Letter to my Child’s Sunday School Teacher

Dear Sunday School Teacher,

You know my child, the one who sits when you ask her to stand.
The one who laughs whenever you say the word, “bottom”.
The one who is loud when instructed to be quiet.
The one who never remembers the Bible verse.
The one who turns her head every time someone moves a muscle.
The one who becomes frustrated when asked to read aloud or write in a small space.
The one who still brings a stuffed animal with her for comfort.
The one who says, “I don’t know,” when asked what she learned that day.

You know my child, the one who knows your heart.
The one who prays for you when you are sick.
The one who knows your cat’s name.
The one who remembers your kindness towards her.
The one who tries your patience.
The one who can tell what kind of day you are having.
The one who melts with your praise.

Oh, dearest Sunday school teacher. Your job may feel fruitless when my daughter never completes your projects. Your job may seem futile when she doesn’t mememorize the Bible verse. You may feel as though your time is wasted when she isn’t on the right page during the Bible reading time.

But, oh, dear Sunday school teacher, it’s your heart she seeks. Will you accept her as she is? Will you love her as Christ loves you? Will you show compassion so the kids in class will know the compassion God has for them?

Dearest Sunday school teacher, my daughter may never remember the lesson from the day, but she will always remember your love.

Sincerely,

A Mother Who Loves Fiercely
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He Who Dwells

Studying and personalizing Psalms is becoming a personal favorite for me during my quiet time. Taking each Psalm slowly, meditating on the words, studying their meanings, and then responding is filling my soul with goodness.

Isn’t that what a loving relationship entails…really listening and then responding? The Lord first loved us. 1 John 4:19 reminds us of that truth, We love Him because He first loved us. We have a choice to respond. When I read the Psalms, I feel an urge to respond to the Lord.

This past week, I studied Psalm 91 and then responded by putting the words into my own and personalizing it as if it is between me and the Lord.

Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

My response:

I stay in the protection beneath God and find refreshing relief in my position under the All-Powerful God.

I will tell others about God, “He is my protection and place of security; He is my God in whom I rely.”

Without doubt, God will save me from the traps of the devil and from deadly evil.

As a bird protects its young, God will cover me and be my shelter; He will keep His promises and be my protection and defense.

Day and night, I have nothing to fear. The evil in the dark and the destruction during the day will not bring fear.

I will only see the effect of the trouble that passes  by me. I will not suffer the punishment the wicked suffer.

I will be protected if I rest under the Almighty God, and yes, I do rest under Him – death will not come to me or my family.

He sends his angels as a bodyguard for the faithful. His angels will carry me so that I can avoid even small evils.

I will march victoriously over opponents, even over the most powerful evil.

Because I am bound to Him and cling to Him, He will rescue me. When I call to Him for help, He will answer me and rescue me and provide satisfaction and…

ETERNAL LIFE. 

Amen.

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Laying Down Our Masks

Placing the mask upon her face, she transformed before me. With just the tiger costume covering her little 5-year-old body, her demeanor remained the same. It was as if she had just put on her favorite cozy, fuzzy, winter pajamas. But, once she pulled the tiger mask down to cover her smooth, silky skin, she had changed. My daughter went from being her spunky, silly 5-year-old self, to a stalking, prancing, fierce tiger in the jungle. And, all it took was the mask. She began behaving differently from that moment on. From a distance, I couldn’t even tell she was the child I had studied so closely from the time I first laid eyes on her. Holding true to her character, she remained a tiger throughout her performance. Finally, the show was over and she escaped the cover of the tiger’s mask and head. I spotted the ear to ear grin I always see after a performance. She bounded over to us with all enthusiasm. The tiger was gone and our girl was back.

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Those masks. We carry them everywhere with us. Pulling them out when a friend calls. Or, when we go to school or work. Walking into an interview. Talking to the cashier at the store.

Even, when we enter church. The place we are encouraged to sing about grace. To lay our burdens at the cross. To seek and find freedom. Yet, the mask comes on.

The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Within minutes, she was sharing the most difficult part of her life with me.

“My son is addicted to drugs,” she said bluntly and her shoulders lowered. Her mask was down.

“Oh, is it bad?” I asked looking her straight in the eye.

“It’s really bad. We almost lost him a few months back,” she swallows hard. Taking a deep breath, she continues,  “I really thought it was the end. It’s heroin. It’s so bad. The police picked him up last week. They don’t usually keep them, but this time they did. Now he is in jail.” The mask drops to the ground as she tells his story.

Suddenly, she startles. Looks up at me. “Wow. I must really feel safe with you. I don’t normally tell people all of this. In fact, I have hardly told anyone. When I do, they just look at me and I feel…” her face trails off, and she considers picking up the mask.

