Revisiting Lost and Found

 

Lost – and Found

Rose Jackson ©7/24/2009

You may have noticed my posts are distinctly lacking in the “God is in the flowers and rainbows” flavor. In fact, more of my posts are about trials I face or disappointments in myself. This no doubt comes from the fact that, while I am every bit female, I‘ve never been a “frou-frou” girl. I look like death warmed over in pink, I simply look silly in ruffles, and though I love jewelry, the beautiful blingy cocktail rings my sweet friend Patty has given me look like a contradiction on my thin, veiny hands. An frankly, my life has been so challenge-filled since 1995 that I find little comfort in stress-busting articles that advise me to take a bubble bath or have my nails done. God IS in the flowers and rainbows, and probably in bubbles, too, but I need a God who is there to be found IN my pain, loss, anxiety, disappointments, grief, and frustrations. If He isn’t to be encountered and experienced there, then what hope do any of us have?

After I take the bubble bath and have my nails done, what has changed? Have those admittedly fun exercises changed my circumstances? If they haven’t changed my situation, have they changed me? No. And while I love bubble baths, I need something more substantial in my life. A stress-buster to me means seeing God’s hand moving to transform me in the middle of the messes my life seems to step into again and again like the ubiquitous gum in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

I long to dance in the rain – not because I’m a pessimist, but because I know rain will come. I need a God who isn’t afraid to get wet, who can transcend, transfigure, translate and transform, as the lyrics in John Mark McMillan’s moving, anointed song, “How He Loves” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chx6s3qXKt4&feature=related powerfully declare: “When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me.” I need a God of grit and guts and glory. That’s who I’m encountering in this deepest trial of my life – a God of incredible, deep compassion and love – and that’s who I pray you find within these thoughts and discoveries of mine.

This post is about my father, but Susan Miller and everyone who’s lost a loved one, this one is for you, too.

“Uuuuhhhh . . . uuuhh . . . .” Dad’s mouth opened as he tried to speak. His eyes still held that “deer in the headlights” look of incomprehension so typical of Alzheimer’s patients, but I caught a spark of – what – hope? Thanks? Love? Mom, Bonnie and I were gathered around him holding his hand, once so strong and steady as he guided wood through the saw blade, but now so forceless and weak, and touching his now thin shoulders. We’d come to say good-bye.

Two days earlier Dad had developed pneumonia. This Monday morning, the day before Dad’s 75th birthday, a nurse in the Alzheimer’s unit of the nursing home had called my Mom to tell her to come quickly, as this might be Dad’s last day. I’d thrown the car into gear and flown to Mom’s house to pick her up and quickly dash up to the home. “Oh, Rosie!” was all she could get out through her sobbing. The past five years of grieving as we watched Dad steadily decline still hadn’t prepared our hearts for this day.

Surprisingly, when Mom and I arrived, Dad actually looked pretty good. He was sitting up in a chair looking apparently healthy and pretty much like he usually did. Mom and I chatted to him while the nurses worked around us. “To him” was all we could do, because Dad hadn’t been able to speak for the past two years; in fact, he hadn’t even uttered so much as a syllable on the many Sundays when my husband, our ten-year-old son and I stopped in to see him after church. Ethan had never really known Grandpa when he was well, this man who made wagons and pedal fire trucks and doll houses and so many treasures for his grandchildren before dementia robbed him of his considerable talents.

But he was still Grandpa, still my Dad, and I thought back to treasured evenings in our back yard sitting on his telescope mount as he twirled me around the stars, or standing beside him in the garage redolent with the fragrance of newly sawn pine as he showed me how to drive a nail and drill a hole in a scrap of lumber. He was still the man I loved and respected, somewhere inside there. I dared to believe that, fought to hope it was true. Mom and I stepped aside to let the nurse take Dad’s vitals. The door opened and my sister Bonnie walked into the room. The nurse gave a slight gasp as my Dad’s vital signs shot up. Bonnie hadn’t seen Dad in two years, not since he moved from his home into this skilled nursing facility. She did live quite a distance away, but it was just too painful for her to see Dad in his continually deteriorating condition. I understood completely. Bonnie had always been there for Dad and Mom over the years, and she still helped Mom every way she could.

