The Little Lost Student…and Sparrows

I looked down the crowded hallway, smiling as I surveyed the lay of the land. The hubbub of morning activity was in full force: boys and girls opening lockers, taking folders from backpacks, and of course, the usual number of distracted students “playing” with their friends.

Amidst the commotion, one thing caught my eye, and in an instant, I headed towards a tiny blond girl. Only a few days into the new school year, it seemed she had either lost her way or become so overwhelmed that she couldn’t navigate through the pack of other students.

Tears had formed in her eyes, and her face had turned red. She stood paralyzed, except for her head which she quickly turned back and forth in search of her new teacher. She held her solid stance as other kids hurried around her.

But this girl’s teacher reached her before me. She touched the student’s arm, and, in turn, the child turned towards her. Relief flooded the little face, and tears quickly dried. She beamed, looking up at the teacher whom she had come to trust in only a few short days of school.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this all day! I’m sharing it because if you’re feeling like this first grade student right now, lost and alone in the hectic hallways of life, you can wipe your tears and look up, too. The God of the universe sees you, cares about you, and is ready to help you find your way.

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“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

A conversation about the beauty of Kale…and whether or not I ever really lived in Haiti…

So there I was, standing in the grocery store express line with some chicken and produce. I mean, I figured that my husband shouldn’t have to fix EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL during my month-long run with the flu and bronchitis.

The cashier worked quickly through my groceries, but when she got to the kale, she stopped. “This is very good stuff,” she exclaimed, gazing upon its beauty.
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As I fished in my wallet for my debit card, I agreed with her by nodding. Oddly, though, when I looked up, she was still holding onto the kale.

“This is very good stuff,” she repeated, “especially when you cook it with meat…”

I laughed and confessed to my new cashier-friend that I really had no idea how to cook kale, and I only bought it for green juicing.

But oblivious to my passion for juicing, she continued. “Have you ever tried Haitian food? I think you’d like my kale.”

Wait, now we’re talking about Haitian food? A bit puzzled, but going with the flow, I told her, “I’ve eaten a lot of Haitian food, just not with kale.” She looked up and starting listing a myriad of other ingredients she adds to her evidently delicious kale recipe.

I was aware of the long line behind me and wanted to kick myself for adding to the conversation. I tried to end things there by holding up my debit card and shifting over to the payment machine, but the end of our chit-chat was nowhere in sight. The teenage boy waiting to bag my groceries chimed in, “YOU’VE eaten Haitian food?” He challenged me, as if this was an impossibility.  “YOU, really?”

Not sure why this seemed so odd, I laughed as I inserted my debit card. “Yes, I lived in Haiti for a couple of years.”

Oh, my. Now the line was never going to move. The kale forgotten, he looked me straight in the eyes, “No you didn’t.”

And then here’s how it went:

“Yes, I did.”

“You did not.”

“Yes, we lived in Port-au-Prince.”

“You did not.”

“Well, yes.” Now I was trying to keep the conversation friendly. “We lived there when my husband was a pilot…”

“You did not.”

He almost had me believing I had never lived there. He almost had me convinced I had never eaten a Haitian dish. And all this happening while the line grew longer behind us and my few groceries piled up waiting to be bagged.

Amused and bewildered, I tried again to hurry up the process, but stunned bagger-boy was grinning from ear to ear as he stuck out his hand to shake mine.

Well, okay, I thought, no problem. I’ll shake your hand…

He laughed. I smiled.

I think it was a truce of sorts, but I’m pretty sure neither he nor the kale-loving cashier believed a single word I had said.

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Not really sure what had just happened, I headed home to make some dinner…and some kale-enriched green juice.

 

 

Selfies, Parenting & Walking on Water

Last Christmas, the only family picture we ended up with was a selfie with, as you can see, heads cut off, my grandbaby not looking, and my husband half hiding behind my hair. But the photo made me happy, and I wished my Facebook friends a Merry Christmas with it anyways! Sometimes the best photos are simply that candid look of unplanned moments—when someone reaches out their hand to take a picture and captures happiness.

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I once heard that it takes about 12 pictures to get a good one, so it’s still totally legitimate to take a couple dozen and keep the one that works! I do this all the time with photos of my garden, my family, and especially that little beauty on the bottom right of the photo above. I’m constantly deleting pictures on my phone to free up space for the next unexpected opportunity.

I used to be a “school parent.” I homeschooled my daughters Melissa and Jenna for several years and then enrolled them in a Christian school where I drove every school morning for eight years until they each graduated. For many of you reading this, that’s where you are today. You get it…how when we’re parenting kids, there are so many of those “save-able” moments, the ones we absolutely want to keep!

But then those other times. Those times when, looking back, we wish it were possible to hit a little button and permanently delete. I imagine you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yelling when we’re running late to school, exasperation when homework remains unfinished and it should be bedtime, impatience which really stems from our own lack of sleep rather than what our kids are doing. (And, Jenna says I can tell you about all our fights over the little rubber bands for her braces…but I almost don’t want to.)

