The Death of a Sponge

Cleaning under the kitchen sink is a dangerous job that should be left to professional bomb detonators.   Just the other day, I found a putrefied sponge that appeared to have been last used during the Carter administration.  It had shriveled into a miniature profile of Alfred Hitchcock, surely an ominous sign that this sponge was something out of the Twilight Zone.  I had heard that sponges can serve as a medium for harmful bacteria or fungi, especially when the sponge is allowed to remain wet.  Bad news for sponges, since they live in the ocean.

The sponge is one of the strangest animals in the sea.  Most sponges permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor, making them closely related to the human couch potato. They sit all day with their only friends, the corals, watching all of the other animals swimming and having fun.  Do the other animals mock them? Do they swim somersaults around the sponges while waving cans of Ajax in front of their faces?  Except sponges don’t even have faces.  They must remain expressionless, trying to even slightly expand their pores.  It must be a relief when a diver finally harvests them and ships them off to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

As I examined the remains of this sponge, I knew there was a lesson in there somewhere, deep within the shriveled pores of this creepy cleaning device.  Why did God create the sponge? I stared at it until I came up with a couple of thoughts.

A.  It is completely pointless to clean the house until all the children have left for college.

B.  How many are your works, O LORD!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24)

C.  The success of SpongeBob SquarePants is further proof that Jesus is returning soon.   Please, Father.  It’s time; let’s end this now.

Somehow, while we were all apparently asleep at the wheel, SpongeBob SquarePants became the hero of the sponge world.  One day someone had too much time on his hands and decided to invent a new cartoon character.  He was probably excited about his creation until network executives canned his idea for SqueegeeBarb RhombusDress.  Instead they put a pair of shorts on a sponge, called him Bob, and made a billion dollars.  That’s it, I thought.  Tomorrow I’m putting a dress on my toilet brush and calling him Ralph.  Then we’ll see what happens.

I know I’m supposed to like SpongeBob, that lovable harbinger of mold and other household germs.   But to me, the eerie life of SpongeBob is a helpful reminder for all of us to soak our kitchen utensils in vinegar before we go to bed.  I decided to chuck the sponge before it burst into song and dance.

At that moment, my children came running down the stairs.  It was hard not to notice; when all three of them run together it sounds like a herd of elephants.  Or a stampede of women during a Christmas Tree Shop sale.

I remembered the old saying, “Children are like sponges.”  I have often thought of this in terms of their education.  A child’s brain can absorb massive amounts of information, but if it is not used, it will wither.

But this day I was thinking about love.

The previous day had not been “fun” parenting.  The kids had been acting up, and I had been much more firm and strict with them than usual.  As I held the withered sponge over the trash can, I understood that children are also like sponges when it comes to love.  They have so much capacity to absorb, but unloved children will shrivel up like a rotting sponge left under the kitchen sink.

I made a command decision to completely change my plans for the day, which is a miracle considering my granitic schedule.  Somewhere at a zoo, someone must have yelled,  “Hey, that leopard just changed his spots!”

I gathered the kids and made my announcement.

“We’re not doing math today.”

The children were so devastated that they broke down in tears.  Then I realized it was tears of joy, accompanied by a 20-float parade and mariachi band.

Instead of their usual math session, each child had to snuggle with me under the afghan as I held them and sang to them.  I told them stories of what they were like as babies.  I told them how much I loved them, and how excited I was for God’s plan for them.  For 45 minutes straight, I edified, encouraged, and poured out blessings. Basically, I filled up their sponge-hearts with as much love as they could hold.

Tomorrow, it’s back to regular math.  But I decided to do this more often (although it may get a little awkward when they’re in college).  After all, Jesus didn’t just talk about love.  His down-and-dirty feet washing session with his disciples had a purpose.

John 13:1c   Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

Jesus poured out his love in every way imaginable, even in death on the cross.  Every drop of blood that dripped was saturated with a savior’s love that never runs dry.  Once we accept that deluge of love, we can then wring some out on others.  How much we choose to give depends on our understanding of how much has been given.

Cleaning under the kitchen sink was a frightening experience from which I will not soon recover.  But I will always be grateful for the lesson I learned from the death of a sponge.

