Circled in Grace

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I’m one of the lucky ones. Or since I don’t really believe in luck I’ll use the word blessed. I have heard over and over again the story of when I was born. How my Mom was visiting her sister and that particular day she just had to go shopping in San Francisco. And how that night she went into labor 3 months early. She told me how scared she was, how unprepared they all were.

How if she hadn’t been close to Stanford Hospital that weekend I might not have made it. 

I have heard my survival story over and over; how everyone prayed for me as I fought for strength, all 3 pounds of me in that little incubator for weeks and weeks. I have heard how worried my Grandparents were. Maybe they were thinking of their little Annie who they lost when she was four. I was anticipated……wanted…..sought after. What a gift.

The most important phrases that my parents sewed into the fabric of my life early on were “I love you” and “You are a survivor.” Sometimes we don’t realize the power of our words. Good, affirming words spoken over us when are very small will be carried over all though our life, and so will destructive, wounding ones. 

They believed I had strength, that I was a survivor, and as a result I believed it too. That one phrase has helped me get through all the tough times in my life, because when someone believes in you, you give yourself permission to do the same.

The best way we can value our kids (and even each other) is by telling them how happy we were that they were born. And how happy we still are by celebrating their life in all the little everyday ways. Tell them about how the world outside stopped when they saw you for the first time. Give them a place of importance by telling them what you observed and remembered about them as they were growing up. Most of all, speak words that bring life. Words that make them bloom.

But over and above everything I said up to this point, you need to know that even if it seems no one cared or took notice of the day you were born, God did. In fact, let me take it back even a little further than that. God Himself goes as far as saying that before you were even born, He saw you.

Our life is circled in grace friends. Double circled and outlined in red. There is a star by your name. God has highlighted us in grace. If our life were a book, God would highlight and dog-ear every page. We matter that much.

If your loved one’s voice doesn’t tug at your heart, take a step back and remember when it did. Remember……there is power in remembering too. Remember as far back as God does.

He loved you before you were born, and He will keep loving you beyond your very last breath. Take a step toward the circle of His grace today. I invite you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

Photo: An older picture I took of my niece Lauryn. Her voice makes my heart melt.  

The Best Gift You Can Give

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They watched from a small distance as kids and parents alike ran up with gifts…..little wrapped packages and decorative bags with fancy bows, plates of homeade cookies; all to show their appreciation for what she does for them everyday,  but mostly for who she is to them.

She’s not just the person who drives their school bus, she’s also  their friend. Oh, she makes them mind the rules of the bus, but she also makes it fun. She’s the one who will listen to what they say when it seems everyone else is too busy or doesn’t care.

She makes every ride to school an adventure, some days they’re an airplane, some days a cruise ship, some days she lets them choose. She will tell you all about the rewards and challenges of working with kids of all ages on a daily basis. Sometimes it just about wrenches her heart in two to see what hardships some of “the least of these” go through in their young lives.

He stepped forward first, the boy in the shadows. As one of several foster kids, his life has not been easy. He held up a colored string, on the end of which he had tied a tiny puff ball, the kind you might use to make a craft project. He said, “Miss Elaine, ths is all I have to give you.” It was all she could not to burst into tears right there.

Then the next two gifts, a multi-colored eraser with a slightly used corner and a little pink bouncy ball, the kind you get from the 25 cent machine in the grocery stores. She said, “My Mom says we don’t have any money.” Oh the burdens these kids carry. She hears them all on the way to and from school. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t.

Another child came and presenter her with a bag, in it were two candles. Well, turns out there were supposed to be three but he held onto the third one all day. At the end of the day, he presented her with it. It smelled like sugar cookies. He might have thought of keeping it himself and maybe his conscience made him give it up. Maybe it was his sister who caught him.

These kids teach us what we sometimes forget, that the best thing you can give is sometimes all you have. Jesus is impressed with that. Just like that day in the temple when He saw the widow drop those two lowly coins in the offering box. He looked at His disciples aghast and astounded by her faith and generousity.

