Saturday, April 28, 2012

PART 2: A Changed Heart

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

Over the past six months, through more conversations in front of the LOVE’S Truck Stop, God has softened my heart. He is revealing to me that the men and women who carry all they own on their backs day in and day out, are made in His image. If I am made in God’s image and they are too, then we are not really all that different…. I just have more stuff. Proverbs 22:2 says, “Rich and poor have this is common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” Ephesians 2:10 says, that “we are God’s masterpiece.” WE are God’s masterpiece….. ALL OF US, the homeless and the forgotten included.   For so long, I’ve been focused on their circumstance that I forgot to notice their humanity. And everything else we have in common.

As with many areas of my life, God has taken me to place I used to fear. And this LOVE’S has now become my opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I don’t need to drive to the city to make an impact or travel to another country to reach those who desperately need hope. I have the opportunity to bless someone and share the LOVE of Jesus every time I leave my house. 

So when God nudged me in the depths of my heart to do something more, I said, “Yes.” Not sure of what would be required of me, but excited to find out, I started relying less on what I had to offer and more on what He could offer through me. I started keeping blankets and bags of food in my car. I started rolling down the window and saying hello. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but I began looking these men and women in the eye. I asked, “What’s your name?” I started praying for them. I don’t know them, but God does. I don’t know what they need, but He does.

I realize that a blanket and a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning or water and bug spray in the heat of a Texas summer will not change the circumstances of someone who lives on the streets.  I will be honest... I've struggled with whether or not this is even worth it.  Most of the people I meet are looking for a ride out of town, which I cannot offer.  But every time I go to God with this doubt, He says the same thing:  "It's not your job to change their circumstances; it's mine."  And though a "Hello" and a smile seem like such small things, a single act of LOVE, no matter how small, can bring hope to someone who desperately needs it.  It also brings dignity and worth.  That is what I've been called to do. God's got the rest.

I have been hopeless and helpless at times in my life, and it is God’s LOVE that reaches down to me every time, and lifts my face and gives me hope. He meets me right where I am, even while I continue to mess things up. He is Mercy, and He is Grace. How can I not show LOVE to others, when God continually showers me with His mercy, grace and forgiveness, none of which I deserve?

We are all broken.  We all need Jesus to put us back together, to heal us, to redeem and restore us. Through His sacrifice on the cross, He demonstrated the ultimate act of LOVE.  John 3:16 says, "For God LOVED the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life."  He wants more than anything for us to be free in Him.  His LOVE is worth saying yes to, every single time.  Only Jesus can use something as ordinary as a truck stop to touch the hearts of those He LOVES.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

PART 1: A Second Chance

But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. Jonah 1:3 (MSG)

Lately God has put a burden on my heart. He has shown me in more than one way His commandment to “love the least of these.” As I was driving to the grocery store one morning in early November last year, I asked God to show me who I could bless that day. When we pray with the Jake and Lilly at night, Cody is always saying, “Help us to be a blessing to others.” So that was my prayer that morning. What I discovered is that God took my prayer seriously.

As I reached the grocery store, I parked and began the lengthy process of loading my kids into the ridiculously-large-and-incredibly-hard-to-steer-eighteen-wheeler of a grocery cart. Then I saw them… parked next to me. A young mother and her two boys. Barefoot on a chilly morning.

 My heart started pounding in my chest. Surely God wanted me to love on them. But, not sure of what to do or say, I turned and pushed my cart into the store and began my shopping. This is part of the conversation I had with God as I later encountered them one aisle over, going through the bins of expired, marked-down food:

 “Do you want me to go up and offer to buy her groceries, God? I guess I could do that, but they don’t even have a cart. Do you want me to give her some money, God? I don’t have any cash. I could get some when I check out. Surely this is the person you want me to help today, but I can’t just go up to her and start a conversation. And I have to think about my kids. We are almost done. I have about ten more items left. The kids are doing great, but we haven’t even gotten to the cracker aisle yet. You know they lose it every time on the cracker aisle. I tell you what, God. I will just quickly grab the rest of the items on my list and maybe she will be up near the register when I am ready to pay. I’ll offer to pay for her groceries or get some cash to give her. She’s parked right next to me, so that will work just fine.”

 So instead of walking straight towards her and her boys and doing what I know God was asking of me, I turned my cart the other way and took care of my needs. Instead of relying on Him to help me say whatever it was He wanted me to say, I instead focused on what I did not have: a cart full of groceries I could offer to pay for, cash in my wallet to give them, the faintest clue as to what to say to a mother who obviously lives a very different life than me. As I grabbed the last item on my list and walked towards the checkout, I caught a glimpse of her car backing out in the parking lot. It hit me then that I had lost my chance to bless this woman. I was so ashamed that I cried the whole way home. 

 I didn’t know what to say and I was afraid she’d reject my help, so I played it safe and avoided an obvious opportunity to bless a woman God placed in my path for a reason. The worst part about it was that I was so focused on how I wanted to help her… with my credit card or my cash… that I failed to notice her true need: shoes. She needed shoes, and I had shoes to give.  Then I would have become the barefoot mother walking through the store with my kids.

