A Movie to Make Men Flee

Samson was the strongest man in the Bible, which is impressive considering the fact that he didn’t even have a gym membership.  He makes the air-conditioned health club look like a playground.  Nowadays most guys pump iron while admiring themselves in a mirror, but Samson ripped his muscles the old-fashioned way, by tearing apart lions with his bare hands.  I’ve never seen that move at the gym, although once I saw a guy viciously tear apart the wrapper of a protein bar. 

Samson also happened to have long hair, a look that normally can only be pulled off by Conan the Barbarian or Fabio.  Put simply, Samson had what every Hollywood casting agent desires. The story of his life should be the greatest blockbuster hit of all time. But when you examine his story more closely, a woman would have to really convince her man to see this movie. 

WIFE:  Let’s go see that new movie, Samson.

HUSBAND:  What’s it about?

WIFE:  Um, I’m guessing by the title, a guy named Samson?

HUSBAND:  Thank you, Captain Obvious.  I mean is there action?  And does the action outweigh the dialogue by a ratio of 5 to 1?

WIFE:  The movie trailer showed lots of blood and violence. 

That’s because the movie trailer could never include the shocking truth of the story of Samson.  No guy in his right mind would ever want to hear it.

Imagine the voice; you know the one – the booming, familiar voice of the movie trailer narrator.  It’s always the same voice, which explains why there are so many starving actors out there.

MELODRAMATIC VOICE:  One man….with strength like none other… Only one thing could bring him down…One. Nagging. Woman.

Samson’s ruin came when he put his trust in a woman named Delilah, which might be the Hebrew name for “shrew.”  Delilah constantly tried to persuade Samson to tell her the source of his strength so that the Philistines could capture him.  That’s the kind way of saying it. 

Judges 16:16

With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

Samson eventually caved and told her that his strength was in his hair.  Confiding in a woman was one mistake.  But telling a woman that he had superior hair was the kiss of death. 

If there was true justice in this world, Samson should have been given his own line of luxury hair products.  Instead, he was betrayed by the woman he loved and then suffered a humiliating death after having his eyes gouged out.  I can just hear the male population fleeing in horror from the movie cinema.

Even though the story of Samson resembles a soap opera plot, it serves as a reminder that we should always put our trust in God, not people.  A painful lesson that my family learned the hard way this week.

Someone actually betrayed our trust, and the worst part was having to tell my children that the exciting plans we had promised them were coming to a grinding halt.  With tears streaming down my face, I prayed and agonized over how to break the news.  I just couldn’t bear to break their hearts, so I decided to lovingly hand the job over to my husband.  I’m expecting a “thank you” card any moment now.

Dave sat the children down and began by explaining that there are evil people in this world.  Mean people who will even hurt innocent children without remorse.  The kids listened attentively while their Daddy lowered the bad-news boom.  As I braced myself for screaming and crying,  I barely heard Grace’s sweet voice tinkling like wind chimes through the storminess of my mind.

“Oh well, I guess God must have a better plan for us.” 

Hurt, denial, grief, rage.  A myriad of unpleasant emotions had washed over me that day, but Grace chose to drown in God’s love and faithfulness.  I had been wallowing in anger, yet my seven-year-old knew exactly where to place her focus. 

Psalm 146:5-6

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save…Blessed is he… whose hope is in the LORD his God, the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

The world is full of Delilahs.  They crack open our hearts with the guise of sincerity and leave us with the empty shells of their meaningless words.  Thankfully, we do not have to accept the same sad fate as Samson.  Through Jesus, we have been given strength not only in our hair, but in every fragment of our being, and all we have to do is trust in the Almighty.  I always love a movie with a happy ending.

The Art of Not Listening

Many good quality videos are available to help us learn the art of canning, knitting, and gardening.  I might watch one if I wasn’t struggling just to find time to mop the kitchen floor.  If I do have time someday to watch an instructional video, I know I’ll never find one about the art of not listening.  That’s because society has pretty much mastered that one already. 

While out walking with my kids, our greetings and salutations meet their untimely death in the round, black earbud-coffins of our neighbors’ ears. So many people have these tiny headphones stuck in their ears, that I have seen the alarming future of teaching anatomy and physiology.  In a diagram of the ear, we will see the ear drum, cochlea, stirrup, and little black circles labeled “earbuds.”

Embarrassing moments can occur when you hear someone, but you don’t really listen to what they are saying.  I’ve had my share of cringe-worthy scenes.

HAIRDRESSER:     Enjoy your new haircut!

