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.


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.

Static on Ben Franklin’s Couch

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, our house could serve as his laboratory.  Studying electricity is easy in the wintertime around here.  Touch anything or anybody, and you get a spark powerful enough to sustain the national power grid. The good news is that if we ever lose power, we have our own backup generator:  our children.  All they have to do is rub against the rug or furniture, and suddenly they provide lights, heat, and wireless internet connection. 

We have one couch in particular that is a breeding ground for electric sparks.  If Mr. Franklin had flown his kite from this couch, he would have discovered not only that lightning is electricity, but also that the source of such power comes from blue microfiber with a five year Scotch Guard warranty.  The kids can’t just stand up, you see, they have to slide off the couch, thereby filling themselves with just enough volts to electrocute me with a gentle touch.  I’m looking into having my spine surgically replaced with a lightning rod. 

It has only been during adulthood that I have developed such a deep aversion for static.  During childhood, my siblings and I would sometimes deliberately rub our socks on the carpet just to give each other a shock.  We would rub balloons on our heads to try to make them stick to the wall…and for the thrill of briefly looking like Albert Einstein.  I see my children doing the same foolish actions now, and I lament about the damaging effects of DNA.  You really just want the good stuff to pass on, like the ability to play the piano, but then one day you see them reliving your own moments of insanity, and you realize that you have a leaky filtering system.

I was surprised to discover that God actually likes static cling, as he instructs us in Romans 12:9:

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Hatred is used too lightly today, as most things that we claim to hate are not actually evil.  I “hate” seafood, but you don’t have to eat flounder with a pitchfork.  On the other hand, things that are genuinely evil tend to be shrugged off as though a mere annoyance, like a mosquito at a barbeque or a tsetse fly at a safari.   

Static cling can be vexing when you remove laundry from the dryer and it has all agglomerated into one giant mass.  You have to decide between separating them and being electrocuted, or wearing your entire wardrobe at once.  God asks us to have that same kind of cling to things that are “good.”  We tend to translate that into things that taste good or feel good, but are not inherently good like the things of God.  That is why we can cling easily to junk food and immoral behavior, while Bibles gather dust and cobwebs on the shelves of society.

The concept of clinging can be understood by observing any of the following: 

a. koala bears on trees

b. Saran Wrap (unless you buy generic)

c. laundry with cheap fabric softeners

d. insecure women and their boyfriends

But the BEST way to understand clinging is to watch a small child with his mother.  I have had my share of clingy children, and it does tend to limit mobility.  On the plus side, I have learned how to cook dinner with my nose, so if terrorists ever break in, tie me up and demand a soufflé, I’ll be all set.

How do we have that same clinginess to godly things?  For starters, we need to view ourselves as little children in the eyes of our heavenly Father.  He tells us there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from His love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). God is doing all He can to cling to us, and it is up to us to stop spraying the Static Guard all over His love. 



Gift Cards From the Wise Men

During dinner one night, my five year old son asked, “Why did the Wise Men give Franklin to Jesus?”  I knew he was referring to his favorite character, Franklin the Turtle, but it took me a moment to make the connection.

“Oh, you mean frankincense,” I explained.

“What’s that?”

“It’s something that smells nice.  They also brought gold and myrrh.”

“What’s myrrh?”

“It’s…also something that smells nice.” He wrinkled his nose, and I could see where this was heading.  While my boys would love to receive a turtle for Christmas, I think they were suddenly panicking that they might open their stockings to find something that smelled nice…like a Powder Fresh dryer sheet.  The conversation then turned to what a baby was going to do with gold and some aromatic supplies.  As a mom, I was guessing that he would probably try to eat them.  The incense would be more appealing to Mary, since they had  no diaper pails back then.  Still, I always find that a Babies R Us® gift card goes a long way for a new mother. 

Unfortunately, gift cards did not exist during biblical times. Mary was really missing out on her pick of collapsible strollers and 3-in-1 stage bathtubs. Imagine what Joseph could have done with a Home Depot® card.  His carpentry business would have soared! 

