The Bell Ringer

red bucket (2)

We heard the bell ringing across the parking lot before we saw the red bucket and the Santa-capped volunteer sitting in front of Walmart. My son knows the drill. His chubby fingers lifted towards me.

“Money, Momma?”

I smiled and sighed inwardly, reaching into my purse to scrape for loose change. I had already given out most of it to other bell ringers throughout the past week. Still, I was proud of my little guy who loved to drop change into the charity collections. Give to the poor, pat yourself on the back for being a good human…all that jazz.

“I don’t have much, buddy.”

His lips puckered into a frown. “Money.”

I dropped a splattering of pennies, dimes and a nickel into his outstretched palm, pausing a moment to remove the Lego snatched in my quick sweep of purse plucking. “We have to hurry though, bud. We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.”

“Okay. Bucket?”

“Yes. You can take the money to the red bucket.”

He happily skipped forward as my mind scanned the list of items on my shopping list. Wrapping paper, gift sacks, milk, eggs, sugar, caffeine in all forms—

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing?”

I glanced up to see my son wasn’t interested in the bucket at all, but in the matronly bell ringer sitting beside the bucket drop. Her ebony face was wreathed in a wide, warm smile. Nate was grinning at her.

“Money!” nate 2015

He opened his fist and showed her his treasure.

“Yep. You got a whole handful, big boy. Put it right in that bucket.” She cackled with delighted as he struggled to get the coins to fall into the narrow slot. Looking back at me, she winked. “He’s got a bit a silver on his teeth, don’t he?”

She must have seen the two silver caps on the bottom of his front teeth. I smiled. “Yes, ma’am. He’s so cool, he’s four and already has a grill.”

Throwing back her head, she laughed loud and long before sobering. “Reminds of my own boy when he was that age.”

“Oh? How old is he now?”

Her eyes misted into wistfulness. “He’s grown but,” she swallowed hard, “he’s bad sick. He’s got a disease that’s slowly killing him. He’s had surgery after surgery.” She looked up at me. A glossy sheen covered her large eyes. “Doctors aren’t sure if he’s gonna make it or not.”

Suddenly, my urgent to-do list and oh-so-important schedule didn’t mean much. I reached for her hand and squeezed. “How can I pray for you today?”

holding hands_unsplashWe sat outside chatting for long moments, covering her son and family in prayer. Before we left, Nate gave her a hug around the neck. She laughed with delight and offered him a candy cane in return.

Once again, my son reminded me of a beautiful truth. We departed, and although her bucket wasn’t full, my heart was.

Jesus didn’t come to redeem our to-do lists. He doesn’t care about how much money we drop into buckets for our own feeble “atta boys”. He died for people. The best way we can honor Him this season, and every day, is to let that same Love, His love, spill from our hearts and splash onto the needy and broken lives around us. Sometimes those lives might not be full of sweet grace like our little bell ringer. Sometimes they might be a cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. That’s okay. Scrooges need Jesus and love too. to do list_unsplash

“How can I pray for you?” is a little question that yields tremendous results. Probably far greater results than checking off our to-do lists ever will. Let’s focus on loving people and not the need to-do. God’s agenda is always far greater than our own.

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Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.’” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

The Power of Pronouns

Last year I took a fascinating class at the national American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was taught by Carrie Stuart Parks, an author and forensic artist and was titled “Don’t Lie to Me”. The premise of the class was how language can be an identifier to recognize deception. When I realized I was sitting next to a bonafide FBI agent who was absorbing the information to teach to new recruits, I admit I felt a little thrill. lies

I’m learning the same stuff FBI agents know.

Coolness.

One thing Mrs. Parks brought out was the importance of pronouns. Honest people take ownership for their actions and feelings. “I came home at 6:30. I threw in a load of laundry and then took a shower.” People who have something to hide (or don’t want to admit to something), either change “I” for “you” or omit pronouns altogether. If asked about his evening, a deceptive person might say, “I guess I came home around six or so. You know you’re tired if you come right in, take a shower and go to bed.” Notice the difference? Not quite as direct. A little less ownership is involved.