Those three humble gifts that are now prominantly placed where they will never be forgotten. In the stable, by the infant King. I hope I will always remember it when I go to place my “excess” in the offering. And most importantly that I remember the most important lesson of all, that He doesn’t need or want my money, He wants my heart.

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What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

The Elusive Elf

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Usually it’s the red and green sprinkles I can no longer find on the shelves. Of course, I could buy them early when I actually see them everywhere but that would be too easy. Instead I ransack my shelves at the last-minute and usually turned up every pastel color in the universe, but nary a red or green in sight. It’s my own fault.

This year it was that pesky “Elf on the Shelf.” A few weeks before Christmas he peered at me from every shelf in every store, peeking down mischievously from the box he was nestled in. Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, Costco, Kohl’s. And I saw him on other people’s Facebook walls. He was everywhere. Of course, I wasn’t looking for him……then.

Then, the other night, Elaine said she wished she would have got one for the kids on her bus. “Well,” I said, up for the adventure, “We’ll just pop into Walgreen’s on the way to the gym and pick one up.” No problem. We made a sweep through the store in our workout wear expecting to pick one up and dash out the door. But nary an elf did we find.

“Let’s try Wal-Mart,” she said. “Surely they couldn’t be out.”

A few sweeps through that store took a while longer. Earlier in the week she had made the mistake of mentioning it to the kids on her bus and each day since they had boarded the bus with their eyes peeled in eager anticipation of finding it. How could she disappoint them now?

The closest thing we found at Wal-Mart was a hard plastic version which was not satisfactory. At this point we were almost ready to find a knockoff version that looked similar. Or maybe a red sock with a face drawn on it. I did however, find some red and green sprinkles which I picked up and put back on the shelf. I wasn’t looking for those, after all.

By this time, going to the gym was out of the question. We were on a quest to find the Elf. Earlier that day we had been to Costco and they had the whole Elf kit, the one that came with the book and the puzzle. But we didn’t want the whole kit, we just wanted that wee little stuffed figurine. After we struck out at Wal-Mart, we decided to cast our net a bit wider and go next door to Kohl’s.

But nary an Elf could be found. He remained absent. I began to feel like he was laughing at us from the top of whatever shelf he might be hiding on. He was now known to us as the “elusive Elf not found on any shelf.” I was beginning to hear a rhyme in my head that ran like a Dr. Seuss book.

We ran here and we ran there, but so far he wasn’t anywhere. Not on the shelf not on the chair. Not anywhere.

As we drove out of the parking lot I said, “We are going to Costco aren’t we?”

“You bet.” She said.

We bought the whole kit and caboodle, the book, puzzle, game and of course the Elf himself. And I got some walnuts which I was too cheap to buy earlier in the day.

And I am happy to say it was well worth it. The first little girl on the bus shrieked as she saw him in his hiding place where he rode part of the route strapped to the top of the first aid kit. It was all great fun. Anytime you make a child happy it’s a good day.

Sometimes it really is the little things to them that mean the most. Knowing someone cares enough to have a little fun along with them makes all the difference in their world. Make a kid smile today, you’ll be glad you did.

For such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

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I walked in the rain

 in Just-spring

Last night I did what I always say I’m gonna do when it rains, I went out and took a walk in it. And it was marvelous. It was almost Holy, a Baptism from the skies. I walked once around the park, the silvery cold drops hitting my skin like mercy. That is what rain in the desert feels like you know. Those who have rain all the time just don’t understand what heaven it is.

I walked past all the dark and shuttered houses, and I heard the drops like music on all the metal carports, God’s percussion.

I kept walking as the rivulets of water started to collect en mass and pour down the middle of the streets. Amidst the stream there was a bubble parade and each one caught the streetlights, otherwise I never would have seen them. They were marching onward and I watched as they gathered, pooled and ran down the middle of the street like they were all-stars in a Mr. Bubble commercial.

My glasses covered in drops, I was looking out on a world transformed as though I were looking through prisms……I was the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. It was like when I was very small and would press my face to the glass when it rained, imagining another world in which everything and everyone were made of diamonds.