“Shame,” I finish for her.

“Yes! Shame. I feel shame. Sometimes they say things that make me feel judged. Or, they judge my son.”

“It could happen to anyone,” I say. Her mask stays down.

“Yes!” she exclaims with tears in her eyes. “When they say it’s an epidemic, they mean it. It’s everywhere.”

“But, Lisa, if you could pray for him…” her voice fades with little hope.

“Yes, I will pray for your son. And, you know what, I will pray for you, as well,” she melts with tears and a beautiful vulnerability.

The Spirit was moving me to pray right then and there in the middle of  the busyness when we were interrupted. And, as  quick as a flash, she replaced the mask, complete with a smile and she was off to her next errand.

I hope to see her again. I pray that she was encouraged and her load was lightened even the slightest bit by laying aside the mask, even just for a moment. I hope she’ll trust again.

I also pray that the Spirit would lead me in the way of Jesus. Not to judge or shame. But to listen with love and compassion. To show my friends and family they are safe with me.

When the hurting came to Jesus, He didn’t share a Bible verse with them. He didn’t judge. He didn’t turn them away.

He loved.

Matthew 5 shows us His heart for the hurting,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.”

As Christians, we are not called to judge, shame, or condemn. But, our great commandment is to love. Read the Gospels and read the accounts of Jesus healing, forgiving, loving. Let that be fresh in your heart as you face the day today. Show someone you are safe and watch their mask fall.

Our world is so desperate to lay down the mask and receive love.

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The Power of a Listening Ear

The little classroom of preschoolers delighted in the enchanting game we played. “Fingers! Let’s count our fingers!” Little freckle-faced, Isaac called out. “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8! 8 fingers!”

The kids and I giggled as we noticed how he continually skipped counting his thumbs and was certain he had 8 fingers.

We continued our counting game by counting our toes, arms, legs, eyes, and finally our ears, and mouth.

“God gave us 2 ears and only 1 mouth,” I state, pausing to think about God’s planning and purpose.

2 ears for listening, but only 1 mouth for talking. Why, then, am I not using my 2 ears twice as much as the 1 mouth I was given?

My own children’s eyes glaze over mid-way through my explanations. They nod compliantly as I drone on, but their minds are clearly on to the next thing.

During our Talk Time sessions, our pace is slow and relaxed. There is no hidden agenda. No plan to accomplish. I listen. They talk. I look at them. I hear them. They know they are heard. We connect.

Talk Time seemed to be a precursor to further learning the Lord had for me. It became obvious that conflict resolution was a desperate need for our girls. Our girls are “spirited”. Spirited: having or showing mettle, courage, vigor, liveliness. Attempting to solve a problem without raising voices, shedding tears, wide eyes, and flailing hands proves to be a huge challenge.

Enter me: clueless referee, confused coach, seeker of the peace.

Surveying the scene in front of me causes my heart to quicken, my shoulders to rise, teeth to clench. Scary mom rises up.

How did we get here? And, how, dear God, do I make it stop?

Reading The Explosive Child by Ross Greene this month has proven to be a tool God is using to provide peace in our home. The book I purchased 4 years ago, which has been sitting on my shelf ever since, is just the book I needed to help an ongoing problem in our house.

We are learning to solve problems with collaboration.

The first component of the plan in the book  proved to be like a breath of fresh air.

Step 1: Empathy, including reflective listening.

Wooosh…from 60 to 1 in one brief statement.

“I hear your concern. Your concern is you want to play Just Dance.”

“I hear your concern. Your concern is you want to finish your Adventure in Odyssey episode before bed.”

“I hear your concern. Your concern is you want pizza from Little Caesers.”

In order for me to state the concern, I must first hear the concern. Amidst the intense emotion, I have to hear the concern.

I cannot be emotional myself. And, I definitely cannot be thinking of the solution. I must use the two ears the Lord gave me.

Proverbs 18:13 To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
Proverbs 1:5 Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.

I quiet my mind.

Listen to the words being said.

Restate the concern I hear.

And, then, I exhale as my eyes and my dear ones eyes meet in the middle.

I am hearing.

And, she is being heard.

And, we are finally getting some where.

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Lady in the Yellow House

this-old-yellow-houseWeek after week, my prayer list held the same phrase, lady in the yellow house. This is God’s story of how God brought love to the inhabitants of the yellow house.

The rain had just started as we continued on to the last few houses we had on our route for the day. Mikayla, my 11 year old daughter, clutched the flyer which shared the information about our church’s Thanksgiving outreach. Our heart was to make sure every family living in our church neighborhood had a Thanksgiving meal.