These subtle signs are called language bumps.

pronouns“Consider this statement by a husband who claimed his wife was killed accidentally: ‘I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.’ ” (http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294971184) Notice how he dropped the use of “I” when it came down to accountability. He doesn’t want to hold the blame. Whether it was because he couldn’t deal emotionally with his guilt, or whether something more nefarious was at play, this guy inadvertently distances himself from admitting he is the one who squeezed the trigger.

What am I getting at here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words, of speech, of our tongues to heal or destroy. Just as lack of pronouns can signal deception, I think they can also inadvertently cheapen affection. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of typing, “Praying for you” to friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. But how much better would it be if I were to add the simple pronoun “I”?

“I’m praying for you” is far sweeter than “Praying”.
“I’m lifting you up to our Father” is so much stronger than “Hugs”.

“I love you” is infinitely deeper than “love ya”.

See what I mean?

love of Jesus crossI want to be authentic. I want to take ownership of my emotions, my motives and treatment of people. I want to love them the way Jesus does. He never shies away from loving with complete abandon. He displays His affection with lavish, scandalous splashes of delight.

Speak life. Own your emotions. Love like Jesus. You’ll find your words will be a healing balm to more people than you could ever imagine.

 

The 30 Day Attitude Challenge

Words are powerful. They can build up a life through language doused in love, or they can cut a life down like a scythe slicing through brittle grass.

When I recently asked my oldest daughter what she loved most about her two best friends at school, she replied, “I’ve never heard either of them said a bad word about anyone. Ever. They are always kind. Not just to people’s faces, but all the time. It’s hard not to love being around girls like that.”

gossip

Her reflection caused me to evaluate my own life. Jesus told us what comes from our mouth is an overflow from our heart. (Luke 6:45) If I say ugly words about someone, it’s because I have an ugly heart. And this doesn’t just have to be ‘mean’ words. It can be any form of backbiting: the times we gossip about someone (whether the information is true or not), every time we aren’t honest with a person to her face but tell everyone else how much her behavior annoys us, talking to our closest friends about the ‘problem person’ in our life, or however we may try to justify it. We can say we’re ‘venting’, but backbiting is the result either way. Worse yet are the moments we actually share a juicy tidbit about someone and thinly wrap it in the disguise of a prayer request.

Our words should bring life, and only life.

“Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].” ~Ephesians 4:29

I’ve been keeping a mental note of how often I complain about people who irritate me, whether it be the bad driver in traffic or people I tend to think of as daily “thorns in the flesh”. I didn’t like what I saw, so I spent a day purposefully focusing on using my words only to encourage and uplift. I refused to be drawn into any negative talk about others, gossip or the like. The change in my attitude was amazing.

proverbs 18 21As I’ve continued to discard complaining in my life, I see God softening the hard edges of hearts around me when I respond with gentleness, instead of feeding the monster of negativity. (Instead of being the person folks would come to so they could ‘vent’, I became the person who flipped the conversation and said, “So how can I pray for you in this situation?” Remember, gossips can’t do much damage unless they have a listening ear.)

We’re going into November, the month of gratitude. Social media is usually flooded with 30 day gratitude challenges and posts but I’d like to offer up a different kind of challenge. A 30 day Attitude challenge. No complaining or speaking poorly of others, no matter how badly your nerves are frayed. No yelling at drivers in rush hour traffic. No griping about people during Black Friday shopping. No gossip, venting or negativity. Only love.

You might be as surprised as I was by the amount of negativity creeping into your day. Speak life. Speak love. Are you willing to take the 30 day Attitude Challenge?

Las Vegas and God

As I watched the footage of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, my heart ripped a little further. Senseless. I can’t understand the hate that would fill a mind and heart so completely that they would shoot into a crowd of happy, oblivious people. Not just one shot, not two, but over and over and over again. vegas shooting

My chest aches and my throat swells as I relive the terror captured on screen.

No sooner had I posted my condolences and prayers then I saw it. Wave after wave of posts along these lines…

“It’s Sin City. Sin always exacts a price.”

“This is what happens when we take God from our land.”

On and on they went. My grief soon turned to anger. Why? Because such sentiments indirectly assign the blame to God instead of where it belongs…in the hands of a cowardly murderer.

