The Table of Mercy

He met me at the table that day, and I knew it.

There are times you realize God’s provision after the fact. Sometimes you reflect on something that happened, and you say to yourself “I wish I realized at the time what God was doing.”

Sometimes, though, God’s provision is so loud and so evident that you are completely aware of his presence and movement.

That’s how it was that day.

It had been a rough few weeks. Work was overwhelming and taking over my entire being. Constantly feeling like I couldn’t catch up even though I was working all the time. I hadn’t been spending time with the Father like I usually would. I was very busy meeting other’s demands and needs.  In addition, there had just been a lot of other things weighing on my mind. I felt heavy. I felt emotional. And I wasn’t happy.  I had nothing left to give.

I knew I was in that place that Sunday morning. I was driving to Bible study, and I remember praying for the Holy Spirit to meet me, to fill me, even though I felt so empty.

I remember answering questions in Bible study, inadequately of course. Feeling like I couldn’t get the words out that I wanted to say. Feeling misunderstood.

Before communion, however, we sang a melody that completely melted away my inadequacies:

“Come to the table of mercy
Prepared with the wine and the bread
All who are hungry and thirsty
Come and your souls will be fed
Come at the Lord’s invitation
Receive from His nail-scarred hand
Eat of the bread of salvation
Drink of the blood of the Lamb”

He invited me to come and to feast and to receive. The words washed over me, cleansing me and reminding me that my Heavenly Father didn’t ask for me to come to the table of mercy all put together. He didn’t ask me to spend and give.

He asks me to come, as I am. He meets me in the middle of my mess, and He longs for me to receive His mercy.

In Matthew 23 Jesus was in a long talk with a crowd about the Pharisees. He warned them about becoming like them. He called them blind, amongst many other names. At the end of that chapter he said that he longed to gather their children together under his wing, but they were not willing.  They didn’t realize the invitation that was before them.  They didn’t realize its worth.  They refused to receive his mercy.

Sometimes, I think I am like the Pharisees. I don’t always want to go to the table with Christ. Sometimes I am not willing.  Sometimes I would rather do things my way. Sometimes I am stuck in my emotions.  Or sometimes I am at my wit’s end and just don’t have the energy or mindfulness to realize that my invitation is always right in front of me.

Oh gracious Lord, help me.

He invites me under his wing. He invites me to receive his mercy. He invites me to learn from him.

I am so thankful for His table of mercy.  Here, I am made whole.  Here, I am reminded that He is all that really matters.  His infinite goodness and glory and beauty is all I see.

Everything else vanishes away, like He is holding my face in hands so near to His very own.

He invites you to have a seat.  Do you see Him?  He is present.

Will you receive his mercy?

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Reminder

I listened to a precious young lady tell her testimony.  She poured her heart into every detail that she chose to share as a drink offering unto the Lord.  Her story, though now victorious, was long and hard and heartbreaking.  She shared a minor detail that has stuck with me and built a fire underneath my feet and in my heart.

As a child she often felt distant and different from other children.  She would often play by herself and often felt rejected by her peers.  She didn’t know God as a child and had many things in her life that caused her to feel unheard, lonely, forgotten, unloved, worthless, and rejected.

I share this because of how it has touched my heart.  There have been many days already this year where I have felt defeated, worn down, and ineffective as a teacher.  Note: We have been in school for 20 days.  When this young lady shared her story, I was reminded of my purpose.

Yes, my purpose as a teacher is to teach precious children how to read, write, and do math, and I really do want my kids to grow and master these things.  But I do have to say, it is not THE reason why I teach.

I teach because I want to come alongside children in the place where they are at, the good, the bad, and the heart-wrenching parts.  I want them to feel safe and accepted.  I want them to feel supported and loved and heard.  I want them to build friendships.  I want them to be kind to one another.  I want them to learn how to respect others that are different.  I want them to feel empowered to follow their dreams. I want them to laugh and celebrate. I want them to know that I am FOR them.

I feel like I go on about why I teach a lot.  Some of you are probably tired of hearing about it so please forgive me.  The truth is, though, is that I forget because it is HARD.  It is overwhelming.  There is red tape everywhere.  And Satan wants me to forget.  I always need the reminder when God shows it to me, no matter how easy or hard the year is or has been.  It is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to get frustrated.