Dad hadn’t seen her in two years, yet something in him rose up in recognition of a face he loved, and rose up so powerfully that his heart rate and respiration increased immediately!

“Should we pray with him? Should we tell him . . .?” I honestly don’t remember now which one of us voiced what we all were thinking: should we give Dad permission to go home to Jesus? Should we give him our blessing and love? Wordlessly we all agreed, gathered around Dad, and began to pray. “Thank you so much, Father, for our father, for his love, for the faith he shared so freely . . . . “

Then we said it, every eye awash in tears that flowed to the nurses in the room, too. “Dad, if you’re ready to go, we give you our blessing to go home to Heaven.” That’s when it happened: Dad tried to speak! He looked directly into our faces and said, “Uuuhhh . . . uuuhhhhhh.” Those might have been babbled syllables to anyone else, but to the tree of us, they were the voice of a beloved husband and father, struck dumb by a disease advancing brain cell by brain cell for five years, but the man still alive and vital inside, somewhere, somehow!

One by one we bent down and kissed him, hugged him, squeezed his feeble hand, and left, fairly confident that his healthy appearance meant this might be a false alarm. Two days later he died, sweetly and quietly and I believe liberated to leave the prison of his disease and go meet his fellow carpenter, his Savior Jesus.

Some people might understandable dismiss this as coincidence to which we attributed too much significance. I might, too, had it not been for a comment from one of the nurses after Dad died, and the same scene repeated exactly four weeks later over the bed of Dad’s sister, my Aunt Cine. Francine developed Alzheimer’s two years before Dad exhibited signs of the disease. She had been bedridden, fallen away to 80 pounds, unable to walk or speak, at death’s door for over a year. Mom and I went to see her on her birthday. We took her some balloons.

“Should we tell her?” Mom asked, and I agreed. “Should we tell her that her brother died?”

“Yes,” I concurred without hesitation.

Cine was in much worse shape than Dad had been, but the day Dad died, one of the nurses on Dad’s floor at his nursing home had said to me, ‘Your father was such a sweet, wonderful man. We enjoyed him so much.” How had she known that? How can you know that about someone who can’t communicate . . . unless Dad’s spirit had been able to break out of his silence and communicate somehow, quite apart from words?

So my mother and I bent down on either side of Dad’s sister, took her hands, and I softly said, “Aunt Cine, we want you to know your brother has gone on ahead of you. He’s waiting for you with Jesus. If you’re ready to go, we give you our permission and blessing to go home.”

“Uuuhhh . . . . uuuhhhh.” Her face turned up to mine, her wild yet shallow eyes looking directly into mine, and I knew she was there. She saw me. We kissed her and went home. So did Cine, the very next day.

I never gave much credence to the notion that sometimes people need permission from their loved ones to leave. I always thought your body had the deciding voice in when you die. Now I’m certain that is not always the case.

Two intelligent, resourceful, achieving, loving people, struck down by a disease so heinous and hideous that it strikes terror in the hearts of most people. Any way but that one! What could possible be the sliver lining in my father’s and my aunt’s deaths? Simply and profoundly this: no matter what disease does to our bodies or our brains, God’s Spirit never leaves our spirit. We remain, whole, intact, filled with all the life and love we’ve known and given away, whether the outside world can access it or not. And is that a meager comfort in the face of such deep loss and pain? No, even though my sister, brother and I know we live in the shadow of DNA that may spell the same end for us, especially now that our mother has vascular dementia from numerous small strokes. It is somehow a great comfort and source of hope.

Yes, I pray researchers will home in quickly on what causes and what can cure and prevent Alzheimer’s, but while I wait, I rest in the knowledge that who I truly am, who we truly are, endures above and beyond all else. Count that as an incredible, joyful, overcoming blessing!