I was humbled that day and begged God to give me another chance. For almost a month, I prayed that He would let me have another shot at this. And because He is a God of compassion and grace, He did. Three and a half weeks after my encounter with the barefoot mother, God led me to Sarah. 

 I would love to say that I acted immediately after my painful lesson the previous month. But, no, I did not. I saw her on my way to run a couple of quick errands. I would have had to turn my car the other way to cross paths with her. I actually told God, “If she’s still there when I get back from running these errands, then I’ll stop.” I know. I’m sure He was saying, “Really? We’re back to this?” I did not want to turn around. It was inconvenient. But I did. I figured if God put her in my path, no matter how far off the path it was, it was for a reason. So I stopped.

 She was sitting by the side of the highway in front of the LOVE’S Truck Stop. In the past, fear had convinced me to avoid this place like the plague. But, confident that this was where God wanted me and trusting that He was with me, I got out. She was waiting for a ride, and appeared to be years older than she probably was. She was smoking a cigarette when I walked up to her and said hello. I apologized that I couldn’t offer her a ride, but asked if I could give her a blanket. Through tears, I managed to ask her name. It was awkward. I am sure she was wondering who this crazy girl was and why on earth she couldn’t seem to stop crying. Or maybe she got exactly what she needed through my simple obedience. I am learning that God is the only one who knows what each of us need. Who am I to question Him? He can use anyone or anything to deliver His love to His people. Even a humbled girl who has been given a second chance.

 God spoke to Jonah a second time. This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God's orders to the letter. Jonah 3:1,3 (MSG)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Small To Big

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10

Jake and Lilly love to help around the house. One of their favorite morning routines is helping empty the dishwasher. They are responsible for all the plastic dishes, sippy cups, tupperware, lids, etc. This morning I giggled when I looked up and saw this very long line of dishes that had been placed on the very edge of the counter.

My kids take this job very seriously and will stop whatever they are doing when they hear the dishwasher door open. They drop their toys, abandon their games, and come running to help.

As I watched them working together to get every last dish stacked up on the counter, I asked myself, "Do I do that? Do I abandon everything I am doing and cheerfully run towards God when He calls me to do something so simple?"

Right now, Jake and Lilly are trusted with plastic dishes that if dropped won’t break, but one day, I will trust them to help with dishes that are more fragile. If I ask my kids to help with the little things, before giving them greater responsibility, why wouldn’t God do the same thing with me since I am His child?

I wonder how many times I’ve missed out, because I thought what God was asking me to do was too little or too insignificant. I wonder how often I've dismissed His voice, just because I didn’t understand His purpose. Over and over again, I have forgotten that it’s in the little things that I can show my faithfulness to Him. That once I am trusted with small things, He will trust me with bigger things.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ducks and Sheep

The ducks are back, and Jake and Lilly are thrilled that Henrietta has chosen our front yard as the place she will lay her eggs for the second year in a row. When we built our house four years ago, the neighbors talked about these Mallard ducks who came to lay their eggs in the ditch in front of our vacant lot every Spring. It makes sense, because just up the road is a large pond of water, a perfect spot for Momma Duck to lead her ducklings. We gave Henrietta her name years ago, long before Jake and Lilly were born, and every Spring she comes home. I just recently learned that a female Mallard is called a “hen,” which is perfect for our “Henrietta.”

Meet Henrietta

Lately, Henrietta has been waiting on our front doorstep, since Jake and Lilly like to go out and feed her each morning before breakfast. We don’t mind that she and her male companions hang around since they do such a good job of gobbling up all of the June bugs that congregate on our front porch. What we do mind is the sticky duck poop they leave on the sidewalk! Just this morning, I hollered at Henrietta through the window, “Please, please, please, whatever you do, don’t poop on my doormat!”

Make Way For Ducklings is a popular book at our house since ducks are clearly Jake and Lilly’s favorite of all animals. The mother in me, is glad I’m not a duck. In all seriousness, I am. Without any help from the Daddy duck, she cares for these 8-12 ducklings all by herself, and she alone is responsible for leading them to water for their first swimming lesson within days of hatching. I’ve often wondered, while reading my kids this sweet story about Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, how terrified Mrs. Mallard must have been as she attempted to lead her ducklings across the busy highway. I would be panicked that one of my ducklings would get out of line. I would be fearful that someone would snatch the duckling at the end without me knowing. It would take so much courage to be the one in front, trusting that all of them will just follow.

Last week, I read this verse that has nothing at all to do with ducks, but everything to do with being a Momma.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11 (NLT)

Sheep are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible, while ducks are not nearly as popular. Sheep were a part of the agricultural life when the Bible was penned, and they have been known to symbolize God’s people. Also, we cannot overlook that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God, who willingly gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins. It makes sense that God would compare himself to a shepherd caring for his flock. Shepherding was a way of life for so many during that time. King David was perhaps the best known shepherd in the Bible. And shepherds were the first to see the newborn Baby Jesus.