We rounded the corner on the sidewalk that led to the yellow house. There was commotion in and around the house, but we walked up confident of the love we had to share. Mikayla knocked on the door and a scowling woman answered the door. I began, “Hi, I’m Lisa and this is my daughter, Mikayla. Our church…”

“No! No! No! Oh no. Leave me alone! Get away from me!” the angry woman yelled at us. Throwing the flyer down in an outrage, she slammed the door. I had no words to say. Mikayla was shaking and crying

I’d like to say compassion filled my heart, but that was not my immediate reaction. As we walked away in stunned silence, I couldn’t just let it go. I reassured Mikayla that we were not doing anything wrong, that we were okay, and that everyone else had been loving and gracious to us on our mission. But, my heart remained on that woman. I just wanted to tell her our purpose. If only she knew that we weren’t asking her for anything at all. Not inviting her to church. Not asking for a donation. Just wanting to bless her with a free meal.

Before I could think any further, she emerged back out of her door. Okay, God, here I go again. “We just wanted to ask if you need a Thanksgiving meal,” I call to her before she has a chance to shut us out again.

“You get away from me!” she screamed at us as she headed to a neighbor’s house.

Well, that was that. We would not be talking to the lady in the yellow house that day. The rain came down heavy now and our route was complete. Time to head back to our car to soak up the heat and rest our tired feet.

Why did God have us go to her door? Did any of the love we had to share break through to her at all? Discouraging questions ran through my mind, until I began praying for the lady in the yellow house.

I prayed that God would soften her heart:

Ezekiel 36:26,  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Although I didn’t see her after that day, God brought her to my mind almost on a daily basis. I waited on the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do, but in the meantime, I prayed.

Distribution day came. It was an amazing day. Families piled into our church. Greeted by our Pastor. Given mochas, hot chocolate, muffins, cookies. Families were prayed for. They were each given a full bag of food containing the side dishes for a Thanksgiving meal, a huge pumpkin pie, and a gift card to buy a turkey. My daughter even set up a table full of books and stuffed animals for the kids to take.

In all, we had 107 full meals to distribute that day. It was thrilling to see how the Lord worked to bring the families there and how He worked through those of us who were willing and eager to be used by God.

At the end of our scheduled distribution time, we still had several meals left. I knew where one of the meals was going. I always knew that I would be making my way back over to that yellow house. No words would be needed this time as we were holding a beautiful pumpkin pie and a large bag of food. She couldn’t turn us away today.

Mikayla joined me as we walked up the familiar sidewalk and rounded the corner to our destination. There was a younger woman sitting outside the door to the house. Not the lady we had encountered on our first trip. She was sitting down in an old lawn chair, crying.

“Can I talk to her, mom?” my daughter asked me. “Yes, of course,” I replied.

“Would you like this Thanksgiving meal?” Mikayla asked the distraught young woman.

“No,” shaking her head, keeping a steady look toward the ground, quickly discarding her cigarette.

Oh, dear woman, if only you knew, we don’t care that you were smoking. We want to love you.

“Well, do you know anyone that could use this meal?” I ask her, while motioning at the pumpkin pie like one of the ladies on the Price is Right.

“Well, you are starting to convince me to take it.” Looking up from the ground, her red rimmed eyes met mine, “But, why? Why would you do this?”

“Because we love you and Jesus loves you so much…” I could barely get the words out before she was standing and leaning in towards both of us, hugging and sobbing against us. She cried hard. “Can I pray for you?” I asked. Big nods from her head assured me we were not going to be turned away this time.

“What is your name?” I asked. All those weeks, I longed to know the name of the lady in the yellow house.  God had clearly brought us back to this house for a purpose and her name was Kristina.

I prayed for Kristina as she continued to hug us and cry. Amen, so be it, Lord. May she find peace in you. Hope in the death and resurrection of your Son. A fountain of love in your plan and purpose for her life.

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She wiped her tears and then her heart softened. “You guys don’t even know,” she poured out her deep sadness, “my mom died on this exact day 3 years ago,” choking on her tears, she continued on. “And, I just talked to my dad and he’s been having strokes lately.”

This, Lord, is why you brought us here. 

“The Lord loves you so much, Kristina. He sent us here to tell you that.”

Laughing and shaking her head, she asks, “Where did you guys even come from?”

Mikayla explained that we came from the church down the road. We had no other explanation to offer her other than God loves her so much that He sent us to her in her desperate time of need.

Kristina was not at all forgotten by the Lord. He saw her tears. He knew she was hurting. And, He saw fit to use Mikayla and I to reach her.

There is nothing like that in all of the world. Knowing the Creator of the Universe chose to use us in that brief little moment in time to help bring comfort to a hurting soul. There is also nothing like being the recipient of God’s love when we are in need.

