Lessons from a Birthday Boy

Yesterday I took my grandson, Issac, out shopping for his 5th birthday. I love to hear Issac talk — he says hilarious things — so I was prepared to ask him several questions.

“Issac,” I began, “tell me about your friends.”

“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re asking me,” he responded. (I love the honesty of children!)

“Well, just start by telling me their names.”

“Their names are Daddy, Mommy, Samuel and Josiah. Josiah is my cute little baby,” he responded. Glad he introduced Granma to his little brother! (Note: Josiah is not a baby at age two, but compared to Issac, who is quite tall for his age and estimated to grow to about 6’10”, he probably seems like a baby.)

My heart warmed that he so quickly named his family as his friends. Yet I quickly remembered our recent family vacation….

Sam (6) and Danae (their 4-year-old cousin) were playing with Issac in a bedroom near the beach house family room. Suddenly we heard loud screams followed by Sam and Issac tumbling from the bedroom in a fight. Just feet from a group of aunts, uncles and grandparents Issac body slammed his older (but smaller) brother onto the carpet to Sam’s screaming protests.  It took three adults to break up the fight and restrain Issac.

How is it that a little boy who just weeks earlier had erupted in anger toward his brother was now listing him as one of his four best friends? I think Issac knows something grown ups like me need to better understand: love covers a multitude of sin.

Last Sunday Issac’s dad, Jesse, preached at Redeemer Church on becoming a Community of Courage. Using the Hebrews 10:19-25 passage about the importance of encouragement (you can listen to the message here) he made the point that while it’s important that we know that God is for us, others also need to know that we are for them. 

“Nobody is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them,” Jesse said. These words have been churning around in my mind since Sunday morning.

Issac understands that just because he beats up his brother for hitting him on the head with a wooden spoon, it doesn’t mean they’re not friends. In his young heart he knows that being brothers means that even if the fighting gets ugly you’ll still love each other. Sam hit his brother because Issac pushed their cousin, Danae. While hitting Issac wasn’t the answer, Jesse rightly commended his son for sticking up for a little girl.

Sam (left) and Issac a few months ago.

Even Sam attacking his brother  — resulting in Issac body slamming him in return — didn’t destroy their brotherly love.

Is there a cherished relationship in your life where fighting, hurtful words,  or anger has tempted you to lack faith that God can repair the damage? Do you find yourself wanting to sin back to protect yourself from the painful attacks of someone you love? Have your own anger and bitterness  caused what you think may be irreparable damage to a relationship you’ve worked hard to build? Have you taken up an offense because someone hurt another person you love?

It’s true. No person is too sinful or immature to handle your faith for them. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait until we got cleaned up to die for us. Rather, He demonstrated His love and faith for us while we were dead in sin; unable to love Him back; ungodly and without hope that we could ever have a relationship with holiness.

We weren’t too sinful or immature to be loved by Him.

Rather than retaliate, He loved. Instead of hitting back, He took strike after blood-producing strike so we wouldn’t have to. His own body was slammed onto the cross so we would never be afraid of His vengeful retaliation.

And because He forever made the way for a holy God and sinful people like you and me to have a loving relationship, we can trust Him to do the lesser thing of helping us have faith for even the most sinful, immature people in our lives.

Perhaps the person you’re thinking of right now has hurt you badly. Reconciliation doesn’t always mean restoration. Sometimes sins can be so heinous that the relationship can’t and shouldn’t ever be the same. But for most of us, that’s not the case. Most of my relational challenges are more like Sam and Issac’s. Normal, every day life happens and hurtful words or actions on my part on someone else’s makes us want to lash back.

Issac and his friends

I was challenged by Issac’s words yesterday. You see, I saw the fight. I sat with Issac back in the bedroom talking him through his angry reaction at his brother until Dad and Mom got back to resolve everything.

I want to help create a community of courage where faith and encouragement flow freely to even the most sinful and immature. After all, that’s what God did for me.

Thanks for your example, Issac. And happy birthday!

The Power of a Signature

What is your signature? It’s your name written in your own characteristic way. A “Signature Collection” is a creation that has the name of the person who endorsed or made it, like a signature dish created by a famous chef or a signature clothing line to which a celebrity adds their name.

Think about it. When you sign something you’re communicating something pretty important. Perhaps you’re saying, “I’ll pay for this; marry this person; perform this service; abide by this contract; purchase this item; loan this money; endorse this product; agree to these terms; name this baby.” A signature is a powerful thing.

About ten years ago I had an interesting dream about signatures. I was lying on my bed in white clothing that was covered with black writing. Somehow in my dream I knew the writing was numerous signatures of people God has brought into my life. Each person had left their unique and characteristic mark on me. And I’m sure I have yet to meet some of them!

I rarely remember my dreams so when I do I reflect on them. Sometimes they mean nothing. But that dream meant something…special. I believe God was reminding me that night that I am the product of the love, example and influence of many people. Nothing I’ve done or accomplished has been the result of mere self-effort. More importantly, who I am is in large part due to the people He has brought into my life. From others I have learned everything I know how to do and lots about who to be.