ME:     You too! (cringe)

Sometimes when my kids talk to me, I’m not really listening.  My perceptive children can figure out when I’m overtired, and I’m sure they hold secret meetings to determine the best ways to get what they want.  By the time they approach me, it’s a done deal.

— Mommy, can we skip bedtime tonight and just go hang gliding in the Himalayas? 

–Sure, honey, whatever you want.  Here, take my car keys.  

They finally got their revenge when we gave them all personal CD players for Christmas.  At first when the three of them sat on the couch and listened to music through their headphones, I congratulated myself for the brilliant gift idea.  As they drifted off into musical reveries, I basked in the unfamiliar paradise of tranquility.  But when I had to speak to them, they were able to completely ignore me.  With music streaming into their ears, I had become the indistinct voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Mwa-mwa-mwa, mwa-mwa-mwa.

Then they all began to talk loudly to each other without listening.  Nothing they said made any sense, but what does that really matter when you’re not listening anyway.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Luke yelled to his brother.

 “NO!” Nate screamed back.

“YOU TOO!” Grace shrieked.

As my children sat there practicing the art of not listening, I thought about the times Jesus would say to his disciples, “Are you still so dull of hearing?”  Jesus had to present his lessons in parables, causing them to really think about what they were hearing.  What else can you do when your students act as though they forgot to remove the Q-Tips from their ears? I think if they had been wearing headphones, he would have flung them right over the side of the boat. 

Maybe they were visual learners.  Jesus didn’t have the option of giving a Power Point presentation.  The closest thing he had was drawing in the sand with a stick.  His students quickly learned that listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. 

Sometimes God has to speak to us many times before we hear him.  It would have been easier if He set us up like a giant Whac-a-Mole game, where he could just bop us on the head with a large mallet whenever we weren’t listening.  But He is really into this LOVE thing, so instead He does everything He can to get our attention, even when we just sit there with our headphones on, clueless in our own little world.

The Bible tells the record of young Samuel continually waking up his mentor, Eli the priest.  After hearing his name, Samuel kept popping out of bed and appearing at the side of Eli’s bed.  To Eli’s credit, he never lost his cool, but simply responded,  “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

After the third time, Eli finally realized that God had been calling the boy.  By this time, God must have been deliberating between writing on the wall with a laser beam or installing a P.A. system in Samuel’s bedroom.  Eli finally gave Samuel the advice he needed, and then rolled over and got some shut-eye.

It turns out that the key was that art form called listening.  The next time God called, Samuel was ready.

1 Samuel 3:10

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Instantly, God was able to give Samuel an ear-tingling revelation.  But it was only when Samuel was ready to truly listen. 

My four-year-old got upset with me this week when he was trying to tell me a story, and I listened while cleaning the kitchen.

“Mommy,” Nate fumed, “You are not LISTENING to me.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, “I heard you.” 

“No, you need to LOOK at me and listen.”

He quickly taught me the difference between hearing and listening.  People who are hard of hearing do not choose to be that way.  Being “hard of listening” is a choice.

In Psalm 81, God laments, “If my people would but listen to me…”

Imagine if everyone would but listen to each other.  Earbuds would be thrown to the wayside, right next to the dying art of not listening.

Non-Profit Caterpillars and the No. 2 Pencil

With each passing year, my New Year’s Resolutions become less lofty.  When I was six, my goal was to change the world.  Now that I’m forty, I’m happy if I can change the sheets.   

I don’t just toss last year’s calendar into the trash;  I fling it with panache.  With a flick of the wrist, I toss any failures and disappointments of the past year right where they belong – in with the toilet paper rolls.  Then I place a new calendar on the wall and stare at the blinding possibilities of all those blank white squares. 

Each January we all cling to the hope that this year will be different.  We sharpen our No. 2 pencils and smooth out clean sheets of paper.  The intoxicating smell of graphite convinces us that surely this year our resolutions will hold.  With a steady hand, we carefully print out our first goal.

1.  I WILL ONLY EAT HEALTHFUL FOODS.

Without warning, Life unequivocally charges into the room like a toddler on Christmas morning.

            –Wanna donut?

            — Sure, thanks.

And just like that, we settle back into our comfortable ways, as effortlessly as slipping into our favorite pair of jeans. 

It’s funny how perspectives change after you live life a little.  The hubris of the young deflates into the practicality of the old.  Our parents, the ones we were embarrassed to have drop us off in a station wagon at the Middle School door, suddenly skyrocket in status once we graduate into the real world.   Sometimes we just need wisdom, even if it does come in the form of someone who eats dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon.

