The Bull Fight and the Illiterate Sea Turtle

All I wanted was to get to the beach.  A string of unfortunate events had put us an hour behind schedule, and now I faced a stack of interlocked carriages at the grocery store.  Crammed tightly together, the red carts looked like a line of menacing, hunchbacked bulls awaiting their next victim.  As I tugged at the first carriage, I had the sinking feeling I was about to participate in my first Running of the Bulls.

The carriages were jammed, but the craziness of the morning had filled me with the confidence of a matador.  Granted, I didn’t have a red cape or a sword, but I glanced around for the only weapon I needed:  a sanitary wipe.  None in sight.  Barehanded, I attacked the tangled bulls and tried not to notice that a line had formed behind me, and the arena was now surrounded by a crowd of surly shoppers.  Not to mention the security camera which could land me on YouTube.

I didn’t want to give up my fight, but time was ticking, so I humbly accepted a stray cart being offered by an elderly store assistant. Slinking into the store, I walked about five hundred feet and noticed a station of sanitary wipes.  Great. Now that my flesh has completely melded with the handle, they offer me a wipe.

As to be expected, my cart had a wobbly wheel.  This was no day to end up with the Flintstone carriage, but I was not about to engage in another fight with the bulls.  My kids were becoming impatient, and I just wanted to get in and out quickly.  Except now I couldn’t find the almonds, and I walked through the maze of the store like Theseus searching for the Minotaur.

I couldn’t find any staff member to help me, because there are two types of shopping experiences.  The first is when you are just trying to browse, but an officious sales clerk leeches to your back.  And sometimes, like this particular morning, the aisles are filled with nothing but tumbleweeds and the eerie cricket-chirping of a ghost town.

When I finally made it to the checkout, I noticed that my cashier was wearing a cross with Jesus on it.  “I like your necklace,” I said.  “I’m a Christian, too.”

She self-consciously clutched her necklace and replied,  “Whenever I have stress, I grab it and know that everything is going to be okay.”

I suddenly realized that I was not having such a bad day after all.  It was a fighting-with-bulls-kind of day, but hardly a dying-on-the-cross kind of day.

Jesus never promised that our days would be perfect, but he did promise his peace.

John 15:27

My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

When we finally arrived at the beach, the warm breeze tingled my nose with salt air, and my troubles drowned in the depths of the sapphire sea.  As we moved toward the water, the kids spotted a sea turtle on the shore.  We ran to get a closer look, but I soon sensed that something was terribly wrong.  Maybe it was the flies swarming around the turtle’s glassy eyes.  Or maybe it was the turtle’s entrails strewn two feet from its body.  I’m no crime scene investigator, but I recognize a butcher job when I see one.

“She’s dead,” Luke, my six-year-old, profoundly announced.

Our semi-circle formed a makeshift funeral around this mommy turtle who had given her life for her eggs.  We had just studied a unit on sea turtles, and we had read about the untimely death of many of these sea creatures.  The book had tried to console children by mentioning the passing of laws to protect these turtles, but Luke had asked the Question of the Year:

“But Mommy, if the sea turtles and other animals can’t read, how can they follow the laws?”

Only a child could think of such an insightful question, for it makes no sense for humans to post laws and assume that the laws of God’s animal kingdom would magically change.

Another group of kids spotted the dead turtle, but they were not as quick to grasp reality.  Two older children started running and screaming, “Water!  Get water!  Call the rescue!  Somebody help!”  They only stopped acting like a circus clown act when their much younger brother examined the turtle, licked his ice cream, and announced, “Guys!  I think you’re too late.”

My children seemed so full of life as I watched them frolic in the sand and sea.  Their vitality was only highlighted by the lifeless turtle beside us.  That hapless creature was a great reminder of the fragility of life.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I dug my toes into the warm sand and breathed deeply. This had only been a late-for-the-beach kind of day, not a dead-on-the-beach-with-entrails-removed kind of day.

All I had wanted was to get to the beach.  Thanks to a reminder from an illiterate sea turtle, my day was redeemed.

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.

A Still, Small Voice and a Honk

The mercury in our thermometer is dipping, along with my desire to ride out another New England winter.  I never thought I would be so jealous of geese.  That unmistakable honking is actually geese laughing at those who can’t fly south for the winter.  And the V-shape flying pattern?  Just a reminder of the warmer climate where I won’t be heading: Virgin Islands.  Granted, at least I don’t have to fear being golden and crispy, spending Christmas at a timeshare silver platter with apple sage stuffing and a side of mushroom gravy.  Warm, but not in a good way.

The fear of impending arctic temperatures had me itching to go outside one mild November morning.  As I was homeschooling our children, I noticed their attention was plummeting due to the gorgeous autumnal scene beckoning from the bay window.  Surely their eyes had more glaze than an Easter ham.

I decided to chuck the planned lessons and allow the kids to learn more from an hour of exploring God’s world than they ever could from a textbook. When I announced that we were going for a walk, the kids awoke from their lesson-induced comas. I wiped the cobwebs off their brains and bundled them in more layers than a club sandwich, for the temperature had dropped below seventy and my blood was thinning.