Note as of May 5, 2010: My brother, age 67, has just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Note January 27, 2018: Its wasn’t Alzheimer’s, but undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and  lung cancer took Dave in January 2013. Five years later, I’m remembering the amazing time I had with my brother just weeks before he went home to Jesus, and I thank God even more passionately for the certainty that this life isn’t all there is, and Heaven truly awaits all who know Jesus as Lord and Savior and the Lover of their soul.  Dave,  I can imagine the smiles on Mom’s and Dad’s faces as they ran to greet you!

GOD IS LOVE, and He still proves it to us.

 

Just a thankful amen!

Advertisements

Just Giving God Glory!

I HAVE to share this. God IS Love, and powerful kindness. He did a wonderful, incredible thing for me yesterday to prove it again to me.

When I was in high school, my family bought an acre of land in the mountains, and my father built a cabin on the land. It took two years to build, driving up on weekends, and I have many happy memories of helping him. In 1984 my dad and mom had to sell the cabin, because the high altitude bothered my mother’s blood pressure. I was married, but we didn’t have the extra money to buy the cabin, so it went to another owner.

In 2005, before my older son and his family moved to Asia, we drove up to see the cabin. A new owner had purchased it, and it was his wedding day, but he let us walk around inside, renewing my son’s memories of good times there. I was amazed to see two of my Grandmother’s kitchen chairs in the kitchen. I told James, the owner, how I sat at her kitchen table when I was four and she taught me to play a card game called gin rummy. He said he really liked the chairs, too, so I thought I’d never see them again. Because he wanted to know about who built the house, I made him a photo book of pictures of my father and us building the cabin. Two months later a truck came to my house and brought me the two chairs!

Yesterday “we” looked online at some pictures of land up in the mountains to hopefully buy. About twenty minutes later I got an email from James, at my new email address. He said he needs to sell the cabin, and he had been searching for a month to find a way to contact me – I no longer have the same phone number, last name, or email address – to ask me if I would like to buy it back! He found my blog by searching for my name online and found my new email from that. How amazing is God’s love, to care so much! Even if it is too expensive for me to buy, I am filled with knowledge of God’s great and compassionate, affirming love for me.

James told me yesterday that he could feel love in the house when he bought it. God is gracious, powerful love!

Pardon the King James version here, but 1 John 4:8 – He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:16 – And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one

Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/20-inspirational-bible-verses-about-gods-love/#ixzz4nrKXqmTj

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, sometimes it seems, it feels like, You are far away and unconcerned about me, because ______________________________________________BUT YOU promise me YOU will never leave me and never forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8), and You put Your promise in writing in the Bible, so I’m going to dare to ask YOU to “Show me a sign of your goodness, that those who hate me may see it, and be put to shame, because you, Yahweh, have helped me, and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:17) And I will let YOU choose the way, God, You show me Your love, because You know my deepest heart, so I’m listening now for Your voice above every other noise and voice in my life, InJesus’ name, amen!   _____________________________________________________________

The Painted Pickle Jar

The Painted Pickle Jar

One of my greatest treasures is the “jewelry box” my younger son made for me from Popsicle sticks.  The lid has a wooden bead for a “handle,” and the interior is lined with a square of red felt, roughly the same dimensions as the bottom of the box, Why on earth are fifty Popsicle sticks so precious to me? Because the shape they took and the gift they are came from a heart and life precious to me. Ethan gave me the best he could create from fifty Popsicle sticks, glue, a bead and felt. His heart is the treasure; the box is a reflection of his love.

Mommies get it. Maybe Daddies do too. I know this for a fact, but more importantly, what I realized this morning is that same joy in God’s heart when we craft our lives for Him. Before this sounds too lofty and climbs too high, let me ground it in what I see so clearly now that I didn’t see when I was five years old.

