Name the Name

If you are one of those travelers who prefer to be left alone during the mandatory waiting time before boarding your plane I may owe you an apology. You see, I am one of those annoying people who talks to strangers in airports. If you find yourself in a seat across from me in the boarding area or strapped into the seat beside me on the plane I am probably going to start up a conversation with you.

I promise I won’t interrupt you if you are engrossed with your Kindle or plugged into your Mac or your iPad. But if you are simply sitting alone and staring into space, in my mind, you are fair game. That is especially true if we are sitting side by side on the plane. For me, there is nothing more awkward than wrestling for the armrest with someone I have barely acknowledged beyond a half-smile in response to their muffled, “Excuse me,” as they shuffle by to the window seat. (My long-legged husband always sits on the aisle so I am forever destined to sit in the middle.)

Recently we were traveling internationally which requires you to be in the airport at least two hours before take-off. Surprisingly we got through security very quickly so when we reached our gate there was still a very long wait ahead of us. A stylishly dressed young man walked into the boarding area where we were seated and took the open chair across from us. He carried two bags, but no electronics. I waited a minute or two before striking up a conversation.

You can learn a lot about people in an airport if you are a friendly listener. The anonymity of the experience seems to give people license to talk. The chances of ever seeing each other again are slim so why not socially engage for an hour? I quickly learned that Joe was a twenty-nine year old automotive designer, originally from Maine who now lived in North Carolina. He had met his brother and parents for a weeklong vacation and was headed home to his dog and an important presentation at work.

I told him about my life, too and little by little we got to know each other as well as two people can within an hour and a half time span in an airport terminal. You might wonder why I am even writing about this young man who occupied my attention for such a short time.The real reason is this:

I feel as if I missed an opportunity to introduce him to Jesus.

I casually told him about my walk with the Lord as if it were just another detail in my life instead of it being the most important, defining element that it is. He told me that he had been raised Catholic, but no longer attended Mass because there were too many rules. I told him that it wasn’t really about rules, that it was all about love. But I didn’t name the Name. I don’t even know why. I just kept waiting for the right time and then the time was over and we were being called to board. And now I cannot quit thinking about that missed opportunity to share the Gospel.

My husband thinks I am being too critical of myself. He reminds me that I showed Jesus’ love through example. That I listened to a young man who needed to talk about some of the hard parts of his life. That I gave him encouragement. Somehow that still doesn’t seem like enough.

So I just keep praying for him. I pray that God will call to his heart and open his eyes. I pray that someday soon another person will enter his life and tell him specifically about Jesus. And I pray that the next time I find myself next to someone who doesn’t know the living Savior that I will not get lost in generalities and miss another opportunity to name the precious Name of Jesus Christ.

Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy. Psalm 99:2-3

A Sweet, Sweet Sound

At this moment squeals of laughter resonate outside my bedroom door as Isaiah sings and strums his “a-tar” to the worship music. What a sweet, sweet sound it is to my ears. How I wish that every child could know that joyous expression of love.

Although I have great affection for all of the students in my classroom, there are certain children who burrow into deepest part of my heart. Most often they are living in homes where chaos reigns and hurtful words and actions abound. One day this week a story came tumbling out from such a child. He described cuddling his wailing sibling while his mother and her boyfriend violently fought just a few feet away. A lamp sailed across the room shattering as it hit the wall. He peeled off his shoe to reveal his bloodstained sock where a broken piece had cut his foot.

After a trip to the nurse I stood for a moment in the hallway and fought back tears, the anger I felt toward his mother burning inside me. My mind raced with furious emotion. I am so mad at her! How could she let this happen to him? How could she pull him into the violence she had created? But as quickly as my thoughts formed the Spirit spoke, “But she is also my child. Pray for her. Pray for her, too.”

And so I am devoted to praying not only for this little one I love, but also for the ones who are committing these atrocities against him. I can be confident that the LORD hears my prayers and will intercede on their behalf. James 6:5 tells me “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” I must confess my own judgemental heart to the Father and pray for healing for this struggling family. I will pray 2 Thessalonians 3:3 over this broken family believing that “…the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

And in the interim, I will wait with a thankful heart knowing that God is good and God is just. Letting my prayers of intercession rise, I can know they are received into the throne room of God as a sweet, sweet sound releasing the power of the Spirit. As I confidently wait for the change that will come I will continue to do the work he has established for me. Revealing His love to the ones around me – one little soul at a time.

Tangled Strands

The other day I reached for a necklace only to find it was a mangled mess. I’m not sure how it happened since I store my longer chains in a compartmentalized tray to avoid that predicament, but there it was. I spent several seconds struggling to unbraid the strands pulling one side and then another, only to end up with an even tighter knot. I could feel the blood rising to my face as my frustration increased. Suddenly the Spirit spoke to me saying, “Anne, just one strand at a time.