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The Days of Whine and Noses

Certain things are just meant to be together.  Peanut butter and jelly. Kermit and Miss Piggy. Back seats and whining.  I am convinced that car manufacturers actually install a device in the back seats to induce whining and route it through the surround sound system.  For activation, all it takes is the pressure of about thirty pounds.  Amazingly, the vehicle doesn’t even have to be moving to trigger this phenomenon.  If only the imaginary brake in the passenger seat could work as well.

Nothing raises my hackles as quickly as a good whine.  In fact, I didn’t even know I had hackles until I had children.  I thought they were reserved for dogs and chickens, but now I know better.  God designed hackles on the back of a parent’s neck so that we could know when we have reached our limit and need to come to Him for help before we implode.

God first realized the need for hackles when the children of Israel were wandering through the wilderness.  At first, the trip probably seemed like an exciting adventure.  But then they backed out of the driveway and for forty years the vast, barren wasteland echoed with the ancient equivalent of “Are we there yet?” and “Stop touching me!”

When the Israelites complained about the food and begged for some sort of fast food treat, God provided His children with a snack called manna, also known as “the grain of heaven” and “the bread of angels.”  But were they thankful? N-o-o-o-o-o.  They complained like a bunch of disappointed children on Christmas morning.

“What’s this?  A wafer?  Pfffff!  Where’s the beef?”

Suddenly the car came to a grinding halt and God threatened to “come back there.”

Numbers 11:18-20

 18 …’The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.

19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days,

 20 but for a whole month– until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it— because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ‘”

The threat of quail coming out of their nostrils probably brought some radio silence for a few moments.

God truly understands what a parent is going through when a child is whining and complaining.  I witnessed this truth when my kids were recently sick with a cold.  With this illness, my normally happy children gave birth to some sort of internal beast that made Oscar the Grouch seem downright jovial.

Maybe they didn’t have quail coming out of their nostrils, but their noses morphed into faucets of gunk that even the formidable team of Hans Brinker and the Kleenex company couldn’t plug.  The level of whining reached epic proportions and raised my hackles as though hundreds of miniature soldiers were standing at attention on the back of my neck.

At one point I buried my head under my pillow and tried to squelch the toxic combination of constant nose-wiping and whining.  Acting like an ostrich didn’t help, so I tried begging instead.

“God, please.  I can’t deal with this.  I’m going crazy.  Why do they have to be sick like this?  I’m so tired of wiping noses. This whining is unbearable…”

Like the sudden scrape of a needle across a vinyl record, my speech was interrupted when I got smacked in the middle of the forehead by the hand of irony.

Yes, I was whining.  I must have sounded to God exactly how my children sounded to me. The angels were buying their heads under pillows. Worse, I was probably even raising their hackles.

I put up with this for forty years, remember? 

I certainly did not want to be responsible for causing God’s head to implode.  As I bowed my head, I suddenly remembered my wedding vows.

in sickness and in health, for better or for worse

I had pledged these words to my husband, but what about my children?  When everything was going smoothly, it was so easy to focus on my overwhelming love for them.  But add a little tribulation, and I was transported back to the whining wilderness with the children of Israel.

Opening yet another box of Kleenex, I took a deep breath, gathered my little ones, and resumed my position as Royal Nose-Wiper and Whine-Taster.  As I held them close to me, a painful lump formed in my throat, but I knew it wasn’t the beginning of illness.  It was simply the realization that these kids are growing so quickly, and someday I will long for the Days of Whine and Noses.

Insurance for Job

After dealing with various insurance agents all week, I have now come to the conclusion that we should just sell all of our belongings and go live in a tent on a deserted island.  Apparently there are 20,000 to 30,000 islands in the South Pacific, and that’s only because some poor guy got tired of counting.  We could just pick an uninhabited island and show up, although we might land on shore only to be greeted by the Aflac duck, seeking to insure us from the hazards of falling coconuts.

Insurance agents are always concerned about risks, but they never seem to be too worried about the fact that I have three young kids, including two boys who make a team more formidable than a cyclone.  I risk my life every time I turn a corner in our house and delve into an unknown landmine field of toys.