I had PLENTY of those moments when my kids were growing up. (I still do.) So I’m thankful that although we might not get actual, complete “do-overs” in parenting, we definitely get re-starts—possibilities to begin again, to reach out a hand with another opportunity to know our kids better, love them, and be the best we can be for them.

It’s hard. Yes, it’s hard. I recently read a Facebook update about a parent facing unexpected pre-Christmas surgery for her daughter. I know more than one parent going through an illness of their own. Moms and dads wondering where to find the money for just a little Christmas shopping. Parents who are hurting deeply because their children are hurting.

To me, that was pretty much the worst.

have these words hanging in my office: You call me out upon the waters. Maybe you know the song Oceans by Hillsong which tells the story from Matthew 14 of Peter being called by Jesus to get out of his boat and walk on the water towards Him.

Wow. What would you have done?

I wonder, would I step out of a boat and try to walk towards Jesus on top of deep water? What kind of faith does this take? Where does that courage come from? I’m still learning that it means looking only to Him to do what, humanly speaking, would not be possible. Peter did step out of the boat, but when he temporarily lost faith and started to sink, he desperately looked up to Jesus to rescue him.

I’ve been thinking this season that maybe God calls us to step out of the boat and into the water more often than we think—and the only stipulation for success is to keep our eyes on Him. Moms and dads, if you feel like you’re failing (sinking!) more than you’re succeeding, if you’re needing do-overs more than savoring picture-perfect moments, let me tell you that God’s grace abounds in the deepest waters!

Even if you’re familiar with this song, consider listening to it again with your role as a parent in mind. Let God speak to you about looking above the waves and finding Him in the mysteries and challenges of parenting—and of life. Then why not think about doing something fabulous with your kids this holiday season, completely unrelated to giving them a tangible gift? Something unexpected, where you listen, you laugh, you do what they want, eat what they want, but mostly where you’re all there and all in…for them.

You might not end up with all picture-perfect selfie moments with your family this Christmas, in fact there might be some you just want to throw away and forget. But step out in faith anyway. Keep your eyes above the waves. Walk on the water to Jesus—and then let your kids see your own real faith and love for Him.

Just things…these are just things…

Even as a person who thrives on the written word, I haven’t been able to find ANY words to express my thoughts this week. I’ve been so brief with answers to calls and messages of concern because everything I want to say feels way too honest, sentimental, or even too spiritual.

It certainly puts life into perspective when you’re preparing for a hurricane such as Irma, when you look around your home and your community, and know damage is a real possibility, when you pack those “just in case” suitcases, slipping in a few pieces of your mom’s china and then (ridiculously?) use most of the remaining space for an afghan she knit, when you keep walking around your home and finally realize all your valuables truly are the people you love and the hope and salvation you have in Christ!

Now, with Irma 48 hours out, the prep is mostly in place, and today’s plans include Greg getting his last plane out of Florida, helping a friend’s elderly parents, doing another load of laundry, monitoring my internal debate about getting the hurricane treats out a few days early…

As I took some time to just sit still this morning, my thoughts went back to my mom’s words years ago when our home in Lombard was flooding, the water creeping into our house and covering our ankles. She calmly stood in the living room and gestured around the room. “These are just things,” she told us. “These are just things.”

Oh, how I thank God for the life-lessons she taught her four daughters with just those four words. Even more, I value the deep-rooted faith in God’s protection and love which was lived out before us each day!

I can’t thank you enough for the love and prayers which keep pouring in from around the country! We are so blessed to KNOW without a doubt that we ride out this storm, and every day, with God’s hand of protection surrounding our home, family, and community.

After Loss, Does Beauty Really Bloom?

What is the most valuable thing you have ever lost?

I remember a night several years ago when I was out with my mom. We’d been running from store to store, and as we left the mall, she realized her keys were missing. You know that feeling, right?

Our best guess was that she dropped them on the floor of a dressing room, but by that time, the stores were closed. We knew we’d have to wait until the next day to retrace our steps.

A nuisance, yes, but my mom was one to go with the flow. She was good-natured, and really, a few missing keys (which we eventually found) were just nothing at all compared to other losses in her life. I don’t know why, but late that night after the shopping trip, my mind went back to an afternoon long ago when torrential Midwest rains flooded our neighborhood. Back then, my mom’s words were stabilizers for me.

“These are just things,” she told us, gesturing around the living room as water rose above our ankles and waves gently rocked through the room. And if you were privileged to know my mom, you know she meant that.

Our family lost a lot of “things” in that flood.

Tropical flowerFor me, loss has taken many forms. I remember the season when one hurricane after another barreled down on us here in South Florida. That year I lost my fence, backyard hedge, and favorite little olive tree. The magnificent pink bougainvillea that graced my backyard was blown apart. Without that bougainvillea, the view from my kitchen window suddenly became lifeless. Funny how I could mourn the loss of a bush. In addition, both our church and my husband’s business saw severe damage.