For a brief period of time that afternoon, all was right in the world in front of the yellow house. There was a need. God was completely aware of the need. There were God’s children ready to be used. And, the need was met. Beautiful.

Oh, God, thank you for your beautiful plan for Kristina. Thank you for loving her so very much. Thank you for using Mikayla and I to demonstrate your love to her. Please help us to see the needs in front of us and step forward in obedience with You. Amen. 

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The Least of These

It’s a quiet, solemn time in the sanctuary as the people are remembering Jesus giving His body for each of us. Laying down His life so we could live in freedom. My heart and mind are inward focused and I ask my husband to get my communion juice and cracker for me as he gets up.

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A few rows in front of me, I see her. My eyes catch a glimpse of her and hold on. She doesn’t look like me. She doesn’t talk like me. She doesn’t act like me.

I think she’s an angel. Or a test from the Lord. Will we notice her beauty? Her innocence? Will we welcome her? Jesus would. Jesus would embrace her. He would answer all of her questions. He would have time for her. Jesus would stop for her, look at her, meet her greatest need.

Now the Lord is turning those questions to me, directly.

Lisa, will YOU notice her? Will YOU welcome her? Will YOU patiently answer her questions? Do YOU have time for her? Will YOU meet her greatest need?

Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:48

Then she reaches over and hands a cup and cracker to another woman who is recovering from an injury and is unable to get up to get her own. She is glowing, with a wide, warm smile as she offers communion to the other lady. And, I am struck. This woman, so different than me, has so little to offer. I am unsure if she is homeless or exactly what her living situation is, but I do know it’s different than my situation. She gives what she can. It’s an absolutely beautiful scene and it brings me to repentance.

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I am sorry for my past judgment. I am sorry for my impatience. I am sorry for my prideful attitude. I am sorry for not even thinking of the need in front of me. Lord, I am sorry.

It may have taken months, but I am now seeing her with His eyes. She comes to church with questions, the desire to learn, but I am the student. I am seeing how she gives what she has. I am seeing how she doesn’t hesitate to ask humble questions. I am seeing her greatness in her humility.

This is the Christianity the world needs to see. Christianity that stops for the least of these. Christianity that notices the least of these. Christianity that loves the least of these. Christianity that is Jesus to the least of these.

Doers Not Hearers Only

God is messing me up.

His response to that statement would probably sound something like, “Sorry, not sorry.”

It started about a year ago, when my Bible study leader encouraged me to commit to memory, James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

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My girls quizzed me on the verse each morning, several weeks in a row. It’s a shorter verse, which was helpful for my slow mind. Soon, I could spout it out without mistake. Before long, the girls had also learned the verse, without even trying…so not fair.

Taking the verse into context I see it in it’s fullness:

James 1:22-25, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

That command from James, Jesus’ brother, began to make me uncomfortable. The words were slowly making their way from my mind to my heart.

Lord, I am just now beginning to learn your word. Can’t I just keep listening?

But, I wanted the promise of the blessing. James said that if I am not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word,  I will be blessed in what I do. 

The wrecking began.

Next came, Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ”

I began questioning, Lord, when I am kind to a stranger, someone living on the street, a helpless child…can they possibly see a small glimpse of  YOU in me? And, Lord, when I don’t notice a need in front of me or I flat out ignore a need, am I denying YOU?

Wrecked.

Then came our mission trip to Tijuana in MexicoI experienced how fulfilled I was by living on less. Packing a suitcase full of clothes, but not even using half of them. Eating rice and beans, and then more rice and beans, and then still more rice and beans. Not concerning myself at all about what I would eat, drink or wear, but only what we would be doing that day to serve the Lord.

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Coming home to a full closet, full pantry, full refrigerator.

Yep, wrecked.

Next came some books the Lord put before me, one by Katie Davis, Kisses from Katie, and another by Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution.

Through these authors, the Lord is confirming what I am already experiencing…Jesus wants me to live the life I am learning about in His word. It’s no longer enough to study the word, attend church, and fill my mind with the truth. These things are necessary. But, He’s calling me to more.

I don’t know what this will look like in my life other than love and kindness. It’s praying the words of Jesus, in John 14:31, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.”

I am done learning without action.

I am done living without loving.

I am done hearing without doing.

If this sounds like sacrifice, you should know that it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like an adventure. It feels like purpose for the overflowing of the bounty of LOVE the Lord lavishes on me. It feels like a natural response to what the Lord is doing in my life. And, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter how it feels, it’s what the Lord has called me…has called you to do.

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He’s wrecking our selfish lives and calling us to live like His Son.

Let Him wreck you.

John 13:17, If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.