I love the fact that lambs are born helpless. Unlike ducks, that are able to swim very soon after birth, lambs depend on their mothers, who in turn rely on their shepherd to make sure they get what they need, including food, water, and rest, especially while caring for their young. Maybe more than anything else, the word “gentle” appeals so much to me. “He gently leads the mother sheep.” This word communicates kindness, peace, and humility. I like the way this version reads:

He holds [the lambs] close, while their mothers walk beside him. (ERV)

If I had to choose, I would want to be a sheep instead of a duck. A Momma duck, like Mrs. Mallard and our very own Henrietta, is the only one leading her children. A Momma sheep, though, can rely on her shepherd to “gently” lead her when she needs to go. She knows his voice, and trusts him fully. He carries the lambs, for they are His, and she walks beside him. It is such a beautiful picture of what mothering is all about. I pray that I will have to courage to trust Him and follow His lead as He holds my children close to his heart. I am so glad He walks besides me along this journey called “Motherhood.”

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NIV)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Meeting A Bunny and Hunting For Eggs

This was Jake and Lilly’s second Easter and so much different than their first. Last year, they were into the plastic eggs…. OK, so that hasn’t changed much. They still love the plastic Easter eggs. But this year they got to run around and hunt for them. Both had their own ideas about this so called “Easter Egg Hunt,” and I tell this story just to further explain how completely different my two children are.

After church, once all the cousins arrived, we walked to a little park down the road, hoping that the Easter Bunny had left some goodies behind. Once she figured out how the actual “hunting” works, Lilly had a blast, running as fast as she could to the next brightly colored plastic egg.

Jake, on the other hand, was not that into hunting for eggs. In fact, he had a fit, screaming and kicking included, when we tried to show him how to do it. We eventually realized that he was upset because the grass was still damp and he did not want to get his feet wet.

Once we gathered a few eggs and put them on the sidewalk, far away from the wet grass, he was much happier. He proceeded to open the first three eggs and dump the jelly beans, goldfish, and crackers out for the birds, ants, and other critters to gobble up. With a little bit of guidance and a whole lot of patience, Daddy convinced him to leave the eggs closed and keep them safe in his basket until we got home.

After naps, we opened up all of our eggs and poured them into a plastic bag, mixing all the goodies together for a sweet and salty Easter snack. Lilly ate just about everything in her snack cup, smiling and wiping bright orange, green, and yellow drool from the corners of her mouth as she enjoyed her first taste of jelly beans. Jake, my picky eater, would only eat the crackers in his cup. He separated all of them from his goldfish, jelly beans, and marshmallows, and was adamant that Grammy eat all of his unwanted treats.

Earlier in the week, we went to the mall to meet the Easter Bunny. Again, I witnessed two totally different reactions to this large, furry bunny sitting among the flowers. When we first pulled up, a precious baby was in the Easter Bunny's arms, screaming his little head off. Both of my kids' eyes got about as big as saucers as they slowly attempted to comprehend what was happening to the poor little baby. At first I thought we were done. “That’s it. There’s no way I’m getting them out of this stroller to even go near this Bunny who makes other children cry,” I thought to myself. But as time went by, and the Easter Bunny patiently waved at the two of them and blew kisses as well, they slowly seemed to be OK with this new friend. Until it was time to get out of the stroller.

Lilly was hesitant, but as soon as she saw her cousins climbing up into the Easter Bunny’s lap, she suddenly gathered the courage to do the same. Jake refused to get out of the stroller. Let me just add that there was nobody in line the whole time we were waving and making friends with this Bunny. As soon as we went up to take our picture, five families (at least) jumped in line. I am not kidding. So, everybody was watching this whole escapade go down. And I’m sure they were all thinking, “Come on, Lady. Just plop your kid down and move along.”

After giving my very best convincing argument about how nice the large, furry Bunny was, I made the decision to pull him out of the stroller kicking and screaming. Lilly, meanwhile, sat down next to the Bunny like it was no big deal. After several attempts to put Jake down on the Bunny’s lap, I told the picture lady to go ahead and take a photo of the child who was, at the moment, being cooperative.

After choosing the photo we liked best of Lilly alone with the Easter Bunny, I took both kids over to the goodie bucket and let them pick out a duck stamp. Lilly picked hers and rushed over to her cousin who clearly understood how to open it since she was in the process of stamping ink up and down both her arms. Jake was obviously confused about the whole goodie bucket thing. He began to take stamps, bracelets, pencils, and other trinkets out of the bucket and hand them to the Bunny one by one. When the Bunny’s hands were full, I’d empty them, but Jake was already filling them back up.

After sharing so nicely with the Bunny, he finally looked up and smiled at the guy. Unbelievable. I even got him to give the Bunny a "high-five.” The sweet picture lady noticed that he was warming up to the Easter Bunny, so we tried one last time to get a picture of the two together. She even let us trade in the picture we had already purchased. Meanwhile, I could not even make eye contact with all the faces of the families in line that had to wait for my son to decide he would sit with the Easter Bunny, but only on his terms and only in his time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

God's Not Dead

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Matthew 28:6

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Debt Is Paid

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Luke 23:39-41

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bound To Free Us

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
John 18:12-14

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Greed Leads To Betrayal

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Matthew 16:26

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Remember the Sacrifice

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:26-29

Monday, April 2, 2012

He Humbly Served

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:1-5