I talked that the young lady after she shared her testimony, and I told her I really appreciated her sharing about her childhood because I am a teacher.  She said, “Just get in there, and love those kids.”

Some years it is harder than others.  By now, teachers, you probably know how mentally and physically tough your year will be.  If it is tough, know that it’s okay for it to feel tough.  Every day that you enter your school building and your classroom, you are helping and supporting these kids fight battles that they will talk about one day.  That is some seriously tough stuff!

Take care of yourself, teacher.  You have battles of your own you have to fight, too.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” Psalms 28:7

When everything I try seems to fail, I know in my heart that He is my strength and my help.  He is my Rock in whom I can place my trust fully, despite my failures and circumstances and where I can never be enough.  In Him is my salvation and identity and my victory.  I always have a reason to give thanks to Him.

A Teacher’s “Wish”list

Paper towels, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues are my top needs on my teacher wishlist.  But I thought of a few other things to add to my wishlist this year, except they are more prayers and hopes.

I pray…

my kids get the food and sleep that they need to be healthy so that they can learn.

for all parents as they send their babies to school.  Comfort them and give them strength as their children grow and change.  Give them the wisdom to do what is best for their child, especially when it is hard.

my kids’ parents know that I am always for their child and never against them, even when they get in trouble or I tell them a concern I have.  Help me to speak with grace.

for unity in my classroom as we grow together.

for deliverance for those students who are hurting or neglected or abused.  Please give me the eyes to see it, Father.

for us as a classroom family to laugh with one another often and deeply.  

for my kids to feel more confident in their hard subject.

for my kids to feel loved and safe in my classroom and in our school.

for my kids to cheer for and lift up each other.

for us as teachers to stay focused on what is really important in education- the kids.

for ANY decision-maker in ANY line that affects public education.  Protect us, Father.

for all students that are mentally or emotionally unstable, who are scared or feel as if they are in danger.  Deliver them, Father.  Send them a helper who they learn to trust and talk to.

for all students who feel marginalized or lonely.  Show them a friend, Father.

that educators will have the wisdom to know when to leave work at work, when to say no to late nights at school, and how to take care of themselves to prevent burnout.

that we will have the courage to act lovingly and graciously in the most trying moments of our days.

for eyes and hearts to be open to you, Father.  You are our Healer and Sustainer.  You are our Deliverer and our Hope.

***

“Prayer” has been the word that has come to my mind more than any other as I start this new school year, and rightly so.  It has been resounding and clear.  I plan on revisiting this list myself as the year progresses.

How we need our Father.  He is most assuredly our only Hope.

Fireworks and Feathers

Last night I went downtown to see the Nashville fireworks display for the first time.  Let me just tell you… if you haven’t gone to see it, you need to.  They say it is the biggest in the country, and I think I believe them now.  It is a must-see for sure!  I was just left in awe.

There was this one single firework in particular that drew me in like none of the rest.  I feel it now in my chest of how it felt to be there.  This firework was massive.  Explosive, obviously.  It seemed to swallow the entire audience of thousands of people.  I looked with my face turned toward the sky, not willing to look away, and it completely enveloped me.  It was graceful.  It was fierce.  And it was huge.

In Psalm 91:4 it says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

I read this verse this morning, and it reminded me of that firework.  I imagine the safe, protective, faithful, and gracious feathers and wings of the Father.  Returning to that feeling in my chest that I couldn’t escape or ignore.  More mighty than my mind can imagine.  More fierce than my heart can handle.

Enveloping.

Steadying.

Protecting.

Drawing me in, wanting more.

When I don’t ask for it.  When I don’t recognize it.  When I forget about Him.  The Faithful One remains with His wings, with his feathers, fighting the darkness, lighting up the night, conquering the darkness.

Psalm 91 goes on to say, “You will not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”

Whatever comes, wherever I may be, whomever I may be with, He is present. Through fears of the night and confusion of the day.  In the fight of the mind, where thoughts and terrors seem to win.  He is present.  Because of His presence, I am not stuck.  I am not defeated.  I shall not remain discouraged.

Because…

He covers me with his feathers.  In His wings I will find refuge.  His faithfulness is my shield and my rampart.  My protection forever.

Assumed Dead

For my birthday this year my lovely secret pal at school got me this beautiful plant, which was perfect because I love plants. It had these big gorgeous pink blooms with a mixture of greens in the bottom. I kept it in my classroom, and my kids and I enjoyed it and cared for it there.