Daddy taught me to love good music, serve in the church and that being his Princess made me one special little girl. Mom taught me to cook comfort food, laugh, love having people in my home and trust God through the worst of trials.  A second grade teacher gave me a love for reading and my twelfth grade Creative Writing teacher encouraged me to pursue writing. Benny continues to teach me countless important things including to love Bible doctrines I didn’t think I could ever understand and how to patiently love a flawed spouse with consistently gospel-saturated grace. My kids taught me that nothing in the whole world I could have done with the past 35 years of my life could have been more fulfilling than being Mom to seven J’s. My grandchildren are teaching me that leaving a godly legacy for future generations is pretty much the best thing I can do with my senior years. And person after person God has brought into my life has taught me to serve; comfort; teach; encourage; listen intently (or try to!); forgive; care for my home; and endure suffering. 

The older I get the more I realize that truth that God really does “cause all things to work together for good” (Roman 8:28). You see, every signature on my life has been left by a flawed and sinful person like me. Yet even the hardest and most painful things I’ve walked through, some due to the sins of others, have been used by Him to continue the often trying process of making me more like the One whose image I bear. So I can be thankful even for the signatures I would have prevented if I could.

I wish I could contact the signer of every one of those names today to say thank you.  If I could I would say:

  • Thank you for loving me. For making every flawed attempt to care for me — most especially when I wasn’t being lovable.
  • Thank you for being patient with me. For persevering through my own sin-tainted attempts to love you back.
  • Thank you for praying for me during hard times.
  • Thank you for teaching me by your words and example to trust and follow Christ, especially when I was too weary to believe I could.
  • Thank you for making me laugh!
  • Thank you for believing in the power of God to change me and for not holding my sins and weaknesses against me.
  • Thank you for reminding me that God is faithful, good and wise when I had trouble remembering.

All this makes me a Signature Collection! A collection of uniquely gifted people have left their mark on me. In fact, many of you who visit this little blog are among them. A very special thanks to you today.

Of course, there is one signature that was made not with ink but with blood. To You whose red-letter signature was left on a little girl’s life back in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1959, I look forward to looking into Your eyes on That Day to express my gratitude in person. But today, please accept my heartfelt thanks again for taking the wrath I deserved by hanging in my place on the cross. You have changed me forever and your signature is the one for which I am the most grateful.

But to those He has used I want to say thanks.  For everything. The collection of your signatures are forever mine. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you. Someday I hope you know how much your life has affected mine.

A Unusual Party Invitation

I’m sure it’s happened to you. Through text, email or in person someone says, “I need to talk to you about something. When can we chat?”

Does your heart sink a little like mine does? Do you assume this means you’re in trouble for something you don’t realize you did?

Yesterday I talked about how our anxious responses to things are sometimes rooted in past experiences that bring back “that feeling” we had. Due to a series of events that happened in our family some years ago, whenever someone initiated a conversation with us, it was typically because we had messed up. This led to me reacting inwardly to anyone even suggesting that we needed to “talk.” The fact was, we were about to learn something else we had done wrong.

The crazy thing is that those involved in that difficult season of our lives have each asked our forgiveness for the ways things were handled, yet my inward response remains.

I’m having to ask myself if others are tempted to have this same response when I ask to chat with them. Have we gotten to a place as Christians where we’re intentional about talking with others only when there is an “issue” or something we “need” to discuss? Am I one of those people who only reaches out to share my thoughts when there’s a problem?

Imagine what would happen if we started regularly asking to get with people and then showed up with a list of things for which we wanted to thank or encourage them? Or how our relationships would be affected if 9 out of 10 of our comments to or about others were positive?

It reminds me of a party Benny and I threw decades ago. As a young church in the early 80’s, we were attempting to take seriously our biblical mandate to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to one another.  It was refreshing to enjoy the kind of relationships where we could openly pass along areas of needed growth in our lives. I personally benefitted, for example, from hearing what my disrespect of Benny looked like or how harsh tones with my kids affected people.

Along the way we realized, though, that we had been neglecting another biblical command to encourage one another….daily (Hebrews 3:13)! So we had an “Encouragement Party.” Each person was asked to come prepared with prayerfully considered thoughts about what they respected or appreciated about other party-ers. The party went on for hours with people sharing special memories, thanking others in the room for being there for them during rough times or drawing attention to specific areas of growth in their lives. In the midst of laughs and tears, we all left that night more aware of the ways God was changing us than of remaining areas of needed growth.

Last weekend I had an angry reaction at some of my kids for which I had to ask forgiveness. It was one of those situations where past experiences influenced me and before I knew it my prideful heart resulted in angry words. I quickly experienced the gift of conviction and shared my regret with Benny in the car.

In characteristic grace, Benny seized the opportunity to remind me what real “speaking the truth in love” is. (More on that tomorrow.)

“Honey, you’re right,” he began. “You reacted angrily and that invited others to get angry, too. But you don’t typically respond that way. You also quickly recovered and tried to defuse a very tense situation by calmly communicating the need to talk about things later. God helped you and you did a great job there at the end.”

Ahhhhh the joy of timely, specific encouragement. Someone noticed. And he didn’t just notice but he spoke up. He could have added to my conviction and regret by bringing up times I’ve been angry with him or trying to help me see a pattern of angry reactions born out of bitterness or resentment in his heart toward me. He didn’t trivialize my sinful anger, but also drew attention to God’s grace.

I have an idea. Let’s have an Encouragement Party. Can you think of a few people you can take initiative to encourage? We could even make it really fun and say, “I’ve got some things I’d like to share with you. When can we chat? And I want you to know I think you’ll be really blessed by what is on my heart.” If email or Facebook is your preferred way of communicating, imagine how fun it will be for people to open your messages!

If you decide to do this it would be so fun for us to hear how it goes. (You can share your thoughts in the comment section.) I’m gonna give some thought to who I want to reach out to right now!