So what gift do you get for Jesus? What gift is worthy for the King? This was the question pondered by the Little Drummer Boy as he kept the neighborhood awake with his incessant drumming. (Thankfully, they didn’t live near the Little Bagpipe Boy.) The song tells the story of a poor boy who makes his way along with the Wise Men and other admirers to see Jesus.  Some of the others have expensive gifts to give, but the boy has nothing to offer but his drum and the gift of music.  My music book explains that “the whole carol is accompanied by a gentle drone, the sound of the boy’s drum being played lightly with the fingers.”  Apparently the music director had no children.  Give a young boy a drum, and the last thing you will hear is gentle droning.  In fact, you won’t hear much ever again after he shatters your eardrum. I usually prefer an iTunes gift card. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are still struggling with the same dilemma today.  What possible gift can we give to Jesus?  How do you repay someone who purchased you with his blood?  Someone who, knowing what was ahead, gave himself up to torture and death because he loves you? 

My kids don’t have a lot of money, so their presents to me are usually used items wrapped awkwardly in blankets or tattered papers.  What pleases me is the heart of love behind the gifts.  Their faces beam when I praise them for their thoughtfulness  and effort.

Here is where the Little Drummer Boy got it right.  When did the Baby Jesus smile approvingly at him?    

I played my drum for him; (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum)

I played my best for him. (Pa- rum- pum- pum- pum)

Then he smiled at me, (Pa- rum -pum- pum- pum) me and my drum.

Jesus does not need material goods, but we all have something of value.  Whatever gifts we have to offer, we please him when we give him our absolute best from a heart of love.  It’s the only gift card he desires.

Jesus and the Rubber Gloves

Cleaning up after sick children is hardly anyone’s favorite pastime.  When my daughter was a baby, she used to spit up so much that I considered starting a line of women’s clothes made entirely of burp cloths.  After I started getting enough sleep again, I packed up that idea with the rest of her soiled baby clothes and threw it all in the trash.  By the time baby number three came along, I had grown accustomed to being a human barf bag.  It’s a lot easier for me to clean up messes made by people I know and love. 

My husband Dave is a naturally compassionate person, and I’m – oh, how can I put this mildly – not.  I have to work hard at it like a weighed down pack mule ascending an icy vertical slope.  But as I continue to slip and slide, the Lord provides the traction I need to keep from falling.

One day a mother and her young girl arrived for their first time at a Bible fellowship in our home.  During the service, the mom kept rushing into the bathroom with her daughter.  I finally pulled her aside and asked if she was okay.  She explained that her little girl had been fighting a stomach bug all morning.  Donning my “Ms. Compassion” sash, I instantly wondered how she could be so inconsiderate to bring her sick child and expose my three young kids to this illness.  That was mistake number one.  The next one came after the meal, when the little girl decided to watch her brunch come up in reverse all over our living room floor.

Dave’s instant reaction was to get right in the thick of things and help.  Without hesitation he was in the middle of muck, compassionately helping this sick girl.  My feet were frozen to the floor as I watched my husband cleaning up this disgusting mess and caring for these people he did not even know.  It’s not that I didn’t want to help, but first I needed to search for my rubber gloves…and a ten foot pole.

The next day I searched the Scriptures for the record of Jesus healing the leper.  I read about a man with a horrendous skin disease who came to our Lord and begged him to help if he was willing.  After reading that section, try as I might, I couldn’t find that verse I was looking for:  I’m willing, said Jesus, but first let me get my rubber gloves and a ten foot pole.  Do you know what I saw instead? 

Mark 1:41

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.    “I am willing,” he said.  “Be clean!”

Then I frantically searched the next verse for any references to Jesus calling for some hand sanitizer, but to no avail.  The only thing Jesus cared about was loving people. Then I realized that these same gloveless hands of Jesus that touched the leper soon after took the nails for me.  So I guess it’s time to put away the gloves and the pole and continue my ascent up the steep and slippery path toward his glory.