Popsicles or Presence?

Once again I have to be amazed that it’s when I’m speaking to a child or a child speaks to me that I recognize a truth about God’s character as our Father. I spent eighty minutes each week in the spring semester at the school where I work tutoring Jacob, whose native language isn’t English, in reading while his classmates have their Spanish lesson. The previous aide in this classroom advised me that the only way she’d been able to get Jacob’s cooperation in reading was to reward him with candy, so I continued her policy when I took over her position and “inherited” Jacob and his reluctance to study.

As we walked down the hallway toward the school library for our last session of the semester, Jacob began complaining that the students in Spanish were having a party that day.  “Why don’t I get a treat? They’re getting Popsicles!” he asserted.

Using the “love and logic” approach to discipline, I returned a question. “Jacob, do any of the other students in your class get candy for reading?”

“No.”

“And what do you say when the other children ask why you got candy and they didn’t when we come back into the classroom?”

Silence and a glare from eyes hooded by his wrinkled brow.

Grudgingly Jacob admitted they didn’t get a candy reward for reading, but he still was incensed at the “unfairness” of his situation. I could see that words alone weren’t going to open his eyes. Jacob resentfully pulled out a chair at the library table and plopped down, his arms folded.  I took out the log of our reading sessions and asked him, not out of frustration but out of compassion, “Jacob, can you count by two’s to help me count how many pieces of candy you’ve had since we started meeting together?”

“Two, four, six . . . ” he counted as I kept turning pages in our log, “ . . . eighty, eighty-two, oh, eighty-four.”  In silence I let that truth seep into his awareness before I asked, “How many treats do you think the other children are getting from the Spanish teacher today?  Are they getting eighty-four?”

“No,” Jacob admitted, and his uncrossed arms showed me he was beginning to get the message.

“Jacob, you’ve had a party every day.”

He sighed heavily. I understood his childish frustration that could only see how the other students were partying back in the classroom today while I was asking him to read, something that feels like work to him.

“Jacob, you can read any book you want to read today, even the easy Dr. Seuss books that you like so much.”  I knew how he loved to read books with silly words and rhymes. I saw the value in asking him to pick out rhyming words, including rhyming nonsense words, and make new rhymes with them. Even those books could be a challenge for his fluency.  Jacob zoomed over to the shelf and brought back the easiest book he’d read this semester, no challenge to him now, but I knew he needed some joy and success today. He flew through the words. Then I offered what I knew would surprise him.

“Jacob, why don’t you choose a book you’d like me to read to you today.”  In disciplining with love and logic, you can’t omit the love.

Jacob directed me to a story we’d never read about a silly chicken in New York, and I let all the actor in me take the stage as I ever read the Yiddish in a voice like a chicken.

But as I read, I was hearing a familiar voice in my heart reciting a story in theBible I’d read many times about two brothers. the younger one took his inheritance early, left his work at his father’s house, left home and wasted his life and the money. The older brother wasn’t at all happy when his brother returned, broken and truly sorry, and their father threw a lavish party. “The older brother became angry and refused to go in . . . . ‘But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’  ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours . . ..’” Luke 15:28, 30-31

How often I yell, “Unfair!” and feel I need a “treat” every time I see someone else blessed. Good grief, I already have the biggest, sweeties blessing: I  get to live in my Father’s “house” every day, enjoying an intimate relationship with God that is in itself a treat and treasure and party. Even when God’s teaching me and asking me to stretch and work, he showers me with unexpected provision, people in my life, and the rejoicing I feel when the love he promises me in the Bible takes root in my heart. The Father IS the party!

Why am I concerned about how other people who “do me dirty” seem to be enjoying today’s  “popsicle” when I’ve already inherited assuredly more than eighty-four blessings straight from my Father’s love? How many times has God’s Spirit connected me wonderfully with someone who needed to hear of his love, with someone who had a word for me straight from God’s heart to mine? Who’s the one enjoying a party every day? Me!

And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.  Psalm 17:15

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16: 11

Right in the middle of a reading lesson, I reminded myself of the most well-known and beloved Psalm in the Bible:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.   Psalm 23: 5-6

With an overflowing heart I cried out to the Father of love, “You are my celebration! Living in your love is my reward. Bring the lost ones home to know you, too!”

