Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Little Help, Please?

The store was bustling with shoppers snatching up last-minute gifts to the sound of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra crooning Christmas songs. The registers were busy, and the clerks even more so. Harried, they dealt with impatient shoppers asking the impossible and pushing for their assumed rights:

“I was here first!”

“Are you sure you don’t have this in another size?”

“I know you said you were out of these, but why can’t you go check in the back … again?”

To be honest, there really didn’t seem to be enough cashiers, or enough associates on the floor. So those who were there were having a hard time keeping up with everyone vying for their attention.

Finally, I made it to the front of the line. Smiling at the cashier as she rang up my purchases, I handed her a carnation from the stash in the tote bag I carried. “Thanks for your help today. I really appreciated your helping me find that sweater earlier. You made my shopping trip that much smoother.” Attached to the flower was a tag that said, “Thanks for being a blessing today. God loves you, and this is a small reminder of that.”

There was no need, and certainly no time, for a long conversation; but none was needed. It was just one small connection, one fleeting, but concrete, way of showing God’s love.

I forget how many flowers I gave away that first time–about eight, I think. Each was given with a smile and some word of encouragement. None was turned away, although a few people did give me odd looks. One younger girl actually laughed and clapped; an older lady looked at me with tears in her eyes–which surprised me, given what a small thing I was doing.

Christmas flowers were one of my traditions for several years. I looked forward to handing them out to various retail associates as I shopped throughout the day.

This year, things are a little different for me. I have a leg injury that’s been keeping me out of the malls; and I can’t handle the scented candles, perfumes and cinnamon-scented pinecones that lurk around every turn. I doubt that I can hand out Christmas flowers this year.

So I thought I’d request a little help. If you plan to go out shopping, and you can get a few flowers, could you please pick up the tradition for me?

Here are the guidelines I follow:

1. I use carnations because they don’t have a strong scent, and they’ll last well.

2. Be sure each flower has a water tube.

3. Don’t try to say much; retail associates don’t have time for that during the holiday rush.

4. Approach with a smile and a word of encouragement.

5. Either in your words or on a tag, let them know that God loves them–this isn’t about us being seen as nice people, but about showing the Lord’s love in a small way.

6. Have fun!

Thanks for your help. Let us know if you plan to help–and afterward, tell us how it turns out!

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Juxtaposition

Some things, while fine separately, just don’t go well together.

A beautiful symphony … played on kazoos and pennywhistles.

Toddlers and a clean house.

Pizza with gravy.  Keep reading

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

Bless the Lord!

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

— Psalm 106:1

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Preschoolers and Prayer Walls

Do you remember those big cardboard blocks that used to be found in preschools and church nurseries? (I’m not sure, but I think it was some kind of legal requirement for caretakers of young children.) They were sturdy “bricks” of red or blue with painted-on mortar, large enough and stable enough to stack into walls.

A few years ago I taught preschool Sunday school at a church that was blessed with a set of these blocks. The kids enjoyed playing with them, and I liked using them for prayer time.

When you try to pray with three- and four-year-olds, things can get a little chaotic. You often learn way more than you want to about their family life. Everyone suddenly develops a relative or a friend with some sort of illness. (One of my favorites was the cousin whose tongue had turned blue.) And often some sort of “Pet Prayer Rule” must be instituted so the whole thing doesn’t devolve into competitive pet prayer requests. (“Can we pray for my cat? He had to go to the vet.” “We need to pray for my dog. He was hit by a car last year, but he’s fine now.” “Let’s pray for my hamster. He’s dead.”)

So something concrete to physically manipulate and that imposes the taking of turns is helpful. That’s how the Prayer Wall was conceived. The way it works is this: Each child gets a turn to lay a block on our prayer wall by saying a thank-You prayer:

“Thank You, God, for my brother.”

“Thank You, God, for my toys.”

“Thank You, God, for toothpaste.” (Really.)

After all of the children had taken a turn, or turns, a little wall had been built. We’d hold hands while I said a brief closing prayer. Then we’d have fun knocking down the wall together and put away the blocks.

I was reminded of this, of course, because it’s Thanksgiving week. And while we should always be thankful, it isn’t a bad thing to take a little extra time to think about our blessings and thank the One from whom every good and perfect gift is given.

“Thank You, God, for the gift of family and friends. Bless them, Lord.”

“Thank You, God, for life in this lovely valley. Help us to help others here, and further afield.”

“Thank You, God, for the opportunity to learn about You and Your Word.”

Here … It’s your turn. Have a block.

What are you thankful for?

