions out to my rural school only to find out that classes had been cancelled for the day. At first I was annoyed that I had somehow been omitted from the staff list that receives automated school closing text alerts. However, after some consideration I realized that it was only a minor inconvenience and had I not spent the hour driving back and forth here are the things I would have missed:

1. Opportunity to help another. As I made my way home I spotted two fur-clad little girls on the corner waiting for the school bus. I rolled down my window to relay the news. “School’s cancelled for the day, girls, because of the snow!” They smiled and waved and called out a thank-you before turning to walk away. At least I’d saved them from a few more frozen moments on the curb.

2. Views of the extraordinary white-washed scenery in all of its snowy splendor. The brown earth and bare trees had become things of beauty when they were blanketed in snow. The images reminded me of how Jesus covers me with His love and grace. That even though I am stained and dead in my sin I become pure and white through the blood of the Lamb.

3. Time spent in prayer for the parent of one of my students. My drive time is always a great opportunity for conversation with the Father. This morning I had asked Him to give special attention to one of the moms in my room. Her child had recently come to church at my invitation. She wanted to know if she could send his sisters on the van that had come to pick him up on Sunday. I assured her they could and then went on to invite her to come, too. She had looked away quickly without an answer, but not before I had seen her expression. It was one that had said, “I’m not worthy. You don’t know what I have done.” My heart went out to her and I wanted to say, “He loves you anyway.” So this morning I lifted her up to the throne and asked God to whisper His gentle love to her heart.

Suddenly, the trip that had seemed to be a bother, had become a blessing. Simply by changing the lens in which I viewed the situation made all the difference. Thank-you, Lord, for loving me so much that You continue call to me in all the bothersome, blessed places of my life.