I gave Jacob the rest of the bag of candy to tuck into his backpack and take home. And guess what – the Spanish teacher gave him a Popsicle, too.

The greater truth is this: neither of us teachers, and none of the rewards we gave, could ever out-give or even begin to compare with the abundant riches of knowing and dwelling in God’s presence daily, the security of his character as a mightily giving Father, and the party I can have when I let him love me every day.

A  “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Father God, I get so miffed and even angry sometimes when people who don’t honor you seem to prosper, or when other people get victories and blessings I don’t, BUT I’m reminding myself today of two truths: I get to spend every day as your child you choose to honor with working in your fields for your kingdom to come, and I have the joy of living in your presence every day. You are the party, so I’ll uncross my arms, lift up my eyes, and listen to you tell me, your child ________________________________________________________________________________ . I want to throw a party to celebrate YOU, Father!

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Sandwich Hugs

Children speak so eloquently straight from the Spirit.  Smelling the cinnamon rolls my older son was baking for breakfast, I showered and dressed for church on Mother’s Day morning at his house. From the master bedroom I heard my six-year-old granddaughter’s invitation, “Grandma, come and cuddle!”  She’d spent the night in the big king-size bed with Daddy and Mommy so I could sleep in her bed overnight, and that’s where I found her curled up against my daughter-in-law.

Dressed or not, how could I refuse such a wonderful request? I crawled under the sheet and snuggled up next to Elsa for a big hug.

“Hey, we’re making an Elsa sandwich,” I laughed. Elsa is well acquainted with sandwich hugs, securely squished between Daddy and Mommy, and often with her brother Evan as part of the “filling.” Sandwich hugs were part of our family ritual on weekends when my boys were growing up, too.

On guided tours, night camps and during summer camps when I worked at the Zoo, we always made “instructor sandwiches” to keep the groups of children safely between us adults so no one got lost. I told the children they were the peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, salami, onions, olives, mustard, mayonnaise – whatever they wanted to be, and they always called out plenty of disgusting combinations to make things fun. I enjoyed encouraging them because it built camaraderie between us. No, we didn’t bunch up into one big hug, and granted, the “filling” tended to ooze out the sides, but we never lost a camper when they stayed between us.

I asked Elsa what kind of filling she was, and she replied, “Cream cheese.” We put our heads together, literally, and tried to decide what Evan might be. “Jelly? Or bologna (or rather, baloney)?” I joked. We tried to figure out how to fit the entire family into one sandwich hug and decided the best “bread” to be between is God our Father and Jesus the Bread of Life.

“One day we all WILL be!” I offered. “Hmm, but what about the Holy Spirit? Are we a triple-decker sandwich? ”

“Oh, he’ll be sprinkled on top of us like poppy seeds,” Elsa smiled, “or like olive oil!”

What a hug that will make with the oil of the Holy Spirit poured out on us! And yes, I do believe in a God so intimately loving as Father that he probably can’t wait to have us all safely in his arms. I suspect that’s where we are in this life too, when we make him our Father, whether we feel it or not.

Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.  Deuteronomy 33:12

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty . . . All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 6: 35-39

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 14: 20-21.

Do I feel lonely since I lost the man I loved? Yes, of course I do, painfully so sometimes, and I long for arms to wrap me again securely in faithful love. But till that time, and even after, I sometimes do truly feel God’s presence and always will believe the one with me is the One who reminds me, “The one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” He doesn’t want any of us lost.

I call that a hug to be cherished, don’t you?

Six-year-old arms are pretty wonderful, too: “Grandma, you and Mommy are blueberry bagels today.”

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  God, I feel so alone sometimes. Even in the middle of a crowd, and even in the middle of family, still I long to truly feel your arms around me. I want all my family with me in that hug, BUT no matter how far they are or how far I feel from you, I’ll let you be the bread of life and dare to believe that you want to ____________________________________________________________________________________. Scandalous intimacy, I know, but a scandalous love wraps me in an eternal sandwich hug!

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