Just last night I was cooking dinner at the stove, when I stepped back onto my four-year-old’s train set.  Even while I feared for my life, I was briefly impressed that PlaySkool trains have even better velocity than Amtrak.  Then again, Amtrak trains don’t rappel you towards the top of a flight of stairs while holding a scalding pot of meatball soup.

Insurance agents are far too worried about an ACT OF GOD, when they should be  more concerned with an ACT OF CHILD.  They are more anxious about the improbability of a random asteroid hitting my house than they are with the very real probability that I could break my leg on a Matchbox car at any moment.

People who lived during biblical times did not have to worry about insurance.  No premiums, no deductibles, no claims.  We know this because there’s no way they would have let Mary, a nine-month pregnant woman, ride on a donkey.

I can just hear the insurance agent harassing Noah for attempting to build the ark.

AGENT:  Let me get this straight; it’s going to rain for forty days and nights, and you have no flood insurance?  You’re in a flood zone, for crying out loud.

NOAH:  Actually, the whole earth is a flood zone right now.

AGENT:  You realize you won’t be able to file a claim when this is all over.

NOAH:  When this is over, you won’t be able to file a claim either.

AGENT:  What’s that supposed to mean?

NOAH:  Oh, nothing.  Was that a raindrop?  Gotta go!

And how about David, about to attack Goliath without any personal liability insurance?

AGENT:  You’re going to attack HIM?  You could get sued!  A crazy guy like that could totally lose his head.

DAVID:  Hey, now there’s an idea…

Then there are some people, like Job, who just seem uninsurable.

Job was a righteous man who once had it all.  He had a huge number of servants and livestock.  His house could have been destroyed by the thousands of sheep and oxen, but he also had ten children, including seven boys.  Not even State Farm would have been there for Job.  Especially not after Satan started inflicting one disaster after another, causing Job to lose his family, his house, and his health.

During this time, Job’s three “friends” came to commiserate and offer their sage advice.  Unfortunately, their advice was about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane.

Bummer, Job.  Guess you should have bought that insurance after all, hahaha.

The only one who was really there for Job through it all was God.

Job 42:10,12

the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had  before…The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.

Excuse me?  Who would take a chance on someone who has already lost everything?

That’s exactly what God did when He decided to sacrifice His son for us.  He gave us free will, knowing the risks involved with our human nature.  Being omniscient, God saw the potential for disaster and wisely set up the very first insurance policy of his own.  Even if everything possible went wrong and every person in the world gave up on us, God has already purchased us through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A true umbrella policy.

Yesterday my four-year-old came to me looking for the “big scissors.”  I didn’t want him to get hurt, so I refused, but he persisted until he wore me down.  After being reminded  never to run with scissors, he agreed and then promptly ran up the stairs, sharp scissors in hand.  In an instant I saw what we must all look like to God.  A bunch of children running with scissors and constantly putting ourselves at risk.

Thankfully, the same God who insured the uninsurable Job has got us all covered.

Dolls Without Heads

In a world with seven billion people, where is everybody?  Between ATM’s, automated customer service, and online shopping, I’m beginning to wonder if the most recent census included computers.   My laptop thinks we’re so chummy it can send me suggestions such as, Oops!  Did you mean… when I misspell something.  I just don’t know if I’m ready for such an intrusive friendship with my HP yet.

I recently had to call our power company to report an outage.  Of course, there was no human on the other end of the phone, just a robotic voice that needed to “ask a few simple questions in order to help.”  Don’t they realize how annoying that is in an emergency?  You reach out to someone for help and comfort, and all you get is a Voice that is about as excited as a professional golf commentator. 

As I answered questions about flickering lights and downed power lines, I realized that regardless of the topic, I had to listen to this detached, unemotional voice.

Is the roof caving in on you right now? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

 <yes>

I’m sorry to hear that. Are squirrels getting electrocuted in full view of your innocent children?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

<yes>

 I’m sorry to hear that.

We seem to have lost the example of Jesus.  He was a man of the people, a man who thrived on relationship.  I imagine that his eyes must have been intense and compelling, the kind that could pierce a person’s soul with love.  Jesus loved without discrimination, and he could even touch lepers without repulsion. Sometimes I don’t even want to touch the ratty dollar bills I get for change at the store.