A rich young man seeking wisdom once approached Jesus, fell on his knees, and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  I’m assuming that he fell on his own knees, not Jesus’, because the therapy session would have ended abruptly. I fall on my knees a lot, especially since my kids’ toys come with some sort of special GPS to locate the trajectory of my path.  But when we fall on our knees before Jesus, we demonstrate a meekness and willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal. 

Jesus saw that this rich young man was earnest in his desire to change.  He also recognized that despite the man’s adherence to the Ten Commandments, he was also missing something.

Mark 10:21

“One thing you lack,” he (Jesus) said.

Knee pads?                

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Of course the man was sad.  Now he had sore knees, a fallen face, and he had to give up his wealth. 

But at least Jesus gave a practical answer, something tangible that the man could do right away, if he so desired.  Notice that Jesus did not whip out a blank sheet of paper and No. 2 pencil and advise the man to write down his goal and hang it on the refrigerator. 

1.  GET ETERNAL LIFE.

Sometimes kids may have unattainable dreams, such as my son’s desire to become the first astronaut-mailman.  It would be fun to deliver mail from a spaceship, and yes, the Sears Christmas catalog would be much lighter to carry in outer space.  But has he really considered the challenge of factoring gravity in with the cost of postage?  Still, I admire the determination of a child to make dreams come true.

God help the poor donkey who ever challenges my daughter Grace to a Battle of the Wills.  At the age of seven, she announced that she was going to start her own business.  That afternoon.

True to her word, later that day she was down by the road, open for business.  Those fortunate enough to pass by our house were invited to view her twin black and orange caterpillars, Jacob and Esau.  She didn’t make any money, but believed in her heart that she was providing a great service to our community.  When I explained to my little entrepreneur that she was running a non-profit business, she tossed back her golden curls, and yelled to the world:

“Non-profit caterpillars!  Come see my non-profit caterpillars!”

Several hours later, Grace made a difficult but sage decision for the good of her company.

“I think I have to close my business,” she explained.  “Not enough interest.” 

Last week Grace announced that she was going to become an author.  That afternoon.  Her plan was to write her own books and sell them at the bottom of the driveway.  Before I could even respond, she was writing furiously, as though the fate of the world depended on her pencil.  Her No. 2 pencil.

As I stared at the pencil, I realized that Grace was not using it to write down her dreams, but rather to turn her dreams into reality.  And if that didn’t work, she would move to the next plan.  Most likely something down by the side of the road, where her non-profit caterpillars eventually stopped dreaming about being butterflies, and just flew away.

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. 

 

The Gift of the Not-Gingerbread Man

There’s nothing quite like receiving visitors after giving birth.  Once the adrenaline fades, you feel like you’ve been abducted by aliens and had your body used for scientific experiments.  After surviving the probing and torturing, you are brutally dropped fifty-thousand feet from their spaceship into a hospital bed, just in time for company to arrive.  No tea and scones to offer, just stale Saltines and water from a pink plastic pitcher.

Mary must have experienced this sensation after she gave birth to Jesus.  First of all, she survived childbirth without an epidural or ice chips.  If someone had asked me to give birth to my children in such primitive conditions, I would have laughed them out of Bethlehem.  After surviving this ordeal, Mary was faced with a visiting group of excited shepherds.  I can remember fearing the arrival of the night janitor.

What was going through Mary’s mind as these strange men arrived at the scene?  I know what I would be thinking.

Ding!  Ding!  Ding! Congratulations!  You just won the Most Awkward Visitor Award!  Can I offer you something to eat? Here, chew on some hay. 

I like to imagine that this is when the tradition of making Christmas cookies began.  Mary was mortified at being unable to prepare food for her guests, so she had Joseph do it.  What would happen if you put a guy in charge of refreshments?  You’d get cookies that look like they were made by children.  Although they wouldn’t have been in the shape of reindeer and Santa.  Maybe donkeys and Moses.

Despite being insanely busy, I decided to make Christmas cookies with my kids this year.  I mostly caved because rumor has it that if you skip this tradition, you may suffer nightmares involving the Gingerbread Man freaking out because he has no thumbs to make Thumbprint cookies. I’ve always been afraid of the Gingerbread Man.  If dessert can come to life and taunt you, just imagine what a bad batch of eggs might do.

With Christmas carols blasting, we got to work. The kids picked out their favorite cookie shapes:  trees, reindeer, and stars. The bell and wreath are kind of like Monopoly’s shoe and thimble; no one ever wants them.  I found myself forcing the kids to include these pariah-shapes, as if they would end up in therapy for self-esteem issues. 