Just in case that wasn’t enough for one season, weeks later, my home was robbed. I lost both practical items and sentimental keepsakes which I knew were likely pawned for cash that could never come close to equaling their value to me.

In the midst of all this, my dad passed away after an extended illness. With our oldest daughter recently moving 1,000 miles away to college, our family felt scattered to me, both emotionally and physically.

Those were some hard months.

Perhaps by now you’re thinking about losses in your own life (and I’m sure you know I’m not talking about misplaced keys anymore). I have friends who have lost loved ones this year. Perhaps that’s you. Or maybe you’ve lost a friend or your good health. Maybe you feel like you’ve lost your youth, your optimism, or your sense of humor. Maybe at some point in your life, your dreams disappeared. Loss comes in a myriad of fashions and often sneaks up to catch us by surprise.

How do you react to loss?

In the midst of all my pain, a friend stopped by to encourage me. Although I had been trying to shrug it off, she saw through my facade. “Ruth,” she said. “I know this hurts, but in time you will be so much more beautiful because of it.” Annoyed with her wisdom, I didn’t say much, but I never forgot those words.

Sometimes we need to sit back and allow God to change our focal point. I definitely needed that. Dealing with loss is difficult, but God’s Word tells us to refocus our heart on Christ, on eternal values, and on living to please Him.

Colossians 3:1-2 says, Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 

That year with such significant loss in my life, I began to understand that fences, bougainvilleas, and even my (stolen) rings were temporary. I learned to view my “treasures” as gifts from God to use for His glory—and to have faith that He brings people (like my dad and my daughter)  into or out of my life for different times and for different purposes. To be honest, I’m still grasping the wonder of how God, in His wisdom, uses circumstances to clarify my vision—so I can concentrate on the eternal rather than the temporal.

It was a pretty big season of learning for me.

Lately with some new losses, I’ve been appreciating Matthew 6 all over again: Don’t store up treasures here on earth where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

What about you? What are some of your treasures? Are they possessions you can put into a box, or are they things too big to hold? The Apostle Paul contemplated these questions also. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:7-8).

bougan-3Yes, God has taught me a lot about seeing things in light of the infinite value of knowing Him. Frankly, I’m still learning, but today as I look out that very same kitchen window, my bougainvillea is showcasing bright pink blooms. It suffered loss once upon a time, but the pruning did it good, and now the plant is mature and growing beautifully because of it.

The Old(er) Lady Who Became More Beautiful in Just Thirty Minutes

Last Thursday afternoon I sat in a car shop waiting to get a flat tire fixed. My original lunch-errand plan gone askew, I tried to occupy myself in the waiting area full of impatient people from every walk of life, it seemed.

Vineland_Slashed_Tire_Generic_Flat_Tire_GenericFirst, I “worked” on my phone, catching up on emails and texts. Then I sort of watched the soap opera blaring in front of me while thumbing through all my areas of social media. I tried to keep from rubbing elbows with the very elderly lady in a fancy green dress and unmatched black sandals who had shuffled over to sit beside me among a room of mostly men.

I didn’t speak for awhile, and neither did she, but I guess when she’d finally had enough of the boredom, she broke our mutual silence.

“The workers here sure are patient!” Her statement was surprisingly kind and her voice intentionally bonding as she leaned close to me. I glanced over at her briefly and lamely offered a polite smile, remaining in my own miseries of driving on a flat the last mile to the shop.

I checked my emails and texts again, and tried going back to the soap opera, honestly, in a shameful, nonverbal, censorious way of saying, “I’m really not in the mood for chit-chat, and our lives are so different we probably wouldn’t have anything to talk about anyway.”

Truth be told, I hadn’t even looked at her gracefully-aged face until she broke our silence again, this time chatting away about her favorite characters from another daytime show, about Emmy awards, her own unfortunate day so far, and her shoes.

Her warmth invited me into her world, and I was hooked.

She’d already been to the doctor that morning, and the dentist, and all that by foot right there in her neighborhood on Hillsboro Boulevard since her car had unexpectedly needed repair. She pulled out her phone to check a text, I guess, and I noticed the ease with which her agile fingers managed the reply. She spoke articulately and laughed while explaining the reason for her shoes looking the way they did. One had broken on her walk to the dentist, and half of it fallen off, which I then saw was the actuality of what I had falsely determined to be unmatched…and unkempt. Oh, wow.

Her fancy dress and crocheted sweater weren’t meant for the car shop, but rather for the medical and dental appointments (you know, how old ladies do). She asked me about my day, what had happened to my car, and about my favorite TV shows.

And then it was time to go. My car was done before hers, and as I walked out, we each wished the other a better day than we’d been having so far.

I got into my car realizing this “very elderly lady” who had shuffled to sit beside me had amazingly become more energetic, resilient, intelligent, fashionable, and for sure more beautiful than she’d been in my limited and blurred eyesight only thirty minutes earlier.

True story.

Oh God, teach me to look away from myself and my phone next time and instead see the faces and hearts You’ve placed right beside me.