As I write these words, God is teaching me to apply that same principle to my life. I am being called to a new journey, but the place I long to be seems so far away. I can see the vision in the distance, but the practical to-do list that blocks the path looks more like an endless scroll. My impatience builds and suddenly I am that necklace, tangled and pulled in a million directions, winding myself up into a bigger knot.

Remembering that God has a plan for me can be difficult for this impatient child, but the real question becomes “Do I trust Him?”  Do I trust Him with the timing of my life? Do I trust Him enough to wait?

Isaiah 40:31 speaks to me of the benefits of waiting on the LORD. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I am quickly reminded that the times when I am feeling frazzled are directly related to the times when I have not spent enough time with the Lord.

In my eagerness to get to the next place I must be careful not to miss out on the opportunities to do the work He has set before me now. Today. This very moment. The inconveniences, the interruptions, the tangled messes of my life can be the very spots where real miracles take place. He is calling me to yield to His will taking the time to unravel my life one strand, one story, one precious person at a time.

Lord,  forgive me for my impatience. Help me to remember that you have a plan for me that will be revealed in Your time. Keep calling out to my heart, Lord. I long to know You more.

Watching My Witness

This past summer my entire family spent a beautiful week on the shores of South Carolina. On the last day of our vacation I sat on the balcony overlooking the ocean with my twenty-two month old grandson. We watched the waves lazily lap up on the sand against the back drop of a robin’s egg  blue sky and I began to pray aloud. I thanked God for the wonderful family time we had spent together, asked for traveling mercies as each one made the journey home and said a special prayer of healing for the little one in my lap. He had taken a fall the afternoon before and had been limping around on an obviously sore ankle.

Anyone watching us from a distance would not have necessarily known that I was praying. I wasn’t in a typically recognized prayer posture – my head wasn’t bowed, my hands weren’t folded and my eyes were wide open. I simply sat in the sunshine with Isaiah and had an out loud conversation with Jesus. And that morning a most remarkable thing happened when I’d finished speaking to the Lord. As I closed my prayer I said, “Thank-you, Jesus” and without pause a little voice piped up and said, “Amen.” I was so blessed in that moment. I’d had no idea that he was even paying attention to what I was saying or doing and yet in the mysterious, wonderful working of the Spirit he had become my little prayer partner.

That experience reminded me how important my witness is in this world. What I do and say matters even when I think that nobody is paying attention. My witness is so much more than just the times I spend in front of the congregation leading worship when I know people are watching me. The opportunities for which I have come prepared to sing or to speak – cleaned up and clarified– ready to share what God has called me to do are tremendous, but what of those other times? The times when I am blindsided with the unexpected or encounter a critic – what does my witness look like then? Am I still the sunny, smiling woman full of kindness and patience? Or do I fall into the trap of complaining and adopt a woe-is-me attitude? I wince at the thought of some of the reactions I have had when the world-according-to-Anne doesn’t cooperate.

Then there are the daily miniscule interactions I have with the ones around me in the lines in which I wait or with the people I pass in the hallways. Do each of these say “There’s a woman after God’s own heart!” When no one is noticing, am I living as if they were? My witness matters in these times too, because even when no human eyes see me, there is One who knows my every thought and every word. Is my life a living, breathing, praising act of worship to the One who created me and loves me far beyond my own ability to fathom?

Micah 6:8 says that my witness should be to “To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.” I want to live like that, but if I am to walk humbly with God then I must to stick close by Him in loving obedience, not impatiently running up ahead or lackadaisically lagging behind. Ultimately, I want what I do and say to point to Jesus in the extraordinary and the mundane, the expected and the surprises, and even when I think that nobody else is watching or listening. After all, I might just get an unexpected, “Amen.”

Who is My Neighbor?

During my fall break from school, my daughter Rachel and grandson Isaiah flew in from Kansas City to spend a few wonderful days with us. On one of those days we visited the world-class Indianapolis Children’s Museum along with an estimated 12,000 others. Needless to say, being able to share space and toys was the required skill for the day and when you are two years old and an only child that is asking a lot. There were more than a few occasions when Isaiah had comfortably settled in to play only to find out that others had their eye on the things he had piled in front of him. When he objected with a vehement “No!” to another child, Rachel would intervene with, “Let’s share with our friends.” The look on his face that followed such reminders was one of confusion. I know he was probably thinking, “I’m sorry, momma, but you must be mistaken. Those kids are not my friends. In fact, they are perfect strangers to me!”

It makes me wonder if that’s not my own subconscious attitude sometimes. To my friends and family I try to be loving and giving, but when it comes to the unnamed and unknown hurting and the helpless in the world am I doing as much as I could? It reminds of the introduction to the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. In the tenth chapter of Luke I read that an expert in the law asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asked him what the law said the man rattled off, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I can just picture that man in my mind parroting back what he had learned in his life long study of the Torah. In my mind, he is saying it with all the conviction of a child reciting the state capitals. The information was in his head, but not in his heart. Still, Jesus told him that he had answered correctly. But of course because the man was trying to justify himself, he couldn’t let it go at that and pressed Jesus a little harder asking him, “And who is my neighbor?” That’s when he got an answer he wasn’t expecting.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:30-37

I realize that as a Samaritan the kind man was actually the cultural enemy of the beaten man. Sadly, I also know that priest and the Levite represent the churched people in the world and if I am not careful that can easily be me. It can be me who turns a deaf ear to the suffering around me if I am not tuned into the Spirit. If I decide that my neighbors, my friends, are only the ones that I recognize in my day-to-day living then it becomes me who crosses the street so I don’t have to help the bruised and bleeding one in the road.