Satan is the great accuser. Not only does he accuse us before God, but he accuses God before us. We are the reason for the hate and violence in this world. We are the reason cancer and war and disease exists. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey, they flung the human race onto a collision course of chaos and destruction. And where chaos reigns, it’s hard to distinguish the still, small voice of Truth amid the screams of panic.

Jesus loved you, loved me so much He willingly let Himself be stripped, whipped, beaten and crucified to die for the very sins we wallow in. He died for you and me. He died for those who attended the concert. He died for Jason Aldean. He died for the shooter. He paid the price for any who are willing to come to Him. Such love is incomprehensible.

We have had murderers from the beginning. (All the way back to Cain, in fact.) To lay the demonic, evil actions of a psychopath at the nail-scarred feet of the Savior must grieve His heart. I know it shreds mine.

In the face of tragedy, a plethora of thoughts and comments will abound. Things like, “This is terrible, but good will come from this.” Sometimes that’s true, although we often wonder what kind of good can possibly be birthed from something so crushing, something so horribly evil. A wise pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro challenged us yesterday.

“Perhaps, instead of looking for the good when tragedy strikes, we should focus on looking for God.”

Those are words to cling to. Search for God. As we do that, our attitudes will change. The same heart that climbed on that cross to give His life for a world of uncaring people will shape our hearts to be like His. Bitterness and vengeance will dissipate. Peace will replace chaos. Hope will replace anger. Love will replace hate.

Don’t look for the good that might come. Look for God.

Give Way

While in Great Britain, I noted many peculiarities in speech and customs different from my own—the use of a “water closet” instead of a restroom, tea rooms on every corner instead of Starbucks (although I did find a few of those too), cornish pastyCornish pasties instead of sandwiches, and my favorite…the moment a bakery worker stared at me in utter confusion when I ordered a “cocoa” instead of a “hot chocolate”.

When he finally realized what I meant, he slapped his knee and belted out a booming laugh.

“A cocoa, says she? Funny word for a chocolate, that. You Americans are such fun.”

When my order was ready, he gave it to me with a bow and a wink.

“Your cocoa, miss.”

I grinned and tipped my head. “I’m sure it’s the best hot chocolate I shall ever enjoy.”

We parted as friends.

Colloquialisms are fun, and there was one sign in Great Britain I admit I prefer over its American counterpart. Instead of the yellow “Yield” signs that pepper our roadways, the British counterpart reads like this: “Give Way”.

give way 2

Give way. It has a much different connotation than “yield”, doesn’t it? When I think of “yield”, I think of being temporarily inconvenienced, forced to slow down but without much need to sacrifice on my part. “Give Way”, on the other hand, conjures up images of putting down my own wishes and desires so another may have them instead.

Many in our tour group noticed the road sign. One wise lady named Joyce observed, “I want a picture of their ‘Give Way’ signs to put on my refrigerator. It’s such a great reminder. Give way to God today.”

give wayI love that. Give way to God’s plans over my own, especially when mine are comfortable. Give way to the unexpected, even when it rattles my well-laid plans. Give way to seeking the presence of Jesus instead of busyness. Give way to sacrificial love instead of anger, compassion instead of bitterness, forgiveness instead of revenge. Give way to Love. Die to myself and give way to Jesus.

What a great way to live…no matter where you live.

What I Carried Back from the United Kingdom: Angeles

united kingdom 2I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.

However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.

I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town,  a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.

I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.homeless man

A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.

His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.

As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.

“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”

dirty fingersI dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”

“God bless you too.”

I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.

“Yes, me love?”

“May I ask you something, sir?”

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Angeles, me love.”

“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”

I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.

“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”

He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.

Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”

I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”

We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.

“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”

I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”

king james oxfordAs our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22

“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18

Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.

In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.

Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.

lee abbey

Mouths and Hearts

Want to know what a person is like? I mean, what their real, true character is inside? Pay attention to what they say. More specifically, how they talk about others. lips heart

My oldest daughter recently became friends with two girls in her new school. Right from the beginning, they seemed to hit it off and became inseparable. I was soon peppered with stories like, “We had so much fun in volleyball…”, or “You’ll never guess how hard we laughed at lunch.” When I asked my daughter what it was that she loved about her two new friends, she paused for a moment before answering.

