Opportunity knocking

I swear I had only stepped out into the hallway for a minute before the morning bell rang. In truth, I was actually in the doorway but my back was to the classroom as my colleague and I briefly discussed the rescheduling of a cancelled field trip. As soon as I turned to face my class the town criers were up and out of their seats ready to tattle.

Ben and Jay were fighting!

Two very familiar culprits were then called into the hallway for an up-close and personal discussion with me. Out poured the stories, each one collaborating the other while putting the most favorable light on whomever was doing the telling.

“I was in the bathroom and he started knocking on the door saying, ‘911, this is an emergency. Come out with your hands up!’ and then I opened the door and he pushed me down. Then afterwards when he went into the bathroom I did the same thing to him.”

“No you knocked me down and started trying to do karate on me.”

All I could think was, “I was three feet away! How could that all have happened without me hearing it?”

In the end, nobody had suffered anything more than hurt feelings and a need to be right.

But isn’t that just like life is sometimes? We get distracted by things we deem more important and miss the more urgent issue that is right behind us? Like the overwhelming need to be right in a situation that really calls out for an act of mercy and compromise. Or giving into retaliation instead of offering up forgiveness. Am I not so unlike the eight year old boys who struggle to be heard as they tell their side of the story?

When did it become more important to be right than to be happy? Truly- it is the moment I decide that I am more important than somebody else. It is in the moment when I forget that I am called to be a child of God with a loving, humble and forgiving spirit. It is in the moment when I cease to listen with my heart.

I am thankful that I am surrounded by chances to grow each day. Even in the ordinary classroom squabbles or the sometimes annoying inconveniences there can be a hidden opportunity. For it is within those less then desirable circumstances that change can be found. And it is there that I can choose to expand into a little better version of myself. A version that looks a little less like me and a little more like Jesus.

Obedient Hearts

The children in my second grade class were giddy with excitement in anticipation of our Valentine’s party. Controlling the exuberant enthusiasm as we spent our reading time immersed in a Japanese folktale and then later in math computing two-digit subtraction problems was like holding down a boiling pot lid with two hands. Finally the hands on the classroom clock pointed to two o’clock. The explosion of hearts and candy began! Love was definitely in the air and as candy and cards spilled out it was also on the floor!

What would it mean to our lives if we pursued God’s heart the way a typical eight-year-old anticipates a Valentine party? And what does it really mean- to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? We read in Acts 13:22 that King David was a man after God’s own heart. It’s interesting to think that David was the one God chose to describe in those terms. After all, wasn’t David an adulterer? Didn’t David murderously send a good man to the front lines of battle to be killed so that could have his wife? How in the world could he be a man after God’s own heart?

Doctor Luke wrote these words “After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” David was not a man after God’s own heart because he was perfect, for in fact he was full of sinful behavior. But God said that David was a man after His own heart because David would do everything he wanted him to do. When God called David to do something he responded by doing it. David had a humble and obedient heart.

If we are striving to be men and women after God’s own heart we can look at David, a child of God as an example of the kind of heart God wants us to have- full of faith and obedience. Obedience is not exactly my favorite word when it applies to my own self. It reminds me of bossiness and there’s probably nobody who doesn’t want to be bossed around more than me. And yet, obedience to God is exactly what He asks of me.

Each morning when I wake I pray the same prayer- “Lord, let me be a woman after your own heart today.” I am sure there are people in my life who might be thinking at times- Really? Because you sure aren’t acting like that! But just like every other human being on the planet, I am flawed and in need of a Savior. My intentions are to follow after God’s heart and then well, life happens and I get sidetracked.

In order to truly pursue God I need to firmly plant the Word of God in my heart. So when life happens, my default reaction is not worldly but rooted solidly in the Word. What is displayed in my life is the overflow of what is in my heart. For me to be woman after God’s own heart, my own heart and mind have to be open to what God has to say to me. And when He calls me, I must respond in obedience.

For God will never call me to a place where He has not gone before. I can rest in the knowledge that His grace is sufficient to my every need. Every day may not be filled with hearts and roses, but if I am obediently pursuing God’s own heart it will be abundantly filled with the Father’s grace and love.

As Far as the East is from the West

This weekend I had the awesome opportunity to speak to a beautiful group of ladies at a women’s conference. As we explored what it meant to be a woman after God’s own heart using 1 Corinthians 13 we took a hard look at forgiveness.