After learning of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus withdrew to a solitary place.  Like a relentless band of paparazzi, the massive crowds followed their superstar.  This would have been the ideal time for him to set up automated customer service. 

Is your skin falling off?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no. 

<yes>

 I’m sorry to hear that.

Even when Jesus was sad, tired, or hungry, he never disconnected himself from his fellow man.

Matthew 14:14

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

This week our family decided to take a leisurely stroll downtown to see the Christmas window displays.  To my surprise, most stores had decorated with class and restraint, avoiding the usual appearance of Christmas in a high-speed blender with no lid.

Everyone was in a hurry, stressed, and ignoring one another.  People were texting and talking on cell phones instead of engaging with those around them. I wondered what happened to that Christmas carol, Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, and on every street corner you’ll hear…silver bells, silver bells…  

Instead, it was Children fighting, people stressing, meeting growl after growl, and on every street corner you’ll hear…angry moms, angry moms…

My reverie was suddenly interrupted by my children’s exclamations:

“Dolls without heads!  Dolls without heads!”

My first thought was how that would be the perfect name for a rock group.  Dolls Without Heads is now headlining at Madison Square Garden.  Opening Act will be  Teddy Bears Without Eyes.   When I turned to discover the source of their despair, I saw headless mannequins in the store window.  I shuddered at the thought that somewhere there must be a giant warehouse full of mannequin heads.  A scary place, where an angry supervisor might actually roar, “Heads are gonna roll!”

My kids were right to be disturbed by this cold, impersonal display.  The faceless representation of the human body provided fitting symbolism for our modern world.  As people hurried by us on the street, I realized that we were being ignored.  To them, we were just more dolls without heads.

It reminded me of the time two men once knocked on my door and wanted to introduce me to Jesus.  “I already know him, and I love him very much,” I responded.  Ignoring my answer, they continued to read from a prepared script.

A couple of days later, I bumped into the same two men on a walk in our neighborhood.  Excited to see fellow Christians, I greeted them warmly.  Out came the script.

“I want to introduce you to Jesus.”  As he continued to read from the script, I knew that he didn’t really see me. He was looking right through me.

And there I stood, a doll without a head.

God formed us to have connections.  Not pseudo-relationships, where we connect via the internet in an attempt to feel popular and accepted.  Real relationships involve genuine caring and sacrifice from the heart. 

It would be impossible for us to give all decapitated mannequins their heads back.  The best thing we can do is to use them as a reminder.  Every time we see one, we can remember Jesus, a man who knew how to connect with people.  A man who could look people in the eyes and give them the integrity and respect they deserved. 

 

Call Me Strongman

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but nicknames can only be surgically removed. William Shakespeare could ask the profound question, “What’s in a name?” because that was back when people could wax philosophical.  Those men in tights liked to ask murky questions, such as “To be or not to be,” and others would salivate in the pool of obscurity.  Nowadays people just wane philosophical, which is why our deepest question is “Got milk?”

Certainly names are meaningful and powerful.  Will Shakespeare had nothing to worry about, since he was known as The Bard.  His nickname sounded cool – on par with The Rock. I bet he would have felt differently if people called him Wee Willie Winkie. 

Even people during biblical times had to suffer with nicknames.  Most people feel sorry for Thomas, who doubted the Lord’s return and will forever be known as Doubting Thomas.  But the Bible tells us that Thomas was also called Didymus.  Sounds like it’s roughly translated “out to lunch,” but the name is punishment enough. 

All of our children have so many nicknames that it’s a wonder they don’t have an identity crisis.  Our four-year-old, Nathaniel, will probably only discover his real name the first time he has to fill out a job application. We have always called him Nate, but he recently rebelled against this nickname and his real name.  His preference?  Strongman – a moniker given by my husband to build self-esteem. 

I first noticed the gravity of this rebellion when he started writing a large “S” on the top of all his papers. If he could manage it, he would probably make himself a cape and wear his underwear on the outside of his clothes. 

One day while we were eating lunch, he became irritated with me for using his real name.

“That’s not my name,” he huffed.  “I’m Strongman.”

“No, that’s your nickname,” I explained.  “Your real name is Nate.”

Actually, his real name is Nathaniel, but I wasn’t going to bog him down with the details. 

“No, Strongman is my real name.  Tiger is my nickname.”