The crisp, clean air punctured our lungs as we stepped outside and allowed autumn to intoxicate our senses.  We inhaled the scent of decaying leaves as we crunched through their corpses of crimson reds, rustic oranges, and earthy browns.  Their colors reminded me of apples, pumpkins, and cinnamon, and I suddenly felt the urge to bake a pie.

The half-naked trees stretched their arms to the heavens and reminded me that even when we are losing our leaves, we should still praise God for His goodness. We headed to the beach and trudged through the barren sand.  There is something achingly beautiful about a beach that has been stripped of humans for several months, and I felt mildly guilty for disturbing its solitude.

The kids ran freely into the wind, stopping only to collect seashells, which had been laid out for them like hundreds of tiny Christmas presents from the sea. As I surveyed the stark beauty of the moment, the feathers of tiny tears tickled my face.

Just when I thought nothing could disturb this reverie, I heard the sound of a goose honking, no, laughing at me from overhead.  No goose was going to ruin my mood with his fowl play.  I started to sing:

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…”

My four-year-old piped up, “Mommy, please stop singing now.”

I didn’t think the singing was that bad, but apparently Simon Cowell had appeared in miniature form beside me.

“You need to stop singing because I hear God talking,” Nate explained.

Now I wondered if God was sending a prophetic message that my singing had to stop.

“What do you hear?” I asked him.

“God is talking.  Don’t you hear it?”

I stopped and listened, but all I heard was the wind and the waves. “What does it sound like?”

“The wind! The waves!  Don’t you hear it?”

I love it when I’m reproved by someone who still has to use a step stool to climb up in bed. This young child was hearing the voice of God when I was too busy making noise to hear it.  I listened more carefully and realized that the only way to hear God is to shut out the rest of the world.

Psalm 46:10

Be still, and know that I am God.

I thought of Elijah, who was told by God to go out on the mountain and wait for the LORD to pass by.  Elijah waited through the hurricane, earthquake, and fire, only to hear God in a gentle whisper. 

1 Kings 19:13-14

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

My response? Um…you told me to come here?

Elijah’s response:  “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.”

Bingo, Elijah.  When we seek God and we are zealous for His presence, the world will be drowned out by His whisper. 

As I surveyed the deserted beach, I shivered, but not from the chill in the air.  Everything in creation was speaking to me–even His geese.  I had learned to hear Him in a still, small voice and a honk.

Resurrection: No Film at Eleven

The quiet moments.  There aren’t many of them when you have a house full of little kids, but those moments are the best.  You know, those times when the kids are completely still and silent – and then you wake up. Okay, there are actually some quiet moments when everyone is awake. 

Nothing beats the early morning, when the kids are still in their footie pajamas and yawning the day into existence.  They are calm and peaceful and make me wonder who broke in during the night and kidnapped my children. 

I’m sure it’s just as tranquil in the middle of night, but I’m too busy sleeping to notice anything.  In the still of the morning, you notice everything. Prism rainbows, reflecting from the sunlight onto the walls.  The lone ant, somehow separated from his tour group, trekking across the hardwood floor. 

Jesus enjoyed the bliss of such serenity  when he was resurrected from the dead.  For such a momentous occasion, you might expect a huge fanfare.  But there was no parade, no marching band, not even so much as a pan flute.  I would have even settled for a glockenspiel. Instead, when women showed up at his tomb so early in the morning that it was still dark, Jesus had already risen.

For that thrilling moment when Jesus first rose from the dead, he had no one to share it with but His Father.  Another humble beginning for the most humble man of all time.  It must have been dark and quiet, but what a moment it must have been when he saw God’s plan come to pass.  He died in painful agony hanging on a cross, but opened his eyes to eternal glory.

If the resurrection happened in today’s world, all of the network news crews would have been on the scene.  The moment would have been captured on film, an instant viral hit on the internet.  A press conference would have been held, during which reporters could ask idiotic questions.  So, how does it feel to be alive?

But then there would be no need for faith.

When Jesus first appeared  to his disciples in his resurrected body, Thomas was absent.  Where was he?  What was so important that he was the only one not there?  That’s like winning an Oscar and being in the bathroom when they call your name.  Was he out getting the coffee? Was it an errand? Here the poor guy comes strolling in from a trip to Home Depot, only to hear everyone say, “You missed it!  Jesus is alive and he came to visit us!” 

Even with the other eyewitnesses, Thomas did not believe that Jesus was alive, and was forever dubbed “Doubting Thomas.”  He remarked, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25).

How much fun it must have been for Jesus when he came through the locked doors and appeared before Thomas.  He could have really rubbed it in.  Can you see me now?  Instead, Jesus lovingly allowed Thomas to touch the nail marks.  With the physical evidence before him, Thomas finally believed.  Jesus told him:

John 20:29  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Even though there was no film at eleven, we can believe.  Jesus came into this world and went out of it in a humble, unassuming fashion.  Only when he returns will there be any fanfare.  I long for that day, when he will finally get the celebration he deserves.