1 Corinthians 13 verse 5 says that love keeps no record of wrongs. What a wonderful thing it is to know that this is God’s attitude toward my sin when I repent. Psalms 103:12 tells me “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

As I was preparing to speak at the conference I ran across a letter that one of my daughters had written to me when she was very young, probably age eight or nine. This is what the letter said:

 

I am so so sorry Mother. I love you. I do not hate you. I was just mad. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me? Please. You mean a lot to me. I tried doing it without you and I couldn’t do it. I need you.

 

That letter was not kept as a reminder of the unkind thing she said to me, but instead because of the love it conveyed. In truth, I do not even remember her telling me she hated me or why she said it. What I do remember is her repentant heart and the great compassion I felt for her plea for forgiveness.

That is how I have come to the Father many, many times over. I have never told Jesus that I hated him, but my words and actions toward someone or something else certainly did not convey love. My prayers could have mirrored her letter.

 

I am so, so sorry Father. Jesus, I love You so much and yet my actions tell a different story.  In my anger at someone else I have sinned against You. Please, Lord, You mean everything to me. I have tried doing it my way and it just hasn’t worked out. I need You.

 

The Lord has great compassion on us and we too need to have compassion on others when they sin against us. We are called not to hold grudges, but to forgive and forget. The world tells us to remember, but God says to forget. How do we get to that place of forgiveness? Very often I cannot get there on my own, but must rely wholly on God. I must pray Psalms 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

 

Love does not keep score. In a world where we want everything to be fair, that is hard. Almost every day at school some child wants me to mediate a disagreement.  I try to be fair. But in general, life isn’t always fair. People I love hurt me and I hurt them. My sense of earthly justice wants to keep score.

 

But then I remember that in my relationship with God I do not get what I deserve. My sinful nature merits justice. I deserve punishment and condemnation, but God gives me pardon and mercy instead. And when I pour out my heart to Him asking for forgiveness and expressing my absolute need for Him he looks at me in love, chooses to forget my transgression and pulls me close. Thank-you, Lord for the undeserved gift of mercy! 

Healing Love

Last weekend we flew to Kansas City to spend the weekend with my oldest daughter and her family. Unfortunately they were in the full throes of flu-like symptoms and we spent the majority of our time together fighting fevers, soothing coughs and wiping runny noses. On the positive side, after a sick and sleepless Saturday night, my normally super-charged two-year old grandson was in “cuddle me” mode so we spent Sunday afternoon curled up watching Veggie Tales.

As Bob and Larry bounced across the screen entertaining the fevered toddler in my arms I began to thank God for allowing me the privilege of being there to offer healing love and comfort. There was no place in the world I would have rather been than to be lying on a basement couch with my precious patient resting against me. And as I drifted in and out of my sleep-deprived state a thought came to me. “This is how God loves me.” Arms wrapped tight, enveloping warmth, can’t-get-enough-of-me love. The very thought of it is almost startling and overwhelming to think that God desires fellowship with me at all. Why in the world would the God of the Universe want to know and love ordinary me?

But it’s true.

1 Corinthians 1:9 tells me, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” God calls me into fellowship with Jesus. He desires to have a relationship with imperfect me. Loving me so completely that He was willing to give Himself up for me. So when I am sick with sin and burdened with the world’s worries I can turn to the Great Physician, fall into His forgiving arms and receive the comfort and benefit of His redeeming and healing love.

Bless the LORD O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. He heals all my diseases and lifts me up out of the pit. Thank-you LORD, for Your healing love in my life.

I See Your Face

Yesterday when I returned home from school my husband informed me that he had Facetimed with our two-year old grandson. I was immediately jealous, of course, wishing he would have waited until I had gotten home. But when he let me listen to the voice message on his phone I knew why he couldn’t wait.

First my daughter Rachel’s voice, “Pop pop, we called because Isaiah wanted to talk to you.” And then a little voice piped up, “Pop pop, I see your face?” How could he wait to respond to such a heartfelt request?

There are so many times in my life when I long to see the face of Jesus. In the heartbreak of this world, the poverty of the children around me, the violence that threatens to overshadow the good, I cry out to Jesus, “Oh Lord, let me see your face!” And I can be confident that even when I do not physically see the face of Jesus, He is there. When I call out to Him, in His great love for me, He is moved to respond.