I tried to roll out the dough, but the gluten-free goo was so sticky, it would have been easier to just shove our cookie cutters into a honeycomb.  The final results were more frightening than any potential Gingerbread Man nightmares.  Instead of visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads, my children would see decapitated reindeer and diseased Christmas trees.  The kids soon ran off to play, leaving me to bake the cookies.

When the cookies were finished,  I removed them from the oven and popped in a batch of pumpkin seeds to roast while the children were still playing.  Just as I was opening the oven to remove the seeds, my four-year-old rounded the corner.  He took one look at those tiny seeds and screamed.

 “What happened to our COOKIES!!!  Aaaghhh!” 

I never intended to traumatize my children with baking Christmas cookies.  I was only trying to build memories with a bonding tradition.  Instead I had given them unwanted cookie shapes, mutilated those shapes beyond recognition, and scared them into thinking the cookies had morphed into seeds.  Charlie Brown was looking like a Christmas hero compared to me.

Suddenly I was in a Christmas special of my own, as I heard my children singing Christmas carols in the living room.  I peeked around the corner and saw them holding hands and singing “Silent Night” to the baby Jesus doll they had placed in a “manger” under the tree. Poor Jesus was dressed in a pink dress, but at least my kids were living the real meaning of Christmas.

After the shepherds’ visit to baby Jesus, they set the gold standard for celebrating Christmas.

Luke 2:17-18, 20

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…

As my kids lovingly caressed the baby doll, I was reminded that Christmas is not about cookies or the Gingerbread Man.  It’s about THE MAN.  The Not-Gingerbread Man, who arrived as a precious baby.  He was born to a woman who had no Christmas cookies to offer.  Humbly, she gave the world the most priceless gift of all: a Savior. 

 

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. 

The Donkey Within

When God created animals, the donkey got the short end of the stick.  The bunny was designed to be unabashedly cute and the guaranteed first stop at a first grade field trip to the petting zoo.  God fashioned the horse with a sleek and powerful body to represent His own breathtaking majesty.  The donkey must have come late to the party, after all the best prizes had already been taken.  He stood before the Father, ready to have greatness bestowed upon him.

Donkey, you get to be stubbornness personified. 

Donkey must have left that party feeling like a broken piñata, beaten with a stick by a scary mob of sugar-laden children.  Thousands of years later, the melancholy Eeyore came on the scene and put the final nail in Donkey’s public image coffin. 

All is not lost, however. God gave us donkeys to help us understand when our child first has a public temper tantrum in a parking lot.  Oh, this is stubbornness, we think, as our child becomes one with the pavement. Pulling him and our egos out of the wads of gum and crumpled candy wrappers, we begin to wonder if we are fully equipped to handle this strange, new animal known as a “toddler.”

God also used a donkey to teach a lesson to Balak, the king of ancient Moab, who tried to persuade the diviner Balaam to curse the Israelites.  Balak accomplished this the mature way, by pestering the unwilling Balaam like a relentless salesman until he was driven to the point of insanity.  Balaam “saddled up his ass” (which does sound like a modern expression for “hit the road”) and set off on his mission.

God was displeased with Balaam, and He sent an Angel of the Lord to block the way with a sword.  The donkey kept trying to avoid the angel by pushing up against the wall, so Balaam rewarded him with beatings. Any other animal would have relented and curled up to take a nap, but not a stubborn donkey. 

To get Balaam’s attention, God had the donkey speak. And Balaam argued with the animal as if this was a perfectly normal occurrence.  As though every day began with a rousing conversation with his chair or the doorknob.  Donkey was not happy with the abuse.

Hey!  This is how you treat me after I’ve been lugging you around for all these years? You’re treating me like a I’m some jackass…

Uh, you ARE a jackass…

And the argument continued until God opened Balaam’s eyes and he saw the foolishness of his ways. The moral of this story is: Do not bother arguing with a donkey, or another stubborn creature such as a small child, for you will never win. 

Last week my seven-year-old daughter demonstrated that stubbornness is not just for toddlers anymore.  Having misplaced her beloved pink headband, she insisted that I had it.

“Mommy, I know you have it.  I saw you take it when you left my room last night.”

“No, you have it,” I responded. “I’m positive that I left it on your desk.”

This same conversation continued throughout the day, and I couldn’t believe how obstinate she was being.  I knew with all certainty that I was right, and I could not be persuaded otherwise.  Until God opened my eyes and I saw the foolishness of my ways.

