The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.

When Christmas Isn’t Merry or Bright

Mom’s snowflakes and a great-grandaughter who will have one for her tree someday.

I love the holidays. The little girl in me thinks the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet the big girl also knows the dark side of the holidays. Busyness. Stress. Greed. Sadness.

Yes, for many the most wonderful time of the year is hard.

Last week I was missing my parents. Mom and Dad loved Christmas. Even though money was always tight, they found ways to make it fun.  Josh, my oldest, fried our turkeys this year — and I watched through tears, remembering all the years Daddy perfectly carved our birds, insuring the light and dark meats didn’t touch on the platter. I was especially moved when my grandchildren started hanging the crocheted stars Mom tediously and lovingly made for our tree over twenty years ago when my kids were all little. One day I want each of My People to have one for their trees.

For years Christmas was hard on my sister because the man with whom she planned to spend the rest of her life left her with two young kids and she didn’t know how she would afford gifts. Christmas was sad for Benny as a teen because his 6-year-old sister died of leukemia the week before Christmas. An infertile friend dealt with the pain of not having a little one to share the holidays with year after year as she received yet more cute pictures of families in matching Christmas outfits. A friend in her 40’s recently admitted she has given up the hope that she’ll ever have a  husband with whom she can share the wonder and romance of Christmas. Another friend is worried that tension over the past year will result in not having happy holidays with her divided extended family. A grandmother I spoke with recently is sad because she won’t see her grandchildren for Christmas this year…again. And yet another close friend is facing the painful fact that this may be her last Christmas due to an ongoing battle with cancer.

Dad would have really enjoyed munching on this turkey as he carved it.

Are the holidays challenging for you? Does busyness, financial stress or sadness tempt you with anxious, sad thoughts about the coming weeks? Are you lonely? Isolated from those you would love to see during the holidays because you can’t afford to make the trip? Worried about how family times will go because people aren’t getting along? Wishing you had a special friend or little ones to shop for?

Honestly, I don’t have anything much to say except I understand and you’re not alone. A simple google search will let you see how prevalent holiday depression and sadness are. The coming of Jesus Christ was veiled in turmoil and perplexity then and we still live in a fallen world with broken people like you and me. This Christmas, like the very first one and every one since then, will be a mixture of joy and suffering for all who are willing to admit it.

My prayer is that even if this Christmas isn’t all merry and bright for you, it will be filled with an awareness of the love and nearness of God. He is Immanuel, God with us. God with you. In the midst of your worries or sadness or loneliness or stress He is near. He came then to live a sinless life to make a way for you to be forgiven. He’s here now, dwelling in you, to provide abiding assurance that your circumstances, though hard, are unmatched by His unwavering commitment to empower you to persevere. Because He came you can make it through this Christmas with joy in the midst of sadness or uncertainty.

Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord.

Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as men with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!


Resurrection Cookies

For those of you who have small children or grandchildren nearby, I came across a wonderful idea for communicating the gospel to kids in preparation for Easter.  I look forward to doing this with some of my Little People this weekend.

1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
ziplock bag
wooden spoon(s)
Prior to mixing anything: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Put the pecans in the ziplock bag and have children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Read John 19:1-3 and explain that after Jesus was arrested, he was beaten by the Romans soldiers.
  • Have each child smell the vinegar, then put 1 tsp into a mixing bowl. Read John 19:28-30 and explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink.
  • Add egg whites to vinegar. Throughout history, eggs represent new life. Read John 10:10-11 and explain that Jesus gave his life to give us new life.
  • Sprinkle salt into each child’s hand, asking them to taste it. Then throw a pinch in the bowl.  Read Luke 23:27 and explain that this represents the tears Jesus’ disciples cried.  It also represents the bitterness of our sins.  Ask why sin is bitter and wrong?
  • Draw to the kid’s attention that the ingredients so far haven’t been very tasty.
  • Then add 1 cup sugar.  Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Explain that the sweet part of the story is that Jesus died because of how much he loves us.
  • Beat with mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3 and explain that the color white represents how God sees us when we become Christians and our hearts have been forgiven and cleansed by Jesus.
  • Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Read Matthew 27:57-60 and explain that each “cookie” represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.
  • Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape to “seal” the oven door. Read Matthew 27:65-66 and explain that when Jesus was put in the tomb, the entrance was sealed. Jesus’ tomb was sealed. 
  • Tell the children the project is over.  When they ask when the cookies will be done, tell them they have to stay in the oven all the way till tomorrow. Ask if they are sad or disappointed that you will have to leave the cookies there in the oven. Read John 16: 20 and 22 and  explain that Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.
  • The next morning, or much later that day (Easter morning is perfect) open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! Read Matthew 28:1-9 and explain that on the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. 
Easter blessings to you and yours!