Sunday School, Mason, Ohio, just before Easter 1955, me five years old. All I brought was a pickle jar, and even that my mother bought with my father’s hard-earned money at the grocery store. Our craft was painting a jar with tempera paint to make a “vase” to hold one jonquil bulb, an Easter gift for our mothers. Limited eye-hand coordination in us all, we stroked our glass jars with chubby paintbrushes and watery tempera in spring colors. I can still feel the cool of the glass, the rough edges of flaking paint on my paintbrush, see the dribbles running down the jar and onto the newspaper on the table, smell the chalky, rich odor of the paint. Mine was going to be yellow, like a golden jonquil flower. Of course the paint didn’t stick very well, and in many places the clear glass showed through, but I reveled in the transformation happening under my hand.

I suspect we had a Bible story lesson while our jars dried, or we might have had to wait till the next Sunday to pour tiny stones – pebbles would be too glorified a term for what we used, more like the ballast along the railroad track that ran about 500 feet behind our house. – into the jars to support the single bulb we placed inside. Water came next, then anchoring the jonquil bulb flat end down in the stones.

I was so happy to carry the gift downstairs and thrust it up into my mother’s hands! I’d made something to give my Mommy joy! Mom must have read the “Mommy Manual,” or internalized it from her jolly, loving, short but ample-lapped mother who was my Gramma Miner, so of course when we got home she placed it in the sunny window above the sink in the kitchen, a place of honor if ever there was one, where she could watch the shoot, the leaves, the stem, then the flower gloriously unfold in the weak Ohio spring sunshine.

What on earth does this have to do with God? Sixty years later it hit me on a windy, drizzly Arizona morning that I didn’t give my mother anything from my own resources; someone else supplied everything I gave her, even though I regarded the gift as mine and found great pleasure, delight, and value in being able to create and give a gift to my mother.

This morning I look back on everything I’ve been blessed to “give to God”: the messages I’ve spoken, the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes I taught, the youth ministry and prayer teams I led, the books I helped my senior pastor write, the stories I wrote that ended up in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, the leader and study guides I’ve written, the sons I poured my time and energies and love into, the marriage I tried to do the same in, the people I’ve prayed with and for (Gosh, don’t I sound wonderful? All of this just so many Popsicle sticks …) and I realize with a shock of revelation piercing deep into the core of me down to my five-year-old true self that I DIDN’T BRING ANY OF MY OWN RESOURCES TO ANYTHING I’VE EVER “GIVEN” GOD!

He created my body and my brain, the wiring in me that sees analogies and relationships, the eye-hand coordination I have and the joy I get in making things with my hands, the mental aha to see ways I can use junk, the limited courage I have to stand up in front of people and open my mouth, the very thoughts I have and nudges I get ALL COME FROM GOD TO BEGIN WITH! I don’t give Him anything that isn’t His first, in fact, His gifts to me!

Every Sunday after the offering plates were passed and the ushers took them up to the front of the church, we all perfunctorily sang, “We give Thee but Thine own, what ere the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.” Did any of us mean what we were singing? Wasn’t it more a case of, “I worked hard for this money, so God, I’m going to give you a bit of it, good, giving person that I am, and I feel proud of myself for being so generous.”

Oh, the five-year-old in each one of us, but OH, the lavishly loving God who remarkable receives what we give Him and treasures it as much as I treasure my Popsicle stick jewelry box, as much as my Mom treasured her painted pickle jar, because against all common sense, HE TREASURES US! I only hope that, like the loving DAD I know He is, God has received all the clay figurines and Popsicle stick creations and painted pickle jars I’ve given him with – and honestly, this is true – the same delight I felt in giving my mother the pickle jar. I could give a gift to God!!!!

Maybe now I can appreciate my mother’s receiving that jar as a great gift to me. Maybe now I can see being that privileged to get to use God’s gifts to make something I hope and pray makes a difference to, for and in other lives in this world is, in fact, a gift GOD gives to ME, a way he fills my life with value and beauty and joyyellow-mason-jarsyellow-mason-jars.