I wondered at all the quiet houses. Walking in the rain sounds crazy when you are inside looking out, but when you are actually in it, it seems like the most rational thing to do. Ask any kid. Watch them laugh as they turn their face to the heavens, catching drops. We tell them, come inside you’ll catch your death. When they are really trying to catch life.

I came inside. E was on the couch with the iPad and didn’t look up. She is used to my weird notions. She just smiles and nods when I say I’m gonna go around again. And I did.

On the way home I passed by Mama dove who was snug on top of her nest, where she has been for the past month. She peeked out from between the thorns, totally dry, totally safe……

I was soaked and it was wonderful. It was the perfect way to wash off the workweek.

 “But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
    I would lay my cause before him.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
    miracles that cannot be counted.
He provides rain for the earth;
    he sends water on the countryside.
The lowly he sets on high,
    and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
    so that their hands achieve no success.

Job 5:8-12

photo credit: google images

Prayer for a missing child

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AMBER Alert (missing child) for Arizona
Currently active
Posted 5 minutes ago
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Javidson Mosley (21 months-old)

Last seen Jul 11, 2013 in Tempe, AZ

Vehicle:
1994 Lexus, Maroon, 4 door
Arizona license plate #BCD4654

It came in last night just before we got off work and I was thinking of that again as I left the house this morning. I have said before, I can’t imagine anything worse than knowing your child was out there somewhere in danger. I don’t know how you would focus, act normal, go to work, do anything of any value while they were still out there.

And yet, people go through this reality everyday. They have to get up, go through the motions and in cases where they have more children, they have to look after them, do for them. All the while, thinking of that missing one.

As I left the house I patted Briggs who was sitting on his cat condo, very content after his morning meal. I am always careful about leaving in the dark. They never dart out, but just the same I like to know where they are before I go out that door. I think about the good feeling that gives me, that they are fed, safe, cared for.

Magnify that a gazillion times for kids. And yet, I see them every day in the store, Mom or Dad two aisles over maybe not even wondering where they are. I know, it happens. You get distracted by the others. But it only takes about 30 seconds and the wrong person at the right time.

I wish these parents knew the treasure they had. Little eternal souls they are responsible for. I see parents pick their kids up by jerking them up by the arm and it makes me crazy. Hold them.

Every kid deserves to have loving arms wrapped around them.

I feel for parents today. It’s not an easy world to raise kids in. The world has changed since I was growing up in the sixties. You can argue with me if you want, but I know. I was there. We rode our bikes and walked all over town. My brother and I rode our bikes to school or walked from the time we were in first grade. Other adults looked out for us when our parents weren’t there.

Teachers, principals, crossing guards, and bus drivers were allowed to give hugs. Not any more.

Rules layed down because of sick and twisted people. The new law of our land is fear, not freedom and it makes me sad.

But one thing I know to be true. God knows where that missing child is even if you don’t. Your prayers can reach them and I know another thing. God is always near to the broken-hearted. He will never turn away from a cry for help.

I know, bad things happen everyday. And everyday for the 10 happy endings, there are 20 unhappy ones.

And God is crying too. And there is no sorrow too big for Him to soothe. He lost a boy too once. He knows.

The Bible says that this world will get worse before it gets better. But don’t believe me, look around for yourself. But that doesn’t mean we have to be helpless. That doesn’t mean the fear has to win. Sometimes there comes a time we have to stand together to beat it back.

Darkness always shrinks back from the Light. That’s a law that God put in place and it rules the universe.

That is one thing that will never change.

Lord, I pray today for those whose children are missing. I pray for little Javidson Moseley and whomever is left behind, searching frantically. I pray for all the officers involved, and for a happy resolution. I pray for the grieving and paralyzed heart, the one who is feeling so much pain right now that it hurts to put one foot in front of the other. I pray for anger and thoughts of revenge to be held back and for clear thoughts. Hold them in Your hands today Lord, give them comfort today. Amen.

Photo credit: flickr.com some rights reserved

Walt Stoneburner