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.

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Rubber Gloves For Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day at 5:00 a.m., I was jolted awake by a bang on my bedroom door.  Everyone knows that Mother’s Day is a day to let a mother “sleep in” and feel pampered.  So I ignored the bang and sank down further under the covers.

BANG!  BANG! BANG!  “Mommy!” a tiny voice screamed at the door.

No, this couldn’t  be happening.  Didn’t my kids get the memo?

“Mommy, I need your help.  My bed is all wet,” cried Nate, my four-year-old.

As he opened the door, a familiar, unpleasant smell barged rudely into my room.  It was last night’s dinner in reverse.

“Did you throw up?” I asked incredulously.  Clearly my child was not getting this whole “pampering” thing.

“Yes,” he whimpered.

I brought him into his room to assess the extent of the damage.  Still half-asleep, I couldn’t bring myself to turn on his light.  Somewhere around his bed, the terrain became “unstable,” and my feet quickly reminded me that you should never step into potential mine fields in the dark.  My eyes finally adjusted to the glow of the nightlight, and in a blue-tinged haze, I saw the gruesome carnage of his stomach’s battle with last night’s dinner.  The damage was extensive, an ominous start to my special day.

Flash back to yesterday’s devotional reading.  I had been lounging in my overstuffed chair, sipping hot tea and reading about facing problems with the right attitude.   In retrospect, it’s a lot easier to face problems by reading about them in a comfortable chair while drinking tea.  The actual battlefield is a whole different story.

My devotional had recommended thanking God for problems.  But I must confess that I did not face the vomit-fest with a hearty, “Wow, THANK YOU, Father!  I am so very THANKFUL that this happened so you can teach me to rely on your strength in my moments of weakness.”

I think I uttered the slightly altered version, “WHY ME?!!!”

I had plenty of time to analyze my response while cleaning.   Donning my worn pair of rubber gloves, I was outside spraying down Nate’s things with a hose and scrubbing them with a hard brush.

“Happy Mother’s Day to me,” I sang.  My boys watched from the open window and gave constructive criticism on my cleaning job.

“You missed a spot in the corner,” offered Luke.

Nate was thrilled to discover what he thought was my biggest problem.  “I know what you need for Mother’s Day!  New rubber gloves!”

Later on the boys added to the festivities of the holiday by fighting with each other.  That’s when I realized that I had unrealistic expectations about this holiday. Contrary to what Hallmark would have us believe, Mother’s Day is not a day when our children magically transform into angelic beings for twenty-four hours.  It is not a day for children to bow down and worship at Mommy’s footstool.  Any holiday that focuses on selfishness is going to fail.  Mother’s Day should be a holiday for mothers to reflect on how thankful they are for their children.

I thought about Hannah from the Bible.  Her soul yearned for a child, and she poured her heart out to God for deliverance.

1 Samuel 1:10-11

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.

And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty.  If you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life…”

God gave Hannah baby Samuel.  She kept her word, and after Samuel was weaned she brought him to be raised by Eli the priest in the house of the LORD.  She was so thankful for her son that she was willing to part with him and give him back to God.

Here is a mother who was not waiting for breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day.  In fact, her Mother’s Day came once a year when she expected nothing, but rather gave a gift to her son:

1 Samuel 2:19

Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him…. 

God then blessed Hannah and gave her three more sons and two daughters.  I’m sure she had days where her kids got sick and even fought with each other.  But she was a thankful woman indeed.

The more things that went “wrong” on my Mother’s Day, the more I laughed and thanked God for my three children.  They are certainly not perfect angels, but they are my gifts from God. If kids were supposed to be perfect, they would be born with halos.  Instead, they come out of the womb crying – a much more realistic picture of the days to come.

I never want to forget that like Hannah, I  also had once prayed for children, and these imperfect-yet-wonderful kids were the answers to my prayers.

That’s all I really need for Mother’s Day.  And maybe a new pair of rubber gloves.

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.

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.

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.

Frying Eggs with Paul

Whenever there is a heat wave, somebody has to quip, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.”  Between gum wads and animal business,  I don’t even want to walk on the sidewalk, let alone fry an egg on it. Besides, a much better place to fry an egg would be on a metal slide at the playground.  Nothing works better to make you rue the decision to wear shorts.

Most people agree that high temperatures are far less tolerable when combined with humidity.  During the weather forecast, meteorologists state the humidity level, and we amateurs take their word for it.  Would we ever know if they were wrong?  They could be making up some random number, and we would remain clueless.  Thankfully, those of us who have naturally curly hair can gauge humidity by how closely we resemble a Chia Pet.  

According to experts, relative humidity is an estimate of how saturated the air is with water vapor.  If you want to do your own calculations for finding the relative humidity, you take the mass of water vapor and divide it by the number of temper tantrums your children have per hour.  Then you multiply this answer by the level of crankiness of everyone under the age of 99.  The final calculation looks like this:

Mass of Water Vapor ÷ Tantrums/hour × Crankiness = Relative Humidity

A recent heat wave sent the nation into a tizzy.  My kids surprised me by choosing to play upstairs in the sun-baked living room, rather than stay in my air-conditioned office.  At one point, I came out of my frigid cave to make sure the kids were not stuck to the floor like the same melted gobs of goo that make me avoid the sidewalk.  (I’ve heard tales of people getting stuck to their vinyl car seats, only to be rescued in the next cold front.)  My vision was a little warped due to the frying of my eyeballs, but it appeared as though my children were playing as if nothing was wrong.  As they were laughing and gallivanting about and completely ignoring the heat, I wondered, What is wrong with these people?  Clearly this was a fluke, and the apostle Paul would have been proud, for he had “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12).

This past winter the cold seemed unbearable, and in the summer the heat seems unbearable.  When will I learn to be content? Even when Paul was in prison, he and his roommate were able to keep their cool and find joy.

Acts 16:25

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

Unless you are a paid Broadway actor, periodically bursting into song is an expression of joy. Paul kept his Savior as his example and mentor.  He knew that even though Jesus had been beaten beyond recognition and crucified, he never complained.  Any complaint sounds so ridiculous compared to what Jesus endured.  No one can understand “heat” the way he did.

I don’t think we fully realize how bold Paul was to be singing “Kumbaya” next to hardened criminals.  The pressure cooker was on, and the heat of the situation was scorching, but Paul stayed content and made the best out of his situation.

Paul’s actions went beyond taking lemons and making lemonade. If it was hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk, Paul would have been cheerfully humming and serving up a brunch to his fellow prisoners.  Somewhere in the midst of all this heat, if we look carefully through our melted eyeballs, we can still find contentment.  Just watch where you’re walking.