It’s not easy arguing with someone who can’t even reach the sink to spit out his toothpaste.  But foolishness is not bound in the heart of a child only.  Round and round we went, like a couple of exhausted boxers who are so determined to win they can’t even hear the bell.

Finally, I delivered the knockout.

“What do you think Jesus calls you when he prays for you?”

This question stunned both my opponent and myself.  I knew with certainty when the words escaped my lips that Jesus really does pray for us.  What do we think he is doing on the right hand of God, playing Yahtzee? But I had never really thought about the fact that Jesus knows us so intimately that he would even know our nicknames.  What would he call us when he intercedes for us?

I remembered that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter, and he called him both names frequently. 

Luke 22:31,34

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail…

I tell you, Peter…

Jesus still wants to protect all of us from evil, and he prays for us, although you will have to imagine what name he uses for you.  And maybe update the simile.

[Insert name], Satan has asked to crush you like a bag of potato chips.  But I have prayed for you, [insert name], that your faith may not fail.

He’s praying for my faith? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even feel worthy of my Lord speaking my name. Yet when he died on that cross, his blood spoke all of our names loud and clear. I love you, [insert name]!

Now I wondered what the Lord was calling my son when he prayed for him.

Nate was in mid-argument when suddenly his eyes swelled and he grabbed his throat.  He was choking on his popcorn, and the world froze around me.  My blue-eyed angel was silently pleading with me, and I prayed as he writhed in agony.

Before I could even move, the kernel became dislodged, and my heart started beating again.  I was done arguing about names.

Then I smiled as I pictured the Lord during that scary moment.

Father, Nathaniel Hanson is in trouble.  Please heal Nate, and don’t let him die.  I love my Strongman. 

Angel Earplugs at the School of Discord

I read somewhere that the older you get, the fewer brain cells you have.  I’d give you the source, but I’m older now, so I don’t remember. To prove the theory, I recently started my kids in their own family band.  In my stage-mother fantasy world, I was designing adorable costumes and purchasing a Partridge Family bus to tour the country. Then I discovered that the purpose of the elementary school band is to make nails on the chalkboard actually sound soothing. 

I should have known better, since I am an elementary and middle school band survivor. I don’t have the t-shirt to prove it, but I’m sure an inner ear scan would reveal scars on my cochlea.   As a former clarinetist, I look back on my screeching and squawking days with confusion.  1.  How did my parents survive my clarinet practice without locking me in the basement?  2.  Why aren’t school band conductors eligible for a Medal of Honor?

For most of adulthood, I have regretted my choice of instrument.  Certain instruments are just not cool, unless your first name is Kenny and your last name is G. This is a serious matter, for if you do not play the clarinet well, you risk damaging people’s nervous systems. And angering large flocks of animals. 

When King Saul was tormented, he asked David to play music to soothe his soul.  I can only imagine his reaction when David lugged his harp into the room. The harp?  I was hoping for some smooth jazz.

I don’t think David was embarrassed by being a harpist.  He did, however, have some standards. When the Israelites returned the ark of God to Jerusalem with a procession of music and dancing, David wore only a linen ephod as he danced before the Lord. Perhaps a creative way of protesting the geeky marching band uniforms.

Since David could make the harp look cool, I chose to start my kids on the tin whistle. The first thing I noticed was that the last few Psalms request just about everything in the universe to praise the Lord, with a few noticeable exceptions.

Notice what was omitted:

Praise him, ye fourth grade strings section.

Praise him, ye six-year-olds practicing the tuba.

Praise him, ye squeaking clarinets and other annoying woodwinds.

I soon learned that the only way to get three children to play in unison was to get rid of two.  Putting them in separate rooms, I worked with them individually before “band practice.”  Eventually, all three kids actually played a couple of the same notes together at the same time. I daresay it sounded good.  At least good enough for the angels to remove their earplugs.

The band practice helped me understand why God reminds us so many times about harmony in the church. The discord of His family grates on His ears like an elementary school band woodwind section.  We squeak and squawk at each other, failing to produce the beautiful music He deserves to hear.

In the meantime, He endures our rudimentary performances like only a patient and loving parent could.  Rather than rewarding our cacophonous concerts with an ice cream sundae or empty praise, Our Conductor gently reminds us that maybe we need some more practice.