The problem was, I struggled keeping it alive. The reason for the problem: I didn’t know exactly how to care for it. Sometimes I didn’t give it enough water. Sometimes I gave too much. Maybe not enough sunlight. I tried cutting some of it back. It was a struggle. Everything I tried seemed to fail in the end. I ended up bringing it home. Continued caring for it. It ended up dying.

I put it outside on my back deck to be thrown away.

I depend on instructions when caring for a plant. Those nice little tags that they stick in the dirt tell you how much sun they need, how much water they need, whether they need to be indoors or outdoors, how big they will get and all that good stuff.

I believe this flower was from a flower shop of some kind so it didn’t come with instructions.

I was very frustrated because I, like my mother, love plants and enjoy caring for them and seeing them grow and change. And I felt like I had failed. Y’all I even tried to research this plant even though I had no idea what it was called.

I looked outside one day at this plant that I had thrown out. It was brown, withered, and hopeless looking…

all except for this one green sprout.

The green grew.

Days, weeks, months passed.

The green continued to multiply.

Y’all, this plant was dead for weeks before I gave up, and put it on the deck.

**Side note: Turns out the plant is extremely low maintenance… it needs direct sunlight and rainwater is sufficient. Figures! Ha!

But oh, my goodness, what a lesson. I assumed this plant was dead. I saw nothing in it. I had given up hope completely. I was going to throw it in the trash.

”But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

God sees us. He sees us when we are withered, lifeless, and hopeless, when we are ready to give up, when we see ourselves as good as trash, and I believe He says to us, “Come, I am doing something you cannot see. It is good. I am making it beautiful. Life is here! I am bringing something new.” (My paraphrase)

It’s like in Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

God is not done. He is working, and He is near. I don’t have the specific instructions I want sometimes, and that can be frustrating when I have my hands gripped tightly around a part of my life, especially if it is not going the way I want it to go. And my instructions that I make up are absolutely worthless.

BUT I know with my whole heart that God provides and delivers in ways I could never imagine or dream, and I need that reminder all the time. Sometimes I look for something specific in the distance, but I am missing a whole new beautiful thing that is right before me. Sometimes, it is as small as a sprout, and so we need to lean in close so that we can see.

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple.” Psalm 27:4

Hold fast to His Word. Lean in. Enjoy life with the Father in the middle of the valley or the peak of the mountain. He is nearer than you think.

Come, Lord. We need you.

When your head is in the clouds…

I wonder about the clouds.  They glide across the sky so gracefully, slowly changing the light we see on the earth.  They change shapes constantly.  Their color sometimes is blue, gray, and white.

The Sun loves them.

Through the clouds, the rays can shine in their brilliance, reflecting off of rain drops, outlining them in blinding bright yellow.  Though some days the sky is clear of clouds, and these days are no doubt lovely, the days that clouds are scattered in the sky are truly the sky’s most beautiful stage.  The clouds display the glory of the Sun in the most beautiful way.  The Sun brings out the most beautiful colors in the clouds,  neon orange, pink, and purple.

It’s truly beautiful when you think about it, isn’t it?  By itself, the Sun is remarkable and majestic.  It is life-giving, and warms our Earth perfectly.  We see its benefits daily.  But the best way that we really see the Sun’s direct beauty on this earth is the way it shines through the clouds.

In this relationship, I see God and us in our weaknesses.  Through our weakness, God shines all the more.  Because of Christ, He shines through our weaknesses, displaying his might and splendor to everyone who sees.

When we hide behind our weakness, it is like the sky is full of clouds and God’s beauty is sometimes hard to see.  Sometimes it takes that release, the emptying of the clouds, the release of a tight grip to see God and to feel His warmth.  The rain pours and pours and it seems dreary at the time.  But after the release, after the rain, God’s light shines all the more.

The most brilliant and beautiful skies and sunsets I have seen have been after rainy days.  Clouds are still in the sky.  The sky is not flawless.  The clouds are not gone.  They are there, waiting for the Sun to exalt them in their weakness.

The clouds know the brilliance of the Sun.  They know its power and its control of this universe.  They know that without the Sun making water evaporate into the atmosphere, they couldn’t exist.

I have seen God shine the brightest in people who have admitted their weakness in the middle of it all because in that weakness, we know that God truly is our life and our strength, and we only exist because of Him and we can only “go on” because of Him.

