“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

IMG_5439

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

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Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

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.

Stand on his feet . . . .

Boys Wife 1974No clear path, everything that seemed promising turned into a short walk to a false hope, every interview turned into a discouraging  “You were our second choice,” too much unsettled and my life hinging on what I can’t make happen for myself. I want to follow God’s will, and the last thing I want to do is start whacking in panic through the underbrush of the tangle that is my life right now with an “I guess I’ll have to do it myself” mental machete. It seems I’ve done that and only wandered my way further off the trail, deeper into disappointments that feel every bit like a detour from God’s intention for my life. At least I HOPE he intended good for me, but when the lyrics of the old song “God will make a way where there seems to be no way” sound more like a taunt than encouragement, what is a person of faith to do?

In incredible opposition to our western culture of self-reliance and self-determination, I think some of the sweetest words to God’s ears must surely be “Father, I CAN’T!” As I threw my hands heavenward in complete frustration and defeat today, what floated down was one of my earliest delights as a small child: reaching up to put my hands in my Dad’s, planting my feet on his big shoes, and going for a ride on my father’s feet. It’s vaguer than a memory, nothing but a wisp of simple knowing, but I know felt treasured and safe then before the harsh realities of the world threw me off balance. My Daddy wouldn’t walk me off a cliff or into oncoming traffic; he knew where he was going, and he was having fun taking me for a ride. I sensed his pleasure in this act of trusting bonding. A decal on the rear window of a car in front of me this morning reinforced the message: “Semper Fi – always faithful.”

I witnessed the same kind of trusting bonding with our first dog Amy, decades ago. A tiny puppy, the black speck of fur that she was all but disappeared into knee-deep Michigan snow with every bound as she ploughed ahead of us, trying to break trail.  Her strength gave out in just a few hundred yards, and what she did next both completely surprised me and convinced me she possessed uncanny intelligence: Amy turned and leaped directly onto my husband’s snowshoes, landing and looking up with trusting puppy eyes as if knowing where greater strength, direction and security lay. “I tried it my way in my strength. That didn’t work at all the way I planned. Now take me where you want to go.” I still have those snowshoes in the garage here in the desert, a reminder to me that I have a place to rest when my “woof” is worn out.

How often I wish I had the simple trust of a dog or a three-year-old! Because I wish I did, I decided to do something radical today after yet another job interview: I reached my arms up again and curved my fingers around two unseen and unfelt hands that once were stained with rivers of blood, picked up my right foot, then my left, and in my choosing planted my feet on the two that walked on water.

For me, I sense that my struggle of the past three years is largely about HIM and who I believe he is. Maybe I’m your test case and this blog merely records some experimental data. This is your journey, Jesus. I’m pretty sure the only way I can keep my feel from straying off the trail away from what God wants for me is to “stand on his feet” and let him do some walking for me. It would be totally crazy if I didn’t recognize – or in this season, against all the earthly evidence to the contrary just decide to believe – that God is my loving Father, he knows where he’s going, and it isn’t off a cliff. If I can’t trust the economy, if I can’t trust my resume or online job search engines (which all too frequently post jobs that have already been filled), I guess I’m going to have to trust my Heavenly Father.

How odd will it be if this is what he’s been waiting for: to delight in taking me for a ride and bonding us so closely that I’ll take this memory of his pleasure into eternity when I REALLY SEE his smile.

“They will come with weeping, they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s (and MY) father . . . .” (Jeremiah 31:9)

“He will not let your foot slip –“ (Psalm 212:3)

“If the LORD delights in a (wo)man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23)

A “ . . . but . . . “ to move:  God, this may be the craziest thing I’ve ever done. It certainly seems senseless, abut I have to admit that I can’t make any change or dent or progress in ______________________________ ,BUT here goes: I’m going to reach up for your hands, plant my feet on your big shoes, and trust you to take me _______________________________________________________. I’d love to hear your chuckle as you lead me to ____________________________________________________________________________________________.

Amy in the spring minus snowshoes, but still trusting