Colossians 3:14

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is [the marching band uniform] love. Love is what binds us all together in harmony.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church.  I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

All it takes to ruin a good piece of music is one poorly played instrument. I didn’t expect my kids to headline a Broadway show, but at the very least I wanted their music to avoid being mistaken for the hyena mating call. 

Is that so much to ask?  God wonders.  Can you at least manage to play a recognizable tune together…and avoid the sudden keeling over of small, furry animals? 

The only way I could help my kids produce decent music together was by having each of them work out their own problems. Those few notes of harmony that they were able to play were not perfect.  But for a brief moment, a pleasing sound popped the bubbles of dissonance, and hope floated into my ears.  A hope for a new song, an opus for the Master.  And a chance for the angels to remove their earplugs.

Jacob and the Last Brownie

A brownie can cause people to do crazy things.  In the scope of history, who knows how many conflicts escalated over a fight for the last brownie.  The Bay of Pigs.  The Cold War.  No one really knows for sure.  

Even in biblical times food caused tension between people, including brothers. Jacob and Esau bargained over lentil stew, and eventually Esau sold his birthright over it.  A conflict over stew is hard to fathom.  If Jacob had the last fudge brownie, then maybe I could understand.

You can see how much more clearly this would read:

Once after Jacob had baked some brownies, Esau came in from the field, famished.  He took one whiff and said to Jacob, “Betty Crocker?”

“No,” replied Jacob.  “Duncan Hines.”

“Chewy?”

 “Double Fudge.  Only one left.”

“Quick,” begged Esau, “Let me have that last brownie.”

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

So Esau swore an oath to him.  He ate the brownie and drank some milk, and then got up and left.  So Esau despised his birthright.

Sibling rivalry can be traced back to Cain and Abel, and it doesn’t take a CSI agent to figure out how that fight ended.  The first brotherhood of all time ended in a murder and an ominous beginning for family relationships. One would hope that the first murder must have been motivated by some grand ideology, but even the Candy Man would have trouble sugarcoating this one. God favored Abel’s meat offering over Cain’s Grains, and Cain flipped his lid.

When you read that morbid record, it chills the bones to think that the first sibling fight was over something so insignificant.  I could understand an argument over land or treasure, but food?  This does not bode well for family gatherings where one member feels compelled to bring the lima bean casserole. 

Our kids fight over the strangest things, from ants to toothpaste caps.  Since ancient times, people have always found things worth fighting for, no matter how mundane.  I have personally witnessed near-maulings at bargain basement sales.  Sometimes there is just no talking common sense into people, no matter how hard we try.

God tried to reason with Cain.

Genesis 4:7

…But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

Cain listened to the pep talk and then promptly left to kill his brother.  That went well.  Dave and I have often held family meetings and given our children sage advice that will improve their lives forever.  Immediately following the family meeting, we always follow the same agenda :

  1. Pat ourselves on back.
  2. Feel great about our parenting skills.
  3. Watch as kids walk away and repeat very actions we just told them not to do.
  4. Scrape egos off floor.

One day our kids were fighting over who should get the last macaroon.  I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I popped the treat in my mouth, thereby settling the argument in a mature manner.  The kids sat in shock for a moment, with mouths agape like a row of snoring grandfathers, and then they went off to play together as though nothing had happened.

The one silver lining to our kids fighting is that I get a glimpse at how much it breaks God’s heart when His grownup children fight.  The reasons are never much better than “lentil stew.”  But at least kids know how to let it go.  Even though our kids fight with each other, they drop it faster than I can say “family meeting.” 

Adults, on the other hand, let grievances fester like an ugly boil.  We know that sin is crouching at the door, and we put out the welcome mat.  But God is watching as a concerned parent, and He desires His children to walk in love. Nothing should get in the way of loving our neighbor.  Not lentil stew, and as hard as it is to believe, not even the last brownie.

The Love of God in a Salmon

If we must have reality shows, then I would like to see a show on the Food Network that features a mother trying to cook a thirty-minute meal while fending off whining, argumentative children.  For years I scoffed at the book, The Joy of Cooking, wondering how anyone could have joy trying to julienne peppers while a screaming toddler pulls relentlessly on her leg.  I gave up trying to be Julia Childs and adjusted my standards so that a gourmet meal meant serving milk with the Cheerios.