Ah, ABBA, do you have tempera paint in Heaven? Can I make you a vase for a flower to grow in your throne room? Thank you that You give me SO MUCH. MAY I TURN AS MUCH AS I CAN INTO TREASURES FOR YOU, but may I always remember they come from YOUR heart of love and grace into my chubby fingers.

A “ . . . . BUT . . . .” to move: God, Daddy, Father, everything I have and am and ever hope to be is all a gift from you. I can’t take credit for anything other than what I do with what you give me, and even those opportunities are gifts from you. I may not be anything in the world’s eyes, or I may daily hear the praise of other people, BUT it’s your praise after all, I may have much or I may have little, BUT GOD, thank you that you receive my ___________and say _________________. I hope it grows in your kitchen window to be something of beauty and fragrance for You.

Under the Tree

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.'” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

May I Have This Dance?

Early on a Sunday morning I gave Jesus an invitation: ”Do what will bring YOU joy, Jesus. Come and dance in my life! Do what will delight you in my life today!”

In the middle of praying, reading the Bible and singing praise songs, I felt the urge to text a friend who plays bass guitar on a worship team. “No, you shouldn’t interrupt the flow of your quiet time,” I told myself. “Pay attention to the Holy Spirit!” But against my better religious judgment, I went to my phone and sent the text saying I was dancing with Jesus to “Praise to the Lord, The Almighty” on the worship CD of the praise band he plays in and prayed Jesus would dance in joyous delight that morning at church through my friend and his team. Bear in mind that I hadn’t contacted this friend in over four months when I write what then happened.

I returned to my own singing, and sure enough, I felt somehow that I’d missed the moment, spiritually speaking. I went on to another train of thought in my prayer journal until a jingle from my phone told me I’d received a text message. My friend texted something that stopped me in mid-journaling: “Your timing is impeccable. I’m preparing to play all three services at Bel Air this morning for the first time in a couple of months. Thank you so much!”

Jesus, YOU did it! YOU were leading me in a dance of blessing in my friend’s life, and I never suspected I was dancing with you when I texted him!  My prayer journal page morphed into a drawing of a wild series of footsteps punctuated by the words in capital letters “DANCE ALL OVER ME! DANCE ALL OVER MY LIFE! Every place your feet dance, there lives and resides and rules and reigns your GLORY!”

Oh, Lord, never let me be so ”religious” that I miss the blessings you want to pour out to and through  and for me!

Take center stage, Jesus! Zephaniah 3:17 reads: The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. The Hebrew word for rejoice in this verse implies mirth, gladness, and twirling dance.

Do I ever realize, truly get in my gut, that God rejoices over his children? Can I envision the great I AM giddy with delight when we let him enter into our lives and direct our feet or our texting fingers? I have a strong hunch that Jesus wants to dance with me and in my life much more frequently than I extend the invitation to him. – that my God is much less “religious” than we think – at the very least, much more intimate and joyful than we ascribe to him –  and much more the passionately loving Father who genuinely cherishes his kids. I need to give him more freedom to be himself in my life for his own pleasure.

Radical, I know, when we also have to hold in our consciousness at the same time how truly holy and set apart God is. I think my limited pound of brain tissue can only think of him in one frame of reference at a time, so I’ve decided I need to be more intentional about giving Jesus center stage on the dance floor in my devotional time. I don’t want to become so  familiar that I lose sight of his holiness, but  I don’t want to become so “religious” that I deprive my Creator of his deepest joy.  Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples we have to come to him as little children.  I loved to see my earthly father grin at me. What a grin I want to see some day on the face of my Heavenly Father when I take that running leap into his lap and let him twirl over me and with me “for real.”

In the meantime, Jesus, yes, you may certainly have this dance! You have impeccable timing, and your footwork in connecting and blessing would win first place in ”Dancing With the Stars.” Come to think of it, you probably do!

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  Sometimes, Jesus, I keep you at such a holy distance that I know I don’t allow you to enjoy my relationship with you. It’s hard to think of my God rejoicing over me with singing, BUT today I choose to let you _____________________________________________ in and over and through my life and guide my steps every day.

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!

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!

Image