God knows every drop that makes up the clouds.  He knows exactly where they came from.  He knows that sometimes they connect with other weakness and cause us blindness.

At some point, though, he is there to remind us.  He is there to redirect us.  Sometimes it is through His Word.  Sometimes it is through His Spirit.  Sometimes it is through His people.

When your head is in the clouds, let the rain fall.  Loosen your grip and let God’s glory reach to every crack and crevice.  He is present in the doubt.  He is present in the confusion.  He is present in the fire.  He is present in the change.  He is present in the things that feel too big.  He is present when we can’t seem to measure up.  He is present, ready to bring redemption, ready to display His glory.

God doesn’t want a flawless sky.  He wants you, weakness and all.

May we not get stuck in the clouds, friends.  May we remember our Maker and Savior.  May we see God’s glory, and may others see His glory in us.

He is the source of beauty and redemption. His redemption is never lacking.  He is always enough.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;  the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”

-Psalm 19: 1-2

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s  power may rest on me.  That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12-9-10

Testing and the Pivotal Moments

Well teachers, testing week is here in TN. This means a lot of things. It means this school year is coming to an end. It means summer is near. It means that soon you will say goodbye to the faces that walked through your door every day. It means that you will soon do all of those “end of the year” things and no doubt, the kids will be outside of their minds… and let’s face it, you probably will be too- if you have not arrived already.

A lot of people say that this “testing week” or now shall we say “testing weeks” are the culmination of all of our work this year. It is the time for kids to show what they’ve learned. It is the pivotal moment of the year.

But the truth in the heart of education is that the real pivotal moments do not at all happen during the weeks of testing. No, they happen pretty much every day besides testing days.

The truth is that every moment that a child learns a new letter, a new sound, a new word, a new operation. That moment that a child makes a connection with an author or character in a book they’re reading. That moment that a child sees you stand up for them and feel loved. That moment that a child laughs in your class and you laugh with them and soon enough the whole class is laughing. That moment that children celebrate each other’s successes and encourage each other in their failures. That moment that a child comes completely out of their shell because they can hear you clearly for the first time. That moment when a child who struggles to get the right answer, gets it and the whole class cheers him on. That moment when a child connects history to the present and is thankful to go to school with a friend who has a different skin color. That moment when a child passes their multiplication quiz they’ve been stuck on for weeks. That moment when a child helps another child up on the soccer field. That moment when a child makes a connection with a story in the Bible and tells you the whole story. That moment when a child no longer says, “I can’t do it,” but says, “I will try!” That moment when a child tells you they are getting baptized over the weekend. That moment that a child looks at a picture of the planets and says, “Wow, God did that?”

These moments when they make connections between all the facets of their lives and hearts. These moments when they connect with their friends in simple but truly deep ways. These moments when they see you love and care for them deeply…

Friends, these are the pivotal moments that we think back on when we reflect on our year. We don’t remember that child’s test score. We don’t remember the strategies they use on the test. We remember and treasure the moments of learning that fill each school day. This is why we teach.

We do not teach to test. We teach to children. We teach the babies of parents. We teach children of God. We have been entrusted with them for this whole year.

Over the next few weeks your kids will take long and hard tests. But some of them will also have hard things still going on at home. Some of them will still struggle with learning disabilities. Some of them are facing things that are scary in their lives. Some of them have cried in your embrace because their life is just too hard for them to hold in any longer.

Some of those babies will be accountants, marketers, counselors, janitors, business owners, athletes, waitresses, policemen, nurses, teachers, and preachers. Keep helping them become who they were meant to be. Don’t get caught up in the testing funk. Keep teaching kids. Keep making learning fun. Keep making them laugh. Keep teaching them about the world around them. Keep cheering them on. Keep challenging them. Keep showing them that they can be successful even if it’s not how the state defines it.

The pivotal moments fill our days up. This test does not define you as a teacher and does not define your kids as students. The state will never know just how much your kids have grown this year. And that’s okay.

I cannot help but to share the successes and “aha!” moments of my kids because it fills my heart with overflowing gratitude and joy.

But I want to hear your pivotal moments! Without sharing names please feel free to comment one of your favorite pivotal moments from this year! Please share your pivotal moments with other teachers because it is in these things that we celebrate and rejoice!

Let’s make it our goal to talk about these more than we talk about testing these next few weeks!! Wahoo! Let’s go!