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Thursday Intermission

Welcome to Thursday Intermission!

This week you have a mission. This week, you draw a stickman!

Go ahead, have some fun.

Also, we have our final this evening. Wish us well!

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The God Who Sees Me

The God Who Sees Me

The servant girl Hagar lived out her drama thousands of years ago. She was pregnant with her master’s child. Her mistress, who could not have children, had given her to him. When she realized she was pregnant, she became haughty, treating her mistress with contempt. And when she in turn was treated harshly, she ran away.

Hagar, Sarai’s maid, was both wronged and in the wrong. She had probably never imagined herself in that predicament: alone, pregnant, wandering in the wilderness. What would become of her—and her child?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar when she was beside a spring (Genesis 16:7). He greeted her, saying, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” He spoke to her identity–who she was–and to her position as Sarai’s servant.

When she admitted that she was running away from Sarai, the angel of the Lord told her to return and to submit to Sarai’s authority. He spoke to her of the son she would bear.

“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.” He told her what her son would be like and the things he would do.

So Hagar went back to Abraham and Sarai. But she was changed. She carried with her something precious, something valuable: a new understanding of who God is. This altered her perception of God so much that it changed what she called Him.

“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’ “

The God who sees me.

It wasn’t enough for Hagar to hear about God or to worship Him. That was one-sided. Now she understood that He saw her. He knew about her circumstances, and He cared for her. He protected her, He guided her, He blessed her son.

He saw her.

He saw the fears and the failure, the sin and the hope. He saw the things she kept hidden within her soul. And He reached out to Hagar and blessed her.

Just like He sees you and me today. Just like He cares for us, reaches out to us, forgives us, admonishes us, loves us.

The God who saw Hagar is the God who sees you.

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Unfinished Tales

I picked up our set of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books the other day. I didn’t read them, not all the way through; I skipped around, taking in bits and pieces here and there. I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the days when my children were small enough to sit on my lap and be read to; now they tower above me and before too many years have passed will probably have children of their own.

We used to read through all seven of C.S. Lewis’ Narnian adventures each year with the boys, Roger and I taking turns reading aloud. Sometimes they drew pictures of what we were reading; our older son, ever the analytic type, sometimes drew maps.

Paging through the books again was like catching glimpses of old friends. As is usual for me, the books hold much more magic and more fascinating vistas than the movies could. So it’s not difficult to feel the spray of the ocean as we board a Narnian ship, or to shiver at the subtly evil glance of Queen Jadis, or to feel the tranquility of the Wood Between the Worlds.

Perhaps it was lingering too long in those somnolent Woods, or maybe it was just one of those peculiarly pensive moods that come with autumn. Whatever the reason, I thought about the characters in the books.

No matter how often I read them, Edmund will inevitably listen to the White Witch and gorge on the Turkish Delight she provides. Digory will forever ignore his misgivings and strike the bell, awakening Jadis. And Susan will, alas, always grow up to makeup and boyfriends, forgetting Narnia and Aslan. They have no choice; they must live the stories written for them.

But what about us—you and me?

Some parts of our stories have been written for us. We had no say in who our parents would be, or our siblings—or even whether we had any; we didn’t choose our looks or our basic personalities. We didn’t have a say as to what talents we’d have, or what country we’d be born in.

But our Author is different from C. S. Lewis; our Author writes unfinished tales.

We all grow up with various bits and pieces of stories, dramas and traumas as well as joys. We carry with us the memories of past childhoods, friendships, betrayals, loves. Life is a big undertaking. It’s tranquil, it’s loud; it’s ordered, it’s chaotic. It’s messy.

And we look for God’s will in the midst of all of that big, messy life. We think that we can latch onto that one thing He has for us to do, that single purpose for which we were created. If we can just lay hold of that, we reason, we can be fulfilled, we can be happy, we can please God.

And do you know what God says to that?

“Write your own story.”

God gives us gifts and talents, and He will use them, if we let Him. But His plan for us, His grand purpose, is that we love Him and love others. He wants us to help other people, to be with them when they hurt, to care for those who cannot care for themselves. That sounds simplistic … and it is. But it’s also true. The expression of that will vary so much from person to person that we may have to look to recognize it.

But that’s how we each write our own stories. God has given us freedom, not condemned us to lives of playing hide and seek, trying desperately to find that one thing that we can do with our lives that will please Him. He is pleased with people who believe Him, who look to Him, who give their lives to Him, whose actions are filled with grace, mercy and justice.

He calls us to be free in Him.

“Write your own story.”

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