I returned to my office and saw a glimmer of pink peeking out from a pile of papers on my desk.  It was either the headband or the interior of a mouse’s ear, but I wasn’t sure which one was more frightening.

The headband spoke.

 “So, I hope you like the taste of crow, since that’s what you’ll be eating tonight.”

I argued with it. 

“Come on, we all know this was a set-up.” 

But in the end, of course, I returned the headband and apologized to my daughter.

Could it be that we are all stubborn in our own way, and maybe I shouldn’t feel so sorry for the donkey? After all, who had the honor of carrying Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem?  It wasn’t a bunny or a horse. 

Zechariah 9:9

See, your king comes to you…gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Redemption, for the donkey within us all.

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.

Eggs From the Basement

Have you ever wondered about the moment when man first decided that an egg could be food?  Since there is no YouTube video, we will have to use our imaginations instead.  Picture Adam and Eve in Eden, tending to the chickens.  Suddenly an egg comes shooting out from the back-end of a hen, just under its tail. 

Eve:  Whoa! Did you see that?

Adam:  I’m starving. Let’s eat it.

Eve:  I’m not eating that thing.  Did you see where it came from?

Adam:  Well, they don’t hack it up like a hairball. (Taking a bite) Hey, it’s…crunchy.

Eve:  Try taking the shell off. 

Hen:  Try cooking it first. 

Adam & Eve:  Oh!

Next thing you know, they were whipping up hollandaise sauce, and the breakfast buffet was changed forever. 

Our family consumes a large amount of God’s “perfect food” every week.  Last week at the grocery store, I had so many cartons of eggs that the cashier asked if we were dyeing eggs.  It’s November, so I’m guessing she was working a second shift and feeling a little delirious. 

I had just read an article about how to cook the perfect batch of scrambled eggs.  For some reason, I never question the authority of these informative articles.  So here I was taking advice about my eggs from some forty-year old guy named Vern, who probably still lives in his parents’ basement. 

Use a whisk, not a fork.  I had always used a fork with no problem, but Vern scared me into believing I had been a fool for all these years.  I took a huge risk by taking out my whisk, and I suddenly heard Elmer Fudd’s voice: Be vewy, vewy quiet; I’m taking a huge whisk. Snapping back to reality, I remembered the next piece of advice. 

Whisk with force. Vigorously.  Redundancy aside, I decided to give it a whirl.  Before I could begin, I heard the words that strike fear into the heart of a parent:

“Mommy, can I help?”

My son wanted to help me with the eggs.  I imagined my five-year-old splattering raw egg over the countertops, the floor, and my head.  But one look at his cherubic face, and I caved like a Yorkshire pudding. 

He started to stir the eggs with a fork, and he was doing just fine until I intervened.

“No, you have to vigorously whisk them.  Like this.”

I took over with my whisk, and I beat the eggs with so much force that one slimy egg yolk catapulted across the kitchen.  After a search, I finally found the yellow Cyclops eye staring up at me from the floor.  I threw it in the trash and fumed at Vern.

Yet, I followed his next instructions.

Use chopsticks for the perfect curds.  Not only was this unnecessary, but I felt like an idiot doing it. In retrospect, now I see that Vern was messing with people.  He just chose to be more subtle than “Wear underwear on your head and do the Hokey Pokey.” 

I should have just let Luke make the eggs.  He was doing a great job until I took charge. 

I thought about how a five-year-old Jesus would have wanted to help Joseph with the carpentry.  If he were my son standing there with a wooden dowel, I would have scolded, “You’ll poke your eye out with that thing.”  But any man who was entrusted by God to raise the Messiah would be smarter than that.

If only we believed in our children the way God believes in us.

Ephesians 1:4

For he chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Us? (look around) Really? 

God believes we are capable of doing what is good and right.  In an act of unprecedented trust, He made us the representation of His son.  He would never have stuck to this plan if He didn’t believe in the potential of His children.

Romans 8:29

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son… 

What if God took the whisk right out of our hands and scrambled the eggs for us?  Sure, they would be the World’s Best Eggs, but what message would that send us? God lets us scramble our own eggs.  That’s why sometimes in life we get stuck with pieces of shell, and other times we get burned.  But either way, He believed. 

As I looked at my son’s face, I realized that I had not believed in him the way that Joseph believed in Jesus.  Or the way God believes in me. 

Next time I will ignore Vern’s advice from the basement, and follow the counsel from above.