My biggest culinary challenge has been my aversion to seafood.  I have always wanted my children to eat healthful meals such as grilled salmon, but how could I expect them to like something I have always loathed? 

For me, the challenge is looking the fish straight in his lifeless eye as he lies cold and humiliated with a lemon stuffed in his gaping mouth, wondering how he became Today’s Special for $17.99 with fries when just yesterday he was navigating the sunlit channels of the deep.  For some reason, I can scarf down a burger in a deluge of ketchup without imagining the cow’s last conscious thought.  But when I see a fish on the plate, all I can hear is his wife’s final sage advice, “Don’t go near that hook, dear.  It looks dangerous…”

Imagine my surprise when I read that Jesus even ate fish for breakfast.  He appeared to his disciples in his resurrected body and placed his order from the shore. Thankfully, this was before the age of garbled drive-thru microphones, so they were able to hear him.

John 21:4-5 Early in the morning…He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

I anxiously wondered why in the world he would want fish so early in the morning.  Was he searching for a pet goldfish, perhaps? 

John 21:10,12   

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

12 … “Come and have breakfast.”

Ugh. The Bible is replete with examples of seemingly godly people eating seafood. Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples, and they undoubtedly enjoyed many laughs together over a fish dinner. I would feel much better if he had selected cattle ranchers. 

As usual, God revealed some fitting reproof to me from His Word:

1 Timothy 4:4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

Everything God created is good and deserves to be received with thanksgiving – and perhaps some tartar sauce on the side. Everywhere you look, God has provided clever ways to feed man and beast. He even made the seas abound with fish and creatures to be consumed for nutrition and pleasure. It is no coincidence that the foods that are the most beneficial for our health are the ones which God provided. When Jesus returned, he wasn’t looking for nachos, but broiled fish.

God’s love can truly be found in all that He created. But could I find the love of God in a grilled salmon with a lime butter sauce?  In a moment of unprecedented bravery (or stupidity), I decided to find out. 

Something strange happened.  I actually enjoyed cooking the salmon.  Tuning out the insanity of the world, I focused on nourishing my family out of my great love for them. I pictured myself on the Food Network, surrounded by whining and crying children, yet smiling as I’m peacefully preparing a natural, wholesome meal.  (The stress would come later, with the mountain of dishes, but I’m still a work in progress.)

To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the taste of the fish.  Stranger still, all three of my kids were not only willing to try the salmon, but they loved it.  Their determination to love something that God designed inspired me to change my foolish ways.  For forty years, I had convinced myself that I hated fish.  When I saw my kids blissfully eating their dinner, three little words popped into my head:  Get. over. it.

Who would have ever thought that I would find joy in cooking.  And the love of God in a salmon.

My Cup Falleth Over

Why is it that a child’s cup refuses to stay upright?  I think there is some powerful magnetic force from the universe that pulls all kiddie cups into a horizontal position.  Even on airplanes, the flight attendants command the return of seats and trays into the upright position, but there is no mention of sippy cups.  Because they know.  It’s in the manual. 

Flight Attendant’s Manual: Section 4, subparagraph B

Due to uncontrollable laws of nature, children’s cups may not remain in the upright position, so do not require passengers to fight against this force.  Doing so may drive a mother insane and cause her to open the emergency exit door during the flight

Consider Isaac Newton, one of the most influential people in the history of mankind. He described gravitation and laws of motion, proving that the motions of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. He was a brilliant scientist, mathematician, astronomer, and apple-ologist.  Newton himself claimed that his theory of gravitation was inspired by watching an apple fall from a tree.  An apple falling?  No, I believe it was a sippy cup.  Maybe there really was a falling apple, but if anything it fell and knocked over his child’s cup of milk.  Newton soon realized that no matter how he placed his child’s cup, it inevitably spilled.  And The Laws of Motion were born.

I learned from experience that there is no such thing as “spill proof” cups.  Yes, if the wind gauge is 0, and the cup is left by itself with no child within a ten-mile radius, the cup may be spill proof.  But any cup with liquid in it is just begging to be knocked over and spilled.  Even my four-year-old figured out that if you throw a spill proof cup hard enough against the floor, the “lock” will disengage, thereby allowing him to decorate the room with his drink.