I am also aware that in this broken world, many are crying out that same request. They are looking for answers and in need of comfort. It is in those places I must listen closely to the call of the Holy Spirit to be the face of Jesus to them. In this weary world we cannot be like Moses and look upon the face of God on the mountain top. But as believers, we can be the hands and feet and the very face of Jesus to the ones who are struggling. So when they call out in an urgent request, “Lord, I need to see Your face,” we can respond in love and care.

Lord, let me follow closely so I can be the face of Jesus among those who need you most. Help me to use every opportunity to tell the ones around me that You are the love that they seek.

Forgiveness

How wonderful life would be if we could resolve our conflicts as quickly as children after a playground tussle. Two little boys, one blonde the other brown-haired, sat together at lunch smiling and laughing, trading stories and cookies. Five minutes into recess they were at my side wailing accusations. Brown-hair said he had been pushed and kicked. Blonde-hair was sporting a goose egg above his eye. Best of friends only minutes earlier were now spewing out conflicting crime scene reports. I listened intently as each one told his version then put on my referee shirt and sent them to opposite ends of the time-out area to cool down. After the proper amount of “refrigeration” we came back together, talked it out, shook hands, forgave and forgot. They ran back out on to the field of play as friends again.

I have to admit that I don’t always handle conflict in my own life quite so well. I wear my referee shirt a little too often letting that innate sense of fairness get in my way. If I get hurt, it is usually because I feel I have been treated unfairly and the road to resolution is blocked by my unwillingness to let it go. I don’t stay mad; I hold onto hurt.

Recently someone I dearly love unintentionally hurt my feelings.  It took a day or two but I got over myself and forgave the slight. After all, I told myself, I’m not the kind of person who holds onto grudges. I have always taken seriously the “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against” part of the Lord’s prayer. Still as I prayed the Spirit called me into account. I may have forgiven and given up the anger part of the offense but knew deep down I was still harboring hurt. As long as I allowed that seed of hurt to remain no good fruit was going to grow. It was time for me to live out 1 Corinthians 13:5 as an example of love. Paul writes that love “ does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

It’s hard to ignore that last part- it keeps no record of wrongs. I was fooling myself to think that just because I wasn’t angry any more didn’t mean I wasn’t keeping score. The fact that I was still hurt was evidence to the contrary. The Spirit reminded me that allowing hurt to hold me hostage is a scheme of the enemy.

And so I finally gave it up – all of it this time and managed to break out of my pity-party-prison. I’m not saying it was easy – just necessary. Sometimes putting the key into that prison lock and turning till I hear the click is the hardest thing in the world to do. And yet when I finally summon up the courage to do it I find myself basking in the sunshine again wondering why in the world I waited so long. And then like the little boys in the school yard I can run back onto the playground with a free, unincumbered heart thanking my God for the gift of forgiveness.

Thank-you, Jesus for the extravagent love and forgiveness You have poured out over me. Although I am undeserving, I accept it with a grateful heart. Help me to return that love and forgiveness to the ones around me. I love you, Lord.

A Light in the Dark

Like so many other houses this time of year, strands of colored lights outline the perimeter of my home. Our lights are nothing fancy, just your basic multi-colored bulbs.(Not that I’m being competitive, but they pale in comparison to our neighbor’s yearly elaborate flashing display.) Still, they add rainbow splashes to a darkened country road.

I’ve always loved looking at the seasonal lights. Years ago our family would pour into the minivan for our annual “Christmas light tour”. Scouring the streets of our small town we kept our eyes open in search of lights. Sometimes we ventured onto the surrounding country roads and were surprised by a lonely, neighborless house thoroughly decked out in illuminating glory. It seemed a shame that all that beauty would only be seen by the few cars that happened to meander down that way.

The memory of those glowing lights in the night remind me of how God has called me as a believer to be in the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus tells us  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In this season of Advent, as we wait for the birth of our King, there are those among us who are still searching for a Savior. Winding down a weary, blackened road they don’t yet know of His power or His saving grace. Every turn has led to discouragement and disappointment. What if they were to catch a glimpse of a glowing city on a hill that offers hope and encouragement? What a difference it could make to know that someone loves and cares for them.

As believers, Jesus has called us to be a light into the darkness, to light a path that leads to life. Each day is an opportunity for evangelism. Will I take my commission seriously?  Will I act upon the opportunity to let my light shine or will I blend in like another burned out bulb? Lord Jesus, help me to shine.

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.”