Oh, Lord have mercy on me and my short-sightedness. Let me see beyond my own little world to be the Good Samaritan to the unknown friends and neighbors that need my help. Break my heart, Lord for the ones who break Your heart. Be my guide to sharing your love.

Polished Stones

We recently updated the twenty-five year old dusty pink, laminate countertop in our kitchen. Although it had served us well, it was outdated and chipped and was practically begging me to put it out of its misery. Okay, maybe the begging was actually coming from me, but I digress. At any rate, I saved my pennies until I could afford a beautiful, new granite countertop and was beyond thrilled at its appearance.

However, as is so often the case when making home improvements, one change precipitated another. Tearing out the old countertop ruined the tile backsplash that was on the wall behind the sink so over the weekend, Phil and I headed out to our neighborhood home improvement store to find a suitable replacement. We took along a small piece of the granite so we could match potential colors. Three of its sides were shiny, but the fourth was left in its original state.  As we drove along Phil looked over at the granite piece and remarked, “You know without polishing, granite doesn’t look that great.”

He was right. When initially mined, granite looks fairly unremarkable. It’s hard for me to fathom the ancient volcanic eruption that spewed forth fiery magma that later cooled and hardened into granite. Although crystalized patterns can be seen from the extreme heating and cooling process, the colors are mostly dull and muted. The edges of the large slabs of stone are jagged and grey. It’s not until it is ground with diamonds that it begins to unveil its luster and shine. Hmmm, I think, that’s sort of like me. For in truth, if left in my natural state I might choose to stay rough around the edges, unhewn and coarse in my selfish desires. I would never get to be my best self without a little polishing from God.

Although having my rough spots ground away is not always what I would ask for at the time, the result is a greater revealing of the Spirit within me. And it’s that is the very thing that I cry out for when I ask the Lord to give me an undivided heart. I echo David in Psalm 86 when he writes, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth. Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O LORD my God, with all of my heart; I will glorify your name forever.”

I ask not for a heart of stone, but a loving, beating, pliable heart that will do the will of the Father. But oh how hard it is sometimes to do what loves requires– to repay evil with good, to throw away the score card, to hold my tongue, to trust when the way seems impossible. Those actions and attitudes are only possible when I offer myself up to the transformational love of Jesus Christ – the love that embodies the power and wisdom of God the Father. So when my own life erupts with trouble and testing I can be confident that on the other side of the Refiner’s fire waits the outstretched hand of my Redeemer.

Thank-you Lord, that You hear my cry and do not leave me in my distress. You look upon me with compassion and mercy even in the midst of my trouble. And though the grinding of this life seems hard, I know that Your love in my life will produce a luster more beautiful than diamonds.

Letting Go of the String

A few years ago when our youngest graduated from high school we hosted his graduation open house outdoors in our yard. As we were cleaning up afterwards one of the helium balloons that had been tied to a table as decoration escaped my grip and floated away. I stood for a moment to watch it rise into the air, its red ribbon tail twisting behind it. Finally it slipped behind the clouds and disappeared. Just like sending a prayer to God, I thought, and suddenly I could visualize all my praises and petitions twirling up to the throne room of God. That particular day prayers for my newly graduated son’s future were tied to that string and many more would follow.

The apostle John gives me an even better image when he describes the church’s ascending prayers as wispy curls of sweet-smelling incense “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 4:8. I love that thought – that my prayers rise up before God and that He hears and actually sees my prayers.

Still there are times in my life when I have struggled to let go of the string that’s holding on to my prayer request. Let’s be honest. I still struggle at times. I ask God to give me the courage to face an uncertain situation, to handle a difficult person, to give up control, but it isn’t long before I am madly grasping for the string to pull it back.

It can be a real challenge to walk by faith and not by sight, but that is what we are called to do. In order for God to take charge of our lives we have to allow Him to work. Our Father in heaven is the perfect gentleman. He never forces His way in, but Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” If I want God to take control of my life I have to be willing to release my problems and petitions to Him. I have to relax my grip on the things around me and let them ascend to heaven being confident in the knowledge that God hears and sees my needs and will act upon them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thank-you, Lord, that I do not have to hold tight to the strings that seem to bind my life together. Jesus, help me to remember that to release those ties is to find freedom in You.

Interpretations

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

Rachel: Tell Gigi what you did today.

Isaiah: Uhmmm. I creek.

Gigi: Oh did you go to the creek?

Isaiah: I kirl.

Gigi: Did you play with a girl?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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