In case you didn’t know, the adage “There’s no use crying over spilled milk” is really speaking to the mother.  What does the kid care?  The mom is the one who has to clean it up anyway.  I was recently fighting back the tears after each of my three kids knocked over their cup of milk.  The one redeeming moment was when my five-year-old noticed that the milk pools had combined to form into the shape of the United States of America.  After that brief patriotic moment subsided, I started the lengthy cleanup process.     

The next morning, I realized that my kids had actually helped me understand a Bible verse.  My late grandmother loved Psalm 23, and she could recite it with ease.  She recited it so often that I also memorized bits and pieces of it over the years.  Her love and respect for the Scriptures made an indelible impression on me as a young girl that remains etched in my heart.  As I brought the milk to the table that morning, I could almost hear her voice repeating King David’s profound words from verse 5:

…thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

I smiled as I knew that I would not really mind if the cups fell over and spilled.  It would serve as a reminder that my cup may falleth over, but it also runneth over.  Nothing can keep God from spilling His cup of love and overflowing into mine.  As I looked at the faces around the table, I recognized that God is abounding in love, and He has truly poured His blessings out on me. 

King David’s Tinker Toys

Many mythical characters are a composite of various creatures.  The centaur has a human torso on the body of a horse.  The minotaur has the head of a bull on the body of a man.  I hadn’t really given this much thought until recently I noticed that my three year old has the face of an angel and the behavior of an imp.  One side of him loves to snuggle and give me bear hugs, and the other side acts like a bear in a china shop.

I remember breathing a sigh of relief when Nate turned three.  We had survived the terrible twos, and clearly things would start getting easier.  Apparently Nate didn’t get the memo.  His saucer-like baby blues expanded to the size of dinner plates, further increasing his resemblance of an angelic being, but his capability for mischief rose exponentially. 

One day I was working at my desk with my head buried in paperwork.  I didn’t even notice my little hybrid slip into the room, until his faint voice delivered a disturbing question in the same way that a distant rumble of thunder can portend a tornado.

“Mommy, can I use these for Tinker Toys?”  If his voice could have been any sweeter, I could have served him for dessert.

I sensed imminent disaster before I even looked up.  I heard the clinking of dishes and turned to see him holding a white box.  No, please don’t let it be that box. 

“Wwwwhat…is…that?” I stammered.  But I already knew.  My fine china was now in ruins, and every wave of emotion washed over me.  Anger for his outrageous behavior.  Guilt for leaving the box within his reach.  Despair for the loss of something special. Sorrow for his shame.  Amusement for his wanting to use the shards for Tinker Toys. 

How did I handle this situation?  Well, I did what any self-respecting adult would do.  I burst into tears right in front of Nate, and that alone was sufficient for his punishment.  I know that my greatest punishment for wrongdoing is the sense that I have made God cry.

Have you ever destroyed something that belongs to God?  Most of us do it all the time without even realizing it. When we trample on His Word.  When we insult or hurt His children.  Even when we hurt ourselves. 

When King David committed adultery, he hurt himself and Bathsheba.  Not to mention her husband, whom he had killed, which I’m guessing hurt a lot.  David’s soul was tortured by how much he had hurt God.  He cried out, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight“(Ps. 51:4).

He didn’t waste time with petty excuses.  He knew what he did, and he knew what God required.

Psalm 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

God looked at David’s heart, which was now in pieces like Tinker Toys in a box, and He helped put it back together again.  I wish it were easier for us to do this for each other.  Many times when others sin and earnestly repent from a broken heart, we inflict punishment on them that is too intense for one to tolerate.  Judgment and condemnation are the heaviest weights the heart can bear.

2 Corinthians 2:6-8

The punishment inflicted on him…is sufficient for him.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

I looked at my distraught son before me, and I wasn’t sure which was more shattered, the china or his heart.  “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he bawled, and I knew what I had to do.  I pulled him close and loved him the way God has loved me.  And when the dust had settled on the issue, I considered moving all of my breakables to an off-site storage facility until my kids leave for college.