“You know, in the all the time we’ve spent together over the past few weeks, I’ve never heard them say one bad thing about anyone. Not one word. They are always positive. Always kind. Always encouraging. Not only that, when we are in chapel, they are fully engaged in the worship service. They aren’t squirming or whispering like some of the kids. They are too busy praising God to be distracted.”

Jesus said, The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45 NASB)

exploding soda

What spills from our lips tells the world what is bubbling inside, just like an exploding bottle of soda.

As my pastor often says, a potty mouth is a sign of a potty heart. Likewise, a complaining mouth is the sign of an ungrateful heart, and a mouth who constantly criticizes is the sign of a heart who doesn’t love people as he ought.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).” ~James 1:26

My friend recently posted this on her social media page and I thought it was a beautiful challenge.

stop complaining

The opposite of complaining is gratitude. The opposite of criticism is love. Love for people who are struggling along, just like we are. One of the best ways to use our lips to build each other up is to surround ourselves with friends who do the same.

1 corinthians 15 33

Speaking for myself, I need to do better but I should not make the mistake of patching the symptom and missing the illness. The answer is not found in my feeble attempts to muzzle my mouth or control hasty words flung during frazzled days. The issue is always found in the heart.

To have a mouth change requires a heart change. When we love Jesus more and yield ourselves to Him, everything else falls into place.

 

Game-Changing Prayers

What is the most under-utilized arsenal within the armor of God? The Breastplate of Righteousness? The Helmet of Salvation? Shoes of Peace? The Belt of Truth? The Sword of the Spirit or the Shield of Faith? All of these are critically important, and if you lack one you intrinsically hurt the effectiveness of the others. Hang with me, because this is a bit of Taraology here, but I tend to think the piece of equipment we most often dismiss is the one Paul tacks on at the end of Ephesians 6:18.

“Pray at all times…” ephesians 6 18

I know. We’ve heard it until it has lost its effectiveness. Pray and read your Bible. Read your Bible and pray. Why do you think pastors and leaders urge us to do it until they are blue in the face? Because these two things are our life lines to God. They are the game changers, yet we treat them as a chore in our spiritual checklist.

We tend to use prayer for the “heal the sick, help my children follow you, restore, guide, provide” kinds of situations. Those are awesome things to pray for and about. Sometimes, though, I think we should dig a little deeper. Perhaps we have resigned ourselves to the way things ‘just are’ before we have ever prayed about them. Let me give you a couple of examples.

A dear friend of mine told me how much she struggled after she was saved with the kind of music she listened to. She loved Jesus, loved reading her Bible and attending church but had listened to rock and roll all her life. That was what she connected to, despite the dark lyrics contained in many of the songs. She tried listening to Christian music and found it to be dull and vanilla. worshipThe songs all sounded the same, the melodies and chord progressions unimaginative and it didn’t help that the stations kept playing the same thirty tunes over and over again. (To be honest, I’ve frequently heard this same criticism from seasoned believers.) Instead of throwing up her hands and saying, “I’m just not into Christian music,” my friend prayed fervently that God would give her a deep love for Christian music. She continued to listen to the Christian radio stations and over the period of a few months, she fell passionately in love with it. When she tried to listen to some rock not long after, she said she felt disgusted and wondered why on earth she ever liked it in the first place.

Another woman was struggling with feelings of intimacy towards her husband. With the passing of time, their marriage (from her perspective) had grown cool in the romance department. Instead of growing bitter, or worse yet, looking for fulfillment from someone else, this wise woman prayed to God that she would once again thrill to her husband’s touch. God restored the intimacy of their marriage in profound and beautiful ways. She says they have never been happier.

Here’s a little story from my own life…

The first time I went to sing in prison, I was terrified. I almost turned the car around three times and headed back home. I’ll never forget my white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, or the moment I pulled off the road trying to breathe.

“Lord, I’m not sure I can do this. I’m afraid.” prison bars

He pressed a directive into my heart so simple, but it has changed everything.

“Ask me to take the fear away.” And that’s what I did.

For a year my daily prayer was, “Lord, make me fearless. I want to be bold in Your strength but never my own. Take every ounce of fear away and fill me with joy instead.”

There’s not much that can rattle me these days and it’s all because of Him. Stepping into a prison is no different than going to the mailbox now. (To be honest, I see much scarier stuff in Walmart.) planet walmart

If you’re struggling with obeying God because of fear, perhaps you should ask Him to take your fear away. Fear and love cannot coexist.

Don’t be afraid to pray “game-changing” prayers. Pray for those things you know align with God’s will. Pray believing He can do all He says and more.

Nothing is too big for Him.

Lessons from the Water Park: What is Agape Love?

I blinked against the bright sunshine as happy children squealed around me. Magic Springs was full this particular afternoon. Full of hyped-up children and exhausted parents. Close to fifty little ankle biters scurried around me at the splash pad. Water sprayed in every direction and the scent of chlorine filled my nose. My own little guy had climbed up the stairs and gleefully gone down the slide at least seventy-two times and showed no signs of wearing out.

magic springs

We were in it for the long haul.

A four year old with big blue eyes caught my attention as he waddled up the stairs in his too-big arm floaties, stopping every now and then to tug up his sagging swim trunks. His parents were standing not far from me. Every now and then he’d glance back to make sure they were still there and greeted them with a toothy grin and a wave. They laughed and waved back. I smiled at his antics.

Five minutes passed when Mr. Floaties strutted by, smiling at me in that twinkly way he had. My amusement turned to alarm when I heard his parents stop him with a furious lecture. Both of them were scowling. Both of them had their hands on their hips looking like they were ready to do battle. What had the little guy done?

“Jesse, you have got to stop it, son! You keep letting everyone go ahead of you in line! It’s absolutely ridiculous. The other boys and girls keep cutting ahead of you and you actually let them do it! What is wrong with you?”

The father rounded on him once the irate mother stopped for breath. “Do you want to grow up and be a wimp? A pushover? Because that’s what will happen if you keep letting everyone go in front of you. Come on, son. Man up!”

spankyLittle Jesse looked helplessly between them and held up his hands in confusion. “I was just trying to be nice.”

The gesture reminded me of Spanky from Little Rascals. There was nothing cute about his parents reaction, however.

The mother frowned. “You get back up there and be tough.”

Minutes later, the parents rewarded little Jesse with a high five when he proudly pushed another child out of his way so he could take his turn on the slide.

I had to turn away. Is this what we’ve come to? Scrap and claw for every inch of space? Refuse an act of consideration in order to ‘man up’ at the age of four? Condemn a child for showing kindness?

Don’t get me wrong. As someone who struggles with people pleasing, I get it. I have a child who battles the same issues…a child who struggles to let her voice be heard, to establish boundaries and stick with them. I know. I hear, but God forgive me if I ever use the need to set boundaries as an excuse to treat people with anything less than kindness and agape love.

Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” is more than just a nice little tune. It’s a challenge. Fruit of the Spirit on display to point hurting, broken people to Jesus. That is the goal…not ensuring our girls are the toughest or our boys are the manliest.

We are so worried about our children’s ACT scores and SATs, their future job markets and sports trophies, being tough and establishing boundaries, giving them a well-rounded childhood and opportunities, but how often do we see parents striving to make their children more loving? Sympathetic and empathetic? More concerned about showing agape love than they are about themselves?

john 13 34

Agape love is action. It’s serving someone else despite our own feelings. It’s laying down our wants and needs and giving our resources to help someone else instead. Emotion may not even accompany agape love, but it’s doing the right thing because it’s what Jesus asked us to do. Yes, it can be difficult, but Jesus Himself left us the perfect example.

Think about this: on the very night He was betrayed, He knelt, humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet. You know, the guys who claimed to be his friends and in a few short hours would all run away, saying they never knew Him. His best friends, closest allies and confidantes would abandon Him to face death alone. Worse yet, Jesus knew they would flee, yet He chose to love and serve them anyway.

Let’s put it in another context. Here’s agape love: You hear your neighbors are about to turn you into the police for a crime you didn’t commit, but you decide to mow their lawn and wash their car anyway.

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Yeah. Agape love is powerful. That’s what this world needs more of. That’s what makes real men and women. Sacrificial love.

More than anything else, we need to be funneling the majority of our prayer and energy into molding our children to fall in love with Jesus. When they have a deep, abiding relationship with Him, they’ll learn to love like He does. Love like that transforms. It can’t help but be noticed. It turns the world upside down.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good goal for us too.